Saturday, October 31, 2015

An Auspicious Debut

Jorge Luis Prats’ reputation precedes him long before his recital debut in Vancouver under the auspices of the Vancouver Chopin Society. I have long admired and enjoyed Prats’ live recording of a recital in Zaragoza for Decca. It was therefore with great anticipation that I attended his recital on yet another wet Vancouver evening.

Prats opens his programme with Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Bachiana brasileira No. 4, A.264/W.424, the composer’s homage to Bach. Like other great artists, I immediately sense that he conjures a sound from the instrument that captivates, inviting rather than demanding our attention. I appreciate his hushed eloquence in the Preludio of the suite, his captivating playing of the almost jazzy opening of Coral, with its beautiful left hand melody. His beautiful sound comes to the fore again at the beginning of the Aria, with its plaintive melody almost reminiscent of Mussorgsky. Prats’ incredible finger work dazzles us in the colourful and energetic Danza, playing with the dexterity of a Horowitz and the freedom of Art Tatum.

It takes a brave pianist to tackle any part of Isaac Albeniz’s Iberia suite. In his debut recording for Decca, Prats plays the equally challenging Goyescas by Enrique Granados. Indeed, Goyescas is often mentioned together with Iberia as Spain’s greatest contributions to the piano literature, they are vastly different in style as well as substance. Although both monumental masterpieces that tax to the utmost the musical as well as pianistic abilities of anyone, Goyescas nods fondly back to the 19th century whereas Iberia looks very much forward to the harmonic language of Debussy and Ravel.

Prats’ playing of the Iberia set is truly stunning, as well as pianistically honest – no blurring of texture or “cheating” with over-pedaling. The rather thick texture of much of the score came through clearly from beginning to end. The artist has an innate sense and feel for the underlying rhythm of the music, as well as the mood each piece evokes. In Lavapiés, the avalanche of sound that comes out of the instrument is truly overwhelming.

I enjoyed very much Prats’ Chopin set that comes after intermission. In the Fantasy, Op. 49, there is a sense of motion, a directness and dignity that befit the music. In the Nocturne, Op. 62, No. 2, the pianist plays with, to paraphrase Rubinstein, great sentiment but not sentimentality. In the Andante spinato and Grande Polonaise, Op. 22, Prats makes the piano sing in the Andante, and makes it dance under his finger in the Polonaise. There is lightness as well as a stylistic correctness in the Polonaise that one does not always hear, even from very good pianists. Even in the connecting passages, for instance, the few pizzicato notes that connect the Andante to the Polonaise, so often neglected by pianists, are charged with meaning. My only minor quibble is that the passagework that leads to the conclusion of the piece is slightly messy. Prats does not always play what the composer indicates on the score, but I would have to say that the he certainly plays with the spirit of Chopin, if not completely the letter.

The pianist ends his recital with his own arrangement of Maurice Ravel’s La Valse. He tells the audience afterwards that in his arrangement, he plays his own arrangement of the work, rather than the composer’s own “simple” transcription, because he is striving to recreate the instruments of the orchestra on the piano. Indeed, his playing of this dark and brooding score once again reminds us of this artist’s supreme pianism, as well as acute musical instincts.

At the conclusion of the Ravel, Prats apologizes to the audience for forgetting to play Ignacio Cervantes’ Danzas cubanas, or Cuban Dances Suite, as indicated on the programme. According to the printed programme, the work is supposed to begin the second half of the concert. I personally am glad that he “forgot” to play this until the end of his recital, because it gives us a release from the unbearable tension he conjures up in La Valse. This set of dances is, I believe, a staple of the pianist’s repertoire, and his desire to share something of his Cuban heritage with audiences. I will only say that his playing of this charming music is as beguiling and stylish as one can hope. A most enjoyable “dessert” to a fabulous meal.

In his chat with the audience before his playing of the Cervantes, as well as in the brief chat we had afterwards, Jorge Luis Prats comes across as a charming and friendly man, utterly devoid of airs, someone we would all enjoy sharing a meal with.

Certainly an auspicious beginning to what promises to be an exciting musical year!

Patrick May

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