The University of Maryland's 15th International Piano Festival and Competition is providing its annual feast for the ears this week, with Sunday night's solo performance by Rudolf Firkusny as the first of six piano recitals in as many days by major artists. These programs, plus the competition appearances of the 17 semifinalists named this Sunday, will provide a highly representative coverage of the piano repertoire for those attending this major international event.
Firkusny chose a wide-ranging program for his concert at Tawes Theatre, beginning with Bach's Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue and proceeding to works by Schumann, Janacek, Debussy and Ginastera. With each work, he brought to the music elegance and refinement, leaving lasting impressions of the sensitivity to phrasing and impeccable control of sonority that dominated the entire evening.
Yet he could command power and brilliance when needed, as in the middle section of Schumann's C Major Fantasia or the whirlwind conclusion to Ginastera's "Suite de Danzas Criollas." Although one might have wished for more of this side of Firkusny's playing in the Bach Fantasy, his control of textural balance made the fugue a model of how well this music adapts to the piano in the right hands.
While the innate lyricism of the Schumann work made it the most congenial to Firkusny's style, his handling of four Debussy preludes was no less impressive for the beauty of sound and appropriately varied expressive character he brought to each one. Likewise, his emotional playing of Janacek's "October 1, 1905" (actually two movements of a piano sonata) evoked the tragedy that actually inspired the work.