Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Souvenirs of Paris et al: Another Concert in Two Halves

The Barrantes & Pinto-Ribeiro Piano Duo: Felipe Pinto-Ribeiro and Rosa Maria Barrantes.


“Souvenirs” and “Paris 1900”: Barber, Lopes-Graça, and Tchaikovsky; Fauré, Poulenc, and Ravel from the Barrantes & Pinto-Ribeiro Piano Duo

Once per season, two South Bay concert series, “First Fridays at First!~fff” at First Lutheran Church and School, Torrance, and “Second Sundays at Two” at Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, join hands for a full-length program divided across their locations and time-slots. Most recently the Portuguese pianist Felipe Pinto-Ribeiro shared the two platforms with violinist Corey Cerovsek (reviewed here), but for the March 2020 split recital he was joined by his Peruvian-born wife Rosa Maria Barrantes, for a piano four-hands program.

A traffic jam cost me hearing the initial item in their “Souvenirs” first half—which was indeed Souvenirs, i.e. No. 1 Waltz, and No. 5 Hesitation Tango, from Samuel Barber’s 1953 Op. 26 ballet suite in its original four-hands guise—so when I did arrive it was to unfamiliar territory: five selections from the third book of Melodias Rústicas Portuguesas (Portuguese Folk Melodies) by one of the central figures in 20th century Portuguese music, Fernando Lopes-Graça (1906-1994).

Fernando Lopes-Graça,
From the total of 14 Melodias, the Duo played No. 2 Este ladrão novo (This new thief), No. 3 Deus te salve, ó Rosa (God save you, Rosa), No. 6 Trás-os-Montes pastoral, No. 8 Canção de berço (Lullaby), and No. 4 Senhora da Póvoa (Our Lady of Póvoa). Published in 1979, these brief vignettes were arrestingly raw—by turn melancholic, wistful, aggressive, dissonant, and abrupt. I would happily have heard the entire set: anyone who is curious can listen at this YouTube link.

This “Souvenirs” first half of the two-part recital ended in entirely familiar territory, that of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a, in the transcription for piano four-hands by Eduard Langer. It’s always fascinating to hear how both an arranger and performers tackle music whose sound in the mind is so indelibly orchestral. After a suitably imperious and robust March (the Duo omitted the Miniature Overture), the Sugar Plum Fairy, somewhat more sedate than usual, danced to a decent impression of Tchaikovsky’s celesta courtesy of Sra. Barrantes playing the primo part.

Then the Trépak bowled expeditiously along, and while the Arab Dance’s ostinato rhythm felt a little over-emphatic when transferred from muted lower strings to the bass of the piano, in the Chinese Dance, the transfer of its bass part from bassoons to keyboard if anything emphasized the gawky grotesquerie. The Reed Flutes were again rather sedate but elegantly pointed, and the Waltz of the Flowers swirled to a fine finish, enthusiastically applauded.

On to “Second Sunday.” The novel feature here was that the three French works on this “Paris 1900” program would be played alongside projected visuals, the latter—chosen by the Barrantes & Pinto-Ribeiro Piano Duo for a previous presentation of the same program in Moscow—being a fascinating and un-obvious selection of paintings from within a decade or three of that year.

Picasso: Violin (left); Guitar and Violin (center); Musical Instruments (right).

Thus (to take the middle item first) all three brief movements of Poulenc’s youthful Sonata for Piano Four Hands, composed in 1918 at the age of 19— the insistent hammering of the first, the Naif et Lent amble of the second, and the gadfly flitting of the finale—were skillfully dispatched by the Duo against the disjunct geometry of three 1912 Cubist studies (above) of musical instruments by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973).

The two other works—the original four-hands versions of Fauré’s Dolly Suite Op. 56 as opener, and Ravel’s Ma mère l'Oye (Mother Goose) Suite to conclude—were illustrated variously by Chagall, Renoir, Manet, Maurice Denis, and most notably Odilon Redon, no fewer than five of whose paintings were included. The conjunction of the chosen artwork with each of the 11 movements across the two suites ranged from straightforwardly illustrative to weirdly oblique—none more so, perhaps, than the warmly ingratiating Berceuse that opens Dolly being stared down by Redon’s disconcerting Head on a Stem (below left).

On the other hand one could clearly link the sprightly Mi-a-ou (even though the title doesn’t actually refer to a cat) with what looks like a window sill-crouching feline in Chagall’s Paris through the Window (above center), while Le jardin de Dolly could hardly be better pictured than by Renoir’s exquisite Girl with a Watering Can (above right). Similarly, it wasn’t difficult to see the Ketty-Valse (again not a cat, but the real-life “Dolly’s” pet dog) as jumping up and down at Redon’s Butterflies (below left).

Maybe it was the older-than-her-years sideways gaze of Redon’s charcoal Portrait of Mademoiselle Jeanne Roberte de Domecy (above center) that seemed to impart a certain want of tenderness in the penultimate Tendresse movement of Dolly, but Le pas espagnol, ending the suite, lacked nothing in exuberance— though it was observed with almost comical severity by the three unsmiling occupants of Manet’s The Balcony (above right).

So far, so stimulating, and there was more eschewing of the obvious for Mother Goose. Where one might perhaps have anticipated a slumberous Pre-Raphaelite image for Pavane de la Belle au bois dormant (Pavane of Sleeping Beauty) (taken quite slowly by the Duo), instead we saw the plain, almost two-dimensional trunks of Denis’s Les arbres verts (Green trees) (right), amongst which vague, white-clad figures move mysteriously.

With Petit Poucet (Little Tom Thumb), the serious childhood mien of Redon’s Portrait of Ari Redon (the artist’s son) (above right) for me perfectly matched the contained raptness of Ravel’s music, but Redon’s enigmatic portrait Closed Eyes (left) provided another distinctly oblique counterpoise to the tinkling chinoiserie and solemn gong-like keyboard effects of Laideronnette, impératrice des pagodes (Little ugly girl, empress of the pagodas).

For Ravel's two contrasted sound worlds in Les entretiens de la belle et de la bête (Conversation of Beauty and the Beast), the Duo chose Chagall’s Champ de mars (Field of Mars) (right), its conjoined visages perhaps reflecting the duality of the music. And maybe the most insinuatingly subtle visual correspondence came with the finale, where the slowly mounting cool ecstasy of Le jardin féerique (The fairy garden) found Ophelia among the Flowers, her smudged brown profile tucked away in the bottom right-hand corner of the image (below—once more by Odilon Redon), a hint perhaps that tragedy can lurk even in in a fairy garden.

Does great music need visual props? Of course not, but such stimulating choices of image, combined with skillful and sensitive accounts of the music, nonetheless set up correspondences, contrasts, and reactions that certainly added an extra dimension to the aural experience.

To conclude their recital (and with no projected artwork), the Barrantes & Pinto-Ribeiro Piano Duo returned to the piano for a tango by Piazzolla, who seems to be the No. 1 go-to guy for encores in the South Bay. 


“First Fridays at First!,” First Lutheran Church, Torrance, 12.15pm, Friday, March 6, 2020; “Second Sundays at Two,” Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, 2.00pm, Sunday, March 8, 2020
Photos: The performers: Leonel de Castro; Lopes-Graça: Opera Musica; Paintings: Courtesy The Barrantes & Pinto-Ribeiro Piano Duo.

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