Bringing the Talent to you

A Sunday Treat – Tuscan style!

On Sunday, April 15 we were treated to the first of the Aperitivo concerts in Lucca, all of which begin at 11.30am and last for about an hour. These concerts are wonderful value, usually of a very high standard and followed by a free glass of wine provided by Buon Amico, the fatoria in nearby Montecarlo, where we will take our A Taste of Tuscan Arts guests for wine and olive -­ oil tasting.
Montecarlo VIllage
The concert of piano music began with Stefano Teani playing Mozart’s piano sonata KV 570, written in 1789 in Vienna. This is a mature work and unusually has only 2 movements, the second being a particularly beautiful 5- part Rondo. Following this we heard Liszt’s Vallée D'Obermann from the Années de Pèlerinage, a work not often heard in the concert hall and with an interesting conception. Liszt set off on a pilgrimage to Switzerland and loved the Swiss landscape of mountains and lakes. Whilst travelling he kept in mind Obermann, the main protagonist in Sénancour's novel who wandered around Switzerland having fled Paris and eventually settling in an isolated mountain valley. Of the programme music he wrote at this time, Vallée d' Obermann was his most ambitious piece and showed off the virtuoso skills of the performer. This concert also provided an opportunity for Teani to perform his own work, and ended with a terrific performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in its original version for piano, played by Marco Torre.
A glass of wine later and we were ready for a delicious Italian lunch!

Concerto per Due Pianoforti e Violino - April 15 at 5.30pm
Later that day in nearby Bagni di Lucca, we were treated to another aperitivo – this time before dinner.
The Teatro Accademico, which can be found in the centre of La Villa, is a popular venue for all things cultural, and the piazza outside was soon buzzing with expectation. One of the guests was Simonetta Puccini, the Maestro’s granddaughter, an amazing lady who never tires of promoting the heritage of her grandfather at Torre del Lago and is often to be seen in the audience of the theatre where he performed as a young man. Guests of A Taste of Tuscan Arts will visit the Villa Puccini, which he had built in 1900, and have the opportunity of meeting Simonetta, who spends much of her time there. This after all is the place where Puccini wrote some of his greatest operas at the beginning of the twentieth century, including La Boheme, Tosca and Madame Butterfly.
The main sponsor for the concert was the Michel di Montaigne foundation, named after the famous 16th century writer and philosopher. He was just one of a long list of illustrious people who have visited the village to take the thermal waters at Bagni Caldi. The main purpose of this event was to provide a platform for young aspiring performers and the audience was not disappointed
The first half began with Mozart’s violin sonata in E minor, which he wrote whilst in Paris in 1778. The sonata has only two movements and the slow movement in particular has an unusual air of melancholy, signifying that it was written at the time of his mother’s death. The two young performers, violinist Alvise Pascucci and pianist Giovanni Santini gave a convincing and sensitive performance of this lyrical and elegant piece.
After the dark melancholy of the E minor sonata, Beethoven’s well- known Spring Sonata provided a sharp contrast and is full of youthful joy and optimism. Unlike most of his other violin sonatas, it has 4 movements in which he moves from lyrical melody writing to rhythmic playfulness in the scherzo and trio, and to an inventive sense of humour in the Finale. The enthusiasm of these young performers was infectious; they communicated well with each other and with the audience and played again with sensitivity and style.
If we can label the music of the first half as song, the second was certainly a dance.
It began with Rachmaninov’s Russian Rhapsody in which the violinist exchanged his violin bow for a piano stool and impressively proved to be also a very talented pianist. This piece was written towards the end of the 19th century when Rachmaninov was only 18 years old. The title rhapsody is rather misleading here because rather than having a free structure, it is really a theme with variations. The influence of the Russian Five can be heard from the beginning with the folk-dance theme played in stark octaves at a slow tempo; but we were soon tapping our feet when the tempo quickened and the theme became a Cossack dance with some very tricky piano writing to master. The two young performers were obviously enjoying themselves with this piece and although an early work, there are glimpses of the passionate and

brilliant virtuoso writing, which characterises the music of this late Romantic Russian composer.
Mozart in 1780
The great conductor George Solti said of Mozart:

Mozart makes you believe in God – much more than going to church – because it cannot be by chance that such a phenomenon arrives into this world and then passes after 36 years, leaving behind such an unbounded number of unparalleled masterpieces.
Next we heard an exhilarating performance of Busoni’s virtuoso transcription of the last movement of Mozart’s piano concerto No 19 in F. This was a very different Mozart from the one we had heard earlier, struggling with grief. Written in 1784 the music dances along, full of energy and joy, and the strong fugato sections and humourous references to a nursery folk-tune add to the playful genius of the work. Busoni (1866-1924) was an Italian virtuoso pianist, composer, teacher and conductor who spent much of his life in Berlin. He edited many volumes of music and transcribed works by other composers, mainly those of JS Bach, Mozart and Liszt.
Georges Gershwin in 1937
Gershwin like Mozart died at a relatively young age; he was born in Brooklyn in 1898 of Russian parents and died in 1937 at the age of 38 years, but not before he had managed to write a considerable number of compositions. His Russian heritage of liturgical music and folk tunes had an enormous influence on his writing, as did the French Impressionists –Debussy and Ravel – but Gershwin was living in the US at a time when Jazz was becoming the music of America, and after a stint of working when he was only 15 years in Tin Pan Alley, New York, he was soon writing popular songs and making a name for himself.
Rhapsody in Blue was written in 1924 for solo piano and jazz band after being commissioned by the band -leader, Paul Whiteman and sealed his reputation as a serious composer, becoming one of the most popular of his works. Gershwin successfully manages to combine classical music with jazz effects, particularly blue notes, and that famous opening glissando played by the clarinet came from a joke played on him by the clarinetist at rehearsal! Gershwin liked the effect and it stayed.
We didn’t have the clarinet solo, but the two pianists gave a vigorous and stirring performance of this very popular piece, and to the delight of the audience played three encores. A delightful pre dinner aperitivo!

Written by Paula Chesterman from Tuscan Talent
The final piece of this ambitious programme was Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, arranged for two pianos.