Vienna between Dreams and Hallucinations

ItalyItaly  Schumann, Schubert /Liszt, Grünfeld, Ravel: Roberto Giordano (piano),  Oratorio degli Angeli Custodi, Lucca.  12.06.2014 (JB)

What happens when you are born with an irrepressible talent in a cultural desert? –when a foreign power wants you as their son? – when an audience of three thousand  in Beijing won’t stop applauding your art?

All these things happened to Roberto Giordano, now aged thirty-three, whose recital –Vienna between Dreams and Hallucinations– at the enchanting, baroque Oratorio degli Angeli Custodi in Lucca, also brought a standing ovation from an enthusiastic audience.

In case you are wondering, the answers to those three questions are that he was born in Vibo Valentia, Calabria; when he won a major prize at the Queen Elizabeth Competition, the Belgians asked him to accept residency and a major teaching post, which he did,  and the recital in China was at the concert hall of the Forbidden City.

But this was a night where Roberto was at war.  He was in permanent battle with a Yamaha piano.  I don’t like wars.  But this was a confrontation which was a privilege to witness.  What punishment he administered to that unyielding instrument!  And the damned instrument was fighting back!  I am glad I wasn’t the piano.  Roberto won.

If I have to describe his sound in a single word it would be steely.  That is not a sound I normally relate to.  But in this war zone my reaction was quite different.  Moiseiwitsch’s steely fingers came into my mind’s ear the moment I heard Roberto: the sound is exquisitely articulated,  yet always coloured by the most poetic musicianship.  I still hope that one day I shall hear him on a Steinway.  Or even better on a Blüthner.  In the meantime, beware Yamaha pianos: this noble soldier is more commanding than you.

The programme was intelligently and imaginatively thought out.  The first part was dedicated to Schumann with Blumenstück Op 19 and the Op26 Carnival of Vienna, whose five movements are the composer’s dreams of the ideal Vienna.  But this is where the pianist was forced to declare a war zone which doesn’t auger well for dreaming.  Fine in the opening and closing movements where Schumann gives turmoil full reign; the third movement –scherzino- was realised with all the charm which is arguably the composer’s most endearing quality.    The fourth movement –mit gröBter energie-  had exactly that.  But try as he did, there was no way Giordano could make the Yamaha respond to the second movement Romance.

After the interval came the hallucinations.  The Soirées de Vienne, Valse.Caprice no.6 of Schubert / Liszt was made to sound as though it had played itself.  Only those of the greatest technical accomplishment can do this; that species of panache which has cheeky charm.  Roberto Giordano has all of that.

Then followed a new piece for me.  I was delighted to be introduced to Alfred Grünfeld’s Concert Paraphrases of Strauss’s Fliedermaus.  Grünfeld (1852 – 1924) was a Viennese pianist and teacher with a remarkable sense of humour.  Sheer fun!  And Roberto has a good line in fun.

The printed programme ended with the pianistic fireworks of Ravel’s La Valse –that other kind of panache in which this pianist is so comfortable.

The very persistent applause brought an encore of Liszt’s setting of Schubert’s Das Wandern. Unlike any other performance I have heard.  Schubert was gently brought centre stage here, with Liszt whispering in the background.  A second encore was Ravel’s Waltz in the style of Borodin: more pianistic bravura to send us off happily into the Lucca night.

Jack Buckley


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