Pianist Gampel brings theatrics and worthy pianism to recital

By David Fleshler

Alan Gampel performed a recital Saturday night at Gusman Hall for Sunday Afternoons of Music..

The American pianist Alan Gampel, who has spent most of his career in Europe, is not one of those performers who just walks on stage, sits silently at the piano and runs through a slice of repertoire

At a recital Saturday at the University of Miami’s Gusman Hall, he picked up the microphone before each work and provided an introduction, telling of Chopin’s miserable, rainy Mediterranean vacation during which he composed his Preludes and the 19th-century American pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s trail of romantic conquests in South America. At the piano he was a bit of a showman—allowing his hands to rise high into the air after thumping fortissimo notes on the keyboard and ending works with a flourish that brought him off the piano bench.

Fortunately, there was fine musicianship in addition to the theatrics. The concert was a rare Saturday performance in the Sunday Afternoons of Music series, which may account for why the hall was half empty.

He opened with the complete set of Chopin’s Preludes, performed with a smoothness and elegance that would have been at home in a Parisian salon. He brought poetry and eloquence to the autumnal melody of No. 7. In No. 12 he was driving, virtuosic and grand. His performance of the famous Raindrop prelude was rich in tonal colors—graceful in the opening melody, sonorous in the dramatically building passage that followed. And throughout, his fluid touch at the keyboard allowed the fastest, most wide-ranging passages to emerge in a flowing, satiny manner, with all the tones even and not a trace of effort.

In Chopin’s Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise, he gave a sensitively phrased account of the opening melody and then a blazing one of the Polonaise. His touch was light almost to a fault, and at times there seemed to be a need for more shaping of the passagework, with high points brought out more rather than glossed over in his display of digital dexterity. Still, his hands flew, and it was an impressive exhibition of virtuosity that deserved its mid-concert standing ovation.
After intermission came three works by Gottschalk. The first, called Bamboula, was a clanging, muscular, exuberantly American work, performed by Gampel with gusto. Next came Berceuse, a songlike melody, phrased by Gampel with as much sensitivity and color as his Chopin. Finally and best of all was The Banjo, a work that attempts to imitate that instrument by demanding a bizarre display of pianistic virtuosity, in which Gampel used both hands to spin elaborate arpeggios while smoothly bringing out a folk melody.

Orchestral works transcribed for piano often fail. But Gampel’s performance of a transcription of Aaron Copland’s ballet Rodeo succeeded for three reasons: Copland did the transcription, the percussive nature of the four movements transferred easily to the piano, and Gampel’s rich range of tonal colors and theatrical approach allowed the work to come to life in the austere surroundings of a piano recital. He attacked with vigor the strongly marked rhythms of “Buckaroo Holiday” and the famous “Hoe-Down.” And his touch in the quiet melodies of the “Corral Nocturne” drew from the piano the timbres of a folk song around a campfire.

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Sun Mar 17, 2013
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