It was an extraordinary recital Robert Taub presented Saturday in the Temple Square Assembly Hall.
Not that his program was all that ususual, though it was very well chosen. But even those who, like myself, had been sorry to see the young American pianist eliminated from the 1982 Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition must have been astonished at the clarity and insight of his playing. Yet whether in Beethoven, Chopin or Scriabin, this was achieved without once compromising the music's inner flow, or descending to the cheap or the merely showy.Take his Beethoven, here the Op. 28 Sonata in D major, sometimes called the "Pastoral." This has long seemed to me the most Schubertian of the Beethoven sonatas, a view Taub's singing projection seemed to endorse, particularly the beautifully judged rhythmic hesitations of the Andante.
At the same time, there was room for Handel (e.g., the effortless detailing of the da capo figurations in the same movement), Mozart and, most important, Beethoven himself. Witness the sense of direction in the opening movement, its pulse apparent even in the runs, and the internal logic of the concluding Rondo, here gorgeously articulated.
The result was perhaps the finest performance of this sonata I have ever heard, all its elements exquisitely balanced yet its rhythms never in doubt.
Ditto his Scriabin, a composer whose music Taub is in the process of recording. Here it was the Seventh Sonata (the "White Mass"), whose key the composer designated as F sharp minor but whose chromaticism is so extreme that that has to be taken on faith.
To his credit, Taub did not let that degenerate into a mystical, quasi-impressionistic wash. Instead he offered a prismatic reading in which the music seemed to be illuminated from within, its color and sonority more purposefully varied than is sometimes the case. Which, as it happened, made an interesting contrast with the Chopin that followed, the E flat major Nocturne, Op. 55, No. 2, here limpid but never soporific.
The outstanding Chopin performance of the evening, however, was that of the G minor Ballade, again well integrated and exceptionally well scaled, with a sure sense of the music's rise and fall, especially in the climaxes.
If others have found more panache in this music, well, that is even truer of the two Liszt pieces on the program, the Chopin-Liszt "Maiden's Wish" and the third of the Paganini Etudes, the familiar "La Campanella." I found the latter a trifle slow, with an occasionally brittle top. But even with all the bells rattling every voice was clear, and there were certainly plenty of fireworks by the end.
"The Maiden's Wish," by contrast, combined technique and charm, showing that Taub knows when not to overplay. As did his Scarlatti encore, the Sonata in E major, L. 23, which here balanced the songful and the exuberant in a way one suspects would have pleased the composer of "Figaro."