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S & H International Recital Review

Santiago Rodriguez in Virginia, Cabell Hall Auditorium, Charlottesville, 30th March 2004 (BJ)



There are musicians it is a pleasure to listen to so long as they are performing music you love. Then there is the rarer breed of interpreter, the man or woman who can change your entire opinion of a previously undervalued composer. I used to have snobbish prejudices about Chopin and Rachmaninoff. It took a recital some years ago by the great Ivan Moravec to cure me of my Chopin-blindness (or deafness). And more recently Santiago Rodriguez taught me that, apart from the passion, brilliance, and color I had always associated with Rachmaninoff, his music also possesses a surpassing elegance, and in the process transferred him to my own personal pantheon of true masters.

All those qualities were in evidence in the stunning recital Rodriguez gave on March 30 as part of the Tuesday Evening Concert Series in the University of Virginia’s 850-seat Cabell Hall Auditorium in Charlottesville. The pianist, born in Cuba but resident since childhood in the United States and a respected teacher at the University of Maryland, had put together an ingeniously designed program that featured several pieces surely unfamiliar to most of the audience but utterly beguiling in character. The outer panels exemplified Rodriguez’s Hispanic heritage, while, before and after intermission, the Russian music in which he also excels was represented by Stravinsky’s solo-piano arrangement of three movements from his Petrushka and by a prelude and two étude-tableaux by Rachmaninoff.

The dazzling execution of the Petrushka dances already had the capacity audience on its feet even before intermission. But no less remarkable was Rodriguez’s blend of lyricism and technical brilliance in his treatment of three Falla pieces (including a wonderfully atmospheric performance of the Neighbors’ Dance from The Three-Cornered Hat), Granados’s Valses poeticos, two pieces by Albéniz, Moszkowski’s Capriccio espagnole, and two fascinating dances by the Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona, whose music is enjoying a well-deserved revival of interest these days. For encore, Rodriguez offered two of the three Danzas Argentinas by Ginastera, one all subtle poetry and grace, the other a jamboree of dynamic rhythms that justly brought the house down once again.

Inaugurated in 1948, and managed with unfailing discernment for the last 13 years by Karen Pellón, the series has this season provided the Charlottesville audience – liberally sprinkled with academics from the city’s university – with the opportunity to hear, in its own acoustically and architecturally excellent hall, nicely varied performers including Gil Shaham, Colin Carr, the Talich and Emerson string quartets, the Windscape Wind Quintet, and up-and-coming pianist Jeremy Denk. Next season the schedule is no less intriguing, spanning as it does a range from such period-instrument groups as the Europa Galante Chamber Orchestra and the Smithsonian Castle Trio to pianists Nikolai Demidenko and Piotr Anderszewski, mezzo-soprano Katarina Karneus, the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, and the Miami and Vermeer quartets.

Meanwhile, since 1995, in an endeavor to spread the word about concert music to a younger generation, an additional event in the shape of a children’s concert has been added as a next-morning follow-up to several of the Tuesday recitals. On this particular occasion, Rodriguez spent an hour playing for and talking with a sizeable youthful audience; he is particularly good at communicating with listeners of all ages and backgrounds, and was rewarded with unmistakably warm applause and some good questions. The only problem, apparently, is that many of the schools invited to send their students to these free performances decide, for whatever reason, not to participate. They obviously do not realize how much pleasure and stimulation they are denying the young people in their charge.

Bernard Jacobson



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