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CHAMBER REVIEW

Elena Casanova

CASANOVA'S LISZT AND GINASTERA THRILL LARGE UKIAH AUDIENCE

by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 7, 2008

The proverbial “no person is a hero in their own backyard” was certainly false Nov. 2 when pianist Elena Casanova attracted the largest solo classical audience in memory to her Mendocino College recital, launching the sixth Concerts Grand season.

Before 210 partisans in Center Theater, Casanova tackled an eclectic program centered on Beethoven and Latin music, with a quick side trip for two dreamy Liszt works. The Third Consolation, performed before the Third Liebestraume, brought from Casanova some of the best playing of the afternoon – note perfect, deftly phrased and rich with color. An adroit arpeggio at bar 55 delicately disclosed Liszt’s tasteful dissonance, and the ritards were substantial enough to almost break the musical line. Almost, but not quite.

Beethoven’s “Paisiello” Variations began the program, inauspiciously both because of some tentative passages and the ephemeral nature of the writing. The theme and six short variations are quickly forgotten, far removed from the great “Eroica” and “Diabelli” sets. Not so of course for the ever-popular F Minor Sonata, Op. 57 (Appassionata) which received a careful but committed reading. Casanova was never in any hurry to get anywhere, shedding light on the dramatic qualities of the opening Allegro assai, and managing well the difficult articulation problems in the second part of the second subject. This was not an Appassionata of heroic proportions, but one well thought out and played with rhythmic certainty. The fortissimo 13 chords that begin the finale were curiously played softly, with a slight crescendo at the end, defying the score but producing an engaging effect. The movement didn’t end with the expected full-throttle roar, but the high “Cs” in the right hand sounded with the requisite power, and the large gathering was immediately on its feet to cheer.

Three short Lecuona pieces began the second half, preceded by comments from the pianist. Malaguena, the best known (the others were Andalucia and Gitanerias) had the expected rhythmic subtlety, and the pianism was secure and idiomatic. The same can be said of Casanova’s transversal of Ginastera’s Danzas Argentinas, Op. 2, composed in 1937. These are energetic works, the concluding Danza del Gaucho Matrero having the most pianistic fireworks of the afternoon, with handfuls of skips, long glissandos and off-beat accents. It was a tour de force, and Casanova was brought back to the stage several times, relenting with one encore. Like the other Latin works on the program, the “La Bella Cubana” of Afro-Cuban composer Jose White was receiving a rare hearing in Ukiah, and Casanova played the lovely habanera with just the right mixture of flexible pulse and sensuous languor.

Elena Casanova is one of Mendocino County’s best musicians, equally at home with Liszt’s “Dreams of Love” and the piquant excitement of Ginastera’s Argentine Pampa.

The concert was recorded and filmed, something seemingly fitting for a genuine local hero.

N. B. - the writer is the Producer of the Concerts Grand series.