Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Liszt and Vianna da Motta at Rolling Hills

Filipe Pinto-Ribeiro.


Filipe Pinto-Ribeiro, Second Sundays at Two, Rolling Hills United Methodist Church

Last month, a Debussyan picture-gallery with local keyboard virtuoso Robert Thies as guide; this month, extracts from Lisztian travelogues from the distinguished Portuguese pianist Filipe Pinto-Ribeiro plus a couple of music-pictures from his native country: RHUMC’s series “Second Sundays at Two” has certainly kicked off its 2018-19 season with a feast of illustratable pianism. 

If you were to draw a fanciful analogy between the sizes of output of some composers and various types of land-mass, then Liszt’s vast corpus would correspond to a veritable continent—and one that remains largely unexplored even by most knowledgeable music-lovers. Across this Lisztian continent are several particularly prominent mountain-ranges, among them being that of the solo piano music, and within which the three Années de pèlerinage (“Years of Travel”) visit some of the most thoroughly explored peaks. 

The current William Tell Chapel on Lake Uri, Switzerland,
photographed in 1885, a few years after its construction.
I guess that some pianists with a taste for marathons have given the complete published cycle in concert (a very long evening though equaled, amongst Liszt’s choral/orchestral works for example, by his mammoth oratorio Christus), but normally the 26 individual pieces that comprise Années de pèlerinage 1-3 form a rich resource from which recitalists are able to pick and choose.

Senhor Pinto-Ribeiro selected a nicely contrasted sequence: “The Chapel of William Tell”, the initial item from the First Year Switzerland S.160; “Sonnet 123 by Petrarch”, the penultimate piece from the Second Year Italy S.161; and the brief “Sursum Corda”, which concludes the Third Année de pèlerinage S.163

The earliest known
photograph of Liszt,
dating from 1843.
He further welded the three into a single suite, leaving very short pauses and thus maintaining concentration to meet fully the wide range of Liszt’s technical and expressive demands: in turn, the solemn majesty of Tell’s Chapel (and giving a more than usually dramatic treatment to the Allegro vivace central section); the contrasting limpid beauty of the Sonnet 123—appropriate to the poem’s subject of angelic grief at the world’s woes; and finally the rather theatrically prayerful uplift of “Sursum Corda”. 

Statue of Vianna da
Motta in the Jardim
do Torel, Lisbon.
Then came a complete change of pace, mood, and location, with two short pieces by one of the central figures of Portuguese musical Romanticism, José Vianna da Motta. There were nice links here: Vianna da Motta is said to have been, at his death in 1948 at the age of 80, the last surviving pupil of Franz Liszt. The youthful Portuguese composer studied with the master in Weimar all of 63 years earlier in 1885, a year before Liszt himself died, and much later went on to teach Helena Sá e Costa, who was Senhor Pinto-Ribeiro’s teacher. 

If Liszt’s 1000+ compositions form a continent of music, then Vianna da Motta’s compact output of around 30 each of solo piano pieces and songs, plus small numbers of nonetheless substantial chamber and orchestral works, is more like a large and somewhat remote island—one mostly unknown to music-lovers outside Portugal itself. ArkivMusic, for example, lists a bare half-dozen CDs devoted to his music. The nostalgically romantic Barcarola No. 1 Op. 1 and the cheerful dance “Chula”, second of the 3 Scenas Portugezas Op. 9, were brief enough to be, in Senhor Pinto-Ribeiro’s affectionate accounts, merely enticing tasters for Vianna da Motta’s music. 

Oscar Lorenzo Fernández.
After this we were treated to one more Lisztian extravaganza, a lengthy virtuoso showpiece incorporating the widest range of pianistic challenges. This was the 12th of the 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies S.244, and Senhor Pinto-Ribeiro proved himself totally its master, moving from playfulness to aristocratic wryness to rhetorical thunder as the music demanded.

Finally, after a brief chat about his forthcoming CDs with host Jim Eninger, he delivered a brief but wildly dynamic encore, “Jongo”, the third and final dance from the Suite brasileira No. 3 by Oscar Lorenzo Fernández (1897-1948). I wonder what Fernández’s symphonies are like? 


Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, Sunday, October 14 2018, 2.00 p.m.
Images: Filipe Pinto-Ribeiro: Rita Carmo, courtesy performer website; William Tell Chapel: Courtesy Summit Post; Liszt: Wikimedia Commons; Vianna da Motta statue: Manuel Correia, Wikimedia CommonsFernández: Wikimedia Commons.

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