A Variable Recital from Alberto Reyes

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Bach/Liszt, Chopin, Brahms, Busoni, Liszt: Alberto Reyes (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 1 1.9. 2012 (CC)

Bach/Liszt – Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV543
Brahms – Four Ballades, Op. 10
Busoni – Chamber Fantasy on Bizet’s Carmen
Liszt/VerdiRigoletto Paraphrase, S434

 It was Uraguayan pianist Alberto Reyes’ releases of recordings of works by Chopin and by Schumann on VAI Audio that had alerted me to his talent. Reyes’ story is fascinating. A string of competition successes (Rio, Tchaikovsky 1970, Leventritt 1971, Van Cliburn 1973) and a teaching post at Indiana University all pointed to the beginnings of a stellar career. Instead, in 1976, Reyes changed direction, becoming a simultaneous interpreter (with the UN in New York), where he remained for 31 years until his retirement in 2007. During his New York stint, Reyes had given occasional recitals in New York.

If the physical reality of hearing Reyes in the flesh was not quite the occasion one had hoped for, this was nevertheless a highly enjoyable concert by a musician who clearly hearkens back to the Golden Age of piano playing in the Romantic tradition. His Bach/Liszt was grand and appropriately organ-like, confidently shaped and with textures laid bare. He maintained clarity, even in low registers. The ensuing Chopin was more variable. Certainly the first movement of the sonata was fluent (and almost devoid of technical strain), and the Scherzo was admirably clear. It was the slow movement that faltered. It lacked the necessary sense of interior communication, and the musical argument was not sustained convincingly. It was the clear low point of the reading; the finale was not always tidy, although its grandeur hearkened back to the Bach/Liszt.

The programming of the second half was perhaps suspect. Brahms’ glowing Op. 10 Ballades began well with gorgeous, warm sound and well weighted chords in the First; continuing through a perfectly autumnal second Ballade (which contained some ravishing dark sonorities); through a third Ballade that could have been more off-the-cuff; ending with a well thought-through Fourth.

The leap to the remainder of the programme was a large one, though and it felt as if Reyes could not shake off the reflective Brahms. He stayed onstage after the Brahms to launch into Busoni’s Chamber Fantasy on Bizet’s Carmen (a piece memorably recorded by John Ogden, incidentally).. Under Reyes‘ fingers it came across as quasi-Stravinskian circus music, although he also found plenty of space for lyricism as well as Mephistophelean bluster.

Finally, and continuing the new wind of virtuosity, a Liszt/Verdi Rigoletto Paraphrase full of contrasts. The “Bella figlia d’amore” section was well projected, and filigree was all one could ask for. But the audience sounded underwhelmed (or sleepy?) and there was only one encore, some Scarlatti, given in a beautifully Romantic manner.

Colin Clarke