Some of the drama that marked the heated contest between pianists Santiago Rodriguez and Andre'-Michel Schub for first place at the 1981 Cliburn competition in Fort Worth was rekindled Saturday night in Rodriguez's concert at the University of Maryland.
Rodriguez, who won a second in the Cliburn, finished his program with an impassioned performance of that grandly panoramic keyboard masterpiece, Schumann's "Carnaval." It is the very same work that Schub, who won the Cliburn's grand prize, made the centerpiece of his Kennedy Center recital exactly two weeks earlier.
In her account of the Cliburn for this paper, Lynn Darling described the Schub-Rodriguez contest as "Apollo meets Dionysius." The characterization is just as apt today as it was in 1981.
Their interpretations of "Carnaval" were both first-rate and strikingly different. Rodriguez marched into these 20 matchless little personality portraits strongly, with a tendency to brisk tempos, maintaining considerable momentum. Schub was more meditative, tending to dwell on fine points.
The result was that Rodriguez captured the music's sardonic fancy more effectively. And especially in the sections with bracing rhythms, like the strutting Promenade and the concluding March, Rodriguez was bursting with greater energy and lilt. Schub, on the other hand, outpointed Rodriguez on refinements of sonority in the more lyric sections. He drew especially rich sounds in the bass, in sections like "Eusebius," the Schumann self-portrait, and "Chopin," which was the one section in which Rodriguez was curiously unsoulful.
That was curious because earlier in the program he had given an exquisitely calculated version of Brahms' Intermezzo in A Major, a work equally lyric and elusive in effect.
There was also the classic side of Rodriguez in a beautifully articulated version of Haydn's B-minor sonata, with its whirlwind finale.
And there were also two digital thrillers. One was the Ginastera Second Sonata, Op. 53, with its relentlessly percussive outer movements framing a very soft, delicate central movement, with its mysterious night sounds.
Finally, as an encore, came one of the most spectacular of romantic display pieces, Moszkowski's dazzling "Caprice espanole." It was one of the specialties of the late Josef Hofmann. But the Caprice is rarely heard these days, in part perhaps because it is so very difficult. But for Rodriguez, it was no problem. He was brilliant.