Pianist Neil Rutman played an entertaining, often introspective, recital yesterday evening at the Phillips Collection, closing out 1984 with a program of timeless standards. The prize-winning young artist (he has collected five distinguished awards, most recently from the Concert Artists Guild) unevenly performed works by Mozart, Schumann, Casadesus and Ravel for his Washington debut.
Rutman opened with Mozart's Sonata in F, not a wholly successful listening experience (Rutman's interpretative skills are obviously still maturing), but ably demonstrating the pianist's strong sense of musical proportion and technical proficiency.
Schumann's four-movement Sonata in F-sharp Minor was energized by Rutman's considerable emotional investment in the composer's ideas. The performance of this melodic, richly textured work was focused, if not always profound.
The second half opened with a lyrical, powerfully articulated reading of Casadesus' Toccata, Op. 40. It was a controlled, studied performance, yet expressive in Rutman's masterly juxtaposition of the bright bursts of tonal color and muscular, driving rhythm pervading the work.
Ravel's "Gaspard de la Nuit" was heartfelt, but did not live up to the promises of Rutman's earlier wizardry. Rutman's transparent tone and fluid phrasing cleverly matched Ravel's hybrid impressionistic-romantic score, but the listener was subjected to three sections played so episodically that it seemed a dozen more were interjected. The first, "Ondine," was overly reflective, almost soporific, smothering the composer's ideas with the pianist's obsession with detail.
Only "Scarbo," the concluding section, redeemed the performance. Lively, exuberant and rewarding, it magnified Rutman's strengths. Rutman shows promise; he is a solid practitioner of pianism who will undoubtedly improve with age and experience.