At first glance, Robert Thies’ recital program Friday looked like he just dumped out his music bag and picked pieces at random. In experience, however, the pianist’s agenda at El Camino College’s Marsee Auditorium proved cogent and moving, albeit exhausting.
The program moved along a stately musical and emotional arc to an impressive culmination in Schumann’s great Fantasy in C, a piece at once public and private. Thies captured its dualism skillfully, the extroverted and ceremonial music striding forward boldly, the inward, deeply personal music circling and recircling in obsessive reflection.
This was obviously a well-considered yet strongly felt performance. So strongly felt that it may have lived in the impassioned moment a bit too much, at the expense of larger integration. But generosity of spirit and candor in expression matter most here, and on those counts Thies delivered abundantly.
Winner of the 1995 Prokofiev International Competition in St. Petersburg and trained at USC, Thies is something of a local hero. He had a large and vociferously supportive audience on hand for this recital, which began with Bartok’s folk-tune-based Sonatina, crisply delineated in bright, hard sound.
Three Rachmaninoff Preludes--the Chopinesque Opus 32, No. 5, and Opus 23, No. 4, and the fierce Opus 32, No. 8--followed effortlessly. Thies then prefaced his incisive, rather monochromatic account of Beethoven’s Sonata in A, Opus 101, with a short talk linking it to the Schumann Fantasy.
Prokofiev’s A-minor Sonata No. 3 found Thies on obviously congenial and dramatic ground. He seems to have a real flair for Russian music generally and Prokofiev particularly, although he also had the arduous program’s only serious lapse of finger memory here.
Debussy’s “L’Isle Joyeuse” closed the first half in an oddly driven interpretation. In encore, Thies offered Brahms’ Intermezzo, Opus 118, No. 2, with quiet, earnest poignancy.