In these days when every solo performer possesses formidable technical skill, one waits and hopes for the signs that there is also a sleeping beauty within the note-filled thicket. Pianist Santiago Rodriguez hacked his way through the forest Saturday afternoon at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater with just such skill.
He began with "Sonata Teutonica" (1913) by the Virginia composer John Powell, which proved little except that Powell liked Wagner a lot. Rodriguez then got down to business with the Brahms Variations on a Theme by Paganini. His skill is up to and even beyond the piece's enormous demands. He even made it seem easy. He did not struggle with the difficulties or resort to pounding; instead, the variations, no great shakes as music, were fun to hear. Rodriguez made the piece dance, play and sing.
After intermission, the pianist had a chance to show his musicality, to allow technique to be the obedient, unobtrusive servant of the music. The pieces he chose were characteristic Hispanic forms by Soler, Ginastera, Falla and Lecuona. It is music that needs a touch of the poet and the graceful gesture. Rodriguez hinted at both, but never quite made the grade. At the end, one regretted the promise had not been delivered. There was plenty of dazzle and very little substance.
The whole recital was at the edge of music but never truly bent in its direction. It remained on the surface, glib, attractive and forgettable. Rodriguez, with so much talent and skill at his command, must seek the music hidden within the tangled thicket of notes. He must know that is where the beauty is.