Concert Review 1993

 Schultz Does Justice To Rzewski Work
San Francisco Chronicle                
Monday, May 24, 1993
                              By Joshua Kosman

Attendance was sparse for San Francisco pianist Thomas Schultz's Friday night recital at Old First Church, but those who came could not have been disappointed. This was a fine undertaking, equally impressive for its thoughtful planning and for its strong, fearless execution.

The bulk of the program was devoted to "The People United Will Never Be Defeated", Frederic Rzewski's huge, bravura set of variations on the Chilean leftist anthem of that name. Simply to tackle Rzewski's extraordinary 1975 masterwork - about an hour's worth of keyboard display that is as tireless in its invention as it is tiring in its performance demands - is daunting enough; but to dispatch it with the sort of fiery elegance and formal command that Schultz brought to the piece is another order of achievement entirely.

Springing from the clear melodic, rhythmic and harmonic contours of the theme, Rzewski's 36 variations cover vast expanses of musical landscape. There are displacements of the tune - some wrenching, others more subtle - and grand Lisztian fireworks displays. Material from other pieces appears and is integrated into the process.

The variations run further and further afield, but the piece returns to its thematic roots at regular intervals (the set is structured as six groups of six variations apiece). Through it all, Rzewski's distinctive voice - a rush of improvisational energy channeled through the structural constraints of the work - keeps a listener engaged.

Schultz made his way through this minefield with admirable clarity. His performance was not as overtly flashy as the composer's, but he brought a depth of feeling to the music that gave even the splashiest passages an undercurrent of soulfulness. Equally important, he gave each variation its own individual character, while keeping it related to the overall course of the piece.

"The People United" was composed originally as a companion to the similarly encyclopedic "Diabelli Variations" of Beethoven. In a more modest but equally revealing stroke of programming, Schultz paved the way for the Rzewski with two sparer and more intimate variation sets. Webern's Piano Variations, Op.27 opened the program, in a delicate and beautifully pointed performance.

Before an early intermission Schultz played a wonderful set of variations by his wife, composer Hyo-shin Na. The theme, a buoyant unaccompanied tune stated first in the bass, draws on musical elements from her native Korea, and some of those elements -including the pentatonic intervals and a couple of vibrant rhythmic figures - remain as landmarks in a treatment that grows increasingly complex and interrelated