CD+DVD Reviews

ROBERT DeGAETANO: Piano Concerto No. 1; FRÉDÉRIC CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 1 – Robert DeGaetano, p./ Moravian Phil. Orch./John Yaffé – Navona Records (CD+DVD)

Very interesting look at this talented pianist-composer.

Published on October 25, 2013

ROBERT DeGAETANO: Piano Concerto No. 1; FRÉDÉRIC CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 1 – Robert DeGaetano, p./ Moravian Phil. Orch./John Yaffé – Navona Records (CD+DVD)

ROBERT DeGAETANO: Piano Concerto No. 1; FRÉDÉRIC CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 1 – Robert DeGaetano, p./ Moravian Phil. Orch./John Yaffé – Navona Records NV5929 (CD+DVD,”Journey of Passion”), 76:37 (CD) 16:39 (DVD) [Distr. by Naxos] ***:

I honestly had never heard of Robert DeGaetano until this release. I am glad to have learned more. From his website, Robert DeGaetano is a graduate of The Juilliard School, where he studied with Adele Marcus and Rosina Lhevinne and, under a Rotary Scholarship, he studied in Paris with Alexis Weissenberg. Robert DeGaetano made his New York recital debut at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ Alice Tully Hall and his schedule has taken him to be a guest soloist with orchestras across the United States, including those of Dallas, Denver, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, San Diego and the Boston Pops.

In 1986, Robert DeGaetano became known as a composer and performed the New York City and domestic and international tour premieres of his own first Piano Sonata. As a result of the overwhelming critical praise for this work, he was commissioned by Michigan’s Jackson Symphony Orchestra to compose his first Piano Concerto, which he premiered in March of 1989 to equally enthusiastic response. This is the work heard here.

The Challenger, Robert DeGaetano’s suite for solo piano written in tribute to the seven astronauts killed in the 1986 space shuttle tragedy, was commissioned by Miss Alice Tully. The world premiere occurred in the presence of the astronauts’ families in November, 1987 at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, with the composer at the piano. The performance of Mr. DeGaetano’s moving musical portraits was filmed live for television and featured on a special segment of “CBS Sunday Morning” with Charles Kurault. Subsequently broadcast over WQXR in New York City and radio stations nationwide, The Challenger was played on concert tours across three continents.

After learning more about who this pianist-composer is, I chose to look at the DVD included here, “Journey of Passion”, as a way of looking in on DeGaetano’s creative process. There is a lot of philosophy and reflection from the artist on people he has known, how he got into writing and even some of his own sense of the spiritual. This is especially apparent as he discusses his work The Challenger, in response to the aforementioned space shuttle disaster, most remembered for taking the lives of all on board including Christa McAuliffe, first teacher-in-space.

The video is interesting to be sure and gives us a glimpse into DeGaetano’s personality and his clearly deep feelings on a variety of inspirational sources. Ultimately, the music is what matters.

Chopin’s Concerto No. 1 is, of course, a masterpiece of the piano literature that bears, as its only criticism in some circles, that the orchestral scoring is spare and not very prominent. None the less, it is a beautiful work that showcases the soloist in the delicate way that much Chopin does. Much of his music is incredibly beautiful and relies heavily on phrasing, touch and style and less on technical flourish. I am certainly no pianist but Mr. DeGaetano seems like a very fine pianist and delivers a very fine, balanced and attractive performance of this well known gem.

His own Concerto is a very different deal for its dramatically different feel from the Chopin and for its glimpse into DeGaetano’s approach to composition. About his own Concerto No. 1, Mr. DeGaetano commented, for Navona, “Often my music will sound atonal. That is only because there are many tonal passages being played together, each offering their own information. It’s these varied resonances that interest me because they correspond to our contemporary world.” As to the “atonal” sound of this work, I do not hear that at all. The Concerto is written in four movements, each of which meanders around quite a bit in tonal centers, but in several places there are touches of impressionism, some things that sound reminiscent of Bartok and even a little Scriabin. I offer that only to give perspective. In many ways, DeGaetano’s work is refreshingly indescribable.

In fact, he was apparently a good friend of the late Samuel Barber, who admired DeGaetano as a pianist and who encouraged him in his composing. I particular enjoyed the third movement, Adagio, in its very soft, mysterious beginning and its melancholic pastoral feel. It is truly a very pretty piece throughout. I am not sure where in the mix of the hundreds of piano concerti – even just those written during the last fifty years – this concerto by Robert DeGaetano will find its niche. I liked it and I think it deserves to be heard more.

I therefore certainly recommend this disc for both its fine interpretation of the Chopin but for the novelty and pleasant discovery of DeGaetano’s own work.

—Daniel Coombs

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