By FRED KIRSHNIT
Mr. Orth is a Naumburg Award winner from the 1970s, whose career has since radiated from his home in Cologne and rendered him perhaps less well known in America as a result. His recital was quite thrilling, notable for a secure combination of passion, technique, and poetic expression.
The Preludes are almost exclusively given as a set, although the composer did not necessarily hear them that way. Mr. Orth's version stressed their structural unity and reinforced the modern view that Chopin was truly a classicist in the thrall of Mozart and, especially in this set, Bach. The two dozen little gems are, of course, reminiscent of the Well-Tempered Clavier and are even more closely intertwined than the original Bach preludes around both the circle of fifths and the concept of the relative minor, a device that solidifies their natural order in the inner ear. In Mr. Orth's confident and capable hands, the experience seemed like one continuous essay in profundity.
Highlights included a lovely version of the famous A Major, a very dark reading of the E Flat Minor, a steadfast and stouthearted "raindrop," a rousing cannonade of an F Minor, and a somber but stately C Minor. Mr. Orth is adept but not flashy, ceding the spotlight to the music itself, refreshingly emphasizing the inner conflict of the composer rather than the agility of the current performer.
Interpretively, his most impressive offering was the Sonata No. 30 of Beethoven, a rendition that painstakingly delineated the Herculean struggle of the protagonist auteur with chilling results. Mr. Orth is a commanding presence and one perfectly willing to shape phrases with his own signature. Only three measures into the Beethoven, this listener was captivated.
There were certainly no rest stops on this particular musical journey, as Mr. Orth chose one of the most difficult works in the literature as his final piece. Liszt's Sonata in B Minor is not for the lily-eared, as Charles Ives used to say, and Mr. Orth spat it out full-blown, on the edge and dangerous. Some of the louder passages were a bit clangorous for my taste, but I probably would have had the same cavil had I had the opportunity to hear Liszt himself launch into this essay that is part lurid imagery and part circus act.
Suffice it to say that Mr. Orth is the master of this piece and can, at any given time, hit 98% of the notes, an especially high batting average. For sheer excitement, he is difficult to surpass.