Hungarian pianist Péter Tóth had a great success last night as he appeared in recital at Hidden Valley. He attracted a capacity audience of loyal fans, and he didn’t disappoint them. Quite to the contrary his virtuoso skills and penetrating musicianship carried the day in a demanding program of works that spanned two and a half centuries.
Tóth opened his program with Handel’s Chaconne in G, HWV 486, a series of variations that contained some fine and authoritative playing — especially interesting was the section containing variations in the minor key. He followed this with a stylish performance of Mozart’s Sonata in D Major, K. 311. This was Mozart as it should be played — beautifully articulated, fleet of finger and enhancing Mozart’s elegant passages in the outer movements, while charming us in the lovely slow movement.
Tóth’s performance of Schubert’s Impromptu in F Minor, Op. 142, No. 1, turned out to be surprisingly satisfying. Although this is a well known and familiar work, I kept being hearing passages containing subtlety of phrasing and delicious dynamics that caught me off guard and held my attention throughout.
Beethoven was represented on the program in a performance of Seven Variations on “God Save the King,” more recognizable to some as “My Country Tis of Thee.” I have to confess that I was hearing the Beethoven variations in a live performance for the first time and was surprised how effective they can be. Tóth achieved a significant variety of styles and expression during his playing the work. Incidentally, I was seated next to a British gentlemen, who explained in jest that he did not stand during the performance, because during his eventual journey to becoming an American citizen he had lived in Canada and had switched his allegiance to North America.
After intermission I heard another work that I had never heard before in a live performance — Liszt’s Variationen über das Motiv von Bach. This turned out to be a effective combination of virtuosity for its own sake as well as a demonstration of Liszt’s profound respect for Bach. We have to remember that during Liszt’s residence in Weimar, every time he walked the cobbled streets of the city he must have been haunted by the ghost and spirit of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Tóth’s performance of Bartók’s Suite, Op. 14, was in a class by itself. This is Hungarian music to which Péter Tóth brings special understanding and sympathy, having been born in Hungary. This is a very attractive work and it is difficult to imagine a better performance that we heard last night. It was supercharged with spontaneous rhythmic energy and charm.
Tóth ended the program with a performance of Chopin’s Andante spianato and Grand Polonaise brillante, Op. 22. Tóth poured on the charm in the Andante spianato and then gave us an exciting and very fast performance of the Grand Polonaise — Vladimir Horowitz holds the world speed record for this at 8’10” but Tóth came close last night by clocking in at 9’16” and the audience loved it.
Tóth rewarded the appreciative audience with one encore, a small suite by a Hungarian composer, whose name I can neither pronounce nor spell. No matter. It was charming.