As promised, here is a review of this pianist’s recital, on 9 November 2008 at the Maquinez auditorium, at the slightly odd time of 3 pm.

This Hungarian-Moroccan pianist, all of 24 years, strode onto the stage, and without any further ado, began playing the transcribed (by Bizet) piano solo version of the first movement of Saint-Saens’ Second Piano Concerto, a work that demands a fair output of virtuosity, especially in its opening, and the full lush transcription of the orchestral tuttis put both player and instrument to the test.

The programme, as I mentioned earlier, was devoted largely to Saint-Saens, as it marked the centenary of his composition for film, the first major composer to have ever done so.

Benabdallah followed with Saint-Saens’ Toccata etude op. 111, no. 6 with aplomb and a very sweet, delicate touch.

Next came even more Saint-Saens, Valse Mignonne, op. 104. This is yet another example of the composer’s nonchalant brilliance and colouristi c palette.   The verve and dynamism of Benabdallah’s playing was both spellbinding and scintillating. 

For some much-needed contrast, we were then treated to Maurice Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin. This work, composed for solo piano between 1914 and 1917 (and later transcribed for orchestra) is in six movements, of which Benabdallah played three. Each movement is dedicated to the memory of friends of the composer who had died fighting in the First World War. The structure of this work evokes a Baroque dance suite. Nevertheless, the composer’s neoclassicism shines through with his pointedly twentieth-century chromatic melody and piquant harmonies.

After an interval lasting probably a minute, the focus shifted to Claude Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque, one of his most famous piano suites. A suite is a set of dances. This one is thought to have been named after Paul Verlaine’s poem Clair de Lune, and this is also the appellation of the third movement of the third of the four movements of this work. The piece starts with the Prelude, in F, with a spectacular beginning and ending, and full of dynamic contrasts. The second movement is a Menuet, and the third, the delightful Clair de Lune, rendered with exquisite snesitivity, in the pianissimo register. The last movement is a Passepied, and as the name suggests, is a lovely lively dance.

It was now back to Saint-Saens, with “Etude en forme de Valse”, op. 52, no.6.

This was followed by Poulenc’s Nocturne no. 4 in C major, which was possessed of and played with a masculine charm; crisp, straightforward but phrased with enough rhythmic freedom to allow a singing tone to shine through.

The recital ended  with the recitalist’s arrangement of Saint-Saens’ Africa fantasy, (originally scored for piano an orchestra) for solo piano. One gathers that this is not played enough, as the performer remarked “If I do not play it, no-one will!”

For encores, we were treated to 3 Hungarian folk dances by Bela Bartok, Saint-Saens’ Swan (from Carvinal of the Animals) and a work by Leopold Godowsky, a Polish-American composer-pianist.  Incidentally, Godowsky’s son, of the same name, was the co-inventor of colour photography, as well as a violinist. How’s that for a photo finish? 🙂

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