In the best Romantic fashion, pianist Anton Kuerti reconciled the seemingly disparate and potentially warring elements that make Schumann's and Beethoven's music compelling from the vantage points of both performer and audience. His program of tried-and-true material Tuesday night at the University of Maryland's Tawes Theatre inspired rather than inhibited exceptional play, challenging Kuerti to dig for new shades of meaning.
The biggest test came first with Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata. A disturbingly slow tempo in the first movement falsely suggested understatement disguised as mere self-indulgence. Kuerti's soft touch here and in the allegretto instead followed Beethoven's design of saving the weightiest moments for last, and his efforts generated tension that found release in an unusually eruptive finale. The Sonata in A, Op. 101, which has a calmer surface, stood out for the emotional contrasts Kuerti drew and for his crisply articulated lines during the fugal last movement.
Schumann's "Davidsbuendlertaenze," Op. 6, consists of 18 character pieces that shift gears often, requiring a pianist to use all the technique he can muster with both restraint and a sense of poetry. Kuerti teetered on the brink of reckless abandon repeatedly, yet his stop-on-a-dime timing helped him build logical connections between Schumann's extremes of meditative calm and madcap scampering. Schumann's Toccata, Op. 7, was a fitting, brilliant conclusion. "Toccata" means touch, and Kuerti had the magic kind.