Dallas — The Feb. 12 concert presented by Blue Candlelight Music Series sported the biggest crowd of the season. These concerts are usually sold out, but this time they kept adding seating as if we were all in a production of The Chairs by Eugène Ionesco. The cause of all this activity was the widely anticipated appearance of the brilliant and controversial Italian pianist Alessandro Deljavan.
Experiencing his recital, it is difficult to match up the word “controversial” with his technically immaculate and musically sensitive performance. The so-called controversy mostly comes from his humming along and appearing to be talking to himself as he plays. Other musicians do similar things, both Glen Gould and Toscanini sang along, and skimpy dresses raise more eyebrows these days than a little vocal accompaniment. But, considering the magnificent and musically sensitive recital he presented, no one would care if he wore a rubber nose.
Deljavan’s program was an exploration of the sonata, one of the most important forms in music. He started with four sonatas; actually short two-part piano pieces by Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757). These proto-sonatas have little resemblance to the multi-movement sonatas that followed once Haydn came along. However, thanks to their charm and technical challenges, they will always remain concert favorites.
Scarlatti’s pieces consist of two parts with each section repeating. Deljavan’s reading minimized their innate repetitious nature by adding some new light, or slightly change in his approach, when playing all the repeats.
Mozart’s Sonata in C Major, K. 330, followed Scarlatti’s short excursions. This is not the C major sonata that is the more familiar of the two in that key. However, it possesses one of his most exceptional slow movements—remarkable for both its great beauty and amazing simplicity. For a pianist famous for technical fireworks, Deljavan’s lyrical and hushed performance of this movement, the essence of music, was the highlight of the recital.
There is a special place in the musical heavens for artists that play music by living composers and Deljavan earned his by concluding with a short work, Lullaby, by Francesco Scagliola, born in 1971.
This is a strange piece that vaguely quotes some immediately recognizable music. One quote is Brahms’ well-known lullaby, “Wiegenlied: Guten Abend, gute Nacht" ("Good evening, good night"), Op. 49, No. 4. Almost everyone can hum the tune. Another quote is from Eric Satie’s Gymnopédies. They are also well known from some contemporary uses, (mostly of the first one of the set of three), which appeared in a cut on the 1968 Blood, Sweat and Tears album and in some films, such as Woody Allen’s Another Woman. Scagliola’s inclusion of the Brhams is understandable but his point on the Satie remains harder to decipher. However, it was interesting to hear a new take on existing material.
The major work on Deljavan’s second half was Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 35, best known for the third movement: Marche funèbre (Funeral March). The first theme of that march is so much a part of the common experience that even most children can hum it. The second materials in the movement are much more lyrical and pleasant than the morose opening theme (it was played at Chopin’s own funeral).
Chopin didn’t write many large-scale works: his talent was as a miniaturist. However, he wrote three sonatas and two concerti that are masterpieces of their respective genres. Of the sonatas, the present one, the second, is the most frequently performed. Its difficulties are legendary without being flashy, such as some of Franz Liszt’s showpieces. Deljavan gave it a thrilling performance that knitted the four very different movements into a single piece, no easy task. Robert Schumann reportedly refered to them as four unruly children.
The last movement is famous as a nearly impossible technical challenge. It is made up of extremely fast and constantly moving notes that are played in both hands at the octave—all at the same dynamic level and without any change in the tempo. Deljavan took it at a breakneck speed and it was amazing to hear. The only complaint is that he blurred it all with the sustaining pedal. It would have been more impressive if we could have heard the actual notes instead of a swirl of sound.
The same complaint can be applied to one of his encores: Chopin’s Étude Op. 10, No. 12 in C minor, known as the “Revolutionary.” This is another one of Chopin’s very well known pieces and many a piano student has tried to master the constantly running left hand with varying results.
Deljavan took it at an almost unimaginable tempo and played it with lots of passion and the anger that the composer poured into it about the November Uprising in the Polish-Russian War that was going on when he wrote it. However, once again, Deljavan’s overuse of the sustaining pedal blurred the entire piece. Some clarity would have allowed us to hear more of his technical wizardry.