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Music Review : Gothoni in Southern California Debut

November 01, 1994|DANIEL CARIAGA | TIMES MUSIC WRITER

According to his biography, Ralf Gothoni, the 48-year old Finnish musician who took the 1994 Gilmore Award--a potentially career-making, cash-and-engagements prize worth "in the neighborhood of $500,000," its sponsors say--is a solo pianist, a conductor, a composer, a chamber musician, a "lieder pianist" and a festival director.

How the reserved, young-looking Gothoni carries off his other musical endeavors, one can only guess. In his debut piano recital Sunday night in Schoenberg Hall Auditorium at UCLA, the observant listener could admire Gothoni's undoubted versatility, his clear perspective and his effortless, if not comprehensive, technique.

Nevertheless, this event was not an occasion for rejoicing. Gothoni may get around the keyboard with ease, but the sounds of the sensible music he regularly makes often prove unpleasant.

Above mezzo-forte , in the dynamic area where most of his playing takes place, he abuses the instrument and his listeners' ears consistently. The tone he makes at that level is metallic and ugly. Spending 90 minutes in his pianistic presence is not necessarily a treat.

The more rewarding half of this event involved Schubert's monumental B-flat Sonata, one quarter of which Gothoni played with deep concentration and a mostly becalmed sound.

Many if not all of the beauties in the seraphic opening movement emerged persuasive and contexted--even, on occasion, legato . His rhetoric proved convincing--he gives good pause--and he took, surprisingly and admirably, the repeat of the exposition. This was cherishable piano-playing.

The rest of the sonata fell short of these ideals. The Andante sostenuto lacked color and nuance, and too often became glib. The quickish Scherzo failed of clarity and eschewed the composer's asked-for delicatezza entirely. The finale, raw and over-exuberant, asked the musical question: How can a 48-year old professional pianist play with so little polish?

The first half of the recital used a charming Aria by Domenico Zipoli as prelude to Liszt's exposing B-minor Sonata. Though laid out cannily and with strong understanding, Gothoni's playing of the sonata told us nothing new about it, and too much about his hit-and-run approach to the piano.

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