The Bells Are Ringing—And So Were My Ears
I don’t get it. Francesco Piemontesi, the young Swiss pianist who made his San Francisco debut in recital with San Francisco Performances last Tuesday in their last concert of the season, is listed in his promotional data as being a student of Murray Perahia and Alfred Brendel.
Both these piano greats are especially known for elegance, refinement and subtlety.
But unlike his teachers, Mr. Piemontesi is a tremendous banger; true he is a banger of terrific technical accomplishment but there were more than a few moments in this concert when Mr. Piemontesi sounded more like he had taken lessons from rock-and-roller Jerry Lee Lewis than either Perahia or Brendel.
Piemontesi ripped into Bach’s Prelude in E-flat Major, BWV 552 like it was a Rachmaninoff piano sonata—you can imagine what he did to the Rachmaninoff Piano Sonata No.2 in B-flat minor that concluded the program. It was a bell ringer!
That’s too bad. The pianist and the program he presented had a lot going for it on paper and in the hall. I enjoyed the Bach Italian Concerto BWV 971 for its clear articulation and quick tempi.
The Siciliano from the Bach Flute Sonata in E-flat Major was sensitive, lyrical and just beautifully played. It was the highlight of the evening though the Debussy selections that came after the break also were gorgeous—three pieces from Images, Book II, L.111 provided an object lesson in visual impressionism through music. Very skillfully done!
But the Rachmaninoff was a disaster for two reasons; the piece is a horror and it was played badly.
Rachmaninoff let his fondness for bells get the best of him with this essentially technical showpiece and the show-off in the young artist from Ticino, Switzerland couldn’t resist. He let loose with all his thunder and lightening and the house shook. I felt I was trapped in a bell tower with the bells ringing!
Someone should advise Mr. Piemontesi that an explosion of sound that batters the audience is not the most effective way to make a career in music these days. His playing was reminiscent of the ‘piano lions’ of an earlier era.
On the other hand, Mr. Piemontesi rang the bell by playing through the Bach part of the program without breaks which turned out to be a very good idea. He ruined it by his banging at the beginning and end of the Bach selections but maybe he will wise up and calm down in the future.