Fewer than 200 music lovers joined me in Baldwin Auditorium at Duke on the evening of February 8 for a remarkable recital by Luiz de Moura Castro. For the first time, I chose to sit in the balcony, instead of on the main floor, and believe that it was a wise decision, acoustically. The details of the rich sound were easily distinguishable although, in certain registers at low volume levels, I occasionally had the impression that the tapping sound of the hammers striking the strings - almost like that of a woodpecker - was louder than the notes emitted by the strings themselves. This was no fault of the artist, but I can't say I've ever noticed this anywhere else before.
Moura Castro opened with Liszt's "Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, Variations on a theme from Cantata 12 by J. S. Bach," a showy, impressive piece with numerous virtuosic moments. It was immediately apparent that he is a pianist who has an unusually precise control of an extremely broad range of the dynamic spectrum from the quietest pianissimo to the most thunderous triple if not quadruple forte. Although far from being my favorite work by Liszt, it was extremely well played and more rewarding than other hearings have been.
There followed in succession two Beethoven Sonatas, Nos. 15 in D, Op. 28 (the "Pastoral") and 32 in C minor, Op. 111, the last. The former was played with a very lyrical warmth of expression and feeling. Moura Castro gave it a real shape that made it a true joy to listen to. The latter has in its mostly lyrical two movements some showy moments that took us part way back to the opening Liszt. The precision of the playing and of the control of the softer dynamics was especially impressive in these two works. This reviewer could not help but remember the playing of a different Beethoven sonata by a pianist with a much better known name, in a much better attended recent performance in Raleigh (and reviewed in these pages by my colleagues the Kahns), that was far less well-shaped and less satisfying.
After the intermission, which was the artist's first exit from the stage, Moura Castro played four Chopin Nocturnes (in F# major, Op. 15/2, C minor, Op. 48/1, F minor, Op. 55/1 and C# minor, Op. Post.) with only brief pauses between them. His playing of these mostly serene works cast a spell and wove a tapestry of fine, warm sound.
This group was followed by one of Moura Castro's specialties, Alberto Ginastera's Sonata No. 1, Op. 22. Thus he went out, as he came in, with a splash, but featuring Brazilian rhythms in this case. Once again, notes were struck with precision and clarity and dynamics were effectively managed.
The artist rewarded the enthusiastic and warm applause with two encores, first his compatriot Villa-Lobos' "Dance of the White Indian," and then Chopin's sixth Waltz, known as the "Minute" Waltz, Op. 64/1. These were particularly fitting additions to the repertoire of the program.
Having heard three major visiting pianists - Walter Hautzig, Radu Lupu and Luiz de Moura Castro - and a fourth, less well-known one, Maria Alice de Mendonça, in rapid succession, it is difficult not to compare them in my mind. Moura Castro seemed more relaxed than Lupu but less so than Hautzig, whose playing was almost a bit too relaxed. On the other hand, his communication with the audience was more akin to Lupu's: neither gave any oral commentary about what they were playing or announced their encores, impressively played in both cases, while Hautzig did both, really connecting with his listeners. Mendonça seemed relaxed on stage and announced her major and hugely impressive encore (that really should have been on the scheduled program) but made no other comments to the audience. Moura Castro's playing seemed more exquisite and more precise than that of any of the others, yet his technique did not impress more than what it produced. His program was also far better assembled than his compatriot Mendonça's and even than Lupu's and Hautzig's. So what would be my ideal? A Moura Castro who connects with his audience. It is beyond any question that the enjoyment the audience experienced in Hautzig's performance was exponentially increased by his interaction with the audience as well as with his music. The playing here, in Durham, was superb - virtuosic without any of the posturing or mannerisms of many virtuosi. It's a pity that Baldwin wasn't filled as well for him as Jones Auditorium at Meredith was for Hautzig. Too many people missed a truly fine performance. Moura Castro has visited Duke three or four times before and may well do so again although, like Hautzig, he is not young. Don't miss him if and when he returns.