There was bound to be lots of Liszt on piano programs in this centenary of the death of the 19th century's most celebrated virtuoso. But it has become a flood. Thursday night's performance at the Maryland piano festival by Rafael Orozco of the "Sonetto 123 del Petrarca" was the fifth encountered by this listener in about six weeks, and the second at the festival concerts in two days. It's a lovely piece, but normally you go for years without hearing it.
The Spanish pianist Orozco, who is here to be a judge in the university's William Kapell competition, is a particularly fine Liszt player and his Liszt Thursday night was the strongest part of the concert. All the works were drawn from the "Anne'es de pe lerinage, Deuxie me Anne'e, Italie." Everybody else is drawing on that sprawling musical compendium as well.
*On Thursday, Orozco, who himself won the Leeds competition in 1966, caught Liszt's varied and instantly shifting moods -- those sudden, almost schizoid juxtapositions -- with real assurance. The technique was not a flashy one. But there was power, energy and taste.
The most exciting demonstration of this was in the largest and most heroic of the Liszt works, "Apre s une lecture de Dante, fantasia quasi sonata." For all of the 19th-century melodramatics of this work (the ominous opening octaves, followed by a menacing theme, and so on), it escapes the stain of hokeyness when played with the grandeur and impetus that Orozco brought to it. In comparison with the brilliant version here several weeks ago by the celebrated Lisztian Jorge Bolet, Orozco may actually have outplayed Bolet in terms of sustained mood and dramatic sweep, though not in nobility or discipline. Bolet's control, of course, was fabulous, and he also outscored Orozco in the coloring of lines. But Orozco had amazing technical moments, especially in the speed and clarity of those lengthy bass octave passages near the work's two climactic peaks.
His Lisztian manner was less suitable to the other major work on the program, Schubert's beatific B-flat major sonata, Op. Posth., one of the crowning glories of the whole piano repertory. It was a carefully considered interpretation, skillfully played. But instead of letting the glorious lines simply unfold lovingly and majestically, Orozco indulged in all sorts of Lisztian stops and starts, hyphenations and other mannerisms that actually impeded the music's flow. It was a sort of musical commentary on the Schubert B-flat, in which the key to the work's profundity -- the exalted simplicity to which Schubert pared his giant concept -- was lost in a maze of fussy complications. An artist is best off just to let those breathtaking modulations happen.
The three finalists in the Kapell Competition have been chosen. They perform Saturday night at the Kennedy Center, after which they will be ranked one, two and three. They are Arthur Greene of East Setauket, N.Y.; Nelson Padgett of Winston-Salem, N.C. and David Allen Wehr of New York.