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Pianistic Flash

07.24.08
Inon Barnatan
San Francisco Classical Voice

Barnantan obviously possesses tons of technique and was not above showing it off, - hands flying in the air and that sort of thing. His sensitive phrasing of the lyrical passages was always expressive, if not always in perfect alignment with Gaffigan. The audience cheered the performance to the rafters, complete with standing ovation.

Ravel was an ambulance driver in World War I, and the constant sight of the wounded and dead from battlefields scarred him for life. Hence, by the time the orchestra reaches the finale of La Valse, the sunburst of glamor depicting mid-19th century, high society Vienna, breaks into a sonic chaos of dissonant violence, converted into a frenzied protest against Austrian militarism.

Gaffigan took a fairly straightforward approach to La Valse, emphasizing the sheer massiveness of sound during tutti passages, and the utter stillness of Ravel's impressionist fog. A performance of extremes, yes, but that's what the piece is all about. And when the music shifted from glittering waltz into a dance of death, the effect was emotionally shattering.

The Offenbach selections featured his most famous music: the can-can in his Orpheus, and the Barcarolle in his final opera - each the aural definition of those forms for most listeners. Fortunately, no one near me sang or hummed along, although the performances were excellent enough to incite that. Both pieces were done with real panache.