> Mauricio Vallina Debut recital (EMI) [CH]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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RACHMANINOV Sergei (1873-1943)
Variations on a Theme of Chopin, op. 22
SCHUMANN Robert (1810-1856)

Carnaval, op. 9
SCHULZ-EVLER Andrei (1852-1905)

Arabesken über Themen des Walzers An der schönen blauen Donau von Johann Strauss
Mauricio Vallina (pianoforte)
Recorded May and June 2001, Henry Wood Hall, London
EMI CLASSICS CDM 5 67936 2 [69’ 53"]


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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 best.

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 greatest interest.

Christopher Howell

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