Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Spanish piano

On Sunday, courtesy of the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music, the Spanish pianist Daniel del Pino played a virtuosic recital, tearing up the piano with works by Albeniz, de Falla, and Liszt. As exciting as these pieces were, the highlight of the concert was a world premiere of Francisco Lara's Cuarto Invenciones. Lara is a young composer (born in 1968) who divides his time between England and a tiny village in northwestern Spain. Del Pino added a spoken introduction to the piece, where he related the harsh environment in Lara's isolated location to the piece. Indeed, the first invention combined a delicate whirling in the right hand with an irregular chordal melody in the left, which del Pino compared with the constant wind and the more solid features in the landscape. The four inventions were composed as a tribute to the memory of the pianist Miguel Frechilla, and in the second invention, this took the form of a spiritual conversation with the departed. The first half of the invention was played conventionally, but during the resonance of a thundering chord, del Pino inserted a strip of Blu Tack onto the middle register strings, which muted the pitches and turned the piano more into a percussion instrument. As the invention progressed, more and more of the notes gravitated to this region of the piano, so that by the end of the piece, the sound was like the knocking during a seance, amplified by the resonance of the instrument. It was an uncanny and electrifying effect. The third invention was short and ferocious, leading to the finale, which del Pino compared with the last movement of Chopin's second sonata. The whirling movements from the first invention returned, creating a short but dizzying effect. Throughout all four inventions, each hand played a completely independent line, using flexible rhythms and fluid melodies. It was a beautiful piece, which I'd love to hear again. Lara is definitely a composer worth watching.

The Lara piece was third on the program, after two dances by Granados, the second book of Iberia by Isaac Albeniz, and preceding Manuel de Falla's Fantasia Baetica. The Albeniz and de Falla pieces are both virtuoso showpieces, late romantic works with strong Spanish colors. Even though the Lara was not easy, it was a welcome contrast from the rippling effects and impressionistic harmonies. The second half of the program was all by Franz Liszt, starting with the three Petrarch sonnets from the second book of Années de Pélerinage, and concluding with the Spanish Rhapsody. Années de Pélerinage is a beautiful set of pieces, contemplative and passionate. They were a relative oasis of calm before the sparkle and thunder of the Spanish Rhapsody, one of Liszt's showpieces, which he wrote after a successful tour in Spain. As an encore, del Pino played one of Chopin's Études, a cycle which he has recorded.

I also had the good fortune to participate in a master class with Mr. del Pino on Saturday, where I played Federico Mompou's Cancion y danza No. 5. Del Pino was a very gracious teacher, combining technical specifics on topics such as fingering with more expansive suggestions on phrasing, and even biographical information on Mompou that I hadn't uncovered previously. He pointed out that Mompou, like Bartok, collected folk songs from various regions of Spain, and even though Mompou's harmonies are a bit softer, the dance of the piece will end up sounding more like Bartok than it did before. The dance has a clear alternation between I and V harmonies, which it signals with open fifths in the bass. Del Pino compared these fifths with the sounds of bagpipes and suggested that they ring out accordingly. His emphasis during the session was on the colors of the piece, and making sure that the unexpected elements were, well, unexpected. His work with two other students on a Chopin waltz and a Beethoven sonata was equally illuminating. Thanks to Chris Tanz for the photo, which indeed proves that I was there.

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