I have just had to speak very
harshly of the recital in this "Martha Argerich Presents"
series by Alexander Mogilevsky, so it is a very great pleasure to be
able to prove to myself and my readers that I have not developed a permanently
jaundiced view of life. MauricioVallina was born in Cuba in 1970 and
I cannot sing too highly the praises of his debut album.
Technically unruffled and texturally clear in the most
teeming passages, he makes an excellent case for a Rachmaninov work
which proves to have been underestimated. His sound is always warm,
musical and singing in the quieter variations, and rich and full in
the stronger ones. The charge often made that the last variation is
bombastic is quite belied by a performance which remains as fluid as
this one. There is not a bashed note from beginning to end. Vallina
always knows which is the melodic line to bring out, he shapes each
variation unerringly, with flexibility but avoiding all exaggeration.
I was reminded of the young Ashkenazy’s Rachmaninov – need I say more?
Despite its popularity, "Carnaval" remains
a tall order. This is not music you can play by the book, it needs all
sorts of rubatos and personal inflections to bring it off the page.
The performer must continually hover on the brink of grotesque exaggeration
and only his own sensibility can lead him to the dividing-line between
freedom of expression and murder most foul. At root, you can say that
if the listener perceives a shape to the individual pieces and to the
whole, if the rubatos and changes of tempo do not destroy the sense
of rhythmic continuity, then the performer has found that dividing line.
It seems to me that Vallina is completely successful in this. He is
also able to identify equally with the two elements which make up Schumann’s
psyche – the impetuous Florestan and the gentle Eusebius – and allows
them to dialogue naturally with one another. And he has the right sound
for Schumann – full and singing but also brilliant when necessary and
never heavy. In short, this is a "Carnaval" to rank with the
Our grandparents loved "Carnaval" above all
Schumann’s works. In our own day there has been a tendency to go for
pieces like the Fantasy in C, "Kreisleriana" or the Second
Sonata. Perhaps it was easier in our grandparents’ day to empathise
with a quirky work in a series of tiny movements; our more hamstrung
age finds that a large, "symphonic" construction can to some
degree prop up our hidebound imaginations. Vallina, it seems to me,
has this ability to give free rein to his imagination while keeping
in sight the form of the music and the style of the composer.
Our grandparents would have enjoyed the Schulz-Evler
and there is still a place for it when played as well as this. The secret
of Vallina’s success is that, in spite of all the cascading notes, he
is able to keep the basic waltz rhythm alive and flowing – better than
some conductors of the original waltz that I could mention.
I should need to hear Vallina in a wide range of music
before pronouncing (or not pronouncing) the fatal words "a great
pianist", but it’s a long time since I heard a new artist who holds
out such hope for the future and I shall follow his career with the