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Plano Piano

New York
Alice Tully Hall
11/12/2001 -  
Domenico Scarlatti: Sonata in F Minor
Johannes Brahms: Klavierstuecke, Op. 118
Alexander Scriabin: Sonata-fantasy
Luis De Pablo: Retratos y transcripciones (US Premiere)
Franz Liszt: Ballade # 2; Venezia e napoli

Roberto Plano (piano)

My rare weekend off was flanked by two outstanding piano events, each marking the United States recital debut of its artist. On Friday, Delphine Bardin presented an intellectual evening worthy of Rudolf Serkin; on Monday, the young Italian Roberto Plano reminded of another giant of the past century. Although he holds his wrists high above the keyboard, in all other respects the lithe Mr. Plano evoked the poetic and supremely confident spirit of Vladimir Horowitz.

Even the program was designed to recall the Russian legend. Starting out with Scarlatti was a trademark of the bow-tied master and Plano made the most of the F minor’s subtle qualities in an understated reading. The amazingly unpredictable choices of this Baroque genius sounded all the more profound in a delicate conception, this promising prize-winner keeping his storytelling skills restrained and dignified throughout. What was most impressive in the first half of the concert was Mr. Plano’s mature interpretation of the six Brahms valedictory pieces. Exploring these depths with patience and quietude, this eloquent artist never hurried any of the dying man’s vintage reminiscences, exhibiting his expressive discipline even in sections where normally more left hand would be required (in the second intermezzo, for example). Only the ballade was played loudly (and powerfully), for the rest, Plano adopted an air of recollection in tranquility, even the Dies Irae seeming comforting in his long and large fingers. The inclusion of the music of Scriabin on the program clinched the deal that this was indeed an homage to Horowitz. Here, the prodigious technical abilities of Plano first made their tantalizing appearance, the presto played at supersonic speed and with almost perfect accuracy.

Like the Finns, the young Italian pianists can be counted upon to display some of the contemporary music which distinguishes the cutting edge nature of their musical environment. A graduate of the Verdi Conservatory in Milan, Mr. Plano chose a composition by one of Bruno Maderna’s prized students, the Spaniard Luis De Pablo. This music is onomatopoetic in much the same way as Messiaen’s bird songs, inventive and playful but also strictly metrical, an Iberian version of Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie-Woogie. Although I was not familiar with the score, it certainly appeared that Plano was extremely accurate in the execution of so many notes per bar; certainly the message came through loud and clear and demonstrated that music of the 1990’s could be evocative in virtually the same ways as that of the 1860’s.

After a dazzlingly big-handed and strong rendition of the Ballade # 2 that would have made even Wanda proud, Plano settled in to communicate the poetic nature of the later addition to Liszt’s groundbreaking Annees de pelerinage. Coming once again to the music of Italy through the back door, his emphasis on the Hungarian composer’s ear for the local color made this performance sound both revelatory and authentic. The first section is a joyful depiction of that uniquely Venetian mode of transport and its effusively buoyant guardians (when Wagner later died in Venice, Liszt used the image of the gondola as one of funerary cortege) and Plano’s light hearted and fingered folk melodies insistently and pleasantly oozed into our collective consciousness (compare Berlioz’ piffaro tunes of the Abruzzi region or Dvorak’s Negro spirituals-the best folk melodies are those composed by the masters of tonal coloration). It was impossible not to be infected by the spirit of these tales of travel when they were spun by such an accomplished orator. I had mentioned in my review of Ms. Bardin that the common thread of her chosen composers was that they were all deficient in their own pianistic prowess; here the opposite was true. Brahms and Liszt (along with Sigismond Thalberg and, later, Anton Rubinstein) were the greatest pianists of their era; to make their case requires an extremely secure strongbox of technical mastery. Mr. Plano has a firm hold on his technique and displays it with the air of a warrior. The closing Lisztian tarantella tied up the loose ends of the recital brilliantly; it was conceived in the same style as the tango which ended the De Pablo and was presented with a similarly breathtaking flair. Roberto Plano had shown us all not just keyboard wizardry but had also treated us to a finely thought out program.

This young lion was the unanimous winner of the first prize at the 2001 Cleveland International Piano Competition (formerly the Casadesus). I am not at all surprised by his landslide victory; he has got my vote, and I wasn't even there.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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