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Recital Review

A Concert for Connoisseurs

January 15, 2004 - Raleigh, NC:

On the evening of January 15, the distinguished UNCG-based pianist Joseph Di Piazza presented an exceptional program, enhanced by his own erudite notes, before a tiny audience in Meredith's Carswell Concert Hall. The artist, long a mainstay of UNCG's large piano division, trained at De Paul and the University of Wisconsin. Unlike many academicians, Di Piazza maintains an active performance schedule. CVNCers may see our current Triad calendar for details of his pending concerts in Greensboro, including a repeat of the program under review here.

The Meredith recital was hardly your typical academic undertaking, in terms of program content. Di Piazza began not with Bach or Haydn or Mozart, but with a short sonata by the prolific Scarlatti-influenced Antonio Soler. Chances are only keyboard scholars would have known it, but it filled the bill admirably. So, too, did a much more substantial Sonata, in f-sharp minor, by Muzio Clementi. Say what you will about these guys (and plenty has been said), they were craftsmen, and on this occasion, the visiting artist made strong cases for both of them.

Only 40 years separated the death of Clementi and the birth of Scriabin, but the stylistic differences are extreme. A brooding Scriabin Nocturne, in D-Flat, one of two pieces for the left hand alone composed in 1894, bore the heavy imprint of Chopin, and was gorgeously and movingly realized. The Étude in c-sharp minor, one of eight composed in 1903, is apparently fiendishly difficult, but Di Piazza delivered it splendidly, too. Scriabin remains a tough sell in this neck of the woods, but these performances and a few others this season give one hope for the future.

Two little character pieces - Metner's "Ein Idyll," the first of three Arabesques, Op. 7, and Poulenc's well-known Intermezzo in A-Flat (1947) - opened the short second half of the program, the highlight of which was Robert Mucsynski's Desperate Measures , a dazzling set of variations on a theme ( the theme, really) by Paganini - the theme Rachmaninov used in his famous Rhapsody. These fleet sketches presented a wide range of styles and influences, ranging from jazz to Gershwin-like show tunes to Old Stoneface himself (Rachmaninov) to Piazzolla and more. The piece clearly baffled some attendees, one of whom was overheard to ask if Di Piazza had skipped the work! The concert ended with a powerful and at times individualistic interpretation of Chopin's Third Ballade.

There were some minor glitches here and there, during this run-out that precedes the "big" recital on Di Piazza's home turf, next month, but the biggest problem - and it was indeed large - was with the piano itself, a balky Yamaha that needs some help, a.s.a.p. I'd suggest that it be enrolled in Meredith's health care plan, for openers, 'cause the voicing and probably the action, too, particularly in the mid-range, are quite dreadful. The results sometimes sounded like a load of chicken feathers, or perhaps chicken feet, had been dumped onto the keyboard. Distinguished visiting artists deserve better, but so too do Meredith's own pianists.