Although Eugene Istomin counts this year as the 45th anniversary of his pianistic debut (with the New York Philharmonic), he looked much as ever at his recital in Ambassador Auditorium on Thursday night. At 60--he turns 61 on Wednesday--he is no graybeard and he is no slouch.
He is still a non-threatening type of pianist. He does not strive to overpower or overwhelm. He does not go in for sensational effects, nor attempt to personalize each and every phrase. He is a genuine middle-of-the-roader--not necessarily a deficiency. He does not arouse much excitement, yet in his quiet and efficient way he often comes closer to the heart of the music than the pounders and the incendiaries.
Istomin could not do much with the opening Sonata in A by Haydn (Hob. XVI:12). The program note called it "rather aristocratic." More to the point, it is rather insignificant.
But in his seemingly offhand way, he did most of the right things for Schumann's prolix Sonata No. 1 in F-sharp minor. Istomin's urge is always to the lyrical, and he let the tender melodies flower with nice curve and color. He did not maintain the rhythmical impulse so strongly, yet he didn't feel obliged to thump out every dotted note pattern as if it were a millennium. When he had finished, one had heard a solid exposition of a work flawed but still generous in radiant moments.