Last night at Hidden Valley pianist Jura Margulis treated us to an evening of bold and expressive keyboard virtuosity. That he has a vast arsenal of virtuoso skills is never in doubt, and he is not shy about showing them off. Thus, in the six Scarlatti Sonatas opening the program Margulis was not trying to give us examples of scholarly and historically informed performance, but rather examples of his own very personal and romantically styled approach to Scarlatti. Some of the faster passages flew by at warp speed while the slower passages tended to be burdened with expressive emoting. Each of the six chosen sonatas is a minor masterpiece, and, like any masterpiece, is capable of a wide variety of stylistic executions, since the original works are greater in conception than can ever be realized in actual performance. So, true to himself, Mr. Margulis gave us an old-fashioned view of romanticized Scarlatti, and for him this approach worked.
Next Margulis performed Tchaikovsky’s Dumka, Op. 59, which, while having many technically challenging moments, also involves us in a lot of sensitive and profoundly expressive lyrical emotion. In this work we heard Margulis at his very best — with lovely cantabile, beautifully shaped phrases, and a compelling intensity that held us spellbound for nine minutes. This was simply the best performance I have ever heard of this somewhat neglected work.
Finally, to end the program Margulis performed four Rachmaninoff Preludes selected from the composer’s Op. 23, and Op. 32. These Preludes run the gamut from the lyrical to the more showy and totally extroverted. We heard some very expressive playing in the D Major, B Minor and G-sharp Minor Preludes, and then were treated to a totally over-the-top performance of the the famous G Minor Prelude, Op. 23, No. 5 that began forte and then, with the exception of the lyrical middle section, just got louder and louder and progressed through the four stages of loud playing — forte, fortissimo, bangissimo and finally blastissimo. And, the audience loved it.
We look forward to another recital by Mr. Margulis next year.