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CHAMBER REVIEW

Antonio Iturrioz

ITURRIOZ AND URSULINE AN UNEASY MIX

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, July 13, 2008

Antonio Iturrioz may not be a familiar name in local classical music households, but he has quietly become the most active solo pianist in the North Bay. He also seems to be intrigued by rarely performed virtuoso music—works other pianists avoid at every turn—and he is a scholar of Leopold Godowsky’s life and art.

July 13 found Iturrioz playing a benefit for Restorative Justice, a support group in the criminal detention system, in a dormitory at Santa Rosa’s Ursuline High School. Ninety people attended the concert, which was preceded by a tasty ice cream social. The dormitory was not an ideal spot for Bach and Strauss, the audience being sprinkled with noisy youngsters yearning to be outside, and often getting there.

Likewise, Iturrioz was not at his best the entire afternoon, with a combination of factors derailing a successful musical experience. A key part of the problem was the school’s piano, a 112-year-old Knabe concert grand. This 90-note behemoth was once a great orchestral piano, with power to spare—but those days are dim history, and artistic control and sonic projection were mostly impossible. A fine rebuilder should take on this project. Think of a great Victorian San Francisco mansion that desperately needs plumbing, a new roof, floors and lots of colorful paint.

Iturrioz also chose to adopt such slow tempos in most of the program’s pieces, perhaps as a result of the uncooperative instrument, that he was seldom able to sustain a cogent music line. He also found small breaks and “hesitations” in sections of Chopin’s Aeolian Harp Etude, Op. 25, No. 1, and the Bishop-Godowsky Home Sweet Home, which diminished rhythmic vigor and continuity.

More successful were the Schubert-Godowsky Litany, which had a wonderful lyrical pulse, and the dramatic work that ended the first half, Liszt’s Legend No. 2, “St. Francis Walking On The Waves.” Here the broken left-hand octaves had powerful impact, with Iturrioz’s bravura technique carrying the day.

There was one encore, Lecuona’s Noche Azul, played with seductive tone colors and chaste phrasing.

The writer produces Concerts Grand recitals, where Mr. Iturrioz will perform on April 12, 2009.