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GUSTAVO ROMERO PIANO RECITAL (article first published : 2004-08-19)

This recital for the Friends of Music, at the Durban Jewish Centre, was a notable occasion. Gustavo Romero is a very fine pianist, and he offered a programme for connoisseurs.

Mr Romero is about forty-ish and lives in New York. The programme note was not giving away any more than this about his background, except to list his considerable achievements in the concert hall and the recording studio. He has a massive keyboard technique and an impressively calm and controlled demeanour. Most important of all, he is a poetic and perceptive interpreter of the music he plays.

He opened his recital with Liszt’s well-known arrangement of Bach’s organ Prelude and Fugue in A minor, generating great power as the music developed. This is a long and complex work, and the playing was admirably clear. Not everybody cares for Liszt’s arrangements of other people’s music, but this is one of the better ones.

The Schubert Sonata in C minor, D 958, produced more brilliant playing. The second and fourth movements are high points in Schubert’s entire output. Romero produced a beautiful cantabile tone in the Adagio and handled the long and difficult final Allegro with high skill. This is a difficult thing to play. With its galloping main theme, sudden changes, and dazzling harmonic shifts, it is captivating music, and Romero’s performance was greeted with great enthusiasm by the audience.

Chopin’s four Ballades, a nineteenth century peak of romantic virtuosity, completed the programme, but before then we heard three twentieth century pieces by Nikolai Medtner, rarities really. Metdner was the last of the Russian romantics and he was a prolific piano composer. One of his concertos is played occasionally, but most of his music has been neglected by modern pianists. The pieces played by Gustavo Romero turned out to be really attractive. The Canzona Serenata, Op. 38, No. 6, is a lovely ruminative work rather in the manner of Rachmaninov, and the Sonata-Elegy in D minor, Op. 11, No. 2, is more dramatic and reminiscent at times of Scriabin.

Incidentally, Medtner had one of the most improbable patrons in the history of western music. The Maharajah of Mysore, Sir Jaya Chamraja Wadiyar, was fanatical about Medtner’s music and financed many recordings which the composer himself made before his death in 1951.

The Prelude Performers of the Friends of Music evening, sponsored by the National Lottery Fund, were Bryan Clarke and the six-member Uzuko Marimba Band, and very lively they were too. The marimba, a type of xylophone, originated in Africa, migrated with the slave trade to South and Central America, and is now widely used again in Africa for traditional music. Bryan Clarke played it with great gusto, supported by the drums of his colleagues. - Michael Green




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