United Kingdom Scarlatti Clementi Chopin Pietro De Maria (piano) Wigmore Hall, London, 26.5.2012 (RB)
Scarlatti: Six Sonatas
Clementi: Sonata in F sharp minor Op 25 No. 5
Chopin: Four Ballades
Pietro De Maria is a winner of a number of international piano competitions and he is the first Italian pianist to have recorded and played in public the complete works of Chopin. The recital was a nice mixture of baroque, classical and romantic repertoire and of very familiar and less well known works.
The opening six Scarlatti sonatas ranged from the earliest sonata published by Ralph Kirkpatrick to Kk394, and all were marked either allegro or presto. De Maria opted to open his recital with the later sonata in E minor Kk 394 which has an improvisatory feel and he displayed an impressive range of touch and articulation. The ornamentation was finely sculpted and De Maria made the most of the surprising modulations which opened the second half of the piece. He followed this with the D major sonata Kk45 where he nimbly negotiated the rapid scale passages and passage work. The F major sonata Kk44 was phrased elegantly while the left hand octaves were light and buoyant. In the E minor sonata Kk98, De Maria made the most of the dramatic contrasts and he displayed a range of pianistic colour and well defined musical contours. The G major sonata Kk13 is a more brilliant piece and De Maria skilfully negotiated the awkward hand crossing while relishing the playful rhythmic inventiveness of the piece. De Maria’s final Scarlatti sonata was the D minor sonata Kk1 where he captured brilliantly the moodiness and sense of unease. His playing of all six sonatas was exceptionally fine but I wondered if he might vary his Scarlatti programmes more in future by adding a few of the slower sonatas.
Clementi’s works are rarely performed in public nowadays although Horowitz championed his music as well as that of Scarlatti. The F sharp minor sonata was published in 1790, is in three movements, and looks back to baroque models for its inspiration in spite of being composed at the height of the Classical period. The opening movement marked piuttosto allegro con espressione was crisp and elegant and the rapid passage work and ornamentation was superbly executed. The slow movement marked lento e patetico was tastefully played, with De Maria giving weight and intensity to the mournful theme. The transition to the major key was a highly sensitive and delicate piece of playing. The final presto opens with a flurry of notes and De Maria proved to be a fine exponent of the work, showcasing the glittering and virtuosic piano writing.
The second half of the recital consisted of all four Chopin Ballades. The ballade in music implies a certain kind of narrative and, while there have been attempts to link Chopin’s ballades to the works of the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz, no specific programme has ever been identified for these works. I particularly liked the opening of the G minor ballade which De Maria played as a weighty prologue to a great dramatic poem. He used subtle rubato and responded flexibly to the mercurial changes in tempo and texture while bringing out the inner voices of the work. Some of the rubato in the opening section and changes in tempo did not completely work for me but these things are a matter of taste. De Maria played the great presto con fuoco coda with power and authority, bringing the work to a climactic conclusion.
The F major ballade opened with disarming sweetness and directness, while the stormy A minor sections were played with brooding elemental power. The pyrotechnics of the coda were handled well with De Maria shaping beautifully the rapidly shifting thematic material. In the A flat ballade De Maria showed excellent control of voicing and deployed a range of touch and tone colour to illuminate musical features in the contrasting sections of the piece while maintaining a seamless narrative flow. Chopin’s F minor ballade is one of the pinnacles of the piano repertoire and De Maria brought out the fantasy elements of the work and mercurial mood changes. The section immediately before the coda was full of soaring passion while the coda itself was allowed to boil up to a heady climax. I wondered if De Maria might have made more of some of the contrapuntal elements of this great work and I would have preferred the opening of the coda to have been clearer. All in all, however, this was a very accomplished and mature rendition of this great collection of works.
De Maria played a trio of encores: he started with a Chopin mazurka and ended with the perennially popular nocturne in D flat, where the filigree passages were exquisitely executed. In between he showed his virtuoso mettle by giving a highly polished and technically assured performance of Liszt’s La Campanella. This was an evening of mature music making from a highly accomplished artist.