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Childhood & Magic at Hotchkiss

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Thu Jul 20th, 2017

Luiz de Moura Castro at Hotchkiss Elfers Hall

Brazillian Pianist Luiz de Moura Castro played an eclectic yet marvelous program on Wednesday evening for the Hotchkiss Summer Portals series. Warming up with two Sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, he played a Mozart Sonata in D major, capturing that soaring, playful mischief of the laughing master roiling in his impish and seemingly effortless wit through four dancing movements. Mozart often told other party goers that he really preferred to dance rather than play the piano, but if you believe that I have a rare piano in good condition (except for the soundboard) to sell you. Most pianists in their mid-seventies don’t possess the running liquid fingers of Castro.

“Scenes from Childhood” by Robert Schumann came next. Castro dedicated this piece to his departed friend Alberto Ginastera, whom Castro first met in 1964 during his first visit to Argentina. They met again in 1977 when they were fellow jurists for the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Shortly thereafter to Castro’s surprise, they became close friends as Ginastera, (one of the great composers of the 20th Century but not much played in the U.S.), died. Castro’s playing of this frequently played concert piece was brimming with more deep emotion than I have ever heard it played before—there was such a charming balance of nostalgia and playful adult wit that a special healing aura emanated from Castro’s rendition. A video of Castro playing the Schumann piece appears below.

Castro next played a Chopin nocturne, Chopin and Lizst being two of his renowned specialties. Instead of an intermission, Castro played a couple of Chopin mazurkas, then pinged into Ginastera’s famous 1947 Rondo on Argentinian children’s themes, which was more lively, innocent, and wonderingly playful than Schumann’s wry and terribly amusing recollection of childhood. This was a brilliant pairing of different cultural and continental sensibilities.

Switching to adulthood, Castro played two of the four movements of The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires: tangos for Summer and Winter. Castro concluded with Millonga del Angel, a raucous 1965 tango composition which first appeared on a 1968 album recording by Astor Piazzolla. Castro conjured up wave upon wave of sound as if high waves were crashing on a beach and one could still hear the echo of the previous crashing wave as the new wave arrived. The audience erupted in standing ovation.

Yet the program had not been completed. To complete the concert’s theme of dancing musical magic, Castro played Manuel de Falla’s 1915 Danza del Fuego (Dance of Fire), a movement from Falla’s ballet Bewitched Love. Its superfast-paced trills and witty ornamentation are breath-taking. This is the Spanish salon reply to Rimsky-Korsakov’s famous 1910 Flight of the Bumble-bee, memorably played last year at the Hotchkiss Portals concert by pianist Olga Kern as a tour-de-force encore.

For encore, Castro delighted the audience with “Dance of the White Indian” (Dansa do Indo Branco), which Villa-Lobos composed in 1937. In the thundering piano bass that opens the piece one can imagine the dances of the north Brazilian Indians in the Amazon which the composer visited in the 1930's. The white Indian in the title refers to the fact that the white keys dance to the rhythms of the black keys. Villa-Lobos skillfully evoked the sounds of Indian drums and chants with a virtuoso piano version from his Fourth Movement of his Brazil Cycle. Sound feels like it arrives from another mysterious world. Yes, this was a concert that was out of this world, wherein both young and old could stand in unison as they applauded the old virtuoso who still has his forest voodoo magic working at top speed.