Italy Chopin and Ravel: Alessandra Ammara (piano). Palazzo Chigi, Ariccia. 13.05.2013 (JB)
When seamless pianistic facility is combined with profound musical insight it is called Alessandra Ammara. Regular readers of the recorded music section of this website will need no introduction to her excellence. This present occasion is to celebrate her return to the concert platform following maternity leave and to mark the release of her latest CD (the first in her complete recordings of Ravel’s piano music) and her DVD, The Chigi Recital, appropriately filmed in the spectaculour seventeenth century Chigi Palace at Ariccia, some twenty-five kilometres south-east of Rome.
The Chigis were originally from Siena; the palace was well-placed when one of their number, Cardinal Fabio Chigi became Pope Alexandre V11. (1655-1667) It vies in opulence only with the Pope’s Summer Residence at Castel Gandolfo, the next village, a few kilometres down the road. Cardinal Fabio engaged no less than Gian Lorenzo Bernini with Carlo Fontana to bring the palace to the state we see today. The DVD called The Chigi Recital is filmed in the summer dining room whose walls are painted with flowers and shrubs from the garden (an ancient Roman practice, much revived in the late Baroque). It contains the Chopin 24 preludes, Debussy’s Clair de Lune and Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit. (Continuo DVD CR106 CONTEMPOARS) I have never seen such a superb filming of a piano recital with perfect revelatory shots of the pianist’s formidable technique, interspersed with angles of the piano and the palace. I shall concentrate here, however on the live concert.
It began with the Chopin C sharp minor posthumous Nocturne in the much larger, but less beautiful, first floor reception hall –about two hundred capacity and a full house. Like all the greats, Alessandra Ammara shows you matters you may have missed in what you thought was familiar music.
To begin with, you may be sure that she will have eliminated any sentimentality you may once have heard in this music. That is virtue number one so far as I am concerned. Her cantabile indeed can have a steely tone, especially in the forte passages. Yet she does play with this music in an understated, almost Eartha Kitt way. I’m just an old an old fashioned girl with an old fashioned mind / Not sophisticated, I’m the sweet and simple kind / I want an old fashioned house with an old fashioned fence / And an old fashioned millionaire.
But take care. This kitten has claws. The forte passages mean business. Down the plughole with sentimentality. It is the dual musical personality which makes her art.
Music, like poetry, and like mythology, manages to define what it takes on board, while leaving it undefined. This is particularly true of all Ravel’s music which relates to water. Listeners experience this music as transparent as well as mystifying. Ravel’s then newly conceived pianistic technique embraces these ambiguities. And Ammara is one of the finest “guides” you could have through these complexities: crystal clear and profoundly mystifying.
In Jeux d’eau Ravel is on record telling us that what he had in mind was the pleasure which fountains give us. And Ms Ammara hits the very nerve of that pleasure in her rippling cascades.
Storytelling and mythology are Ravel’s starting points for the three movements which make up Gaspard del la Nuit. Here (though not exclusively here) Ravel is tugging at the boundaries of tonality –always hurrying toward chromaticism where tonality is challenged or studiedly ill defined- as well as intermingling of the pianist’s hands, creating new and refreshing musical language. The skill here is to make the artifice sound natural. Alessandra Ammara does. And in all three challenging mythological stories. I hereby predict that her just launched CD audio recording (ARTS SUPERAUDIO CD 47763-8) will be hailed as a landmark in the history of records of these demanding pieces. It is coupled with the Sonatine and Miroirs.
After the interval of the live recital came the twenty-four Chopin Preludes. These make another demand on the pianist. She is required to be a quick-change artist. Some of the preludes are less than a page of printed music. Each of them then is a miniature, occupying a different musical world to what precedes or follows it. It sounds effortless for Ammara to assume twenty four different personalities. Whether Chopin wants her to be reflective, boisterous, pained or simplicity itself, it’s all there. This conjurer never misses a trick. With the works as well oiled as this, the audience were left breathless.