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RECITAL REVIEW
Dominican University / Sunday, November 10, 2013
Gustavo Romero, piano

Pianist Gustavo Romero Nov. 10

TOUR DE FORCE

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 10, 2013

Pianist Gustavo Romero has become a frequent Sonoma County visitor, playing in several Santa Rosa halls and homes in recent years. On Nov. 1, he made his Marin County debut at Dominican University’s Guest Artist Series in Angelico Hall.

The Dallas-based artist eschews stage flair and keeps remarks to a minimum, instead sitting mostly motionless at the piano, left foot always on the shift pedal. He exhibits a palpable concentration on the matters at hand.

Romero opened with a sensuous Godowsky transcription of Bach’s Andante from the solo violin sonata in C Major. Here the contrapuntal lines were clear and the slow tempo perfect for the work. The sound abruptly changed for Schubert’s three "Klavierstücke" (piano pieces), D. 956. The E-Flat Minor piece had an energetic reading, almost raw in places, and the concluding C Major was played with fetching syncopations and harmonies. It was forceful Schubert throughout. The five concluding chords of each piece were perfectly weighted, each with a slight diminuendo. Mr. Romero is not a colorist and his muscular Schubert might not be to everyone's taste, but there were many colorful moments in this work from Schubert's last year.

Chopin’s Barcarolle, Op. 60, followed. Here Mr. Romero was in a ruminative mood, the lyrical lines flowing in an expansive interpretation that featured arabesque-like melodic contours.

Finishing the first half was the explosive tour-de-force Fantasy (1989) by Krystof Maratka, who was 17 years old at the time. Written for the pianist, the Fantasy was propulsive and martial throughout, and Mr. Romero mastered the formidable difficulties with both bravura and stamina. The Fantasy seems to link to the early 20th century composer George Antheil, with its loud hammered chords, wide skips in both hands and driving rhythms. The audience loved it and gave Romero a clangorous ovation.

Six of Rachmaninoff’s sonorous pieces comprised the second half, beginning with the Op. 3 Elegy. Here the long phrases had graceful beauty but also emphasized the piano’s out-of-tune treble notes. The Op. 32 Preludes came next (Nos. 10, 12 and 5) and were lovingly played. The great B Minor, a favorite of the composer, had the right juxtaposition of repose and drama, and in the popular G Major the chaste theme sang out. This Prelude and the subsequent Etude-Tableaux (Op. 33, No. 2) gave the impression of cold Russian winter nights, with sleigh bells ringing in the latter piece. The effect was captivating.

Following a orchestral final Prelude in D-Flat Major, the pianist’s solo encore was a signature piece for him, Turkish composer Fazil Say’s "Black Earth." Here sections of strings were muted by Romero’s left hand, simultaneously with rapid arpeggios played with the right hand, and then richly hued and widely-spaced resonant chords. It was an encore that capped a terrific recital from a serious and arresting musician.