Lucia Luque & Mauro Bertoli
Performing together for the first time in California, right here in Santa Cruz at Peace United Church on January 21st to continue the 33rd season of the Distinguished Artists Concert and Lecture Series founded by Director John Orlando, was the delightful youngish duo of Italian-trained Argentinian violinist Lucia Luque and Italo-Canadian pianist Mauro Bertoli, a resident of Ottawa since 2009, who had made a CD back in 2010 after meeting during events that included Luque’s winning prizes for her artistry in Turn, Naples and Verona: and Bertoli being awarded not only the first Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli Youth Prize, but also the Giuseppi Sinopoli Award presented personally by the president of the Italian Republic. Though the duo performed each work impeccably and to hearty applause from the full house, to these ancient ears the pianist at the big Yamaha CFX did not over all quite match the intensity of the violinist on her Italian-made 1920 Enrico Marchetti instrument.
The duo scratched the programmed opening Beethoven “Romance” (1798), which would have provided an “old fashioned” quirky classical contrast to the hyper-romanticism of Robert Schumann (1810-56), Cesar Franck (1822-90), Jules Massenet (1842-1912) and Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908), but then jumped hugely in time –almost 100 years—and from Europe to South America, with Bertoli and Luque as a duo of gauchos (but on one horse) riding the later tangos of Astor Piazzolla on the Argentine pampas. Franck’s late (1886) “Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano,” composed for the great violinist and fellow Belgian Eugene Ysaye, is a truly great work, always popular, with its lovely themes in all four movements. Bertoli and Luque did full justice to the mystic devotion of the 1st movement, turbulence of the 2nd, combo of both in the 3rd, and a dramatic interplay in the finale, the whole piece studded with ideas similar to those found in Franck’s famous, familiar “Symphony in D Minor,” a “religious” passion indeed.
After intermission came the other “big” work on this program, Schumann’s late (1853) “Sonata No. 1, Op. 105,” another of this composer’s earthly love apotheoses, in three movements, the first one performed superbly, “with passion” as directed by the composer, slow and searing, followed by an “Allegretto” and concluded with an appropriately lively third movement.This work seethed in longing and desire as though the composer were still courting his now longtime wife Clara Wieck. Massenet’s “Meditation from Thais,” an iconic piece usually done as an encore and found on this duo’s 2010 CD, was given an appropriately dreamy reading that captured its essence perfectly, while, ironically, the opera itself is all but forgotten. Sarasate was a diabolical fiddler in the vein of a Paganini, and his “Carmen Fantasy” (1883) was given an appropriately virtuosic reading by our violinist, the piano being used, as intended, only as an underpinning, an accompaniment to set off the display of pop themes from the finally famous opera.
Piazzolla’s “Grand Tango’ (undated though perhaps in the 1980’s after the composer had become famous via performances and recordings by the Kronos Quartet) was written for Italian violin virtuoso Salvatore Accardo, and was played from a messy-looking manuscript copy given by Accardo to Lucia Luque in Italy around 2009. The duo superbly brought out the composer’s usual intensity, and I associated this tango with “Hernando”s Hideaway,” a wildly popular number extracted from the 1954 American musical “Pajama Game,” and recorded separately over 30 times. Piazzolla may have lived in NYC from 1924-37, returned to his native Argentina in 1937, and then moved to Paris in 195, where Nadia Boulanger encouraged his complex tangos and may have influenced their early composition. But even with an earlier influence by Ginastera in the 1930’s, Piazzolla’s tangos are distinctive in style. This one passed down to our violinist by its dedicatee was absolutely brilliant on the piano as well, becoming a controlled wildness on both instruments with an abrupt stunning conclusion. To conclude this fine recital, the duo put forth another Piazzolla tango as encore, this one slow, intense and ethereal – perhaps a reminder of the religious feeling that began this recital in Cesar Franck.
The intense audience enthusiasm for this recital bodes well for the reuniting of violinist Lucia Luque and pianist Mauro Bertoli, sure to be a hit elsewhere as they tour on. And we hope that, like so many of the fine musicians who have come to this area, this outstanding maturing duo will make a return visit for our pleasure on the Distinguished Artists Series which has continued to provide outstanding classical music events for so many year in our area.