Latin American High Points in a Wayward Recital by Sergio Tiempo

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Brahms, Beethoven, Debussy, Prokofiev, Chopin, Villa-Lobos, Piazzolla, Ginastera: Sergio Tiempo (piano), Queen Elizabeth Hall,  29.04.2014 (RB)

Brahms – Intermezzo in B Minor Op 119, No. 1
Waltz in A Flat Op 39, No 15
Beethoven – Sonata No. 23 in F Minor Op 57 ‘Appassionata’
Debussy – Images: Reflets dans l’eau
Prokofiev – Excerpts from Pieces from Romeo and Juliet
Chopin – Six Studies
Villa-Lobos – Excerpts from Prole do bebê
Piazzolla – Fuga y Misterio
Ginastera – Malambo Op 7


Venezuelan pianist, Sergio Tiempo, is a regular visitor to the Lugano Festival and Martha Argerich is one of his staunchest supporters.  With regard to the rather unusual programme for this recital, Tiempo said in the programme notes:  “I allowed myself to dream up a slightly Freudian programme in which I let the personalities of those closest to me evoke a certain piece of music, and then I chose the order in terms of musical relations”.  Tiempo has a very charming and engaging stage presence and a winning way with the audience but, like his great mentor, Martha Argerich, his playing can sometimes be rather wayward and erratic.

This became apparent in the opening intermezzo by Brahms which did not really have the late Romantic bloom I was hoping to hear.  Some of the rubato was rather stilted and the contrasts too exaggerated while the middle section did not have the autumnal warmth that is so reminiscent of the composer’s late music.  The famous waltz in A flat was more successful and had a beguiling lilt and charm.

Federico Colli gave us a stylish Classical interpretation of the Appassionata last week (review) and it was now Tiempo’s turn to provide us with a more red-blooded Romantic interpretation. I liked the directness and honesty of the opening movement and Tiempo did very well in conveying the emotional volatility of the work.  He also did a good job characterising the drama at the beginning of the slow movement and brought out some inner voices in an intriguing way but the pulse became increasingly erratic and the tempo relationships between the variations were all over the place.  In the finale Tiempo was able to show us his dazzling digital dexterity and he conjured up an edgy and gripping drama while the coda was an adrenaline-fuelled tour de force.

Reflets dans l’eau had a wide range of colours and sonorities and the rippling arpeggios were handled well.  I would have liked to hear a broader range of more finely shaded dynamics and greater refinement of touch and articulation.  The Prokofiev selection from Romeo and Juliet was the high point of the first half.  It opened with the portrait of Juliet which depicted beautifully the carefree openness and zest for life of the young protagonist but also the moments of quiet reflection and dreams of love.  The famous depiction of the Montagues and Capulets came next and here Tiempo depicted splendidly the anger and antipathy of the warring factions and the underlying sense of parody.  The Dance of the girls with lillies was played with delicacy and refinement, while I loved the raucous energy and rhythmic impetus of the final portrait of Mercutio.

I had misgivings prior to the concert when I saw that Tiempo had invited the audience to choose which of the Chopin études he should play.  I guess Saint-Saens started the trend when he offered to play as an encore any of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonata but I always feel that this is a very unwise approach, and it has to be said that this part of the concert was a bit of a car crash.  Tiempo started off with the two C Major études from Op 10:  in the first of them, he was going up and down the keyboard at lightning speed but I felt he was going through the motions with both pieces and they felt stale and uninspired.  Op10 No. 4 was a complete mess with numerous inaccuracies, untidy passagework and memory lapses while the Harp étude was bland and uninvolving.  The left hand was untidy in the Revolutionary étude and obscured by pedal.  Tiempo managed to redeem himself with the final étude from Op 25 where he was on top of the pyrotechnics and did a good job capturing the dark, elemental passions.

The best part of the concert was the Latin American selection of pieces at the end.  In Prole do bebê I loved the delicacy and transparency with which Tiempo wove together the shifting textures in Branquinha and the subtle range of light and colour while Polichinelo was a dazzling virtuoso display.  Fuga y Misterio is lifted from Piazzolla’s tango operetta Maria de Buenos Aires and I loved the funky neo-Bachian counterpoint of the opening and the way Tiempo captured the volatile and fluctuating moods of the tango.  Ginastera’s Malambo is a great piece to finish a recital with and Tiempo gave a barnstorming account playing with real dynamism and machismo.

For encores we heard Chopin’s Prelude in E Minor and a piece from Venezuela which was a complete delight and a superb piece to go out on.  Overall, the playing was variable and sometimes erratic but the Latin American selection was excellent.


Robert Beattie


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