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Miracle in the Rain

New York
Weill Hall, Carnegie Hall
02/01/2008 -  
Works by Frescobaldi, Berio, Bach, Carl Craig, Justin Messina, Haydn, Schlimé

Francesco Tristano Schlimé (piano)

A Hongkong-style typhoon, Bangkok-style street-floods, subways not working and the long slog from the East Village to Carnegie Hall last night – all because of a mesmeric middle name. How outlandish! And how extraordinary that the New York debut of 26-year-old Luxembourger Francesco Tristano Schlimé was the cause of a sold-out Weill Recital Hall. Except that when one hears this incredible Juilliard graduate, all the slogs and hard work melted away.

It wasn’t only the Sterne-Wagner middle name which drew the crowds. The originality of the program was equally mesmerizing. Schlimé began with a difficult early work by Luciano Berio, continued – without a pause – to three Toccatas by the early 17th Century composer Frescobaldi, and a French suite by Bach. To finish the first half he played his own extended arrangement of a work by Detroit composer Carl Craig. The second half was equally daring, starting with Justin Messina’s paean to four New York bridges, continuing with a Haydn Sonata, and finishing both with a Berio Bagatelle, and his own exegesis on the piece.

While the program was iconoclastic, Schlimé’s piano work was, if idiosyncratic, a tribute to faultless musicianship. And this could be heard no better than in the opening Berio Five Variations. This was written in the early years, when Berio was being influenced (or, in his own word, “exorcising”) multifarious sources. In this case it was Italian serialist Luigi Dallapiccola, and one expected some old-fashioned atonality. But Schlimé played the work like with such clarity, feeling, and delicacy that one could relish each note. If the serial clusters weren’t always logical on first hearing, the joy of the fingerwork and the sensitivity of the artist never let up.

Why did he immediately go into the Frescobaldi Toccatas then? Schlimé explains that his goal is finding “ways to establish a real dialogue between time and space…learned music and nightclub, acoustics and technology”. While one was originally startled by the shift of atonality to the Frescobaldi diatonic works, they were played with that same color and structure.

The following Bach 4th French Suite, like the other works, had its short movements, and were played with dance-like exuberance. But the next work, Technology, was more cryptic. Obviously Schlimé took an original fairly simple piece based on a series of open fifth harmonies, but he built it into a thick aural experience which was relatively long but never boring.

Tectonics: 4 New York Bridges, written by Schlimé’s Juilliard classmate Justin Messina should be heard again. One repeated note is played from beginning to end, and while this didn’t seem to make sense, the buildup around the note was fascinating. For the record, the four bridges could be played in any order, and the composer told me that Schlimé reversed Queensboro and Triboro. I couldn’t have guessed that.

The most unusual playing of the evening was Haydn’s 48th Sonata. The second movement was a whooping droll rondo, but the first movement variations could have been written without a single bar measure. Like Glenn Gould at his most eccentric, this was Haydn with an excess of rubati, great pauses, not a single measure where one could find the meter. The artist obviously had his reasons, and while one might not always want Haydn this way, the one performance was, to say the least, memorable.

The last two works were actually one: a two-minute romance by Berio called Wasserklavier followed by Schlimé’s own improvisation Nach Wasser, noch Erde (After water, still earth).One hates to say this, but no matter how beautiful and drifting and watery, it sounded suspiciously like what we now call New Age music.

Schlimé, though, had no apologies to make. His sensitivity, his dazzling runs when necessary, and his almost visionary interpretations were their own reward. The century is only beginning, but he is certain to be one of its major musical figures.

Francesco Tristano Schlimé’s website

Harry Rolnick



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