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OUT OF THE BLUE

PIANIST

When I tell you that Finnish pianist Ralf Gothoni will give the annual Friends of QRS Recital in Slee Hall at 7 p.m. Sunday, as a result of having been named the 1994 Gilmore Artist, your response might well be: "Ho-hum! Another young whiz-bang of the keyboard." A logical response, perhaps, but you'd be wrong.

The Gilmore Artist award is the most unusual prize in music, because competitors have no idea they are competing. The late Irving S. Gilmore was a Kalamazoo, Mich., retailer whose passions were the piano and philanthropy. He left an endowment of $100 million and instructions to set up a committee to tour the world anonymously, auditioning unsuspecting pianists for an award package that consists of cash and a four-year concert tour. The Gilmore auditioners are looking for musicianship and unusual interpretive insight more than just blazing technique and glitz.

And Gothoni is no youngster. He'll be 50 next year. But that doesn't mean he can't dazzle the ear, as reported in this column in December in a review of his recording of the Britten Piano Concerto which was described as "swashbuckling outbursts counterpoised against pensive, fine-lined statements."

For his appearance on Sunday, Gothoni has selected one unknown piece, an "Aria" by Domenico Zipoli, an early 18th century Italian composer, and two staples of the repertoire: the gigantic Liszt Sonata in B minor, which is hard enough to play accurately and even more difficult to make into an affectingly musical listening experience, and Schubert's Sonata in B-Flat, D 960, in which the problems are quite the opposite, involving sensitivity of phrase shaping, tonal balancing and weighting.

-- Herman Trotter

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