Arciuli delivers thrilling Ives performance at Miami Piano Festival

By David Fleshler

Emanuele Arciuli performed a program of Beethoven, Bartok and Ives Monday night at the Broward Center's Amaturo Theatre.

Like many other artists engaged for the Miami International Piano Festival, the Italian pianist Emanuele Arciuli has charted an unusual professional path.

A professor at the conservatory in the southern Italian city of Bari, he has shown a deep interest in contemporary American music, commissioning several composers to write variations on a theme by the jazz pianist Thelonious Monk, performing the music of Native American composers and publishing a book in Italian last year on the piano music of the United States.

He presented a recital of Beethoven, Bartók and Ives Monday at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale before a sparse but enthusiastic crowd of about 70 people, prefacing each work with his own insightful commentary on the music.

The big piece on the recital was Ives’ huge Piano Sonata No. 2, known as the Concord Sonata. “This is the most original piano piece ever composed by an American composer,” Arciuli told the audience. “Italians are so enamored of American music. You should be very proud to have such a great, great American piece.”

Had he not said a word, Arciuli’s enthusiasm for the work would have been clear. He attacked it with immense vigor, drawing a huge sonority from the piano in Ives’ complex harmonies, with no apparent trouble with work’s formidable technical challenges. Equally impressive were the soft, searching sections, such as the close of the Emerson movement, with its invocation of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, hushed and mysterious in his hands. His performance of the Hawthorne section was bone-chilling in its abrupt sandblasting away of the gentle, hopeful theme.

Arciuli’s committed performance allowed some of the sonata’s subtleties to be lost. He often deployed so much volume and pedal that Ives’ references to American folk songs were harder to discern, making the sonata sound at times like a dissonant cousin of the virtuoso works of the 19th century. Still this was a big-boned, exciting performance from a pianist clearly in sync with the music, and there was something heartwarming about the professore from Bari bouncing up and down on the piano stool to old American church tunes.

He opened with Beethoven’s Bagatelles Op. 33, technically undemanding works familiar to anyone who has attended student piano recitals. But in Arciuli’s hands they grew in stature. He found enormous tension in the graceful, apparently straightforward melody of No. 1, and his velvety touch in No. 3 brought to that work a dreamy, nostalgic quality.

Bartók’s Im Freien (Out of Doors) is a series of episodes – at times galloping and complex, at times songlike and comforting. Arciuli’s most impressive work came in a section devoted to the sounds of the night, where his finely weighted touch at the keyboard made the piano sound like it had no hammers at all, with an effortless production of sound that evoked the chirps and howls of forest creatures.

The Miami International Piano Festival Master Series closes 8 p.m. tonight at the Broward Center with chamber works by Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin and Dvořák.; 954-462-0222.

Posted in Performances

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Tue Mar 8, 2011
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