Tuesday, 28 February 2017

CRISTINA ORTIZ Piano Recital / Review

Victoria Concert Hall
Sunday (26 February 2017)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 28 February 2017 with the title "Recital with distinct colour and texture".

It seems almost strange that the eminent Brazilian pianist Cristina Ortiz, veteran of the world's great concert stages and many well-regarded recordings, has never performed in Singapore until this evening. Now in her mid-sixties, she cut an elegant and sprightly figure, much of which translated well in her varied and very demanding solo recital.

Straight off, her playing stood out for its distinct colour and sense of texture, evident in the opening Sonatine by Maurice Ravel. Its formal lines were well-crafted through three movements. Limpid and crystalline in the first, this gave way to a drier but no less nourished sound for the neoclassical central Minuet before reaping a whirlwind in the vertiginous finale.

What struck this listener was not how virtuosic a work was, but how the music flowed through her fingers. This organic approach continued into Chopin's Third Sonata in B minor, often fodder for the world's piano competitions. Here she let the music breathe, and the feeling of urgent development was heightened with the exposition repeat judiciously omitted.

The Scherzo did not come across like a study for fast fingers, much to her credit. The Largo slow movement was no mere nocturne either, but an deeply felt expression of sadness. All this built up to a barnstorming finale, where despite a stumble of missed notes in the middle did little to faze her as she closed the first half with thrilling aplomb.

The second half was even better. Replacing the originally programmed Beethoven Moonlight Sonata with three Debussy pieces, she began appropriately with Clair de lune. The music was simplicity itself, but her use of the Steinway grand's pedals was exemplary. Creating a wash of shimmering sound was perfect for the watery realm of Poissons d'or (Goldfish, from Book Two of Images) and made ecstatic riding on the waves of L'Isle Joyeuse (The Isle of Joy).

In repertoire from her homeland, Ortiz has few peers. The three pieces by Heitor Villa-Lobos were well contrasted, beginning with A Lenda da Caboclo (Legend of the Half-Blood) and Valsa da Dor (Waltz of Anguish). The lyricism of its folkloric subjects came through winningly, and more importantly, that feeling of saudade (the typically Brazilian sense of longing and sadness) became all the more palpable.

The recital closed with the coruscating Festa no Sertao (Jungle Festival, from Ciclo Brasileira) with cascades of octaves and chords, and a central whimsy of dizzying nostalgia. The small but enthusiastic audience was rewarded with three rarely-heard encores from a pianist who could have played all night.

Two of English composer York Bowen's 24 Preludes made for lush hearing with luxuriant and occasionally bluesy harmonies, and Brazilian Fructuoso Vianna's Corta-Jaca, a virtuoso study which cleverly incorporates popular folktunes. A repeat visit by Cristina Ortiz could not come any sooner.

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