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South American Belle

A portrait of Clara Rodriguez


This whole business of placing a concert pianist in a special category may spell taboo to piano buffs, but the thoroughly vivacious Venezuelan-born Clara Rodriguez has several unusual slants to her artistry. And a growing number of appetizing programmes, all containing intriguing titles to whet people's appetites and dissuade them from returning home afterwards. The desirable alternative is to camp out in the precincts of London's Bolivar Hall, adjacent to Tottenham Court Road and its constant flow of traffic leading down from Warren Street Tube Station!

Of course, when I first heard her play it was in the more refined surroundings of London's South Bank Purcell Room. Its dryer acoustics, and a more serious following wasn't ready to cope with the wider range of programmes that all three halls now aim at, but the challenge was there to create unusual colour contrasts between the usual classical fare of Liszt, in his famous B minor Sonata, and some of the exotic output of Moisés Moleiro and Federico Ruiz, both represented on ASV CDs. Gorgeously dressed to match the occasion, Rodriguez' sensuous playing did everything to vitalize the constant admiration of senior music critic Geoffrey Crankshaw, and brought forth much praise from my fond colleague, Phyllis Sellick.

Her Liszt was persuasively different to other artists' unleashing of tonal forces with portentious architectural exaggerations pummeling the listener's senses into a state of nullified submission. It was reflective and tender, each new subject and harmonic strand treated with natural respect, and a visionary understanding of their correct place within the whole. One didn't require to express plaudits following it, but just to give thanks for revealing the music's inner message.

Meanwhile, Clara's investigations into new repertoire and ideas grew along with the tours abroad. The Latin American continent features strongly in the music of Ernesto Lecuona, recorded for Meridian CDE 84501, and Teresa Carreno for MMG Foundation, Déposito Legal No FD2522002237. The last named, aptly coined Liszt in Petticoats, has now become the highly successful subject for a music-spoken word evening entertainment with actress Karin Fernald, repeated by popular request. It follows on from other dreamed up events entitled Latin-Bach, Tangoitis, Concierto Humour and Gypsy Ballade, while more recently Clara took part in Vexations by Satie and Cage Uncaged, a concert with her Latin American ensemble Alma Viva and a recital at Berlin's Konzerthaus.

'Old Friends' feature in the latest event at St John's Smith Square on Thursday 14 April 2005, with an Anthology of Venezuelan Waltzes for piano and string orchestra by Juan Carlos Nunez and the Second Piano Concerto (dedicated to her) by Federico Ruiz. The Nova Symphony Orchestra will be directed by Levon Parikian.

One sunny afternoon last summer at her South Wimbledon home, Clara and I sat down to talk. Pointing to her young son, she explained that her husband brought him home one day after registering his three names: Leonardo Ferenc Diego. 'He phoned me back to ask if that was alright!' In 1985, when she was still at the Royal College, her first professional appearance was in the Ravel G major Concerto with the St John's Orchestra under Edgar Mainhardt -- no longer living in the UK. Then, came trips to Europe. 'France, quite a lot, Egypt, India, the Domenican Republic ... the little countries.' You avoided places frequented by the so-called Tigers of the Piano? 'I am not a competitive person, but it is not as if I have set out to perform where there is less classical music. That is how things have happened, through various people I have met. Performing Brahms, Chopin, Schubert and Liszt -- along with South American works. The idea of playing became easier when I met Paul Badura-Skoda.' I knew Paul well when I handled the Westminster label which was affiliated to EMI Records back in the 1960s. There was this crazy customs duty imposed on recorded tapes from abroad. We haven't met since, but I have recently written a rave review for a seven CD set to celebrate his 80th Birthday.

Clara Rodriguez. Photo © 2004 Bill Newman
Clara Rodriguez. Photo © 2004 Bill Newman

'I would like him to perform here again after an absence of many years. His son liked the Moliero pieces and played them in concert. I first heard him about 15 years ago at a St John's, Smith Square concert, and his playing is different from others -- always very clever and knowledgable.' This also came across at a lecture recital of Schubert's D major sonata at the Purcell Room. 'Literally every phrase marking in all the Schubert and Beethoven Sonatas exactly from the printed page, with an analytical view towards what the composers wanted. That gave an 'extra' to the musical interpretation and provided it with a scientific meaning.' She first met Badura-Skoda in Caracas, went to his home in Vienna, and linked up with him in Paris and Madrid.

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Copyright © 13 April 2005 Bill Newman, Edgware UK


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