The Blustery and Visceral Arise From a Brisk Approach

© New York Times
Published: October 24, 2003

Zoltan Kocsis's Bartok recordings have established him as one of the best current interpreters of that composer, but they also may have unfairly eclipsed his other strengths. Earlier in his career, this 51-year old pianist's affinity for Bach and Liszt were more frequently noted, and a victory in a Beethoven competition in 1970 was his first professional milestone. For his recital on Oct. 16 at the 92nd Street Y, Mr. Kocsis set Bartok aside and offered sonatas by Beethoven and Schubert, and a set of character pieces by Liszt.

It was a hefty program, and Mr. Kocsis wasted little time on niceties, walking briskly to the piano as soon as the lights went down, and diving into Beethoven's Sonata No. 27 in E minor (Op. 90) before the applause was finished. His playing reflected that assertiveness, at least at the start, when it was what the Beethoven needed.

But Mr. Kocsis is not a monochromatic player, and as he settled in his reading grew more flexible and expansive. There were moments in the second movement when the top line floated like a vocal melody over the accompanying figuration, yet his reading of the work's final bars was as precipitous as his opening.

Still, that was by no means as stormy as Mr. Kocsis gets. A more overtly colorful side came through his performances of a handful of Liszt works that ranged from the blustery and visceral - the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 5 and the ``Scardas Macabre'' - to the more graceful ``Jeux d'Eau a la Villa d'Este.''

The performances could have been suppler, particularly the ``Jeux d'Eau,'' which had a glassy, strident sound. But for sheer electricity, which is what this music is mostly about, Mr. Kocsis's readings could not be faulted.

He surrounded the Liszt group with Schubert: the youthful Sonata in E minor (D. 566), just after the Beethoven, and the majestic Sonata in B flat (D. 960), which made up the second half of the program. Mr. Kocsis played the E minor Sonata in the two-movement version newly sanctioned by musicologists who have been investigating the manuscripts.He touched on the kinship between this work and the Beethoven, composed three years earlier, but addressed the differences more clearly, with a gentle, fluid touch.

The Sonata in B flat, of course, is from another world, composed more than a decade later, in Schubert's final year. Mr. Kocsis offered a consistently brisk approach, with tempos more intuitive than metronomic. Phrases breathed naturally, even when they were unusually bouncy, as in the Scherzo, or speedily impetuous, as in the Scherzo and finale.

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