Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities in Southern Pines presented another top-notch Sunday-at-3-p.m. Music Series offering on February 2, 2003. The pianist made the Kawai sound like a Steinway, and the reviewer can only hope that he will be invited to perform the same program on the celebrated 1923 Steinway D at Elon College at some time in the future for comparison.
Juxtaposed side by side, musical portraits of Romantic period composers Schubert and Brahms were brought to mind by the skillful fingers of Clifton Matthews, pianist, a member of the performing artist faculty of the North Carolina School of the Arts. Before intermission it was Franz Schubert (1797-1828), and after the break, Johannes Brahms (1833-97). Brahms was more than twice Schubert's age when he passed on. The younger man was depicted by a brilliant characteristic mark of sophisticated clarity in his writing; the elder, by a passionate romantic style deliberately forcing phrases to blend one after another.
The Schubert group began with Six Moments Musicaux, D.780. The C major featured strong melody lines with just a touch of sustaining pedal. The A-flat major's rich somber tones brought a peaceful expression to the face of the handsome mature pianist and one sensed that the work had become a part of him as it concluded with a passionate forte. Bouncy contrast was provided by the F minor, played with continuing clarity in a mezzo forte yet with fully assertive sound.
The C-sharp minor allowed the artist to display his control of the entire keyboard with brilliant precision. The second F Minor selection bridged the program space to the last Moment, which returned us to A flat major; its persistent melody became compelling with the use of controlled dynamic contrasts.
The Four Impromptus, D.899, followed. The first, in C minor, contained a simplistic melody made interesting with beautifully presented dynamics. The E-flat major featured a controlled fortissimo, never compromising the historic Boyd residence with vibrations. It was masterfully delivered. The G-flat major thrilled the listener with rapid-fire triplets, perfectly articulated. Then came a singable melody and it is remarkable if no one has set words to it, for it speaks on its own to each listener. Finally, the A-flat major brought a familiar left hand melody swelling with a rhythm that could be saying the romantic "three little words" over and over again. Coming at the end of the Impromptus, the theme was gorgeous, passionate, even rapturous!
After intermission, the focus changed to reflect the personality of Brahms, first through Three Intermezzi, Op. 117. The E flat major, marked Andante moderato, brought us a richly romantic melody quite different in complexion from Schubert. Words alone cannot describe the contrast; one must listen to each composer to grasp the distinction. Each has a singular personality expressed in his music. The B-flat minor (Andante non troppo e con molta espressione) virtually sighed into its line of communication. The C-sharp minor's bass theme was deftly controlled by the sustaining pedal quite properly used.
Of the Seven Fantasies, Op. 116, suffice it to say that the expression markings were so descriptively followed that it was easy to see when each began and ended.
Matthews, holder of the Casella prize for piano playing from the Academia Chigiana in Siena, Italy, and recipient of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors' Award for excellence in teaching, performs frequently in recitals in the United States and Europe. He commands a wide repertoire from Bach's complete Well-Tempered Clavier through contemporary works, including three premieres of scores by composer Kenneth Frazelle.
We shall watch with anticipation for his future musical portraits of other composers. His is yet another musical talent polished by the Juilliard School with additional study in Munich, Germany, provided by two Fulbright awards. Now, as pedagogue, he has passed on his skill not only through the North Carolina School of the Arts but also by way of master classes in France, Switzerland, Britain, Scandinavia and Canada.