Culture

Three times Paganini, in three manners

BEIT MERY, Lebanon: Al Bustan’s celebration of four centuries of music from and inspired by Italy continued Saturday with an entertaining evening of Niccolo Paganini. Orchestral accompaniment was provided by Al Bustan Festival Academy Orchestra, under the energetic baton of festival Artistic Director Gianluca Marciano.

Created after the festival’s 25th anniversary edition in 2018, ABFAO is a youth orchestra assembled by Al Bustan and tutored by its guest musicians. The ensemble comported itself well Saturday evening, and its few missteps did little to detract from the soloists.

Paganini was himself a violin virtuoso and his famed compositions for the instrument, devised to showcase his own abilities as a soloist, have long been central to the repertoire of aspiring soloists of the European schools. The weekend concert was the first of two devoted to Paganini’s six violin concertos, with each work featuring a different soloist.

Yury Revich was the first to accompany maestro Marciano to the stage, for Paganini’s Violin Concerto No 5. Resplendent in razor-thin outfit and sparkling footwear, Revich (born in 1991) stood in for a hipster demographic that was more evident onstage than in the terraces of Emile Bustani Auditorium.

His presence oscillated from amiable to intense. During the work’s orchestral bits, he nodded his head left and right, smiling into the audience. When taking up his instrument, he was a taut string.

Whether accompanied by ABFAO or during one of the show-stopping solo opportunities festooning Paganini’s work, Revich’s face transformed to a mask of concentration, his bow work and fingerboard pizzicato fiery and precise.

His passion (or something) seems to have peaked near the end of the concerto’s first movement when, upon completing a particularly exhausting-looking sequence, his head and arms were thrown back in a pantomime embrace, as if compelled by an explosion.

Revich was the only soloist to stray from the evening’s all-Paganini, all-Italy playlist. When the No. 5 was done, the hall fell into a swoon of applause that continued until Marciano and Revich returned for an encore. Addressing the audience for the first time, the soloist remarked how pleased he was to have a chance to return to Al Bustan to perform Paganini. With something like a shrug, he then declared he’d do some Bach. The concert’s Baroque moment, the Gavotte en Rondeau from Bach’s Partita No. 3, BWV 1006, shimmered as brightly as the Paganini.

Next up was the Violin Concerto No. 2, interpreted by Gabriele Pieranunzi. A somewhat more seasoned performer than Revich, Pieranunzi exuded an air of chill as he arrived onstage wearing a simple pullover and slacks.

After taking a moment to fiddle with his instrument, he assumed the unassuming pose of a professional who no longer has to think much about his job, one who knows that, alongside simple relaxation, fiery onstage posturing in performing Paganini is just theatrics.

Pieranunzi’s performance was as virtuosic as his vibe was chill. When summoned back to the stage for his own encore, the soloist responded with a work of Paganini variations that served as a master class in precision bowing and pizzicato.

After the interval - and, no doubt, a conversation or two about whether Pieranunzi or Revich’s version of Paganini was more “authentic” - Sergej Krylov accompanied Marciano to the stage to perform concerto No. 4.

Sporting an outfit that might be a South Asian emulation of the tie-and-tails of European formal wear, Krylov inhabited a flashier stage presence than that of his immediate predecessor. Though his performance priorities were different, his technique was every bit as polished as that of Revich and Pieranunzi.

The audience was thrilled with the soloist’s energy and demanded that he too return for an encore.

He returned to play another title from the Paganini catalogue, Caprice No. 24.

It may be that the greatest beneficiaries of Al Bustan’s first Paganini night were the young players of the Al Bustan Festival Academy Orchestra, who surely benefited from performing alongside such capable musicians.

The audience had a rare opportunity to observe three accomplished virtuosos in action, each singular in how he inhabited his talents onstage, and wonder momentarily if performance style makes any difference to the music.

Paganini’s Violin Concertos 3, 6 and 1, featuring soloists Kevin Zhu, Anastasiya Petryshak and Giulio Plotino, will be performed March 5 at Al Bustan Hotel. For more, see albustanfestival.com/program-2019.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 25, 2019, on page 12.

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