Russian born Pianist Jura Margulis returned for his third appearance in recital at Hidden Valley Music Seminars last night. A small but enthusiastic audience turned out to give him a warm welcome. Margulis shared with us an interesting program devoted to two composers — Schubert and Liszt.
Two of these Schubert works were from the posthumously published Klavierstücke and are fully developed extended works. It was the second of these that he chose for his program opening and it made a powerful impression as it meandered from one melodic idea to another with unexpected episodes popping up from time to time. Interspersed throughout the six pieces in his opening Schubert group were three of his most beloved Impromptus: Op. 90, No. 2, Op. 90, No. 4 and the F minor Impromptu, Op. 142, No. 2.
Of course, there is more than one way to perform Schubert’s keyboard works. At one extreme an artist can let understated lyrical subtlety dominate, and at the other he can present a bold virtuoso approach that creates a performance so supersized it is almost overwhelming. Tending toward this latter approach, it was startling to hear the soft opening of the Op. 90, No. 2, Impromptu played mezzo forte and the pianissimo beginning of Op. 90, No. 4, played forte. Since we were hearing these performances in an acoustically live environment (and in a smaller hall), the predominantly loud dynamics didn’t always bring out the best in the music. However, in every one of the Schubert selections there were moments of great beauty with subtle shading of dynamics and magical shaping of phrases. One work on the first half, the A-flat major Moment Musicale, Op. 94, No. 2, was the great exception to the virtuoso approach. This was the loveliest warm and poignantly lyrical performance you could ever imagine. This was the style of magical playing by Margulis heard on one of his CDs (containing the Schubert-Liszt transcriptions Der Müller und der Bach, Auf dem Wasser zu singen, Der Doppelgänger and Erlkönig).
The second half of the program was devoted to eight Preludes from Op. 23 and 32 by Rachmaninoff. Here Margulis was on firmer ground, and his supersized style of performance worked more successfully. Especially impressive was his performance of the G-sharp minor Prelude, Op. 32, No. 12. This was bold dramatic playing and the best live performance I have ever heard. Also very successful was the beautiful middle section of the famous G minor Prelude (although, inexplicably, the opening section marked piano was played forte, and sections marked f were played fff).
At the conclusion of the recital, the audience gave Margulis a rousing round of applause and a standing ovation. Members of the audience lingered after the performance to enjoy a glass of wine and an opportunity to speak to Mr. Margulis.