A Very Special Concert

It is no major discovery that some of the world’s finest classical musicians hail from the Far East, in particular, Japan, China and Korea. As yet, Vietnam seems a relatively unknown quantity in this respect but I do not think for very long.

Founded originally in 1956 as the Saigon National School of music the Ho Chi Minh conservatoire occupies a beautiful French-style building with some lovely decorations on its facade:

The institution runs a large variety of music courses in both Classical Vietnamese and Western music. I was privileged to attend a concert there last night on behalf of “The Saigon Times” and this is my review which will appear in that newspaper.

Billed as a “special concert with pianist Andrea Bonatta”, the Italian virtuoso’s recital at Ho Chi Minh City conservatory last Thursday was every bit as special as its title made out.

Andrea Bonatta studied with such masters as Paul Badura-Skoda and Wilhelm Kempff and has made a significant impact in East Asia, particularly in China and Korea. This is his debut tour of Vietnam.

Bonatta’s recital in the warm acoustics of the conservatoire’s concert hall consisted wholly of music written during the romantic era.

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Franz Liszt (1811 –1886) is generally considered the virtuoso pianist par excellence. The Hungarian-born child prodigy became perhaps the most pioneering and complex pianist of his age.  Bonatta played The Awaking Child’s Hymn and the Miserere after Palestrina from Liszt’s Harmonies poétiques et religieuses (Poetic and Religious Harmonies), an early work, written at the estate of his mistress Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein, in 1847.

This was a bold beginning to the evening and immediately demonstrated Bonatta’s magisterial technique and empathic interpretation. He limpidly brought out Liszt’s very varied textures and complex harmonies, ranging from almost hymn-like sections to staccato passages in the piano’s upper register.

I have a soft spot for Robert Schumann’s (1810-1856) piano music, much of which was inspired by his wife Clara. The Arabeske in C major, dating from 1839, is a delicate, beguiling work written at a difficult moment in their relationship.

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The piece’s sense of wistful longing was beautifully revealed by Bonatta who weaved its contrasting rondo form into a satisfying whole.

Bonatta is renowned for his complete Brahms piano on CD. Brahms’ (1833-1897) early Scherzo op 4 is linked with his friendship with Schumann. Young Brahms’ muscular energy and rhythmic originality was well demonstrated in Bonatta’s playing, faithful to the radical impetus of the person Schumann proclaimed as the “new musical messiah”.

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Schubert’s (1797-1828) incantatory sonata in A major D959 occupied the entire second half. One of his late works, it contains his deepest thoughts and, although not especially virtuosistic, is difficult to play because of its incredible melodic variety and sudden mood changes.

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Again, Bonatta scored an interpretative triumph from the sonata’s initial peroration (repeated innovatively at the work’s end) through the slow movement’s bleak transcendence which suddenly erupts into a recitative of unbridled ferocity, into the quicksilver scherzo and the calming finale.

The enthusiastic audience ensured that Bonatta played two encores: a Schubert Moment Musical and Schumann’s melting Traumerei, giving further proof that we were hearing a pianist of the highest class.

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One thought on “A Very Special Concert

  1. The acoustics seem fine in this rather interesting Concert Hall Conservatoire. Maestro Bonatta must have been delighted to speak to a national so far away from Italy his programme was certainly a delight Franz Liszt ,Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann and Franz Schubert well this made a change from the VIetnamese music which is I feel enjoyable but the language has to be better understood whereas with the all too familiar masters one feels more at ease in the enjoyment of western classical music.Thanks for sharing this concert was a true delight also many congratulations for your contribution to the Saigon Times well done!

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