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Fearless pianist's risks yield huge rewards

NEWPORT -- Dense fog drifted on Sunday night through the great marbled room in the Breakers where Michael Endres made a rare US appearance at the Newport Music Festival, but the playing of the German pianist was like a shaft of light breaking through the mist.

Endres has made an admirable series of records for Capriccio and Oehms Classics -- Mozart, Ravel, Weber, Schumann, and the finest recent account of the complete Schubert sonatas -- but the CDs don't begin to do him justice. They are poised, thoughtful, and expressive, but there is no hint of the wild-man risk-taking that marked his Newport recital. Endres took big chances, communicated how thrilling every dimension of the music was to him, and succeeded triumphantly against the odds. He hit a few wrong notes you wouldn't want to hear repeatedly on a recording; to be fair the fogged-in piano wasn't an entirely responsive partner. But that was a small price to pay for playing that was this imaginative, exciting, and expressive.

With his spectacles, sport coat, and bow tie, Endres looked a bit professiorial, but that was before the music took complete possession of his body; no one has stomped the pedal this enthusiastically since Rudolf Serkin.

He opened with Schubert, a bold and passionate account of the A-major Sonata (D. 959). There was no mincing around, and the crazy storm that broke into the gentle barcarolle of the slow movement was terrifying. Endres followed this up with three vigorously tuneful showpieces by the 19th-century American pianist/composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk, delivered with tremendous rhythmic elan and robust humor.

After intermission came Schumann's neglected ''Humoreske," which is neither a slight nor a comic work; the suite of contrasting pieces, often agitated and mostly sad, clocks in at about half an hour. Endres's chameleonic performance was sensitive to every nuance of feeling. He closed the program by displaying his supervirtuoso side in Godowsky's musically intricate Paraphrase on Johann Strauss Jr.'s ''Wine, Women and Song"; Endres kept it dancing despite its knuckle-busting difficulties. For his encore, he moved from the ballroom to the great outdoors with a scintillating suite of Schubert peasant dances.

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