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To set the classical beginnings and Romantic aftermath of her recital in dramatic relief, we had an outrageous piece by contemporary Italian composer Calligaris -- Preludio, Sarabanda e Finale -- dedicated to Mme Crudeli, whose monumental melodic supporting pillars in double-octaves were almost obliterated by the frenzied cascades of interlocking chords and arpeggiated passagework on either side -- the whole fortississimo apart from a brief supplicating entr-acte -- theatrical to its very core. It left one wondering how what before had appeared to us as the living counterpart (in her jewelled emerald green gown) of the stuffed peacock at the foot of the grand staircase could possibly produce such prodigious reserves of strength as to resemble the havoc wrought by Beethoven in some of his more tempestuous improvisations.

But we need have had no such fears. The storm passed and the reverberations cleared to permit the less-frightening tempests-in-a-teapot of Chopin's first Ballade, second Scherzo and Grande Polacca brillante -- none the less effective for their reassuring predictability. They served to confirm our impression that two of Madame Crudeli's trump cards are, firstly, her unfailing capacity in the Andante spianato and elsewhere (a quality she shares with giants of the past generation such as her compatriot Busoni) to let a cantilena melody sing out freely in mezzo-forte if not forte, and, secondly, her other quite inimitable quality, shared with no one else, of what I can only call 'coquetterie' -- an imperceptible withholding of the final note or cadence as arch as any Edwardian lifted eyebrows by which to get one's point across -- as ubiquitous in the Cimarosa and Scarlatti as in the final drumbeats of the Grande Polonaise. (That is not to impugn the uncompromising precision of attack with which even the most voluble passagework was fitted into an unwavering tempo.) In short, it was a masterclass in old-fashioned virtuosity -- more belonging in the 'grand époque' than in our pusillanimous present one and informing us of all we might have missed but for la Crudeli's timely and unforgettable apparition in our midst. It was as if she had stepped right off the walls of Leighton House to claim it as to the (grand) manner born!

Copyright © 18 March 2006 Malcolm Troup, London UK




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