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Guzman Stops the Rain

Another rainy day in Washington, just in time for concert-going. But Sunday's recital at the Phillips Collection by Christopher Guzman, Juilliard-trained and a frequent performer on NPR's St. Paul's Sunday (yes -- NPR still has SOME serious music programming), chased away the raindrops in fine style. Mr. Guzman's rhythmic verve and attention to detail made for very interesting listening indeed.

Christopher GuzmanFirst up was Schubert's Sonata in G, D. 894. I have a like-respect relationship with the Schubert sonatas and occasionally feel bad about it. Yet not knowing Mr. Guzman's program in advance, I was pleased to hear Schubert about which I have no reservations whatsoever. D. 894 is a song-and-dance work, lyrical and dramatic in turns but never 'profound' as very late Schubert is sometimes made out to be. The drama is anchored in dance and march rhythms, which Guzman brought to the fore with vivid articulation of the main themes of the opening and closing movements. Not too fast or too slow, neither too wayward nor too introspective, this was my idea of Schubert at his best. Even if the Steinway's lower register was a bit boomy at times and the pianist banged a bit at climactic moments, this was very rewarding indeed.

Post-break the audience was challenged by Schoenberg's Suite, op. 25, often called the first 'true' 12-tone composition. This is Schoenberg challenging the musical status quo by asserting a superior claim to be true heir to its past, using the structure and dance modes of a Bach suite while jettisoning the tonal anchors. The result is rather like Bach refracted through a cubist lens. Guzman's clear rhythms made the dance elements unmistakeable even in their 12-tone guise, and anchored the suite nicely with a profound and lithe reading of the central Intermezzo.

ScarboYet Mr. Guzman is not all about rhythm. His concluding Ravel Gaspard de la Nuit was subtle and mysterious, and I heard unsuspected jazz elements lurking -- syncopations in Ondine, smoky blue notes in Le gibet. The concluding Scarbo (spooky, vanishing gnome-like demon), more Lisztian by nature, had real depth under Guzman's fleet fingers and brought to mind the dark opening of Ravel's Left-Hand Concerto. A quick encore, Chopin's Raindrop prelude, rounded things off in fine meteorological fashion. The sun even came out for a moment, which we hope may inspire Mr. Guzman to return again soon.

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