The program that pianist Natalya Lundtvedt selected to initiate the August is Piano Month! series of Noontime Concerts™ recitals at Old St. Mary's Cathedral had the potential to demonstrate the wide diversity of sounds that have been invoked in piano composition. This was achieved not only through a diversity of composers, including Franz Schubert, Frédéric Chopin, and Claude Debussy but also in the diversity of approaches by a single composer, such as Schubert and Chopin. Johann Sebastian Bach added to the mix, not because the piano was his instrument, but because pianists both past (such as Ferruccio Busoni) and present (such as Richard Goode and, here in San Francisco, Frank French) have placed such emphasis on exploring sonorities consistent with his musical syntax. Even the least familiar composer, Akhmed Jevdet Gadzhiev, took a sound-based approach with his invocation on Oriental exotica. Unfortunately, while Lundtvedt brought a high level of technical command to each of these composers, she displayed little awareness of the extent to which the life of the music was in its sounds, rather than its notes.
This was particularly evident in her decision to perform two successive impromptus from Schubert's Opus 90 (D. 899), the second in E-flat Major and the third in G-flat Major. These two relatively short works speak in decidedly different voices. The E-flat Major is a perpetuum mobile with a rapid figure in triplet eighth notes weaving its way in and out of the "horizontal" voices through which its harmonic support is expressed. In contrast the G-flat Major is almost a "song without words," with a soprano voice above arpeggiated harmonies in a contrapuntal relationship with a bass-line continuo. One could almost say that Schubert was experimenting in the "orchestration" of these two solo piano compositions; and that sense of orchestration is even evident in the transcription of the E-flat Major impromptu made by Johannes Brahms as a study for the left hand playing alone. Sadly, for Lundtvedt these compositions sounded like little more than technical challenges to be mastered; and, while her mastery was both evident and admirable, it did little to contribute to these works (or any of the others on the program) being the sort of exciting listening experiences that they deserved to be.