If you hadn’t spoken to Angelo Rondello before the concert or seen him perform before you would never know how much a radio simulcast such as the Dame Myra Hess Concert is not his usual metier. Usually Rondello is not only a consummate performer, but also someone who sees sharing background on the pieces he performs with his audiences as part of his mission. The tight radio broadcast format didn’t allow Rondello to talk. He didn’t fail to dazzle however, and bring brightness to an otherwise dreary rainy day.
In fact Ann Murray, Director of the International Music Foundation that hosts the Dame Myra Hess concerts, looked at the near full capacity Preston Bradley Hall shortly before the concert and commented how surprised she was that on such a wet day more hadn’t opted to stay home and listen on the radio. What WFMT listeners missed, besides the acoustics of a live performance, was Rondello’s wonderful way of looking about the hall in between movements seeming to take in both Preston Bradley Hall’s tiled splendor and the way in which we were enthused by his performance.
Rondello aimed, and succeeded, in shining a spotlight on the piano’s range, performing some of his most favorite repertoire—3 movements of Claude Debussy’s “Images, Book 1”, Franz Liszt’s “Bagatelle sans tonalité, S. 216a” and “Après une Lecture du Dante: Fantasia qasi Sonata”.
Rondello explains, “I feel this whole program shows off a variety of the piano’s capabilities. In the Debussy work the three movements are distinctive from one another and the piano gets to show off a wide range of its colors and nuances. The Liszt brings out a different aspect. You hear more of the monumental end of what the piano can achieve. The work is big in sound and in scope. There is very little finger work. It’s mostly chords and octaves and it gives this massive sound depicting Dante’s inferno…These pieces bring out the best in my musical personality.
“Debussy’s first book is set in three movements and the first movement, “Reflects dans l’eau” (or in English, “Reflections on Water”) is often performed just on its own…In the work he is inviting us into his dream world to hear how the image made an impression on his mind.”
If you would like to hear Rondello play this, you can listen in to this and other audio recordings on his website.
Rondello says of “Bagatelle sans tonalité” that “Liszt was an avant garde composer of his day and the later compositions of his life foreshadow what would be coming in the 20th Century….He sets the entire piece on a diminished chord. Liszt would warn his students not to perform his late works because critics weren’t delighted and wondered if he lost it. We hear it instead from our 21st Century perspective.”
Here is a clip of Rondello playing this three minute piece. Be advised to listen to the very end when a hanging note makes you lean forward for more.
After playing this “bagatelle” Rondello took a long look about the room, perhaps giving us a chaser before we began our descent into the inferno with Dante. This is very dramatic music and the hall reverberated with the interval that Rondello explains we associate with the devil. He says, “..It’s a dissonant interval to our ear and it was completely avoided in early music. Liszt makes it a main motif of the piece. Even the melodic material often surrounds the tritone, and its constant downward motion suggests the descent into hell.".”
Though we’d just been led into the inferno, the audience sprang to its feet to applaud. Rondello, who has been to Chicago but never performed here, gave a broad smile in return.
There are exciting Dame Myra Hess concerts of chamber repertoire—free to the public-- every Wednesday at 12:15 – 1:00 PM in the mosaic-clad Preston Bradley Hall of the Chicago Cultural Center. These concerts are also simulcast on WFMT.
For a schedule of upcoming concerts see the International Music Foundation’s Dame Myra Hess web pages.