6 Dec 2023

Lewis Eady International Piano Festival 2023: Antonio Pompa-Baldi

From Music Alive, 8:00 pm on 6 December 2023

Italian-American pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi performs a recital that celebrates great pianist-composers: Liszt, Chopin, Rachmaninov, Busoni, and the contemporary Sardinian Roberto Piana.

Pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi

Antonio Pompa-Baldi Photo: Antonio Pompa-Baldi, Chiron Lewis Eady Foundation

Pompa-Baldi performs at the Lewis Eady International Piano Festival in the Music Theatre at Auckland University. The festival was a companion to the Lewis Eady National Junior Piano Competition for which he was an adjudicator.

Originally from Foggia in Italy, Antonio Pompa-Baldi combines performing and teaching in a very busy career. He’s head of the Piano Department at the Cleveland Institute of Music and is active on the boards of piano competitions, piano foundations and music festivals. We won the Cleveland International Piano Competition in 1999 and was a major prizewinner at the 1998 Margurite Long-Jacques Thibaud Competition and the 2001 Van Cliburn.

LISZT: Ballade No 2 in B minor

Liszt followed Chopin in creating works using the title “ballade” that seemed to be telling a story in music ... although neither composer ever revealed what those stories might be.

However, the pianist Claudio Arrau, who was pupil of Liszt’s disciple Martin Krause, maintained that this second ballade was based on the Greek myth of the lovers Hero and Leander.

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ROBERTO PIANA: Inferno, from Glances on the Divine Comedy

Sardinian composer Roberto Piana wrote Sguardi sulla Divina Commedia or ‘Glances on the Divine Comedy’ for Antonio Pompa-Baldi in 2021. It’s a set of 25 pieces in total, each portraying a character or place from The Divine Comedy, the epic poem by Dante Alighieri.

Piana uses the theme from Bach’s Passacaglia in C minor, but played in reverse, to represent the voice of Dante and this theme is used throughout.

The complete work is divided into three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso and Pompa-Baldi plays Inferno in this recital.

This consists of nine pieces:
‘Cerberus’, the three-headed dog, one of the guardians of Hell
‘Fortuna’, the Divine Intelligence who determines all unexplainable events
‘Messo Celeste’, the angel messenger
‘Epicuro’ portraying the souls condemned to damnation
‘Harpies’, horrible birds with human faces, tormentors of the suicidal
‘Penelope’, the wife of Ulysses or Odysseus who tricks her would-be suitors by continually weaving and unweaving a shroud
‘Lucifer’, the most beautiful of the angels who was expelled from Heaven when he betrayed God

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CHOPIN: Polonaise-Fantasy in Ab Op 61

This is one of Chopin’s very last works before his early death at the age of 39. Some commentators have detected the emergence of a new style of writing in this work.

Chopin was unsure what to call the piece for some time, finally settling on the hyphenated title: 'Polonaise', because he uses the characteristic rhythms from the Polish dance, and 'Fantasy', because of the improvisatory nature of the overall structure.

Chopin combines a dignified vigor – the essence the polonaise – with a reflective melancholy common to many of his late works.

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RACHMANINOV: Variations on a theme of Corelli Op 42

The theme is actually not by Arcangelo Corelli – it’s La Folía, a dance which originated in Spain or Portugal in the 15th century. It’s one of the oldest and most commonly used of all European musical themes. Corelli used it in a violin sonata and it was this that Rachmaninov drew on.

Rachmaninov concocts 20 variations with an Intermezzo placed in the middle and a Coda at the end. It was his last original work for solo piano, written in 1931, and he dedicated it to the violinist Fritz Kreisler.

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BACH trans BUSONI: Chaconne, from Violin Partita No 2 in D minor

This is probably the most well-known of the many arrangements, transcriptions and editions of Bach by Ferruccio Busoni. If you use the name “Bach-Busoni”, most pianists will assume you are referring to this piece.

Here Busoni takes a virtuosic piece for solo violin, and, while maintaining the basic melody, rhythm and structure of the piece, fills out and broadens the harmonic scope of the work immensely, creating one of the virtuosic masterpieces for the piano.

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POULENC: Les chemins de l'amour

Antonio Pompa-Baldi's encore: a song in the form of a waltz. The original piano accompaniment is played as is without the vocal line. Apparently the singer for whom the song was composed was slightly challenged in the intonation department so Poulenc made sure that the melody appeared all the way through in the accompaniment.

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Recorded by RNZ Concert in the University of Auckland Music Theatre, 6 December 2023
Producer, Engineer: Tim Dodd