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The eerie case of a South-American
pianistic 'revenant', by MALCOLM TROUP


If one is to keep alert to London's ever-changing musical soundscape, one must be prepared to seek it out in well-heeled Belgravia as much as in the West End. That is what explains my presence last Wednesday [31 January 2007] in the Chilean Ambassador's residence in Eaton Place to hear an odd-ball piano recital by Chilean pianist María Paz Santibáñez whom Ambassador Moreno had brought over expressly from Paris for the occasion. This was no diplomatic reception -- indeed I recognised only one ambassador amongst the paying audience of musiclovers: Richard Wilkinson, until recently our much-loved envoy in Chile, now Chairman of the Anglo-Chilean Society which, in association with the Embassy and the British Chilean Chamber of Commerce, presented the evening which was jointly sponsored by Howard Kennedy and LAN Chilean Airlines.

Already that morning at the Court of the Worshipful Company of Musicians Sir Anthony Figgis, no mean musician himself and Marshall of the Diplomatic Corps, had been singing the praises of newly-arrived Señor Moreno. But it still came as a shock to discover a programme far removed from the usual salon trivia -- one in which the only 'classics' were Ginastera and Messiaen! In it we were being taken on a panoptic survey of a whole continent -- South America -- in terms of its 20th or 21st century piano production: Peru, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina. All had one redeeming feature: however avant-garde or aleatoric, they were all bent on 'getting somewhere' with a clear musical flow to the succession of experimental sound-bites which can otherwise sound so random and fortuitous.

Among them, Fallabella's Studies in Emotion wittily explored a new introspective vein in étude-writing exploiting the frustration that the need for practising études often induces. Arena Fuentes' The Magic Box (2005) seemed one of the few items to lack any sense of direction, so absorbed was the composer in playing with his new toys, an impression later corrected by María Paz' encore: Arenas Fuentes' Variations on Violeta Parra's 'Gracias a la Vida', the famous resistance song obviously providing the composer with a 'red thread' around which to organise his considerable resources. Corum Ahamian's 'And Now?' kept us guessing as to when the various motivic gestures or 'mottos' might recur or coalesce against their intermittent background pedal on middle G, the whole piece set out in the wide-open spaces of late-20th century graphic notation. Indeed the only ingredient missing in this continent-wide conspectus was Brazil, which would have given a more exotic even voluptuous turn to what I suspect may well have been intended as an astringent to Villa-Lobos' wilder excesses.

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Copyright © 6 February 2007 Malcolm Troup, London UK


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