Objectivity is now the ideal in piano recitals; for the most part, the musician's feelings about the piece stay out of the interpretation. Thomas Pandolfi is a subjective performer. Purists should gasp in horror at the sound of the soft pedal in Scarlatti, but Pandolfi put the anachronism to work at the German Embassy Monday night. With una corda assisting him in something like the old terraced dynamics, he rendered a lovely image of the Scarlatti's dual identity: classical form and romantic performance tradition. In a similar spirit, Pandolfi mastered the sweet, wistful nostalgia of Paderewski's Minuet in G Major, in which wicked runs and figurations devour a Mozartean tune.
Schumann's "Aufschwung" ("Soaring") is a passionate outburst demanding special attention. Pandolfi clearly penetrated the piece's atmosphere of restless agitation. No cold dissection this, but a close reading between the lines. By playing pairs of contrasting romantic works -- two each by Schumann, Chopin and Paderewski -- Pandolfi heightened his recital to the level of dramatic event. The flip side of "Aufschwung" was the limpid, lyrical Romance in F Sharp Major, Op. 28, No. 2. At times Pandolfi's treatment of the inner voices was forced, but the overall effect came across well.
Five Gershwin songs served as a welcome foil to this largely romantic program. Pandolfi played these with undiluted and perhaps heavy-handed seriousness. The evening ended on a weak note, Falla's "Ritual Fire Dance."