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2.5.05

Liszt Your Favorites

On Saturday, April 30, Rome native Giovanni Bellucci capped off the Washington Performing Arts Society's Hayes Piano Series with an all-Liszt program that was in equal measures daunting and impressive. Having studied and worked with the Who's Who of pianists (Pollini, Brendel, Berman, Perahia), his ability to successfully pull off Verdi opera paraphrases from Aida, Il Trovatore, and Rigoletto should not be surprising.

Unfortunately, I was delayed and missed that part. What I did hear, though, was impressive enough: Liszt's far more straightforward transcription of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique with all its bells and whistles. In A Ball, the work's second movement, Bellucci took the Terrace Theater's Steinway to its limit, building up a force that proved irresistible to more than just a few audience members who burst out in spontaneous applause. In the Scene in the Fields he showed off his staggering technique with constant cross-hand sections interspersed with blindingly fast runs and lyrical passages with trills galore. He may have also stretched a few of the copper-wound bass strings with thunderous trills in the very basement of the instrument's range.

A lot of this music is like a very abstract form of impressionism and, even though nearly note-faithful to the original, come across as less enjoyable than his Beethoven Symphony transcriptions, for example. That being said, March to the Scaffold offers melodic material that makes the transcription work much better, and Dream of a Witches' Sabbath was simply awesome. The heft of the punched-out bass notes under the melody was akin to an assault on the instrument and had an immediate impact on some of the more base parts of my brain. The pianistic dazzle towards the end was stunning.

To say that this was all very impressive is stating the obvious. Whether it is also musically satisfying for the (modern) listener is another, entirely. I am always grateful for programs that present seldom-heard repertoire, and saying that two hours of Liszt transcriptions go a long way is in no way tantamount to wishing Mr. Bellucci had simply presented yet another oft-played piano sonata of Beethoven, Chopin, or Rachmaninov. (Next time, I want to hear the Wagner paraphrases.)

WPAS's popular piano series will feature Messrs. von Eckardstein, Bavouzet, and Cominati (!!!), as well as the 2005 Van Cliburn Piano Competition winner and Wonny Song. The series is usually sold out on subscriptions alone, so if you are interested in high-quality piano recitals, it might be worth looking into that possibility at wpas.org.

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