Adam Golka, one of the American Pianists Association's 2009 Classical Fellows, brought the "Grand Encounters" series of recitals to the sort of conclusion that justifies the title.
Sunday afternoon's program at Butler University displayed the Houston pianist in an array of 19th-century pianistic landmarks. The balance of expressive and technical demands captured the attention just "on paper," and as the printed program came to life in performance, it was clear that Golka, 24, was more than capable of putting something personal behind every phrase.
Beethoven's lively Sonata in F major, op. 10, no. 2, opened the recital. This was Viennese classicism champing at the bit in a performance that managed a fair amount of dynamic contrast, despite a highly resonant acoustic environment.
That the hall and Golka could accommodate a genuine pianissimo became clear with Brahms' Three Intermezzi, op. 117. His manner in the soft, sweeping passages of No. 2 showed evenness of tone in all registers. Golka knit together the episodic character of No. 3 expertly, and no youthful impetuousness marred the sustained tenderness of No. 1's lullaby, which emerged as patient, full-hearted song.
Golka exhibited his flashy side with Liszt's Mephisto Waltz No. 1, whose diabolical scenario doesn't need to be known for it to achieve its dangerous, seductive effect. The work's menacing dance threw off a multitude of sparks in Golka's performance, and the false promise of peace in the middle was alluring. A few wrong notes didn't inhibit the bravado of the whirlwind climax.
The chance to hear Beethoven's Sonata in B-flat major, op. 106, in recital doesn't come along often. Golka strode onstage as the lights dimmed in Eidson-Duckwall Recital Hall after intermission, sat down and abruptly thundered out the assertive opening chords. About 45 minutes later, his impressively managed journey through the immense work had put a shining capstone on the APA series.
Performing the "Hammerklavier" (as it's known from the composer's inscription, said to indicate his distaste for using the French word "pianoforte") requires unparalleled stamina -- not all of it a matter of muscle and nerve: The slow movement is a marvelous blend of sublimity, anxiety and an oddly lyrical defiance. Golka represented these qualities with surprising maturity and the ability to take the long view. That served him well in the immense finale, with its shimmering, grandiose fugue.