Pianist Gary Steigerwalt's recital Sunday at the Smithsonian's Baird Auditorium included several knuckle-breaking numbers played back-to-back, and he emerged with energy to spare. His appearance was sponsored in conjunction with the Pro Musicis Foundation, an international organization that presents concerts as well as community service programs, a setup that benefits both the young artists and area residents.
Steigerwalt opened with "Trois Pieces" by Francois Poulenc. His expert voicing, clean attacks and clear tone with its penetrating melodic line contributed to an excellent reading, perhaps the evening's best. Steigerwalt's sensitivity to balance and proportion here was impressive.
Schumann's taxing "Carnaval," Op. 9, revealed a flexibility of tone and a good sense of pacing. The brisk tempos helped conceal a few slips that might have thrown a less composed pianist, and the overall feeling was of a lively, bright work.
Steigerwalt's strength and a powerful reach continued to be evident in Bartok's Sonata (1926), where the relentless rhythms were always sharp and forceful, and in two works from Liszt's "Anne'es de Pelerinage," Book I. In both the "Sonetto 104, del Petrarca" and the Dante Sonata he captured the full textures with ease, but it was only in the latter work that Liszt's distinctive colorations began to show through.