Sunday, February 24, 2008

Thomas Pandolfi gives piano recital of Liszt, Scriabin, Chopin. Gershwin in Washington DC

Pianist (Julliard educated) Thomas Pandolfi this afternoon (Sunday Feb. 24, 2008) gave the Inaugural Recital for the new Steinway Concert Grand Piano in the Sanctuary at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC at 16th and O Sts. NW, about one mile north of the White House.

The program started with the largest work, the “Apres Une Lecture du Dante (Fantasia quasi Sonata),” a 17-minute rhapsody by Franz Liszt. It is supposed to be roughly in Sonata form, and starts with a tonally ambiguous introduction in tritons. It eventually settles into two major themes, the second quite heroic, and finally ends triumphantly in D Major. The famous B minor Sonata is longer, in one movement, and ends quietly, but has a somewhat similar triumphant second subject. (I learned the second Liszt Legend, "St. Francis Walking on the Water", in high school, with its bombastic close; the first legend, talking to the birds, is much harder, as is "Dance of the Gnomes," a piece which ought to please filmmaker Mark Horowitz for his Sentra ads).

The pianist continued with the Nocturne, Op. 9, #2. in D-flat for Left Hand alone, by Alexander Scriabin. The pieces sounded as it could have fit into Rachmaninoff’s Op. 32 preludes (in that set, the D-flat piece closes the set triumphantly). Scriabin achieves amazing sonority with left hand alone, but wisely writes the piece in a key signature with all the black keys to make the technique more manageable.

He continued with four Etudes by Chopin: Op. 10 #12, C minor (“Revolutionary”), Op. 25 #1 in A-flat (“Aeolian Harp”), Op, 10 #8 in F (sounding almost unplayable on white keys), and #10 in E, the famous “Tristesse”. He followed with the Fantasy-Impromptu ib c# Minor, Op. 66 (rather like an etude), and the “Heroic” Polonaise in A-flat, Op. 53.

After a brief intermission, he played an improvisation of George Gershwin melodies, and concluded with a piano solo version of Rhapsody in Blue.

For an encore, he played an arrangement of an “aria” from Andre Lloyd Webber’s “Phanton of the Opera,” and it sounded a bit like a Liszt Consolation. The Webber opera became a Warner Brothers film directed by Joel Schumacher at Christmas, 2004.

The pianist offers several CDs, one of which ("Polish Masters") includes the Paderewski Piano Concerto, and Chopin's variations on the march theme from Bellini's "The Puritans" which I had discussed on this blog Sept. 4, 2007. I bought the Polish CD, and found the playing similar to that of the concert: a rich, ringing piano tone in the upper registers, typical of the Steinway (I took piano lessons on a Baldwin, that has a "louder" lower register); an interest in left-hand melodies, a tendency to dawdle a bit in tempos once in a while. The piano concerto gets a spirited reading with the Moravian Philharmonic conducted by Peter Schmelzer. The style seems midway between Chopin and Rachmaninoff, with the finale having a "big tune", an idea that Tchailowsky and Rachmaninoff (mainly the Russian composers) as well as Grieg would develop, but not quite as well prepared. Paderewski composed this at 28. (My favorite "youth" concerto is Eugen d'Albert's, the first of which is Liszt-sonata-like and provides a fugue as a stunning cadenza toward the end, a stunning teen-age accomplishment.) The CD "brand" seems to be Pandolfi's own, and, as with movies, this may be a coming trend, for artists to develop, manufacture and even trademark their own brands without major media corporations behind them.

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