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<<  -- 2 --  Malcolm Miller    AN AMERICAN IN PORTUGAL


A different type of 20th century reinterpretation of the past was that of Granados's arrangement of the Sonata in D minor by Scarlatti, a Spanish equivalent, perhaps, of the Bach-Busoni transcriptions. Here Granados amplified Scarlattian features with his own chromatic idiom, reinforcing textural resonance with octaves and chords, and intensifying the ostinato figurations with virtuoso effects. Granados made these versions in the earlier part of the century, a time in which Scarlatti was less well known.

Especially compelling was the Balada (1903) by Jose Vianna da Motta, the best known Portuguese pianist-composer on account of his having been a Von Bulow pupil who also knew and studied with Liszt; indeed -- as Ms Harper explained -- there are some fascinating early recordings of his performances in existence. The variation like design of the Balada recalled the idiom of Liszt, with similar bravura and rhetoric, yet the pianistic textures also look ahead to Rachmaninov. Da Motta's reminiscences of Von Bulow's masterclasses are published in a book by the American musicologist Richard Zimdars.

Nancy Lee Harper gave dramatic and virtuoso accounts of these works, then relaxed into the poetic impressionist character works of 20th century versions of Portuguese folk music. Luiz Costas -- director of the Academy at Oporto and one of the founders of the Portuguese 'school' of piano, composed his Tres Dancas Rusicas in the 1950s, full of colour and Iberian ambience. They were followed by the 'Five Portuguese folksongs' in arrangements by the Bartok-scholar Halsey Stevens, short miniatures filled with exotically flavoured ornamentation and modal harmonies. The set was dedicated to the pianist Fernando Laires, for many years President of the American Liszt society, who resides in the USA but was educated at the da Motta Academy in Lisbon, and who was the 'second pianist' to perform the complete cycle of thirty two Beethoven sonatas in Portugal -- the first having been da Motta himself.

The fascinating programme concluded with two Brazilian works, 'As Tres Marias' by Heitor Villa-Lobos, remarkably original, with radiance in the high piano textures sustained over a sonorous bass melody, and glistening outer movements. The final work was the rhythmically exciting, ostinato impelled Jongo, Danza Negra from Lorenzo Fernandez's third Brazilian Suite. The concert offered a glimpse into a repertoire from which pianists, and listeners have much to benefit, and one looks forwards to more UK recitals by this enterprising pianist in the near future.

Copyright © 5 August 2002 Malcolm Miller, London, UK




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