Rodriguez brings a Latin flair to piano


The sound that greeted a latecomer to Tawes Theater at the University of Maryland at College Park last Friday, a few minutes after Horacio Gutierrez had been scheduled to begin his recital, was not the Haydn sonata that the great Cuban-American pianist had programmed. It was the first of Manuel de Falla's "Cuatro Piezas Espanolas," and it is not music that Gutierrez plays.

Fortunately, however, it is part of the repertory of this country's other great Cuban-American pianist, Santiago Rodriguez. And it was Rodriguez himself -- a faculty member at the university, which sponsors the piano festival associated with its William Kapell Competition -- who was on stage performing it. This was a pleasant surprise, and it introduced a magnificent recital.

Spanish blood is no guarantee of expertise in Spanish or LatinAmerican repertory -- the Polish-born Arthur Rubinstein was brilliant and as idiomatic in Albeniz' "Iberia" as the Barcelona-born Alicia de Larrocha -- but Rodriguez has fingers, coloristic imagination and a sonority perfectly suited to this music.

The opening and the closing portions -- "Aragonesa" and "Andaluza" -- of the Falla suite were languorous and sparkling in their turn. The middle portions, "Cubana" and "Montanesa," were appropriately darker in color and atmosphere. The "Danzas Argentinas" by the Argentine Alberto Ginastera were played with remarkable virtuosity and sonorities that conjured up the rasping sounds of the guitar and castanets. Encore performances of Granados' Spanish Dance No. 1 and Lecuona's "Gypsy Song" were just as beguiling.

Expertise in Spanish romanticism should translate effectively to the Russian romanticism of Rachmaninoff -- and Rodriguez did not disappoint in this regard. Six Preludes from the composer's opus 23 set were splendid, with Rodriguez equally eloquent in the Chopinesque craftsmanship and Schumanesque lyricism of the C minor prelude as in the demands of the massive chordal and octave writing of the one in B-flat Major. The pianist's beautifully organized reading of the composer's "Corelli Variations" was as affecting emotionally as it was dazzlingly fluid and graceful.

One does not ordinarily expect so effective an exponent of romantic works to be as masterly in classical ones.

Rodriguez should not be made a victim of romantic typecasting, however. His performance of Mozart's great C Minor Sonata pointed up its remarkable resemblances to Beethoven's first popular sonata in the same key (the "Pathetique") and its less obvious foreshadowings of that composer's "Appasionata." This was a reading -- in its lamentations, protests, senses of resignation and breathless terror -- that honored Mozart's more restricted sound world while anticipating the later composer's almost compulsive explosiveness and sense of tragedy.

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