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RECITAL REVIEW

Pianist Robert Schwartz

UNHURRIED COMMAND IN MENDO FESTIVAL RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, July 17, 2014

Pianist Robert Schwartz opened Mendocino Music Festival’s piano series July 17 with a set of works in a recital made for keyboard connoisseurs. His success was doubly gratifying for the artist as he had played on the same stage at last year’s Festival, but had to cancel most of the recital due to illness.

This year he began with Mozart’s challenging B-Flat Major Sonata, K. 570. It is a late work, full of contrapuntal interest, but his writer was unable to review the playing.

Closing the first half was a selection of six Mendelssohn Songs Without Words, taken from Ops. 19, 62 and 67. These short lyric works are in eight books, written throughout the composer’s lifetime, and need to sound as fresh as the day they were composed. Most have simple titles and Mr. Schwartz began with the A Major Song, “Confidence,” from Op. 19. Here as in the subsequent five he avoided extensive rubato and focused on structural details and the tonal beauty of each. The relaxed F-Sharp Major Song (Op. 67, No. 2, “Lost Illusions”) needed a quicker tempo but the following “May Breezes” and “Funeral March” received relaxed and subtle readings.

The concluding Allegro con Fuoco Song (“Departure,” Op. 62, No. 2) was boisterously played, appropriately loud and happy. The audience of 140 loved it.

Brahms’ Op. 5 Sonata closed the program, the granitic five-movement one in F Minor that is seldom played, especially at a summer festival. The artist's witty pre-performance remarks alluded to the need at this time in his life to climbing the Brahms mountain, and perhaps rekindling a long-ago interest since a student had brought the work to a recent lesson.

The sprawling first movement tempo was contemplative, the big bass chords rounded and plush. The closing fermata was extra long. Perhaps the best playing of the afternoon came in the Andante Espressivo where Mr. Schwartz caught the mercurial shifts in mood and pedaled deftly through phrase endings. There was a captivating pause before the coda, and not a sound came from the audience or the occasional outside Main Street motorcycle snarl.

Climaxes in the stormy Scherzo were built well and the finale (Allegro Moderato) had a strong march momentum and chaste playing of the lovely second theme. The pianist’s conception was packed with drama and there was no rush to get anywhere. Brahms under Mr. Schwartz’ fingers, feet and heart never hurries.

No encore was offered to the audience of 140.

Robert Schwartz doesn’t have powerhouse technical equipment, at least at this stage in his long career, but presents magnificent music in a serious and carefully crafted manner. Piano aficionados can ask for nothing more.