Fabio Martino displays remarkable artistry at Miami Piano Festival

By Dorothy Hindman

Fabio Martino performed music of Beethoven, Ravel and Scriabin Saturday night at the Miami International Piano Festival.

Drizzly, dreary weather didn’t prevent an excited audience from turning out to hear Brazilian pianist Fabio Martino make his Miami debut Saturday night at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach.  The 23-year old Martino is the third stellar young pianist featured in as many nights on the Miami International Piano Festival’s Discovery Series, running through Sunday.

Dressed in a colorful shirt and bow tie, Martino kicked off his program with a discovery for the audience, Beethoven’s Fantasia Op. 77, a rarely-performed work.  The Fantasia is a strange ramble through various ideas and scalar passages, settling into a theme about halfway through the work.  In Martino’s hands, it became a connected narrative of Classical and Romantic moods, tested and rejected until one was good enough to inspire spontaneous variations. 

Beethoven suits Martino, who followed the Fantasia with the monumental Appassionata Sonata Op. 57.  Martino inhabits the music, playing with a rich intensity and engagement.  His careful voicings allow the fullest timbres possible without overwhelming the melody, and he is not timid, going for a big sound with considerable power.  This was clear throughout the impassioned struggle of the Allegro assai, a surprisingly faster tempo at the end announcing its ultimate resolution.

His Andante held the same richness, characterized by careful releases, immaculate pedaling and impeccable voicing, especially in the suspensions of the first variation.   A wonderfully fluid attacca provided a clean approach to the final Allegro’s energy and turmoil. Throughout, Martino demonstrated his greatest strength – a sense of the long line – proving through phrasing, color, and superb dynamic control that he knows exactly where he is going. 

Where Martino’s Beethoven was fully German, he channeled an entirely French technique for Maurice Ravel’s suite of character pieces Miroirs, another work rarely performed as a whole in concert.  His Noctuelles captured a nocturnal fluttering from the start, with elegant phrasing and the smoothest of hammerless touches, spiced by the occasional dark, sharp edge.  Oiseaux tristes was mesmerizing, weaving a spell with utter control of dynamics and a delicate touch. 

Martino’s incredibly fleet fingers made the multiple spectacular runs in Une barque sur l’océan look easy, and occasional flashes of Romantic grandeur were a welcome addition.  A pesante Latin flavor, with intermittent dreamy tinges and crisp repeated notes, colored the fiery images portrayed in Alborada del gracioso.  Martino’s gentle bells of La vallée de cloches signaled the end of the reverie with delicacy, and an overarching sense of musical depth.

Martino’s remarkable speed and strength rounded out the evening in Scriabin’s Sonata Op. 53, No. 5, combining brilliant flashes of changing colors with well-defined themes.  Playing deeply into the keys, Martino brought definition to every gesture, a wildness paired with a delicate exoticism that synthesized his entire program.  Every idea in the cyclic work was repeatedly recast through shades of touch, pedaling, timbre and tempo, and each of the mounting, multiple crescendi at the end was more unbelievable than the last. 

Every element is already in place in Martino’s pianism: technique, awareness of style, dynamic control, shades of pianistic color, and deep formal understanding.  More importantly, he uses this considerable arsenal to portray, not just play the music.  He has a remarkable career ahead.

The Miami International Piano Festival closes Sunday at the Colony Theater.  miamipianofest.com, 305-935-5115

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Sun May 20, 2012
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