[Noozhawk] Symphony Puts Pianos Out Front
By Gerald Carpenter, Contributing Writer
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Under the title, "Favorite Piano Masterpieces," the Santa Barbara Symphony, conducted by Maestro Nir Karbaretti, plays its November concerts at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20, both in the Granada Theatre, 1214 State St.
On a slate that features two piano concertos and one quasi, the keyboard soloists will be Markus Groh and local heroine, Natasha Kislenko.
Separately and together, Groh and Kislenko will take the the lead roles (the theatrical term is apt, for once) in Manuel de Falla's "Nights in the Gardens of Spain (1915)"; Wolfgang Mozart's "Concerto No. 10 in Eb-Major for Two Pianos, K.365 (1779)"; and Peter Tchaikovsky's "Piano Concerto No. 1 in bb-minor, Opus 23 (1875)".
The modern piano concerto, in which the pianist ceases to provide mere continuo and begins a dramatic dialogue with the orchestra, was the invention of Mozart — one of two forms, the other being opera, in which he produced masterpieces that were beyond the capacity of Haydn.
But Mozart, Beethoven, and all pianists until Franz Liszt, played their concertos with their backs to their audiences. It was Liszt who had the inspiration to play with his profile — he had a great one — to the hall, turning the piano concerto into the Byronic melodrama it remains to this day.
If you are determined to program a Spanish piano concerto, your choices are limited.
If you prefer the work be somewhat familiar to the general public (Granados, alas, never wrote one, nor did Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga; the two by Albéniz continue to languish in obscurity; Rodrigo's "Concierto heroico (1943)" has never gained traction with a non-Spanish audience; and Roberto Gerhard's brilliant "Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra (1951)", while justifiably popular with the modernist wing of music lovers, is about as anti-Romantic as they come) that leaves you with "Nights in the Gardens of Spain."
It is not really a concerto in the way the other two works on this program are. Call it a triptych of tone paintings, like Respighi's "Fountains of Rome (1917)". The piano is not the protagonist. Though full of melody, it is overall dark and moody. To his credit, Falla, who was Andalusian, never tries to disguise the arab content of Spanish culture.
To my taste, the Mozart is far and away the greatest work on this program. He wrote it to play with his sister. That must have been something to witness.
Familiarity breeds contempt, they used to say, and that is certainly true of the bombastic opening bars of the Tchaikovsky concerto. Once you get past the intro, which infuriated his teacher Nicholas Rubinstein, the concerto is a dream of romantic nostalgia, justly beloved by music lovers of all ages.