At intermission, last night in the University of Maryland's Tawes Theatre, one might have wondered whether pianist Paul Badura-Skoda had played his way into a blind alley. He had opened his recital with Mozart's brilliant, profound Fantasy in C minor, K. 475 -- the lightest music on his program, as it turned out. Then he had gone on to Schubert's towering, posthumous Sonata in B-flat, certainly one of the greatest works ever composed for the piano. But was it too much, too soon?
It was splendid, of course. Badura-Skoda, a scholar as well as an artist, always selects compositions that fit well together. His style, while always recognizably his own, adapts to each composer. His Mozart had a crispness that was not incompatible with a strong sense of legato, a lightness that could still probe the depths of the Fantasy -- music with deep shadows from which shafts of dazzling light shot out in many directions.
Schubert, though born only a half-dozen years after Mozart's premature death, created a different world of music -- one where colors contrasted more sharply, forms had less clear-cut edges, and there was a feeling that almost anything could happen even in a highly organized musical structure. Badura-Skoda's Mozart was properly neat, his Schubert properly adventurous.
But clearly the question was: After Schubert's B-flat, what can you do for a climax? Badura-Skoda's reply was as unassailable as it was ingenious. He capped the second half of the concert with Beethoven's last piano sonata -- Op. 111 in C minor. In this work, Badura-Skoda found a variety of styles and feelings to match the combined resources of Mozart and Schubert, and he brought the concert to a close on a note of prolonged silence after exploring Beethoven's lingering farewell to the world.
Before Beethoven, he ventured into yet another world of music -- though, like everyone else on the program, the composer was Viennese. Alban Berg's Sonata, Op. 1, may be a point of departure for modernism, but it is even more clearly a last, ripe statement of the expiring romantic school. Badura-Skoda stressed this music's links to the great Viennese tradition, and in the process found in it remarkable richness of melody, sentiment and harmonic texture.
At the end, Badura-Skoda was appropriately rewarded with the most precious kind of applause: a standing ovation from an audience made up largely of fellow pianists.