Thomas Schultz, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall
October 6, 2006
Who on earth would offer as a piano recital’s first half three slowish Brahms pieces (the first essentially a lullaby), followed by Schoenberg’s Op. 23, a difficult premiere of a new work by Hyo-shin Na, and one of Busoni’s later and least accessible works? The answer is Thomas Schultz, and he did it superbly, before a large, rapt audience Friday, October 6.
Schultz, as his biography illustrates, is a noted proponent of new music (having worked with Cage, Rzewski, Feldman, Wolff, Carter, and others). He has recent engagements in Berlin,San Francisco, Seoul,Kyoto, and at the Schoenberg Festival in Vienna, and has performed and recorded extensively. Despite such a solid background I did not come to this recital as a “believer” but was braced for what looked on the printed program like an intellectual exercise, edifying perhaps historically and theoretically. What unfolded instead was an evening of intensely heartfelt music-making, the likes of which one rarely hears. It was exactly what one hopes a recital to be.
Mr. Schultz is a powerful communicator. From the first notes of the Brahms Intermezzi, Op. 117, his purpose was to lead the listener into the music, and he succeeded. With a seemingly infinite palette of dynamic gradations, he rendered his phrases with utmost sensitivity, bringing the listener inside them. How refreshing, when one is used to being clobbered with pyrotechnics, to be led through such richly satisfying music! In his softest pianissimos, one could hear the proverbial pin drop. It was clear that this listener was not the only one riveted. The audience was spellbound.
The Brahms led well to the Schoenberg Five Pieces (even without Mr. Schultz’s helpful program notes, one could feel the organic connection between works). The Brahms Intermezzi, particularly the third, guided one’s melodic hearing across registers and within larger textures, and the Schoenberg pieces took things one step further, culminating in a work (the waltz) that Schultz describes as “the first written using the 12-tone system” (though some might argue that some twelve-tone movements of Op. 25 predated the Op. 23). This listener has never been a devotee of Schoenberg, but with Schultz’s advocacy there will undoubtedly be many converts won. He gave the work a virtuosic and expressive account.
Next came the New York premiere of Hyo-shin Na’s Piano Study 3 (2001). Described as variations on a theme appearing in the middle of the piece, it employs a Norwegian melody about a girl, a melody “descriptive of her appearance and character.” A fascinating work of pianism and wit, it engaged the listener in searching for the protagonist at the work’s pentatonic center and afterward, introducing a new spin on the melodic searchings experienced in preceding works! Following it was a stormy performance of Busoni’s Toccata, a thorny work from 1920, craggy and full of angst. It closed the first half well, while establishing the need for the Beethoven and what Schultz describes as the “feeling of completeness and repose at the conclusion”
Preceding Beethoven was Liszt’s Les jeux d’eaux a la Villa d’Este, played with more attention to each individual note than one normally hears. It was refreshing, in the context of this program, though it seemed that Schultz’s stamina was flagging. In the Beethoven similarly, there could have been more energy (and precision) but the powerful structure of the work was beautifully conveyed nonetheless, as was the entire well-conceived program. It was thought-provoking and inspiring. There was no encore (thankfully, respecting Op. 111). But one hopes for encores soon! Bravo! Rorianne Schrade