Alon Goldstein, seasoned Israeli-born pianist, gave a gold medal performance in the second of Distinguished Artists Concert & Lecture Series 31st anniversary events at Peace United Church in Santa Cruz on October 18th. Goldstein, a loving pupil of living legend Leon Fleisher, carries on an ever vital “Viennese” tradition through straightforward performance, clean and clear sound, with sparing pedal to “let the music speak for itself,” as it did under his super-capable hands.
The whole event was a masterful meditation, because Goldstein was playing with eyes closed or almost, as he sat near-immobile before the noble Yamaha except for outstretched arms, fingers and wrists doing almost all the work with acute precision and amazingly shaded dynamics, his sustained soft passages the envy of most pianists. Beethoven actually named his 1809 Sonata in E Flat Major, Op. 81a, not the published title of Les Adieux, but the German Lebewohl (in English ‘fare thee well’), and the “departure, absence, and return” of a beloved friend was all about his patron-pupil Archduke Rudolph. Goldstein gave this late middle sonata with great elegance, with the opening Adagio three notes “Fare Thee Well” developed into a grudging resignation, the “Absence” a true heartbreaker of despair, and the “Return” a whirlwind of ecstatic joy, with the perfect architecture of Goldstein overarching all, as in the whole program.
When Liszt wrote his some 60 opera transcriptions, including Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde in 1865, the piano was ever more popular in social life. Isolde’s long Liebestod (“love death”) under Goldstein’s hands undulated in smooth waves of sorrowful sound fading to a soft, delicate whisper. Liszt’s own Vallee d’Obermann originated in 1835 during his and Marie D’Agoult’s travels in Switzerland. Goldstein opened this with tremendous sensitivity and shading, leading into a controlled frenzy to show off the piano, and then ending in mystery.
Schubert’s late, great, sparse Sonata in C Minor, D. 958, one of three composed a few weeks before he died of syphilis in 1828, is an inward journey of passive melancholia, though the first movement ends playfully, its Adagio a beautiful song without words, the Minuet a sprightly old classical dance, and its Allegro conclusion a thin layer of surface joy over a deep despair. Goldstein made this connoisseur’s delight easily accessible to the whole enthusiastic audience.
The first of two encores by Alberto Ginastera from Argentina was a 1934 dance, quiet and plaintive over a catchy rhythm, followed by his “Showman Gaucho,” terrifically fast and manic, a “ride’em cowboy” bronco buster to raise the dead, and to test the “no limits” great Yamaha CFX, which Goldstein praised for its like new condition and superb sound.
Alon Goldstein has played at great halls the world over. He has become an institution at the Ravinia Summer Festival. He will be returning here in 2017 to play for us two concertos with string quartet, which is sure to be a treat. And before then, his compatriot and friend Amit Peled, the great Israeli cellist who has already played here twice in this series, will return on September 24 next year. Let us hope that a later visit by both together will also include the violinist in their “Tempest Trio” for another splendid concert to continue the rich cultural heritage we enjoy here in Santa Cruz County.