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at the Van Cliburn Competition,


Davide Franceschetti

Though the media hype was ready and waiting for him, it appears now that Davide Franceschetti., the reigning sex symbol of this year's Van Cliburn Competition, was not ready for it. Indeed, when he revealed, in a thumbnail biography and to the press, his love of fast cars, slick motorcycles and narrow winding roads in the Italian wine country, he embarked, no doubt deliberately, on the creation of what Americans like most: an image. With his unkempt shoulder length hair and movie star looks, the very notion of his roaring through some sunny vineyard astride a Harley or at the helm of a Ferrari evokes Cinicitta Studios and Hollywood to a greater extent than it does Carnegie Hall. Add to that the admiration of his fans; many of them young girls (and doubtless a few young men to boot) and you have the 57th Street version of James Dean, absent the ever present, drooping cigarette.

And so one could only wonder: is there any substance behind the glamorous, and meticulously elaborated facade, one which the 24 year old Mr Franceschetti has done his best to make look casual and spontaneous? Happily, the answer, when it came Tuesday evening, was a resounding yes, and it resonated well beyond the footlights. Mr Franceschetti is the authentic item, a great pianist, whose imagination is preternaturally abundant, alive and rich. Given that, he really has nothing to prove in a contest of any magnitude. Indeed, the Cliburn might as well be competing for his favors.

From the joyful opening of Schumann's Davidsbündlertänze, Mr Franceschetti took the breath away, not only for the sheer opulence of his sound, or his unforced yet compelling rhythmic vitality, but also for largesse of spirit that only the greatest artists can convey. In one sweeping gesture after another, but hardly devoid of rhythmic and affective detail, he moved stealth-like behind the notes, as if the keys of the piano were being mysteriously manipulated from within their ivory interiors. To the string of 18 character pieces that so effectively define the Davidsbündlertänze and its naively anti-bourgeois sentiments (which ironically flattered precisely what it hoped to denigrate), Mr Franceschetti brought ardor and poetry at every turn, alighting on this or that turn of phrase with the aromatic finesse of a seasoned vintner ready to harvest. This was the Schumann of one's dreams, at once luxurious and elegant, but also thoughtful and fluid. Though in some ways his ravishing tone put me in mind of Dinu Cianni, his playing is freer and less deliberate than that of his late countryman.

In Ravel's La Valse, he did not lose a single opportunity to paint the work fearlessly for its evocation of fin de siècle decadence. His performance was nothing if not a bundle of contradictions, meticulously controlled, wherein the compositional revelry, now garrulous, now poised, at times threatened to spin out of control, but never did. Mr Franceschetti is one shrewd pianist to have pulled this off, taking huge risks and illuminating the work's compulsive rhythmic thrust as it drives forward into the realm of stylized excess. It was a thrilling, dizzying performance, but never superficial, given the consistency with which he gave shape to virtually every motivic fragment, no matter what its speed or textual position. Even in the Dionysian abandon of the concluding pages, Mr Franceschetti never lost sight of the structure, making certain to exponentially intensify the wealth of motivic material en route to its vertiginous conclusion.

Thus, while Mr Franceschetti may be contemplating his next supermodel pout and bad hair day, the rest of us will be perfectly satisfied to hear him play anything, anywhere, anytime. Along with the no less radiant and imaginative Roger Wright, Mr Franceschetti proved the salvation of a competition thus far populated by a handful of exemplary and often inspired players, a larger block of mediocrities, and a few vulgar hacks. Thank God for small favors.


Copyright © 31 May 2001 John Bell Young, Tampa, Florida, USA




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