BWW Review: A DANTE CELEBRATION IN MUSIC Celebrated The 750th Birthday Of Dante Alighieri

Reviewed by Ewart Shaw, Wednesday 30th September 2015

This special concert to honour Dante Alighieri, A Dante Celebration in Music, took place in Elder Hall at the University of Adelaide.

Don't get me wrong, Franz Liszt was a great musician, a superstar of the keyboard, feted, admired and even desired by his audiences. As a composer, I've always thought there was far more piano virtuosity than imagination. So that disposes of him as a composer, but what about the challenge that he presents for pianists today, especially in some of his most demanding solo pieces.

The first half of this celebration of the 750th anniversary of the birth of Dante Alighieri, sponsored by the local branch of the eponymous society began with lines from the Paradiso portion of the Commedia delivered with passion by Professor Diana Glenn. Then Mekhla Kumar walked out on stage, sat at the piano and delivered an almost effortless performance of Sposalizio, from 'The years of Italian pilgrimage', a set of pieces by Liszt inspired by his travels, and in this particular case by Raphael's The Marriage of the Virgin, a tender and eloquent performance that made light of the technical challenges, characteristic of the composer's work.

Konstantin Shamray, winner in 2008 of the Sydney international Piano competition, and now an Adelaide resident, performed the Dante Sonata of 1839, revised in 1849 and renamed in 1853 as a fantasia in sonata form, inspired by reading Dante. It is a work of emotional extremes and Shamray's impeccable technique was mesmerizing.

There was no interval in this brief concert, Shamray left the stage for a moment and Professor Glenn returned to read the tragedy of Francesca Da Rimini and her brother-in-law Paolo, discovered in flagrante and murdered by her husband. It's one of the great moments of the poem, and it inspired Tchaikovsky, a far greater composer than Lizst but only an okay pianist, to write Francesca da Rimini, symphonic fantasia, after Dante.

What we heard was an arrangement for four hands on one piano by Karl Klindworth, a composer and pianist, student of Liszt.

In the 19th century the piano arrangement of symphonic works was a useful tool for disseminating in the decades before radio and recordings, the music of western culture. Lizst himself wrote popular pieces based on themes from operas, that are delightful blends of melodies and harmonies, Liszt at his most approachable. Klindworth's distillation of a whole orchestral score down to the keys of one grand piano is masterly.

Khumar sat at the left of the keyboard and her opening bars displayed a strength that underpinned the entire work. Shamray's astonishing dexterity on the right hand of the keyboard made a filigree of the violin and woodwind parts. Their unanimity meant that it was impossible to tell at times who was playing which part, unless you witnessed his hand flickering across the keys, or with hands at rest, heard the definitive handling of Khumar. Swirling sounds, the development of the love theme at each manifestation, sheer pulsing energy. I can't imagine ever hearing the work played with such skill and commitment, here or elsewhere.

The encore was a delicate and introverted arrangement of a song by Robert Schumann, which served to cool down the ears of the enthralled audience.

Buon compleanno, Maestro Dante.



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From This Author Barry Lenny

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