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RECITAL REVIEW
Concerts Grand / Sunday, November 15, 2009
Richard Cionco, Pianist

Pianist Richard Cionco in Newman

HAVE PIANO, WILL TRAVEL

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sacramento State’s Richard Cionco followed a string of CSU faculty pianists into the Concerts Grand recital series Nov. 15, playing a concert that featured eclectic music rarely heard in the North Bay. Mr. Cionco’s breezy stage presence and audience repartee belied the complexity of the music, and he consistently delivered the goods to a small group in SRJC’s Newman Auditorium

The cornerstone of the recital was the 28-minute “American Variations” by New York composer Sunny Knable, in its North Bay premiere. Comprising at least 16 individual sections with such picturesque titles as “Scherzo Sarcastigue” and “Old Cotton Picker,” the work requires a formidable finger technique with numerous hand crossings, violent sforzandos and even a sporadic tone cluster. The theme, with echoes of Foster, Gottschalk and Copland, was surprisingly composed Mr. Knable himself. Using sheet music, Mr. Cionco met all the demands with aplomb, the concluding “Jig” ripping up and down the keyboard to everyone’s delight. And clearly the performer was pleased, with many loud “bravos” underscoring his accomplishment.

Prior to his triumph with Knable, Mr. Cionco opened with the four-part Villa Lobos Bachiana Brasiliera, No. 4, part of a suite of nine works composed between 1930 and 1942 and fusing Brazilian popular music with the styles of Bach. In Mr. Cionco’s hands the improvisatory element was stressed, but in no way suppressing the often raucous nature of Preludio or the concluding Danza.

The short second half began with the stark and compact “Sancta Dorothea” (S. 187) of Liszt. Written nine years before Liszt died, the work combines religious asceticism and palpable humility. Mr. Cionco chose a tempo far faster than other pianists (albeit few) adopt, stressing the elegant melody with rippling left-hand triplet figures. The brevity prevented pondering the sweet lyricism, and perhaps a small bit of the late Liszt “resignation” was lost in the interpretation.

Not so for three of Chopin’s noble Mazurkas. The A Minor, Op. 17, No. 4, a Horowitz favorite, was played sublimely and caught the wistful nature behind nearly all of the Mazurkas, irrespective of the sometime strident rhythms. Op. 24, No. 2 followed, and the final Mazurka from Op. 33 (No. 2) had the requisite rustic flavor and a deft portrayal of the strong character and simple harmony. There is joy tinged with Polish sadness in the Mazurkas. Mr. Cionco addressed each with pianist mastery and an approach that made them sound fresh.

The popular “Danzas Argentinas” (Op. 2) of Ginastera concluded the program, preceded by illuminating remarks from the pianist. It was the third performance of the 1937 composition in the last two years for Concerts Grand, and probably the most successful, especially with the bookends “Danza del Viejo boyero” and “Danza del gaucho matrero.” Here the control was complete, virtuosic and, in the final dance, menacing. The middle movement “Danza de la moza donosa” was languorous and fetching.

Mr. Cionco offered one encore, a Rachmaninoff “Moment Musicaux” in E Flat from Op. 16.

The reviewer is the Producer of the Concerts Grand recitals. H. G. Jim Burns contributed to the review.