Alfas del Pi Music Society offered three May concerts to complete the first part of its annual season. But these were three remarkably different concerts, each challenging in its own way, each presenting a surprising mix of the partially familiar and the less well-known. It was a repertoire to broaden a listener’s experience and it achieved that and much more.
The three concerts featured solo guitar, solo harp and a duo of cello and piano. The four musicians presented some fifteen works between them and all from different composers. There was not a single German or Austrian Classicist or Romantic within hearing distance. There was no Chopin or Liszt, no Debussy or even Shostakovich or Tchaikovsky. There was French and Hungarian music but also Argentinian, Uruguayan, American, Spanish, Swiss and Italian, alongside just a little German baroque.
Javier Llanes began the cycle with an evening of solo guitar music. He started with Manuel de Falla’s Homenaje a la Tumba de Debussy and then continued with the Baroque suite L’Infidele by the German composer Samuel Weiss, a composer whose identity might be in the Rococo, but his mind was clearly in the future. This was the closest our weekend approached to Classicism. The Hungarian Johan Kasper Mertz provided the next piece in the form of his Elegie, a piece of deep Romantic emotion. Mauro Giuliani’s Rossiniana Number One reminded is all how much improved Rossini’s music can become when it’s not in his own hands! And the concert ended with Una Lemnosita por el Amor de Dios of Agustin Barrios, which offered a moment of reflection to end rather than a grand rousing celebration. The effect was magical.
And speaking of magic, this is what Italian harpist Floraleda Sacchi generates from her instrument with such ease that perhaps her fingers don’t need to contact the strings. Now the harp repertoire might not be known to the average concert goer, which means that any solo recital featuring the instrument must also introduce the audience to new experience. But his did not matter in the least to this audience, such was the poetry of the playing. And by the evening’s end we all felt as if we have as if we’d like to continue hearing this music forever.
Floraleda Sacchi began with the Gitana of Alfonse Hasselmans and followed that with two pieces but Argentinian composers. Astor Piazzolla’s Oblivion was the closest the weekend came to popularity and it is a work that has become not only a familiar, but close to cliché, though not on the harp. Claudia Montero’s Evocaciones followed and it proved to be a real revelation, given that it was both substantial and challenging, being harmonically and rhythmically varied, besides stunningly and refreshingly elegant.
Philip Glass’s Metamorphosis formed the substantial filling in this meal-sized sandwich of the program. Floraleda’s choice of repeats within an already deliberately repetitive experience metamorphosed this piece into a real meditation in which the audience willingly and profitably entered. The overall stillness of the piece was suggested by the near constant left hand arpeggio, whilst the soft commentaries in the treble contrasted, leaving the bass notes to provide what sounded like a commentary. Overall Philip Glass in Floraleda Sacchi’s hands created a landscape that was forever of interest.
Floraleda Sacchi’s program finished with two pieces by Ludovico Enaudi, Dietro l’incanto and Oltremare, whose episodic detail contrasted well with what had preceded it, and the audience’s response to the evening proved nothing less than rapturous. Two encores followed, Merengue Rojo by Alfredo Rolando Ortiz and Images by the harpist, herself. Not many in the audience had ever heard a concert of solo harp. Not many of them will ever forget the experience.
A third concert in three days would have to contrast strongly with the others to prove memorable. To say that David and Carlos Apellaniz did provide adequate contrast would be an understatement. Both the guitar and harp are soft voices in a concert hall. A cello and piano, however, can generate quite a lot of sound!
David Apellaniz was to play two cello concertos with piano accompaniment. This would be a feat in itself, but to play the Honegger concerto followed by Milhaud’s first was a task and a half. Arthur Honegger’s music can be severely neoclassical. It can also be tender and reflective, and this performance made the most of this vivid and exciting contrast. Some of the textures in this sound are enduringly memorable. Darius Milhaud’s music always seems to have popular song nearby, though the proximity is often only hinted at through an almost transparent screen of modernism. The overall result is one of melodic and rhythmic excitement and energy.
After working very hard indeed, David left the stage for Carlos Apellaniz to bring everything to a close with a solo piano performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue. If we needed more energy in this concert, we truly got it by the bagfull. This was a vivid reading of a familiar work, an interpretation that had to merge the orchestral part with the original solo piano, a feat that was both challenging for the performer and rewarding for the audience, an audience perhaps familiar with the work but not in this format.
And at the end of the weekend of three concerts, one is reminded that there is a lot of music out there, that it is all worth discovering, that it is all nothing less than utterly rewarding, if only one is willing to step outside of the predictability of what we already know. There must always be space for individual voices and they should never be crowded out by our pre-directed expectations.