It could hardly have been more fitting than that the concluding concert of this year’s Washington International Piano Festival was as much a master class in structure versus improvisation as it was a recital. Pianist Santiago Rodriguez was the teacher/performer, and his program, Sunday at Catholic University’s Ward Hall, was full of textbook examples of pieces in which composers explored both possibilities.
In his “Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue,” Bach gave his imagination free rein, wandering around a full palette of textures and tonalities in the fantasy until finally settling into the well-trodden (although, in this case, expansive) path of the fugue. Rodriguez made no attempt to emulate the touch or the textures of a harpsichord in this reading. Making generous use of the pedal, he delivered a reading that was, at once, transparent and muscular. There were places where a softer, lighter touch might have, by contrast, given extra oomph to what followed, but, unencumbered by mannerisms, this was an unusually cogent performance.
Rodriguez is an enthralling teacher, and the exposition he delivered on Beethoven’s last piano sonata, the C Minor Opus 111, as the creation of someone moving into a new interior world shone a more optimistic light on passages that are often thought of as tragic. His performance was full of energy and momentum. Even the second movement’s opening theme, so often played almost motionlessly, moved with dreamy lightness, and touches of syncopation in the third variation were handled tantalizingly and with a full-bodied transparency.
His accounts of pieces by Manuel de Falla, Antonio Soler, Thomas Sleeper and an encore by Enrique Granados wrapped up an afternoon of meticulous attention and understanding.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.