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Thursday, October 21, 2010


(Pic: Mariangela Vacatello)

One of the best distinguished pianists of the year. (Review by Michael Green)

The Friends of Music organisation has presented a dozen distinguished pianists at the Durban Jewish Centre this year and the latest, Mariangela Vacatello, is one of the best. She is Italian of course, born in Naples, and at the age of 28 she has a technical dominance and an interpretative insight far beyond her relatively tender years and her slender physique.

Her programme was exceptionally challenging. The opening item, Bach’s Italian Concerto, proclaimed clearly that here was a pianist of unusual gifts. She demonstrated absolute clarity, good tonal balance and a total grasp of the contrapuntal subtleties of Bach’s music.

Then she turned from the cool elegance of Bach to the extravagances of Franz Liszt. Liszt’s Sonata in B minor is a massive work that reflects the contrasts in the composer’s own personality, the extrovert show-off and the rather self-conscious mystic. Modern opinion on the sonata, which runs for about 32 minutes without a break, is, I suspect, somewhat varied, but it is undeniably a great virtuoso work.

Mariangela handled Liszt’s thundering double octaves and big chords with absolute confidence and sureness, and she extracted a huge sound from the Kawai piano of the Friends of Music. Many members of the audience expressed amazement afterwards that so slight a young woman could play with such power. And she produced a beautiful cantabile tone in the sonata’s lyrical passages.

Chopin’s Rondo in E flat major, Op. 16, came almost as light relief. This is one of the Polish master’s lesser works but, as always with Chopin, it was delightful to listen to, with the pianist showing a delicate touch, a complete contrast to much of what had gone before.

Finally there was an astonishing display of keyboard pyrotechnics in Srtravinsky’s Trois mouvements de Petrouchka. These three pieces are arrangements of music from Stravinksy’s ballet Petrushka. The composer wrote the piano versions in 1921 for his friend Arthur Rubinstein, the famous pianist. They are among the most difficult pieces in the entire piano repertory, which is probably the reason why they are seldom played in public. Mariangela Vacatello gave a performance that was as exciting to see as it was to hear. Rapid runs, startling leaps of chords, glissandi, swift crossing of the hands – they were all there, handled with poise and assurance. The music is splendid, I think, and the performance was brilliant.

In response to enthusiastic applause the pianist gave an encore, Liszt’s transcription of Schumann’s song Widmung, Devotion.

The prelude performers of the evening, funded by the National Lottery, were Nosipho Ntuli (soprano) and Bheki Ngwazi (tenor). Together and separately they sang arias from Verdi operas, accompanied at the piano by Andrew Warburton. They both have very good, well-trained voices. Nosipho Ntuli showed accurate intonation and some powerful top notes, and Bheki Ngwazi has a strong, full-bodied tenor voice. Both have a good stage presence and they were correctly dressed for the occasion. They gave the audience a good deal of pleasure. - Michael Green

(Mariangela Vacatello performs with the KZN Philharmonic on October 21 at the Durban City Hall at 19h30)