With this recital, pianist Jose Ramos-Santana began the wind-down of his two-week residence in Buffalo as a Westwood Affiliate Artist. He will be in town through Friday, continuing his series of informal lecture-recitals for schools, retirement homes and other selected audiences.
Ramos-Santana seems to be an admirably motivated artist. He has a very strong technique which he uses, not for flamboyant purposes, but to illuminate the music's form, line and content.
During the playing of Schumann's "Symphonic Etudes" I had the momentary feeling that he was tending to underplay the succession of 13 variations. But he was consistent in this approach and the gradual firming up at the close and his absolute command of the exciting dotted rhythms in the final variation demonstrated that he had a good conception and grasp of the work's longer line.
There were a few finger slips of little consequence. But in the more important considerations such as the general sense of logic in leading the listener from one variation to the next, the strength and articulation of the work's demanding staccato chord passages, and the clarity and independence of the of right and left hands, the recitalist left a strong impression.
Ramos-Santana puts his heart, body and soul into his performances. But these weren't quite enough to keep three pieces from Albeniz's "Iberia" airborne at all times. "Navarra" was bright and clean but rather unsubtle, the rhythmic complexities which animate the music sort of glossed over.
The gauzy landscapes of "Evocation" were rather well sketched, although clearer separation between melodic lines and accompanying figurations was often needed. This was also true of "Triana." It was played with much bravado, which was exciting on the surface but missed the more characteristic arid and sultry Iberian flavors.
The program had a welcome opener, the brief and seldom heard Beethoven Sonata in F-Sharp, Op. 78. The performance may have been a bit on the deliberate side, but was broadly sonorous and penetrating in its delineation of line and pointing up of harmonic changes, and revealingly analytical without becoming dry or academic. Throughout, the recitalist struck the right weight for this mature but small scaled work.
I felt this artist was decidedly most spontaneous and most comfortable in the closing Chopin Scherzo in C-sharp minor. Here was a truly integrated performance, with all voices distinct and separate, from the octaves in the main theme, which rang with both power and absolute clarity, right to the finish.
I was also particularly impressed with the descending embellishing figurations which adorn the slow second theme. In many hands they can sound like excess baggage, but here they tinkled sweetly away but seemed absolutely integral to the essential flow of the music, rather than something extra tacked on.
The Chopin Scherzo rightly earned the artist his most enthusiastic applause of the evening, prompting two encores. The Bach-Siloti Prelude in B minor was absolutely enchanting in its dreamy broken arpeggios and chordal progressions. The more strongly rhythmic and quasi-jazzy "Plenas" by Hector Campos-Parsi brought the recital to a close.
Recital by pianist Jose Ramos-Santana
Tuesday evening in Rockwell Hall, Buffalo State College.