Paolo Vergari

In musical parlance, the tongue-in-cheek collective noun for pianists is a “pound”. The pianos of Christopher Gomes (of Furtados, through whose generosity classical concerts are made possible) have had more than their average share of pounding and caressing in equal measure this week, and the resulting sounds that emerged from them have gladdened our hearts.

After the adrenalin rush of the Benabdallah concert, it was time for Festa Italiana, with Italian pianist Paolo Vergari. 

The programme began with J. S. Bach’s most frequently recorded keyboard work, and arguably his most famous, the Italian concerto (BWV 971). In three movements (Allegro-Andante-Presto), stylistically it looks back to his transcriptions of Italian concertos by Vivaldi and others. Conventionally a concerto contrasts a solo instrument against the background of orchestra. Bach imitates this effect of “playing the orchestra” using the dual manuals of the harpsichord. This was ably conveyed by Vergari on the piano. It was published in 1735 as part of the second volume of his Klavierübung (Keyboard practice) with the French Overture. Possibly these works were published together by Bach to display his versatility of style.

Next up was Respighi’s Antiche Danze ed Arie (Ancient Airs and Dances for Lute). An avid scholar of 16th-18th century Italian music, he wrote three orchestral suites which were transcriptions of lute works from that era. This work for piano contains parts of the first and third suites. In six movements, it is interesting to note that the lute composer of the third movement (Gagliarda), Vincenzo Galilei, was the father of famous astronomer Galileo.

Liszt’s embellished transcriptions of Verdi’s Rigoletto (Rigoletto Concert Paraphrase) and Miserere from Trovatore were part of a whole new style of piano composition. The Rigoletto is based on the melody from the Quartet in Act 3 of the opera, and fiendishly difficult to play, but Vergari tossed it off with seemingly nonchalant grace. His Miserere had the right blend of drama and pathos.

The concert wound down with two “modern” works, Illimite (Unlimited), by Giorgio Tosi (1994) and È Festa, (Celebration) a composition on Italian Rock Band Premiata Forneria Marconi (Award-winning Marconi Bakery), arranged by Vergari for piano.

Illimite, as its name suggests, is unbound by any specific label, borrowing from the European tradition of music writing, with a nod to America and jazz as well.

È Festa was all confetti and allegria.

The encores were Mozart’s delightful variations on Twinkle twinkle (Ah, vous dirai-je, maman) and Busoni’s transcription of Bach’s chorale Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jezu Christ (BWV 639). A fitting close indeed to this concert in the Lenten setting in the lovely St. Inez church.

© Luis Dias 

(An edited version of this article appeared in the Herald, Goa, India on 28 March 2010)