By Dr. Luis Dias

Marouan Benabdallah in concert


Saint Michael’s church, Taleigão provided the setting for a piano recital by Moroccan-Hungarian pianist Marouan Benabdallah that left one truly breathless.

The programme got off to a start with excerpts from Béla Bartók’s Mikrokosmos, a collection of 153 pieces written for piano for didactic purposes. Stylistically it reflects the influence of folk music on Bartók’s life. The rhythms and harmonies from this palette conjure up music that is as vibrant today as when it was written in 1945.

The next work was a tour de force, the formidable Ferruccio Busoni transcription for piano of Bach’s Chaconne in D minor for solo violin. Busoni was encouraged by his mother to arrange Bach’s organ music for piano in 1888. It was inevitable that he would eventually train his sights on the magnificent Chaconne (1893) as well. Musicologists aver that Busoni first imagined it as a piece for organ (Bach himself often had the organ in mind, even when writing for solo violin) and then transcribed it. Benabdallah adeptly suggested the organ’s rounded fullness of tone and clarity of registration without compromising Bach’s essential melodic line with its labyrinthine transformation.

From here we were transported to Debussy’s Estampes (Woodcuts), an Impressionistic work in 3 movements: Pagode, evoking the Far East with its use of pentatonic scales, with hints of Javanese Gamelan percussion; Soirée dans Grenade, which mimics guitar strumming, and uses tango rhythm and Moorish harmony to paint a picture of Granada, and Jardins sous la pluie, a clever use of chromatic and whole-tone scales to depict a torrential, windswept rainstorm.

Then on to the soundworld of Sergei Rachmaninov with his Étude in C minor, op. 33, no. 3, followed by Préludes op. 23 no. 7 in C minor, and the show-stopping no. 5 in G minor, delivered with panache by Benabdallah.

Three Spanish pieces followed: El Palele by Granados, and the heart-melting Tango, and Sevilla by Albeniz.

The programme ended with Franz Liszt’s famous second Hungarian Rhapsody, a work that offers the pianist a display of extraordinary virtuosic skill, yet providing the listener with a compelling musical appeal. Both objectives were well-met in this climactic finish.

Regrettably an encore did not materialise but one fervently hopes that we have the good fortune to hear this impossibly gifted young man again.

His performance brought to mind the comment made by music critic George Bernard Shaw to the young Jascha Heifetz in a letter:

“If you provoke a jealous God by playing with such superhuman perfection, you will die young. I earnestly advise you to play something badly every night before going to bed, instead of saying your prayers. No mortal should presume to play so faultlessly.”

© Luis Dias

(An edited version of this article appeared in the Herald, Goa, India on 26 March 2010)