Pianist Mariangela Vacatello gave the last of the three recitals of this years Ruidoso Chamber Music Festival on Saturday evening July 31. The audience for this performance was by far the largest of the series. The Spencer Theater was almost full. Ms Vacatello chose a formidable program. The first half was Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B minor. After the intermission she played Chopin’s Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brilliante, Op 22. She concluded the recital with Stravinsky’s Trois Mouvements de Petrouchka. Her encore was Schumann’s Liebeslied.
Modern technology intruded on the evening’s main event – the music. Everybody who’s been to piano recitals always wants to sit on the audience’s left side of the hall so they can see the performer’s hands as she plays. Obviously, this puts at least half the spectators at a disadvantage. So someone got the terrific idea of putting a camera above the keyboard which pointed straight down. The resulting image was projected on a screen above the stage. The problem was that the image was upside down. Shortly before the playing started a technician tried to fix the image, but only succeeded in making the upside down image an upside down mirror image. And that’s the way it remained until it was fixed during the intermission. Like so many good ideas theory is trumped by practice. The screen, even when the image was correctly aligned, was a distraction. I hope this idea doesn’t catch on.
Ms Vacatello possess a technique that is extraordinary even by today’s standard of widespread virtuosity. The Liszt sonata once was thought unplayable by anyone other than Liszt himself. Today everybody plays. Vacatello devoured the piece. She didn’t even break into a sweat. If this piece is not the most profound work for piano it may be the most bombastic. To bring it off you must instill some poetry into it. Anyone who heard the late Jorge Bolet play Liszt knows what I mean. Bolet made Liszt sound different than any other pianist. Ms Vacatello has all the technique needed for Liszt, it’s the soul of the music that she need to find. Her attack on the Steinway was so triumphant that the instrument had to be re-tuned during the interval.
Chopin, of course, is full of poetry interspersed through the technical challenges that cover his music. Here again Vacatello met every technical challenge without fully realizing the grace and delicacy that pervade Chopin.
Stravinsky was not particularly concerned with poetry. His arrangement of three numbers from Petrouchka written for Artur Rubinstein (who found the music too difficult to play as written) is about as technically daunting as anything in the piano literature. Vacatello played them with the ease a C Major scale. A tour de force. Her pianism is perfect for this work. If this young artist learns to sing there will be nothing closed to her.