Seen and Heard Recital
Ludovico Einaudi (Piano), Marco Decimo (Cello), Royal Festival Hall,
20th February, 2005 (H-T W)
The radio station Classic FM has one main aim: to bombard its
listeners with so-called easy listening music, with famous movements
from the concert and opera repertoire, and with music promotion.
That is not everybody’s cup of tea and certainly not mine.
But from time to time one misses out on composers who do not appear
regularly anywhere else. Thanks to Classic FM the Polish composer
Henryk Górecki rose to fame. Now, it seems to be the Italian
Ludovico Einaudi, of whom I had not heard before this concert.
Thanks to my wife, who is a frequent Classic FM listener and who
has mentioned his name a bit too often, I became curious. His
recital promoting his latest CD “una matta” (Decca
475 629-2) gave me the welcome opportunity to judge for myself.
I did not quite trust my eyes at first; it was quite astonishing
to see a wide cross section of the English public filling the
RFH to near capacity. On the other hand, a huge control-panel
in the centre of the stalls, which turned out to be my neighbour
and whose noisy cooling system always kept me in constant contact
with reality, and a blue illuminated stage with microphones and
loudspeakers, made me cautious. But whilst the evening was certainly
entertainment, it was on a much higher, even fascinating level.
Judging from this concert, Einaudi is quite a good pianist with
an excellent posture and an intimate contact with his instrument
– so why the microphones? The same counted for the cellist
Marco Decimo, who joined him for the second half of the evening.
And what about his music? It is certainly neither minimal or in
any way contemporary, more a culmination of the past, but in a
thoroughly original idiom. It does not harm the ear, and is largely
harmonic throughout, and foremost, in major keys. He does not
like making his listeners feel uncomfortable. It sounds like improvisations
on specific themes, where the various melodies are played mainly
in the upper register, while the left hand provides a kind of
bass line similar to baroque music. His constant harmonic changes
without the slightest discord has some very distant similarity
with Schubert, but to call him a Schubert of today, as has been
done, is complete nonsense. He writes piano cycles, which are
reminiscent of Bach’s “Inventions”, Schubert’s
“Impromptus”, also of Schumann, Mendelssohn, even
Chopin. He also evokes the sound of meditations for guitar from
a very distant past. But he never imitates, it is always his own
very dreamlike voice. What sounds so easy and pleasing, is in
fact harmonically quite difficult.
In the first half, he introduced parts of his album “una
mattina,” which also includes three pieces for cello and
piano. “If someone asked me about this album, I would say
it is a collection of songs linked together by a story…it
speaks about me as I am now, my life, the things around me….”
Its character is melancholic, while certain figurations and trills
in the right hand are constantly repeated in various keys. There
were moments when those trills sounded a little bit overused,
and to finish most of these pieces with the relevant highest note
on the piano seemed artificial.
The second half consisted of compositions, presumably more familiar
since the audience responded more enthusiastically as he started
to play. Here, the character of improvisations seemed even more
relevant than before. In his program notes Einaudi wrote: “When
I compose, I need to improvise, but also to mediate for a long
time on what I am writing. I progress on two apparently antithetical
levels: I create a great diversity of styles then, at a later
stage, I review it all with a rational ear.”
There is no reason, to disqualify Einaudi’s music as banal
or kitschy. His music is to a certain extent nostalgic, quite
magical and well crafted. I understood perfectly well why he has
so many followers, but I was also disappointed. Why the same thing
does not count for the composers mentioned above I do not know.
Their music has the same calming effect. Good music does not necessarily
want to be understood, it asks to be listened to.