Fort Worth — He had me at Brahms.
Sure, during his sold-out Cliburn at the Kimbell recital Thursday evening, native Texan Adam Golka performed a wide-ranging repertoire, from Beethoven to a couple of pieces written last year by his friends.
But it was the Brahms that, for me, was utterly convincing, transfixing, even.
Golka shaped the three Brahms pieces—the Capriccio in B minor, Op. 76 No. 2; the Intermezzo in A major, Op. 118; and the Rhapsody in E-flat Major, Op. 119, No. 4—with loving care. The Capriccio was charming, the Intermezzo sensitive, and the Rhapsody at turns whimsical and martial. His playing—phrasing, color, tone--was well-thought-out without sounding micromanaged.
But even before this most excellent Brahms, Golka presented much that was worth hearing. His Beethoven Sonata No. 7 in D Major exhibited his technical prowess. The first movement is marked Presto, and at speed, Golka’s playing was clean and precise. In the second of the four movements, marked Largo, Golka found a suitable note of tragedy, without ever letting the tempo slip into outright lugubriousness.
Golka did not limit himself to composers of the past, however. In the first half of the program, he performed works by contemporary composers Michael Brown and Roman Rabinovich. In addition to Brown’s very brief “30 Chords for Adam,” he performed his “Folk Variations,” which Golka remarked begins with the opening notes of “Yankee Doodle” stacked vertically. He also characterized Roman Rabinovich’s “Antiquity” as depicting a Roman or other ancient statue. Providing this kind of information—helpful, but not condescending—seems useful for audiences who may be more comfortable with the music of 200 years ago than with music from, say, last August. Golka himself was adept in this contemporary repertoire, and his habit of glancing toward the audience, as if to check in—“Y’all still with me?”—was especially welcome here.
The second half of the program was an homage to Golka’s Polish roots. It featured Paderewski’s Nocturne, Op. 16, No. 4, and his Cracovienne Fantastique, as well as three pieces by Chopin: the Fantasy in F minor, Op. 49; the Mazurka in C-sharp Minor, Op. 30, No. 4; and the Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 31.
Throughout, Golka eschewed overt displays of technique, though he certainly has technique aplenty. (He so rarely missed a note that when he finally did, it was startling, a reminder that indeed he is a fallible human.) But he is not a flashy player; he is a competent, compelling, musical one, which is so much the better. Golka is a musician’s pianist, one to go out of your way to hear.