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Wednesday, September 18, 2002

The keyboard music of Johann Sebastian Bach formed a fascinating centrepiece of the 41st Settimane Musicali di Stresa e del Lago Maggiore, not only with the master’s own notes, but in transcriptions, paraphrases, works by other composers with Bach looking over their shoulders and a couple of new works set in a Bachian context.

A three-hour Bach Marathon was tossed off in a great style by a quartel of pianists under the aegis of Alexander STRESA, Italy Music David Stevens

Toradze’s piano studio at the South Bend campus of the University of Indiana, regular participants at this festival in recent years.

George Vatchnadze opened the marathon with a three-voice Ricercare from the “Musical Offering” and brought the program to a smashing conclusion with Liszt’s Fantasia on the cantata “Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen.” Svetlana Smolina sparkled with the Italian Concerto, the E-minor Toccata and a Prelude and Fugue from the “Well-Tempered Clavier.” Maxim Mogilevsky weighed in with the Quatro Duetti and the Prelude and Fugue in F, and Sean Botkin made a strong impression with the E-minor English Suite.

As for the other composers, the inevitable Ferruccio Busoni was represented by a group of his finger-bening transcriptions, while the second part of the program, which began with two of Bach’s Preludes and Fugues, continued with exercises in the same form by Sergei Taneyev (Botkin) and Dmitri Shostakovich (Mogilevsky).

A program with the European Sinfonietta under Corrado Rovaris offered two Bach concertos in versions commissioned from two young Italian composers, an exercise similar to painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa – you recognize the work but it is not quite the same. In each case the keyboard part was left as is – both brilliantly delivered by the pianist Alexander Korsantia – while Nicola Campogrande decorated the D-minor concerto (BWV 1052) with a variety of interjections and wound it up with a flourish on the vibraphone and Paolo Coggiola dressed the G-minor concerto (BWV 1058) in a jazzy orchestral garb. The audience enjoyed it all and Bach survived intact.

Incidentally, all of the keyboard music in these programs was played on a modern concert grand piano – no original instruments here.

The cellist Enrico Dindo was both soloist and conductor with the Solisti diPavia string ensemble in a program that began with a Vivaldi cello concerto and ended with Tchaikovsky’s Serenade in C. The novelty in between was Giovanni Solima’s “Violoncelles, vibrez,” a title that aptly suggested the interwining voices of the two solo cellos played by Dindo and the orchestra’s first cellist, Enrico Bronzi.

The Settimane Musicali takes place not only in Stresa but in sites scattered all around Lake Maggiore’s countryside. A new site was added for this year’s festival when the string quartet of the Giuseppe Verdi Orchestra of Milan performed in the beautifully resonant basilica on the island of San Giulio in the neighboring Lake Orta.

The novelty of the program was that it consisted mainly of music for string quartet by Puccini and Verdi, who were of course far better known for their operatic output. The major piece on the program was Verdi’s one and only quartet, written as a diversion in Naples in 1873 during a lull in rehearsals for “Aida.” It is a real quartet, nothing operatic about it, although the busy fugal finale looks ahead in a way to the “Falstaff” to come.



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