Luca Baratto – Live at Honens = Works of SCHUMANN DEBUSSY, PROKOFIEV, LIGETI, LUTOSLOWSKI, MOZART, HINDEMITH & Others – Honens (2 CDs)

by | May 22, 2016 | Classical CD Reviews


Virtuoso pianist Luca Buratto demonstrates his versatile musicianship from the 2015 Honens Festival.

Luca Baratto – Live at Honens = SCHUMANN: Fantasy in C Major, Op. 17; Davidsbuendler Taenze: No 14; LIGETI: Etudes No. 15 and No. 16; DEBUSSY: L’Isle joyeuse; PROKOFIEV: Sonata No. 7 in B-flat Major, Op. 83; VIARDOT: Two Songs; OBRADORS: Two Songs; LUTOSLAWSKI: Dance Preludes; MOZART: Piano Trio in E-flat Major, K. 498 “Kegelstatt”; HINDEMITH: Viola Sonata in F Major, Op. 11, No. 4; BRAHMS: Geistleiches Wiegenlied, Op. 91, No. 2 – Isabel Bayrakdarian, sop./ Hsin-Yun Huang, viola/ James Campbell, clar./ Luca Buratto, p. – Honens (2 CDs) 66:12, 63:55 (2/12/16) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:


Recorded live at Jack Singer Concert Hall at Arts Commons during the September 2015 – semifinals performances – Honens Festival and Piano Competition, the various solo and chamber ensemble works testify to the range and finesse of Italian pianist Luca Buratto (b. 1993), a Laureate of the distinguished Canadian competition. Buratto performs on a Fazioli instrument whose middle register enjoys a liquid warmth, while its upper reaches offer silver pearls. Buratto performs in solo and collaborative works, as designated by the requirements of the Festival.

Buratto opens with Schumann’s passionate love-letter to Clara Wieck, the 1836 Fantasie in C Major, simultaneously conceived as a monument to Beethoven. Buratto’s mercurial first movement captures the potent octaves that define “Clara” for Schumann, which then evolve into an idiosyncratic version of sonata-form. The music breaks off to establish “the style of a legend,” a gripping combination of declamation and polyphony. The music throbs with musical uncertainty and longing in c minor, only finding its proper home key in the last measures. The syncopated march in E-flat Major that comprises the rondo-form second movement elicits an often explosive energy from Buratto, playful but resonant with an underlying tragic sense of time lost. Buratto’s coda flies off the pages in resonant passion. The last movement provides a slow nocturne, an homage to Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata. The descending left-hand bass notes evoke Clara once more, and she traverses C Major, A-flat, and D-flat. As a mighty and mysterious song without words, the music sings with ardent rapture under Buratto’s sympathetic hands. The coda holds the passing silences and closing fermata as much as I have heard. The small excerpt from the Davids-League Dances, Zart und singen, unfolds in gossamer droplets, arpeggios that interlock in intimate communion.

Ligeti’s Book 3 of his Etudes (1995-2001) takes as its cue the set by Debussy, but extending the concept to embrace impressions and “programs” of a highly virtuosic character. The “White on White” etude proceeds as a calm canon on the white keys until it explodes into a fiery, jazzy toccata. “Pour Irina” begins quietly enough, in staccato chromatics, but the intensity increases into more dissonances and short note-values. Since Debussy’s influence permeates the air, as it were, Buratto naturally enough performs the passionate, exuberant 1904 L’isle joyeuse, a “water piece” no less rife with dancing and poised, melodic rapture. If the Joyous Isle is Jersey, Debussy celebrates his affair with Emma Bardac. If the Joyous Isle is Cythera, it embraces Watteau’s vision of Aphrodite’s ecstatic rites. Buratto assumes the music fuses both possibilities, and he makes his keyboard a lyre for unbridled voluptuousness.


