That this superb recital should have taken place at the Reynolda House Museum is both fitting and proper because the major work of the recital also evokes the museum experience – viewing great works of art, and moving on to the next painting, hurriedly or contemplatively. The museum is the historic home of tobacco magnate R. J. Reynolds and site of one of the United States’ premiere collections of American Art, and since 2002, an affiliate of Wake Forest University. The soloist was the Russian-born pianist Dmitri Shteinberg, currently a faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Of course, the principal work performed was the iconic masterpiece, Pictures at an Exhibition by Modeste Mussorgsky.

With single-minded purpose, the youngish Shteinberg nodded impatiently to the audience and immediately attacked the first of Six Intermezzi, Opus 4 by Robert Schumann that opened the recital. Written immediately after the better-known Papillons (Butterflies), these six works give us a picture of the 22 year-old Schumann, in love (the Intermezzi were originally called Pièces fantastiques and were dedicated to the 12-year-old Clara Weick then later rededicated to the composer Jan Kalliwoda) and flexing his newly acquired skills as a contrapuntalist. Immediately, one recognizes musical traits to become typical of Schumann – the large upward leap followed by stepwise descending scales, always expressive. The second Intermezzo is in a fast and agitated triple meter with a calm mid-section, while the third Intermezzo features a grace-note-like 32nd-note pattern evoking a feeling of nonchalance! A simple “Siciliano” follows and then a most extraordinary fifth piece, with ambiguous chromaticisms in the outer parts alternating with almost violent outbursts. Clearly the most complex and well-developed piece of the set, it prepares the brilliant and flamboyant closing movement with a scherzo-like middle section. Shteinberg was extraordinary in this early work – dramatic, brilliant, dreamy at times, but with remarkably well-balanced chords.

After a perfunctory acknowledgement of the enthusiastic audience, the pianist launched into a brilliant performance of the familiar Fantaisie-Impromptu, Opus 66 by Frédéric Chopin. This was impeccable playing; the smooth scales, sparkling arpeggios and the simple charm of the melodic second theme made this one of the best moments of the afternoon.

Promptly after the 10-minute intermission, Shteinberg launched into the opening “Promenade” which hurried us up the steps of the museum to appreciate Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in the original piano version (1873), celebrating the paintings of his late friend and artist Viktor Hartmann. Maurice Ravel’s 1922 orchestration is a staple of the orchestral repertory and more often performed than the original, but the piano version is a great delight and a tour de force for the virtuoso pianist. Only twice, once in the early “Vecchio castello” (Old Castle), in which the alto saxophone is so indelibly part of my sonic image, and later in “Cum mortuis in lingua morta,” (With the Dead in a Dead Language) did I find myself missing the sound of the orchestra. Indeed, I found myself preferring the crisp clarity of the piano, especially in rapid passages such as “Tuileries” and “Limoges.”

Clearly, Shteinberg was in his element musically as well as technically. From the even pace of the irregular meters of the several promenades to the chirps and pecks of the “Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks in Their Shells” and from the gossiping of the women at the “Market Place of Limoges” to the majesty of the “Great Gate of Kiev” with its hint of Orthodox hymns and ringing bells, Shteinberg was masterfully in charge, producing a magnificent sonic portrait of the genius of Mussorgsky. Only when the last chord gave way to the instant standing ovation of the audience did our soloist, Dmitri Shteinberg, deign to smile! And for good reason – this was a spectacular concert which augurs well for a successful Carolina Summer Music Festival

Visit the CSMF calendar to see other events planned for this summer.