Dallas — Alessandro Deljavan is a mysterious force at the piano. Everything he plays takes on a new guise and meaning. It all sounds familiar, yet unfamiliar at the same time as he processes the music through his highly individualistic musical psyche. Frequently, what comes out sends us back to the scores to see if we can find where he found and that was there all along. He appeared in two of the Cliburn competitions and knocked our socks off, but such unique artists rarely win such affairs. However, his legion of fans, seized by “Deljamania,” follow him around Europe with rock star devotion. He recently appeared at the final Blue Candlelight Concert Series of the year, and didn’t disappoint.
He started off relatively simply with a pair of Scarlatti sonatas (K. 159 and K. 9) that he tossed off as warmups, with an infectious liveness to one and simple lyricism to the other. But it was when he turned is attention to Chopin that we got a taste of the original artistry that has made his reputation. He played two of Chopin’s Impromptus, Op. 29, No. 1 and Op. 51, No. 3. He finished off with Chopin’s four Mazurkas, Op. 17.
He played the impromptus without a pause in a stream of conscientiousness manner that blurred into a haze of Chopin-ness. As the name implies, and we so rarely hear, Deljavan played them like they were being improvised on the spot, as though he were Chopin himself. One excellent and original effect was his use of the sustaining pedal. In general, he used it sparingly but would occasionally use it continually for an entire passage. His use of layered dynamics was another detail he employed to make this a memorable reading of these charming pieces.
The Mazurkas were equally fascinating to hear but more problematic. A Mazurka is a Polish folk dance that Chopin greatly admired. It is in triple time, like a waltz, but instead has the accent on the second beat (think “yes, sir”). This was most obvious in Deljavan’s playing of the first one but that tell-tale accent was less evident in the others — the slower tempi notwithstanding. The third is most waltz like of the set, but even there the second beat rules. Deljavan began to subtly relegate the second beat, weaker on its own anyway, to secondary status. His playing of these four marvelous miniatures was lovely, but they felt more like a continuation of the earlier impromptus rather than variants of the folk dance so beloved by the composer.
Staying in the world of dance, Deljavan played four pieces from Cançó i dansa (Songs and Dances), a collection of 15 pieces by the Catalan composer Frederico Mompou. All of them are short and for piano except for No. 13, which is for guitar, and No. 15, for organ. They were written over a long period of time (from 1918 to 1972) and are mostly based on Catalan folk tunes or original tunes in the same manner. Each one has a slow introductory Cançó followed by a faster Dansa. Deljavan played numbers 6,7,8, and 12.
Deljavan’s slow and dreamy reading of the beautiful Cançó that opens No. 6 was in a continuation of the mood the set in the preceding Chopin selections but the Spanish flavoring told us that we were in a new world. This was confirmed by his spritely playing of the Brazilian-influenced rhythms of the Dansa. He played the others in a similar manner. The Cançó of No. 8 was especially attractive.
In everything he played, the listener didn’t really notice his obvious mastery of technique, as much as his musicianship, highlighted by his exceptionally careful attention to even the smallest details. For one thing, the independence of his hands allowed him to bring out all of the inner voices. He also displayed a wide range of dynamics, from very soft to explosive, but all were within the range he set for each piece. He never let go of the audience’s attention for even an instant. You could see that they were hanging on every note and greeted the endings with an exhalation before the applause. His unique take on pedaling was another outstanding element.
Since this concert was all about Deljavan, it was welcome programming to let us experience his highly praised bona fides as a collaborative pianist. So, after intermission, Deljavan was joined by violinist Gary. Levinson is the Senior Principal Associate Concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony and he is a welcome and familiar performer on this concert series and always brings an engaging sense of energy, technical brilliance and musical savoir faire to whatever he plays. Recently, he took a very well received star turn with the DSO with an electrifying performance of the world premiere of George Tsontakis’ Violin Concerto No. 3.
The pair opened with more music based on Spanish folk elements with Manuel de Falla’s Suite Populaire Espagnole, arranged from the original version for voice by Paul Kochanski. They delivered an engaging and evocative performance, full of sass and brilliance. Deljavan’s unusual use of the sustaining pedal was a noticeable element, with some accompaniment passages soaked so as to keep the harmonic underpinning more present and other passages cracklingly dry. His solo introductions perfectly set the mood and Levinson more “joined in” rather than starting to play.
The next selection also started out life as a work for soprano, Prokofiev’s Five Melodies, composed in 1920 as Five Songs without Words, Op. 35. They were transcribed for violin by the composer with the assistance of the Polish violinist and arranger Paweł Kochański, who was also a factor in the composer’ first violin concerto.
Most noticeable in this performance of these miniature pieces was the juxtaposition of the many moods the composer incorporated and contrasted, from sublime lyricism to a lighter festive touch. All of this was floated over some eccentric diatonic harmonies that changed with the movements. Both artists caught these changes intonation-wise and reveled in them. Of special note was Levinson’s realization of the technical effects native to the instrument: pizzicato passages, harmonics, double stops and even the use of the mute, which is not used much in solo violin music.
Still keeping with folk-influenced music, the pair turned to a few selections from George Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess, as transcribed by the violinist Jascha Heifetz. The suite includes “Summertime,” “A Woman is a Sometime Thing,” “My Man's Gone Now,” “Bess, You is my Woman Now,” “It Ain't Necessarily So,” and the “Tempo di Blues.” You would think that these intensively vocal works wouldn’t transfer to the violin, but Heifetz’s showmanship enabled him to make these arrangements highly effective. Most noticeable was Levinson’s technical mastery of the bow, which he used to significantly enhance his performance.
The pair played Gershwin’s arias without over-lingering on any of the usual rubato, as you might hear in the original settings, but kept it moving while still being true to Gershwin’s unmistakable style. However, without the words and stage business, the two contrasting sections of “It Ain't Necessarily So” were so different that they sounded almost schizophrenic. A little less contrast might have better suited the transcription.
In keeping with the folk theme, the pair turned to an arrangement of Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance No. 1,” as arranged for violin by the violinist Joseph Joachim, who also advised the composer on his violin concerto. From the passionate opening on the G string, repeated in double stops, to the first scherzo-like passage, seasoned with Deljavan’s descending arpeggi, this was a highly characteristic performance. The only reservation is that they were so very serious about it. They both could have had more fun and interacted more with each other, as well as the audience, for all of the many mood changes and delightful accelerandi.
The program ended with two selections from Fritz Kreisler’s Three Viennese Melodies, “Lieberslied” and “Schön Rosmarin.” Kreisler originally passed them off as the work of the second-rate 19th century dance music composer, Josef Lanner (1801-1843). He later admitted that they were his. These are tuneful and truly Viennese bonbons that the two musicians tossed off with flair, ending this folk-influenced program on a lighter note.
Before signing off, I have to mention the paucity of the program. While I realize that it was designed to be used for all of the concerts in the series and space was short, not listing the individual selections, such as just saying “impromptu” and giving only the name of the multi-movements works, left the audience not intimately familiar with each selection adrift.