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Hot music from Latin America

MALCOLM MILLER at a highlight of the
Regent Hall Summer Festival


It was a hot evening in every sense of the word at London's Regent Hall on 6 August 2003: outside it was more than 35 centigrade, while inside a warm reception was accorded to the promising young Israeli cellist Sagi Hartov with the Argentinian-born pianist Alberto Portugheis, for their zestful concert of sonatas by Beethoven and Schubert, and several exciting works by Alberto Ginastera and Astor Piazolla. The concert was a highlight of the 2003 Regent Hall Summer Festival (4-12 August) presented by the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe in association with the Liszt Society, EPTA London West and ILAMS (Iberian and Latin-American Music Society). The Festival had begun with a concert by the Miller Quartet, featuring the present writer in two of Beethoven Piano Quartets WoO 36.

Alberto Portugheis. Photo: Laurence Rampling
Alberto Portugheis. Photo: Laurence Rampling

The demanding cello and piano programme began with Beethoven's Op 5 No 2 in G minor, where the cellist's tuning was still unperturbed by the London heatwave, though by the beginning of the second half there were intonation problems with Schubert's 'Arpeggione'. Portugheis projected a rich sonority despite the fact that the keyboard was evidently bathed in sweat. Nevertheless Hartov has an assured sense of classical poise and expressive lyricism in the Beethoven, and in Schubert's 'Arpeggione' his especially eloquent rendition of the Adagio was memorable.

Sagi Hartov. Photo © Jack Libeck
Sagi Hartov. Photo © Jack Libeck

Hartov, who was a finalist in the 2001 Rostropovich Competition and last year was a Fellow in Cello at the Royal Academy of Music, working under Mats Lidstrom, displayed compelling qualities in his interpretations of three substantial twentieth century Latin American works. The first was Ginastera's 1979 sonata composed for his wife Aurora who premièred it at the Alice Tully Hall in New York. As Hartov explained, there are some evocative cello effects such as harmonic glissandi, 'sul ponticello' and playing below the bridge. Overall the work's strength is its sense of atmospheric suspense, resulting from Ginastera's use of dramatic pauses and richly chromatic harmony, with cluster chords set in often thrusting syncopated rhythms. Hartov and Portugheis projected the first movement with energy, with an eerie second section of pizzicati textures and augmented harmonies leading to the powerful coda. In the aptly marked 'Adagio passionato' second movement each player presents a soliloquy, the cello's mellow line dovetailed into the piano's cadenza-like solo. The music is at once abstract and highly suggestive, dissonance and profound sensibility contrasted by the scherzo-esque third movement in which fizzy fragments of texture are developed in a mirror design. Even despite the slippery strings and extreme humidity Hartov delivered an enthralling range of colour, with incisive propulsive attack in the finale, enhanced with the local colours of Argentinian dance rhythms.

Sagi Hartov at the Ghent Festival in Belgium. Photo © Hans Cappelle
Sagi Hartov at the Ghent Festival in Belgium. Photo © Hans Cappelle

The broad valleys of Argentinian landscapes inspired Ginastera's Pampeana No 2, a sumptuous, excitingly sonorous tone poem in contrasting sections which formed the highlight of the second half. Portugheis is an ideal partner, having recorded the composer's entire works for solo piano. Here his resonant harmonic backdrop allowed Hartov's searching tone full rein to evolve its variegated colours, with riveting jazzy harmonies and syncopations and pregnant silences full of suspense.

The finale was Piazolla's well known Le Grand Tango, slinky to start, darkly dissonant, yet always richly romantic. Both here and in the Ginastera, Hartov displayed admirable ability in the highest register, and the duo brought the work to a close with rhythmic energy. Their relaxed encore, an arrangement of Albeniz' La Malaguena by Joachim Stutschewsky (1891-1982), affirmed Hartov's affinity for the Iberian idiom.

Copyright © 9 August 2003 Malcolm Miller, London, UK





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