A piano recital beginning with Busoni's transcription of the Bach Chaconne in D Minor and continuing to Beethoven's "Waldstein" Sonata, a Liszt Transcendental E'tude and also his B Minor Sonata would represent a significant challenge for even a seasoned artist. For a 15-year-old to attempt this feat might seem outrageous, but that is precisely the program that Dimitris Sgouros brought to the University of Maryland's International Piano Festival at Tawes Theatre last night.
Sgouros is a prodigy, no doubt about it. His blazing technique, overwhelming power and totally confident approach to the instrument simply belie his youth, and his meteoric rise to fame is easy to believe once one has seen and heard the boy play. Unfortunately, a good deal more than technique, power and confidence is required for music such as Sgouros presented on this occasion.
To be sure, the recital did have moments of true insight and beauty, such as in the transition from the second to the third movements of the "Waldstein" and in much of the Chaconne and the Liszt e'tude("Harmonies du Soir"). In fact, Sgouros' most satisfying playing of the evening was heard in the Bach-Busoni, where his rhythmic security and expressive sensitivity balanced the pyrotechnics, for the most part. It was in the first movement and in the coda of the finale of the Beethoven sonata that exaggeration of accents, rubato and dynamic contrasts began to get in the way of the music itself. Some notes of melodic phrases, for example, literally exploded from the piano, while others receded into inaudibility.
With "Harmonies du Soir," the soloist achieved most of the colorful poetic imagery the work demands, although the big climax seemed a bit ragged. But Liszt's monumental B Minor Sonata simply was beyond Sgouros' grasp, musically speaking. His performance lacked the careful pacing, clear articulation of themes and firm understanding of the work's logical and balanced structure that would have revealed again why this is one of the true compositional marvels of the 19th century. What was heard instead was but a caricature. When Sgouros' musical maturity catches up with his technical maturity, he should encounter this masterpiece again -- but not before.