Franz Liszt not only wrote flashy, virtuoso works for the piano, but he also transcribed operatic, orchestral and instrumental compositions in that vein for the keyboard. Monday evening at the Italian Embassy, pianist Michele Campanella performed a short program of his transcriptions that was as impressively lyrical as it was pyrotechnical.
Campanella is an intelligent musician whose playing unfolds with narrative drama; every note, every phrase emerges action-packed and emotion-filled, so he holds your attention until the end.
In "Elsas Brautzug zum Munster" from Wagner's "Lohengrin," Campanella's fingers produced long melodic lines much as a bel canto soprano or tenor would sing them -- sweetly and with clarity of expression and decorum. He spun out an effervescent stream of notes in "Spinnerlied" from Wagner's "Flying Dutchman," yet remained sensitive to the inherent lyricism.
Campanella's performance of "Grande Fantasia" on Vincenzo Bellini's "La Sonnambula" sounded quite Chopinesque. His melodies retained prominence and songfulness even when the distractions of finger-twisting flourishes threatened to eclipse them.
But the pianist couldn't resist the temptation to bash out the speedier sections, jabbing chords with vehemence.
Liszt's arrangement of the wedding march from Mendelssohn's "Midsummer Night's Dream" is not one you'll hear at a marriage ceremony. It is unabashedly ostentatious, and Campanella happily played it that way with reckless abandon, often brashly loud. Like fairies flitting with clipped wings, the "Dance of the Elves" portion sounded a bit more clunky than airy.
-- Grace Jean
And Elena Ostleitner
Pianist Sigrid Trummer and music sociologist Elena Ostleitner, both Austrians and advocates for female composers, took a risk in spotlighting four little-known women from the old Austro-Hungarian Empire -- Stephanie Wurmbrand-Stuppach, Maria Hofer, Johanna Muller-Hermann and Agnes Tyrrell -- at the Austrian Embassy on Monday night. Granted, the existence of their compositions is remarkable given their difficult social and (in some cases) personal conditions, which Ostleitner illuminated in her remarks. Still, pitting these women's efforts against pieces by their famous teachers -- Johannes Brahms, Arnold Schoenberg, Alexander Zemlinsky and Franz Liszt, respectively -- made for some tough matchups for the women.
Despite Trummer's attentive playing, the music of both Wurmbrand-Stuppach and Tyrrell sounded generically romantic, well-tuned gestures without much personality; they suffered in comparison with Trummer's subtle, penetrating performances of two Brahms intermezzi and her exciting, swaggering rumble through Liszt's "Variations on Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen."
On the other hand, the two selections Trummer played from Muller-Hermann's "Piano Pieces" beat out the two Zemlinsky "Fantasies After Poems by Richard Dehmel"; both had an abundance of lushly indeterminate romantic harmony, but the dancelike pulse in Muller-Hermann's music made her pieces sound fresher. And Hofer's toccata "The Machine," though overlong, intriguingly contrasted its motoric rhythms with mostly delicate, distant harmonies, both vividly realized in Trummer's performance. Hofer, though, got a bit of help in her contest from Monday night's storm, whose pounding on the embassy's skylights unfortunately drowned out most of the quiet moments in Schoenberg's very quiet "Six Little Piano Pieces."
-- Andrew Lindemann Malone