VIAF 2014

A piano recital to remember …

Yesterday evening, Italian pianist Gabriele Vianello regaled a packed house at the Aula Mgr G. Farrugia with a dazzling performance which will not be forgotten in a hurry.

A professor of pianoforte at the famous Venice Conservatoire, Gabriele showed his mettle and versatility in the works of two contrasting composers, namely, Beethoven and Schumann. Starting with the op. 27 Sonatas (1 and 2), labelled by the composer ‘quasi una fantasia’ for their rhapsodic and almost improvisatory quality, Gabriele produced an impeccably mellow tone, well-rounded, elegant yet quietly assertive.

While Beethoven’s Sonata op. 27 no. 2, the familiar ‘Moonlight,’ may get the publicity and the performances, it is the Sonata op. 27 no. 1 in Eb that represents a radical breakthrough for the composer. The opening movement is not a fast movement in sonata form, but a song-like Andante in a playful slow-dance rhythm; this is abruptly interrupted by a free and virtuosic Allegro, which in turn reverts to the original Andante as if nothing has happened. A brief, stormy Scherzo marked Allegro molto e vivace, in which the hands play three-note patterns in opposition to each other, is contrasted with a trio in syncopated hunting rhythm, an eccentric movement that would have fit in nicely with the Bagatelles op. 33. A lovely, largely chordal Adagio con espressione is in fact an introduction to the Allegro vivace finale, an elaborately worked-out rondo with a good deal of contrapuntal passagework. At its climax, the music comes to a sudden halt, and the Adagio theme returns for a beautiful moment before a Presto coda brings the sonata to a brilliant conclusion. Gabriele tackled the technical and musical difficulties inherent in this work with confidence and a wonderful sense of ease. The classic second movement, whether it be of a Mozart concerto, a Beethoven sonata or a Haydn string quartet, is almost exclusively sublime, and this is exactly the kind of aristocratic tone that Gabriele teased out of the piano.

This same noble quality of tone marked the more famous ‘Moonlight’ Sonata, whose ravishing first movement was played with the precise tempo. Marked Adagio sostenuto, Gabriele’s interpretation was a virtual invitation to draw out the music to such an extent that the slight, probing melody takes precedence, leaving listeners to be hypnotized by it and the undulating arpeggios that serve as an introduction and then, theoretically, recede into accompaniment. The right tempo is key to the effectiveness of this movement. Played too fast, the music sounds mechanical; perhaps more frequently, however, it is played with funereal slowness and this kills its quiet urgency. A tempo between these extremes brings out the music’s yearning character, particularly in the portion in which slow sighs rise and fall in the treble, with a weary echo in the bass. Gabriele struck the right speed and his interpretation was characterized by classic poise and temperance.

The second movement, Allegretto, is a short and came across as a delicate interlude with a syncopated tune in the treble that is interrupted by slightly darker ruminations in the bass during the central section. The Presto transformed the first movement’s contemplative arpeggios into a frantic, obsessive figure whose upward ripple that even infects the melody, investing the finale with a character that looks forward to the Waldstein Sonata. This movement, rather than the first, is the one that assumes a sonata allegro form, although Beethoven breaks with tradition by making all the thematic units equally agitated. If the Adagio is a reflection of private, inner thought, the Presto is high public drama, an unexpected and effective contrast to the sonata’s intimate beginning. 

What could be discerned from the interpretation of these two wonderful Sonatas was the way that Gabriele had complete control over the dynamic intensity. Sometimes, quite erroneously, one gets the impression that a Beethoven work must be loud, insistent and explosive. Gabriele taught us differently: Beethoven is assertive, yes, robust, yes, yet also incredibly tender and suave – and it is these latter qualities that shone through his reading.

Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze contains dances composed for a group of musical friends (both real and imagined, alive and dead) that Schumann assembled around himself in support of his ideas. Reflecting the two sides of Schumann’s personality, some of the dances are marked as being composed by ‘E.’ (Eusebius) and the rest by ‘F.’ (Florestan).  Florestan’s pieces are the more lively and exuberant; Eusebius’ are more dreamy and wandering. None of the pieces has an individual title. Vianello’s interpretation of this epic work, which ran into more than 30 minutes of performance, containing no fewer than 18 discrete dances that are as diverse as they are similar, given that they are variations on a theme, was simply monumental. Here, in contrast to the Beethoven Sonatas, Gabriele Vianello used the piano as the Romantic instrument it had to be for this work, with the dynamic range running the full gamut from whispered pianissimos to explosive fortissimos.

His interpretation was greeted by a thunderous applause from the many patrons that flocked to this concert. A delectable Chopin Impromptu was played as an encore, leaving a wonderful feel among all.

Photos produced are by courtesy of Toni Farrugia and depict Gabriele in action. The last photo also shows us Gabriele’s children, Matilde and Giorgio, waiting for their dad to commence his recital!!