IN: Reviews

Younger Pianist Poles Toward Old School


Roberto Poli (file photo)
Roberto Poli (file photo)

Although Roberto Poli’s all-Chopin NEC Prep faculty recital at Jordan Hall last night did not quite fall into the category of must-cover, his playing was so redolent and evocative that it deserves to be a matter of record. The Venetian-American Chopin specialist arrived as if by gondola, in a velvet frock coat with silk vest, poet’s cravat and jeweled stick pin, and began an improvisatory reverie as if composing on the spot. Into this dreamlike trance one occasionally wanted to telegraph “Earth to Roberto…,” yet the sound and colors he produced did belong to another era and another place. We got much of the perfumed Chopin, the consumptive, with vanishing sighs and vapors, but we often also yearned for a motore a vapore on these musical channels. The play of slanting rays on dappled water, applied as it was to nearly every piece, nevertheless constituted a refreshing and perhaps even informed take on the repertoire.

The playing was certainly wet, but not from overpedaling. Legato was achieved with fingers. The affect was of an early Erard in a private parlor, and the resultant compulsion was for us to lean in and attend the contemplative quietude—indeed some pianissimos came dangerously close to inaudibility. We encountered no rogue waves or blasts of noonday sun, just subtle shifts of delicate zephyrs lightly submerging the barlines. Poli’s pronounced and ubiquitous lilt made even the sections and passages in four sound like waltzes and barcarolles.

If the pieces in the first half all sounded nocturnal, they were also entrancing, though sometimes wanting in weight. The Berceuse was particularly amenable to Poli’s approach; the third Op. 59 Mazurka, Vivace, had real velocity and rose the highest from the fog.

What Poli would make of the B-minor Sonata in the second half was the question at intermission. Would drama trump dreaminess? At 38 minutes (including exposition repeat, I believe), it certainly had some longueurs, although the third movement was a complete triumph. If the last movement was more dreadnought than speedboat, the former can also part the waves at 40 knots.

The Op. 64 no. 2 Waltz delivered as encore was immersed in Poli’s style. He began very slowly,  but his flexibility of tempo—this was less rubato than a larger-scaled shifting of gears—got this gondola to the dock on time by means of a startling accelerando.

And along the way bloomed some of the truest leggiero heard here since Shura Cherkassky played Jordan Hall something like 25 years ago.

Lee Eiseman is the publisher of the Intelligencer.

The program:

Nocturne in B Major, Op. 62 no. 1 (1846)
Polonaise Fantaisie in A-flat Major, Op. 61 (1846)
Three Mazurkas, Op. 59 (1845)
Moderato, Allegretto, Vivace
Berceuse in D-flat Major, Op. 57 (1844)
Barcarolle in F-sharp Major, Op. 60 (1845-46)
Sonata in B Minor, Op. 58 (1844)


2 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. I was unable, alas, to attend Poli’s recital, but I want to recommend his book, “The Secret Life of Musical Notation,” Amadeus Press, 2010. It contains a fascinating perusal of the often puzzling “hairpin” notation marks in Chopin’s piano works (I found this chapter revelatory), as well as considerations of sforzando markings, rinforzandi, stretti, and pedal markings. It calls into question the placement of many of these notation marks in current editions as well as their interpretation. There are many printed musical examples, as well as a website that offers performances of the examples. It is one of the most stimulating books on music that I’ve ever read, and has changed the way I play Chopin mazurkas.

    Comment by Alan Levitan — October 14, 2014 at 11:53 am

  2. Note: I may have inadvertently given the impression that Poli’s book is exclusively about Chopin. It deals in detail with the whole range of classical composers, including many examples drawn from Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Liszt, as well as many 20th century figures. (And no, I have no affiliation with Mr. Poli, never having met him, spoken with him, or written to him. I am merely a great fan of his book.)

    Comment by Alan Levitan — October 14, 2014 at 12:38 pm

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