Italian pianist Alberto Pizzo (from his Web site)
Those who have been reading both this site and my previous contributions to Examiner.com know that I have been following musical performances presented by the Italian Cultural Institute (Istituto Italiano de Cultura, IIC) for some time. Now that they have moved to the ground floor of Opera Plaza, where I live, I have made it a point not only to keep track of the performances they host but also to attend as many of those events as my schedule will allow. That includes not only “local talent,” such as Ars Minerva, which specializes in performing unfamiliar Baroque operas, mostly by Italian composers, but also visitors from Italy, such as last year’s flute recitalist Andrea Ceccomori.
Until last night I have never been disappointed with my experiences at IIC. However, with last night’s recital by the relatively young Neapolitan pianist Alberto Pizzo, the pendulum took a vigorous swing in the opposite direction. As I mentioned in my announcement of this recital, Pizzo is well educated, having earned a master’s degree at the Naples Conservatory of Music. He also has decided to focus on arrangement and improvisation, rather than pursuing the repertoire that garners attention at competitions (where he has been recognized at both national and international events). Therein lies the problem.
Last night’s program began with an early sonata by Domenico Scarlatti, K. 9 in D minor. This shows up very early in my own first Scarlatti acquisition, The Graded Scarlatti, compiled and edited by Marthe Morhange Motchane. In spite of its simplicity when compared against Scarlatti’s more virtuoso undertakings, this piece used to be an encore favorite of Vladimir Horowitz (which is probably why my teacher in Santa Barbara chose to steer me in its direction). In the right hands it is as much a source of satisfying listening as it is amenable to amateur execution.
Unfortunately, Pizzo’s hands were night the right ones. While he was capable of approaching this seemingly naive piece with a light touch, that touch was uneven and betrayed any sense of this brief piece having an overall shape. However, playing the sonata itself was simply a pretext for launching into a far more extended fantasia for which Scarlatti’s text was little more than a point of departure. However, while Scarlatti always provided both performer and listener with a solid framework of a journey from here to there, so to speak, Pizzo did little more than ramble about with little sense of direction.
That approach then extended into a series of original pieces, each of which began with a statement to set the mood (presumably consistent with the title he had assigned), followed by further ramblings that seldom reflected the point of departure and amounted, pretty consistently, to little more than “more of the same.” The one ramble that he explicitly introduced he described as an improvisation drawing upon music from the operas of Pietro Mascagni and Giacomo Puccini. It was easy to guess where this would lead after a brief introduction that had little to do with either of the composers. Mascagni was represented by his most familiar contribution to the repertoire, the intermezzo from his one-act opera “Cavalleria Rusticana” (given its strongest boost into popular culture by the movie Raging Bull), while Puccini was reduced to the most familiar measures from “Nessun dorma” (originally from Turandot and now probably holding the record for the number of commercial appropriations). Here, too, the performance was little more than a ramble for which the “source material” offered little more than a point of departure for a venture into even “more of the same.”
Last night’s performance was structured as two sets; but, after the first set, I sadly had to accept that one was all I could manage.