Peruvian pianist Priscila Navarro lit up the night on Saturday at Maverick with a solo recital of ferociously demanding works from the Latino repertoire of the past and the present. She opened the concert with the first two books and the very last piece from Isaac Albeniz’s great suite, Iberia. This is some of the most challenging music in the piano repertoire, monumental in size and demanding great virtuosity in performance: Music critic Donal Henahan, writing in The New York Times, said of the suite that it contains “nothing that a good three-handed pianist could not master.” Navarro’s two-handed performance of these seven excerpts proved compelling from start to finish. Sprinkled throughout all of them are the highly ornamented arpeggios so characteristic of Spanish music; Navarro captured and tossed off each of these with grace and flair. We heard echoes of Scarlatti in those arpeggios and in the crossing hands, left atop right, delicately and indelibly executed. Navarro’s exquisite voicing drew more than one might think possible from the material. The song and dance of the opening piece, Evocación, gave way graciously to the zapateado of the second movement, El Puerto, a dance that some 16th-century influencers claimed originated the Roman Empire. Whether true or not, Navarro rooted her performance firmly in our moment. Surefooted throughout, she balanced the various tricks of complicated voicing flawlessly, capturing all the sweetness of the fandangos of the Rondeña that opens the second suite, and the sneaky dissonances and catchy rhythmic charm of the Almeria that follows. To close the first half, Navarro chose the last number in Albeniz’s great suite, which steered us to Eritaña, a popular inn on the outskirts of Seville.
Nothing sneaky emerged in the second half. We had the impression she had always been intending to go to the fierce sonic landscape of contemporary Cuban-American composer Tania León. We loved being in her company from the fiery dissonances of Ritual, through an elusive habanera, cascading cells, and the ferocious arpeggiations in Homenatge, to the relative peace and quiet of Ritual and Tumbao, with their complex, compelling rhythms.
Peruvian-American composer Jimmy Lopez Bellido has won worldwide acclaim for his operatic and orchestral works, and the closer, his Ccantu pays homage to the fleeting beauty of the Cantuta, or Cantua, the national flower of Peru. Navarro adeptly dispatched it, accomplishing a crescendo of many bars with intrepid elegance.