The 1943 “War” Sonata No. 7 in B-flat Major of Prokofiev appeals to Buratto’s hard patina, which can compete with Sviatoslav’s Richter’s ringing tones successfully. Moody, aggrieved, and anxious, the first movement’s march also projects a Mussorgsky melancholy from Buratto. The second movement, Andante coloroso, pays homage to Schumann. After the aggressive percussion of the first movement, the music sings a lament for a suffering humanity. The tolling bells carry the same import they have for Rachmaninov and Mussorgsky. The ultimate toccata, the Precipitato movement hammers on B-flat with fiendish obstinacy that bowls us over, especially when the performer exceeds our hysterical expectations. By the time Buratto is through, the keyboard burns up in ashes and splinters and wildly cheering spectators.


The collaborative cycle opens with spinto soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian’s muscular realization of “Madrid,” a song in sultry salon-style by Pauline Viardot with a text by Alfred de Musset. Chopin’s popular D Major Mazurka, Op. 33, No. 2 has its vocal incarnation in “Aime-moi,” which incorporates a series of coloratura runs and trills, the kind of brilliant vehicle we would hear from Miliza Korjus. Two songs by Fernando Obradors, “La mi sola, Laureola” and “El vito,” ensue, the former a love lyric with word by Juan Ponce. The soprano’s crisp voice then soars over keyboard figures rife with Albeniz and Sarasate in guitar explosions. Isabel Bayrakdarian joins pianist Buratto and viola Hsin-Yun Haung in the “Spiritual Cradle-song” of Johannes Brahms, a lied many will recall having been recorded by Marian Anderson and William Primrose. The vocal part receives an illuminated sheen, bright and cleanly articulate, while the viola’s expressive descending line remains throaty and plaintive.

A different sonority informs the five Dance Preludes (1954) of Witold Lutoslawski, with Buratto and clarinet James Campbell. Post WW II sensibility informs these national, Polish folk tunes, each shifting its metrics virtually bar by bar. The third, Allegro giococo, revels in syncopations and pungent accents. The fourth, a somber Andante, alternates 3/4 and 3/2 meters and indulges in the interval of the fifth. The last, Allegro molto, returns to the key of the first, E-flat, but the change in meters occur with lightning speed, 2/4, 5/4, 3/4, 4/4/, and finally 6/4. The influence of Bartok permeates these virtuosic miniatures, suavely rendered.

The largest offering, Mozart’s “Kegelstatt” Trio in E-flat Major, K. 498 (1786) brings James Campbell and Hsin-Yun Huang together with Buratto. Mozart had Anton Stadler in mind for the clarinet part in his own time; and legend claims that Mozart conceived the work during a game of skittles at the residence of Franziska von Jacquin, one of Mozart’s pupils. The first movement Andante favors the clarinet part, although the viola plays prominently in the recapitulation. A hearty Menuetto follows, and its Trio section in minor permits the viola some beguiling triplet figures. The sonic balance of the three instruments here proves compelling. The finale, Allegretto, has Mozart’s creating a seven part rondo in a bravura, concertante style, so that each instrument has his virtuoso duties. Fluid and eminently spirited, the performance testifies to pianist Buratto’s formidable ensemble skills.

The Hindemith Viola Sonata in F Major (1919) announced the composer’s intention to relinquish the violin for the darker instrument. The free-form Fantasie moves chromatically through a series of keys that display Huang’s ability to bestride his viola in a variety of color guises. The plaintive melody of the viola beckons the keyboard part in close association, moving to a big cadenza in C Major. Buratto also some iridescent thirty-second notes to display. When the viola lands on A-sharp to end the movement, he ushers in the enharmonic B-flat of the Theme and Variations second movement. Of the four variations, the third has melodic power, in a panoramic E-flat Major. The last variation projects elements of the whole-tone scale, concluding in a C-sharp Minor climax that leads to the last, monumental movement, Finale (with Variations). One viola players called this work “a bear of a piece” with its demands for the hands and the head, often moving into bizarre key relationship and awkward, deliberately askew rhythmic shapes. Hindemith wishes this movement to crystallize his viola technique and his sense of contrapuntal balance. The keyboard part, too, never devolves into anything less than a personal demonstration of musical acuity. The “Wild” section will by circuitous routes take us to E-flat Minor, which despite its melancholy affect, retains by the coda a true sense of victory.

—Gary Lemco


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