Question: Are brilliant pianists so plentiful today because there are so many competitions to be won? Or is the plethora of competitions a natural and necessary response to the abundance of pianists?
Certainly there are many more of both players and contests than even the most ardent pianophile can assimilate. The Gold Medal concerts at Ambassador Auditorium, for example, presented Jean-Louis Steuerman on Monday evening not in the Piano Series, but in the Variety Series.
Steuerman, however, is no plain-wrap pianist, programmed to buzz through competition favorites at ear-numbing speed. His austere, technically and intellectually strenuous agenda featured just two admirably paired works each by Bach and Beethoven--and he did not compromise the symmetry with encores.
The Brazilian did run through the outer movements of Bach’s “Italian” Concerto, BWV 971, with mechanical ease--fast, even and perfectly balanced. He didn’t know quite what to make of the repeated bass notes in the slow movement, trying an assortment of touches and once failing to sound the note.
That was to be almost the only miscue in a performance notable for deftness of touch. Steuerman’s account of the imposing “Ouvertuere,” BWV 831--not the listed Suite--proved a wonder of fastidious phrasing and embellishments. And even the most vigorous dances remained well above mere motor manipulation.
But Steuerman is an athlete as well as an artist, and sometimes he seemed absorbed in his own dexterity. The perpetual-motion Allegretto of Beethoven’s Sonata in F, Opus 54, was a case in point, although the quirky dichotomies of the first movement were put across with charm.
As with Bach, Steuerman awoke artistically for the more epically scaled Beethoven. He negotiated the unusual formal twists of the Sonata in E, Opus 109, with clear purpose, and built a stunning sequence of climaxes in the variations.