MICHAEL GURT, pianist, Gina Bachauer series. Assembly Hall, Temple Square, June 2 at 7:30 p.m.
Since Michael Gurt returns to Salt Lake City frequently, he needs something new to offer his loyal local audience. And that something on Thursday night was about the most smoking-hot concert I've ever heard him play.Gurt was on in spades from the moment he touched the keyboard in the first of his Scarlatti sonatas, and he never lapsed for an instant throughout the program, finishing with his own transcription of "Espana" that added a trick or two to Chabrier's already virtuosic demands.
Not having heard this young artist in solo recital for a few years, I was bowled over by the development he has experienced and the maturity he has attained.
He's always been a fine pianist, well disciplined and expressive, and worthy of the prizes he's won. But in Thursday's program he displayed the sort of mettle that distinguishes an artist of the first rank - fiery, brilliant command of speed and dexterity, instantaneous dynamic adjustments, equally instantaneous changes of mood, fearless attack and reckless daring. His tone sang sweetly and authoritatively and no technical fluff arose to rob him of his reward for expending his spirit so prodigally. Indeed, his technique appeared to be flawless.
No keyboard music is more elegant than the sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti, and Gurt led off with three short ones that explored the special graces that Scarlatti brought to the harpsichord - the lively melodies, the shifting sonorities, the tonal colorations, the runs, the dancing rhythms - devices that translated with ease to the pianoforte.
Two towering Chopin Etudes from his Op. 25, intersperced between pieces of less titanic proportions, gave the measure of Gurt's present mastery. In the stormy, brilliant Etude in A minor, No. 11, he set the right hand's florid passages in crisp and powerful definition against equally clear but thunderous left hand chords. And in the Etude in B minor, No. 10, the incredibly flashy and difficult introduction was but the prelude to continuing challenges, culminating in heavy, rapid fire chromatic octaves four deep in both hands.
Completing the Chopin group was a familiar Waltz in A minor, with beautifully contoured melody, particularly when it moved to the left hand, and a nocturne abounding in graceful, fluid ornamentations. The well-loved Scherzo in B-flat Minor, Op. 31 was virtuosically played, with vivid contrasts between its declamations and melodic flow; but one must confess that in this context it was upstaged by the Etudes.
From Albeniz came three selections from his "Iberia," a set of 12 pieces that idealize the Spanish atmosphere. While just a little overblown and tedious, they had been selected for considerable variety in detail, and coloristic possibilities. One noted the bold noontime feeling of "Malaga," the nocturnal suavity of "Jerez" progressing to heavier, treble chords; and the staccato brightness of "Eritana."
Gurt was at his lyric best in a lingering, poetic interpretation of "The Maid and the Nightingale" by Granados, bringing the bird's piercingly sweet song out of the accompanying commentary. This was but one example of the artist's ability to affectingly project a clear melodic line.
The pianist romped home through the characteristic Hispanic charms of "Iberia." Strongly accenting its dancing rhythms and giving its lilting melodies their head, he went beyond Chabrier with his own excellent arrangement that added even more abandon to the heady ending.
The Bachauer series of recitals on Temple Square continues through the weekend, with Alec Chien performing tonight at 7:30, and Steven Mayer on Saturday.