Gagliano makes a triumphant return for Miami Piano Festival

By Lawrence Budmen

Avery Gagliano performed for the Miami International Piano Festival Sunday evening in Aventura.

When Avery Gagliano, then an 18-year-old student at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute, won the top prize at the National Chopin Competition in March, 2020 in Miami, it was obvious that she was exceptionally gifted. An all-Chopin recital in 2021, prior to competing in Warsaw’s International Chopin Competition, was nothing short of dazzling. 

Gagliano went on to reach the semifinals in Warsaw (the only American to make it that far) and graduated from Curtis in the spring of 2024. Her distinguished trio of teachers in Philadelphia comprised Jonathan Biss, Gary Graffman and Robert McDonald.

Gagliano returned to Miami on Sunday for an outstanding recital for the Miami International Piano Festival at the Aventura Art and Culture Center. Her performance exceeded her previous fine showing and this time there was not a note of Chopin.

Gagliano opened with a rare complete performance of Handel’s Suite No. 5 in E Major. Usually only the final Air and variations, once known as “The Harmonious Blacksmith” are played. 

This was an unabashedly pianistic traversal, Gagliano did not attempt to imitate the registrations of the harpsichord (for which Handel originally wrote the score) to a modern Steinway grand. From the first pages of the Prelude, her performance was stylish in the best Baroque manner. She brought lightness of touch, accuracy, pointed coloration and enlivening spirit to the Allemande. The Courante was assayed at a brisk clip and the Air was marked by distinctive rhythmic inflection with each of the variations given individual character and a distinctive interpretive stamp.

Ravel’s Sonatine is one of the French composer’s miniature gems. In the initial Modèré, Gagliano offered impressionistic hues and glints of musical pastels. With a svelte touch and unhurried pace, she made each note and sonic effect count. The second movement Menuet emerged stately without loss of pulse. Gagliano produced ripples across the keyboard in the final Animé, balancing speed and Gallic fragrance.

The pianist’s fellow Curtis classmate Alistair Coleman wrote Music in Timelapse for her. With motivic allusions to the Schubert B-flat sonata that concluded the program, Coleman’s work might be termed “Schubert and Beethoven meet Philip Glass.” The form is an attempt at a musical equivalent of time-lapse photography. Bolstered by a touch of jazz, the score’s series of episodes are cleverly conceived and hold the attention. Gagliano gave the piece powerhouse advocacy, displaying agile dexterity in the minimalist segments.

Schubert’s Sonata in B-flat, D. 960 comprised the concert’s second half. Written in the last months of Schubert’s tragically short life, the sonata is a summation of the composer’s gift for inspired melody and sense of structural mastery. 

Unlike many pianists, Gagliano did not approach the score as a monumental epic in the manner of Beethoven’s late sonatas. Her reading was true to Schubert’s lyrical bent without neglecting the darker emotional underpinnings. In the opening movement, she offered a vast array of dynamic contrasts. Her trills were deftly accomplished, drawing a singing tone from the keyboard. Gagliano’s nuanced playing was evenly proportioned, focusing on the movement’s broader arc.

There was depth of feeling in Gagliano’s shaping of the lieder-like principal melody of the Andante sostenuto. A striking and emotive central episode found the rumbling figurations in the left hand strongly present against the thematic line in the right. Gagliano imbued the movement with breadth and eloquence. 

The dancing motifs of the Scherzo were swiftly conveyed, yet with a great delicacy of touch. Gagliano astutely mixed fleetness and Viennese charm in the final Allegro ma non troppo, bringing precision, zest and variations of phrasing to the numerous repetitions of the main theme. Gagliano brought ample power when needed and the fireworks of the Presto coda were combustible.

Rousing cheers brought the pianist back for an encore of Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, played with clarity, subtlety and tonal gleam. Avery Gagliano is a thoughtful and reflective interpreter, and one looks forward to her future performances.

The Miami International Piano Festival presents Alexandra Segal playing Clara Schumann’s Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann, Robert Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes and Brahms’ Sonata No. 3, 7:30 p.m. Saturday May 25 at the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami Beach.

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Mon May 20, 2024
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