Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Luminaria - Vallini, Britten & Rheinberger - 11/28/21

Simone Vallini: Ex Novo per Pianoforte 
Simone Vallini: Piano 
Benjamin Britten: Simple Symphony for String Orchestra, Op. 4 
Orchestra Nova Amadeus 
Gianluigi Dettori: Conductor 
Joseph Rheinberger: Organ Concerto No. 2, Op. 177 
Orchestra Nova Amadeus 
Gianluigi Dettori: Conductor 
Stefano Vasselli: Organ 

Thanksgiving week was a good week in Italy’s capital city, Gabriele Bonci’s fabulous pizzas making up more than efficiently for the absence of turkey and gravy in my life, and I was particularly thankful to whomever decided to inject some less predictable works into the music-by-candlelight Luminaria series at the American Episcopal Church of St. Paul's Within the Walls (A.K.A. chiesa di San Paolo entro le Mura to the locals) last Sunday evening. 
Checking both the “brand-new” and “local” boxes, the program was going to start with the world première (“Prima Execuzione Assoluta”. It sounds even better in Italian, doesn’t it?) of Simone Vallini’s Ex Novo per Pianoforte, which would be performed by the young but already multi-tasking and prize-winning Roman composer, pianist, teacher and singer himself. 
The other mysterious (to me) item on the playing list was the Organ Concerto by 19th-century German composer and organist Joseph Rheinberger, but since we would be fortunate enough to have the church’s very own music director and organist Stefano Vasselli starring in it, I was confident that I would get to discover it in optimal circumstances. 
Book-ended by those two unknown quantities was 20th-century English composer, conductor and pianist Benjamin Britten, whose name I am always happy to see in a program, more particularly when it relates to his secular output, like his Simple Symphony
I am not sure if this was due to the ubiquitous “Black Friday” sales still going strong or the holiday decorations springing up all over the city, or to the fact that Roman audiences may just not be into novelty to begin with, but the church ended up being about half-empty for the concert. While having a pew to myself and very few people behind me was a rather special treat, I also could not help but think that this was not bidding well for future more left-field endeavors (Sigh). 

After a quick introduction, Simone Vallini sat down at the piano and launched into his short and thoroughly engaging Ex Novo per Pianoforte, which started with pretty cascades of notes and ended with a rumbling thunder. There was a lot going on in between, including the hidden and not so hidden personally meaningful melody mentioned by Vallini, and we were eventually left still wanting for more. 
Britten’s Simple Symphony, which was performed in its string orchestra version, was also a youthful effort since the composer used melodies and other bits and pieces that he had written in his pre-teen years (as you would, I guess, when you have that kind of talent). Come to think of it, just the titles of the four movements kind of say it all: Boisterous Bourrée, Playful Pizzicato, Sentimentale Sarabande and Frolicsome Finale
On Sunday, maestro Gianluigi Dettori and the feisty Orchestra Nova Amadeus grabbed the whole set and turned it into 20 minutes of vibrant, carefree fun. The bourrée was irresistibly inviting, the famous pizzicati merrily kept on popping, the sarabande shamelessly pulled at the heartstrings, and the finale concluded the ride in terrifically high spirits. At the end, a grand old time had definitely been had by all indeed. 
Next, the pièce de résistance of the evening, Rheinberger’s Organ Concerto No. 2, called for a slightly larger orchestra and, of course, the mighty organ. I was very much looking forward to it as I find the organ to be an under-appreciated and under-estimated instrument. That said, when the time had come, the opening notes were so assertively ominous that I half-expected to see the Phantom of the Opera suddenly materialize before us. 
An all-around successful combination of organ and orchestra, the score contained plenty of exciting sounds and appealing ideas without any undue fuss or idiosyncrasy. The resounding anguish of the Grave was eventually tempered by the lushly lyrical Romantic waves of the Andante before the Con moto brought a powerful, borderline pompous, end to the totally satisfying journey. Seriously, why don’t we hear that type of music more often? 

Our effusive clapping did not get us an encore, but I easily got over it as I rewarded myself with a decadent gelato on my long but endlessly entertaining way home through the increasingly bedecked and festive city. Now that’s certainly one way to spend an enjoyable Sunday evening.

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