Alexander Scriabin: 24 Preludes, Opus 11
Benedetto Lupo: Piano
After attending a wonderful chamber music concert by the Trio Hermes in the monastery of the Basilica di Santa Cecilia in Trastevere a couple of weeks before, I got the warm and fuzzy feeling that the divine protector of music and musicians was looking after me when I came across the poster of an upcoming recital by the much praised and much awarded Italian pianist and teacher Benedetto Lupo as I was walking through, of all places, the largely immigrant neighborhood surrounding the Nuovo Mercato Esquilino.
It took me a half-second to figure out who “Čajkovskij” was, but when I realized that it was the same Russian composer that ignited for the most part my interest in classical music and that, on top of it, the second composer on the program would be the less difficult to decipher, although not as widely popular, “Skrjabin”, I got a ticket right away. Fact is, beside the pleasure of hearing beautiful music live, I was also very much looking forward to being reminded how fascinating Russian culture is beyond the awfulness of the current political situation.
So on Thursday evening, at the ungodly hour of 9:00 P.M. after a busy day taking my second friend from New York City in two weeks around Rome, I found myself in the historic center’s Teatro Argentina, which, it is worth-pointing out, is known not only for being one of the city’s major performance venues, but also for standing on the site where Julius Caesar was assassinated. Ancient Rome history aside, the concert hall turned out to be both eye-popping, with its bright red theme, lavish ornamentation and stunning ceiling, and welcoming, with its human size and good acoustics.
I had scored a prime parterre seat, which happened to be located right behind ever-rising pianist extraordinaire Beatrice Rana, whose international fame, infectious laugh and status as a former student of Lupo’s easily made her the most popular person in the room. More important, I knew that she would stick to concert-going etiquette, which was more than could be said about the woman sitting to my right, whose admittedly necessary but noisy cough drop unwrapping took forever, to the bottomless dismay of the guy sitting to my left, who kept of throwing her exasperated glances until she finally upped and left. Fun times.
During the on-going drama, Benedetto Lupo was going through quintessential Romantic composer Piotr Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons with imperturbable poise and commitment. Contrary to his universally beloved take-no-prisoners piano concerto No. 1, this work for solo piano is a much more low-key collection of highly individual and equally engaging vignettes that represent the 12 months of the year, all depicted with his trademark heart-on-his sleeve sensitiveness.
As expected, each and every one of those miniatures came out as a small irresistible jewel of glorious lyricism and understated melancholy; more unexpected were some of the associations, such as the openly playful Allegro moderato for November and the deeply introspective Barcarola, which has incidentally gotten a life of its own as a popular concert encore, for June. That said, no matter what the challenge was, Lupo swiftly rose to it and handily conquered.
Immediately after The Seasons and without even pausing for a well-deserved intermission, our man threw himself whole-heartily into Late Romanticism composer and pianist Alexander Scriabin’s 24 Preludes, Opus 11. Modeled after Chopin’s 24 Preludes, which were themselves inspired by Bach’s (Not half-bad references, to say the least), Scriabin’s 30-minute set is a superb multi-faceted gift that keeps on giving generously to connoisseurs and neophytes alike.
And it was all the more enjoyed by everyone in the audience on Thursday night as Lupo made a point of thoughtfully expressing the countless nuances and hypnotic quality of each of the tiny but dauntingly complex pieces. Subtly highlighting the dreamy Chopinesque nature of one or the fierce virtuosic fireworks of another, he took us on a terrific journey that ended all too soon.
Once the official program over, since we loudly let him know in no uncertain terms that we were not ready to leave just yet, Lupo treated us to his own exquisite arrangement of one of Tchaikovsky’s Romances, the one that keeps on asking why, and then moved on to a short and lovely musical party favor before finally calling it a night.
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