A favorite here already, 24 carat pianist Alon Goldstein returned to Peace United Church in Santa Cruz on July 31st to perform a benefit for the Juanita Orlando Piano Fund to continue raising money for the Distinguished Artists Concert & Lecture Series splendid Yamaha CFX, praised by Goldstein as one of the five best in the world he has ever played during his extensive travels. And, after a fine recital, he returned during a second, “interactive” intermission before his encores, to discuss new ideas for the series, such as having performers remain for a few days to give a master class, visit schools or play at convalescent hospitals – all this with the approval of Distinguished Artists’ founding director John Orlando.
Now, on to the music. The carefully planned program, with its one encore as its capstone, opened with J.S. Bach in his “Concerto in the Italian Style,” originally written for solo harpsichord but, according to Goldstein, like the rest of the program really conceived in a grand orchestrated form with a fuller sound best captured from all that our big Yamaha CFX can deliver. Goldstein played this work from score, but even then, and when turning pages, went into his amazing meditation, eyes almost closed with totally clean and unforced playing. The opening “Allegro” danced with the four voices in and out amid sparkling ornamentation. The “Andante” is itself very “romantic,” lush, deep and plaintive, as if a vocal lament, and its “Presto” was just that, with rippling runs leading to a conclusion that matched its opening intensity.
Franz Schubert was caught up in the early Romantic movement and perhaps best reflected this in his powerful and moving “Wanderer Fantasy” from 1823, a sublimely whimsical work that is a totally upbeat version of the traveler, anticipating the later but melancholy Berlioz viola rhapsody “Harold in Italy.” But the Schubert we heard amply displayed his “God of Melody” title, as Goldstein delivered throughout the piece, its opening “Allegro” in places sounding like a nod to Beethoven in his “Rage Over a Lost Penny” and an anticipation of Schumann’s “Faschinswank” carnival joke. Then the travelogue soundscape shifted to a deeply spiritual “Adagio,” perhaps as a wayfarer rests at the sudden sight of a field of golden daffodils, our great pianist as always able to spin out lengthy pianissimos, with magnificent shading. The “Presto” section was just that: and its final “Allegro” with its angry octaves was tossed off as if by a Liszt before his own “years of pilgrimage.”
Sure enough, the next work was the great Wagner/Liszt Liebestod from “Tristan and Isolde,” one of over 50 such transcriptions that helped bring opera to the masses, here a seductive melancholy set off on rising, falling, rolling waves of sound, its recurring theme a 19th century “achey-breaky heart” motif.
After intermission was a complete shift to the “new” Impressionism” of Debussy in his very early 20th century “Isle of Joy,” inspired by a Watteau painting. It was an aural feast, with shifting tonalities and rhythms, lingering gossamer wisps under Goldstein’s magic fingers, and ending with a big bang, still a surprise. For the fine qualities of coloration, let’s give Goldstein the first “Walter Gieseking Award for Pedaling.”
The final programmed pieces were “Argentinian Dances” by Alberto Ginastera, who had provided Goldstein with a hilarious encore here last fall. Op. 2, No. 1, was very impressionistic; No. 2 about a betrothed girl full of exquisite melodies above pampas rhythms, slow and intense from a soft whisper to a torrent of sound; and No. 3, “Dance of the Cowboy Bandit,” huge in its “I’ve got rhythm” tangos.
Immediately after recital we thought there might be no encore. But no one in the church moved, except the pianist, who came back to open up a discussion in which one woman said that by this Goldstein was further “drawing us into the music.” And to a query about playing on the modern grand music written for a wood-framed piano of long ago, Goldstein replied, “All these composers would be overjoyed to hear their works realized nearer their own intentions,” a sentiment shared by this reviewer.
One encore perfectly ended the generous program. It was Schubert’s lilting “Impromptu Op. 90, No. 2 in E Flat, with its passionate midsection, delivered effortlessly to our ears as the big Yamaha delivered cascades of perfectly rippling scales.
In January 2017 Alon Goldstein will return to the Distinguished Artists Series, here at Peace United, in the Mozart “Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488,” performed with the Town String Quartet instead of orchestra. We can hardly wait to hear again this gold medal pianist who has taken a personal interest in us and this area, and is not only an Honorary Director, but even more an active volunteer offering advice and new ideas to increase audience participation. Later on, he will return with his “Tempest Trio,” featured on the Naxos label. And by then he probably will have scheduled future appearances with us, so fortunate to live in an area that invites such great artists to keep on returning.