Maltempo opens Miami Piano Festival with Lisztian fire and bravura

By Lawrence Budmen

Vincenzo Maltempo  opened the Miami International Piano Festival Thursday night in Miami Beach.

Vincenzo Maltempo opened the Miami International Piano Festival Thursday night in Miami Beach.

The Miami International Piano Festival’s Discovery Series opened Thursday night at Miami Beach’s Colony Theater with the symbolic pairing of two keyboard virtuosos–Italian pianist Vincenzo Maltempo and 19th-century composer Franz Liszt.

Liszt was a larger-than-life celebrity, the equivalent of a rock star. He more or less invented the solo piano recital. Maltempo’s program traversed Liszt’s creative guises as salon charmer, power-pounding dazzler and ethnomusicologist.

An entire program of Liszt can be daunting for both the performer and listener but that was not the case in the hands of Maltempo. With his long hair, dark glasses and black vest, the young pianist evokes the image of a pop star and conjures up something of the aura of the traditional romantic firebrand. More importantly, he has the gargantuan technique to tackle the most demanding showpieces and the musical sensibility to match poetry with bombastic display.

Maltempo opened the evening with the Waltz Impromptu. Displaying a svelte touch, he shaped the charming melodic strands with almost improvisatory pulse. Beneath the surface glitter, Maltempo captured the vignette’s feeling of nostalgia and fading elegance.

“Vallèe d’Oberman” from Liszt’s Années de Pélerinage (Years of Pilgrimage) is a pianistic tone poem based on a romantic novel about man’s attempts to overcome the tumultuous forces of nature. At the outset of this thunderous score, Maltempo established a mood of darkness. Through skilled and astute pedaling, he brought vivid coloration to the surging principal theme. With a varied touch, he brought lighter hues to the ascending figure, which seems to emerge from the rumbling bleakness. At times Maltempo’s sheer power and volume nearly equaled the sonority of an orchestra. Drawing a wide spectrum of tonal gradation, he also brought continuity and sensitive musicality to a work that could sound like mere pianistic thumping.

Based on the epic poem The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, Apres une lecture de Dante – Fantasia quasi Sonata is a tour de force. Maltempo’s brisk, clanging opening chords set the pace and he assayed Liszt’s pianistic fury at the pace of a cyclone with every note securely placed. Although the knuckle-busting clusters of notes emerged at full blast, Maltempo also infused the music with moments of delicacy, minimizing and countering the bombast.

Two polonaises demonstrated the influence of Liszt’s friend Chopin on his creative oeuvre. Indeed the thematic lines of the Polonaise No. 1 in C minor (Polonaise melancolique) could well have come from Chopin’s pen but Liszt adds greater pyrotechnical gearshifts to the Polish dance rhythms. Maltempo’s light and airy reading did not miss the undertones of lyrical sadness.

The opening of the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 10 was aristocratically spun and the gypsy rhythms were articulated with playful crispness.

That was a mere warmup for Maltempo’s unique version of the thrice-familiar Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. From the clipped shaping of the broad opening theme, every phrase was given an unusual twist. The concluding section was played almost twice as fast as more traditional performances. In a final dramatic musical flourish, Maltempo’s own two minute cadenza was a fantasia on the rhapsody’s thematic material, transformed into hallucinatory keyboard revels before a return to Liszt’s bravura finish. If Maltempo can play Liszt with such assured technical control and artistic depth, one looks forward to his perusals of more varied repertoire at future engagements.

The Miami International Piano Festival continues 7:45 p.m. Friday at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach with Emanuel Rimoldi playing Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, Schumann’s Humoreske, Liszt’s Paraphrase on Themes from Verdi’s “Aida”, and Rachmaninoff’s Ten Preludes.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Maltempo opens Miami Piano Festival with Lisztian fire and bravura”

  1. Posted May 13, 2016 at 4:21 pm by Alfred Watson

    This man is a musical genius, who is in a superior class by himself. Fantastic, fabulous enchanting, unbelievable wizard. THE GREATEST!!!!!!!!!!

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Fri May 13, 2016
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