REVIEW: Keyboard magic at the Ilkley Concert Club (Wednesday 11 January 2017)

Although this was the debut recital of this young Italian pianist at the Concert Club there were many present who remembered his performances in the Leeds Piano Competition of 2009, at which he gained third prize. Since then Taverna’s reputation has continued to grow and so it was an expectant Kings Hall audience that awaited the demanding first half of the concert, comprising all four of Chopin’s Ballades.

These were performances of great delicacy, the introductory phrases almost understated in their simplicity. Each piece was developed as if being played for the first time, Taverna searching for the inner meaning of the music, never falling back on empty pianism. There was brilliance when it was needed but the music seemed quieter and darker than it is often played. True, there was a good deal of rubato but to me this seemed a natural part of the pianist’s quest for the essence of each Ballade.

The second half was a complete contrast, not so much the wholly satisfying meal presented in the first half as a delightful selection of sweetmeats. A group of Gershwin’s own arrangements of his songs had the audience almost humming along. Two of Kapustin’s concert études served to confirm Taverna’s mastery of all the techniques of jazz piano. The discovery of the evening for me followed: four of Friedrich Gulda’s studies from Play Piano Play including a quirky fugue, a piece based on an insistent ostinato and a brilliant toccata.

To conclude Alessandro Taverna gave us a magical and mercurial account of the solo piano version of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, filled with both lively impetuosity and aching sadness. The variety of colours that Taverna evoked from the piano made one wonder why an orchestra is ever really necessary for this piece!

An extremely warm reception was forthcoming from the audience and Taverna replied with a performance of Debussy’s Clair de lune of haunting simplicity which showed clearly what a poet of the keyboard this young artist is.