Friday, May 14, 2004
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall
New York, NY

“Alexandra Mascolo-David, a Portuguese pianist, played an affecting and imaginatively chosen recital program at Weill Hall on May 13. Ms. Mascolo-David, Associate Professor of piano at Central Michigan University formerly on the faculties of Iowa State University and of the Interlochen Arts Camp—has won numerous prizes and awards, including the First Prize in the Piano Competition of Braga, Portugal, and the 2001 Provost’s Award for outstanding Research and Creative Activity from Central Michigan University. She holds a DMA from the University of Kansas and also a piano diploma from Oporto Conservatory of Music in Portugal. Among her teachers were Sequeira Costa, Edna Golandsky and Joseph Gurt. Ms. Mascolo-David is a co-founder and co-artistic director of the Ludington Music Festival in Michigan. She has concertized in Brazil, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Poland and the U.S.A. and she has made something of a specialty exploring piano music of Portuguese and Brazilian composers.

She began her evening with an unfamiliar Petite Suite by Antonio Fragoso, who died in 1918 at the age of twenty-one (in the flu epidemic?). According to the informative program annotations (by Ms. Mascolo-David herself?), Fragoso’s musical language (was) “characterized by great poetic sensibility (and) presented a harmonic language quite daring for its time. It showed the influence of the concurrent French movement in composition, while exhibiting traits of what could have become a truly Portuguese musical language.” The legacy that Fragoso left behind is sufficiently extensive and more than enough to attest to his musical talent. “The Petite Suite”, as this note concludes, “is perhaps the prime example of both his gifts and his immaturity.” I daresay I detected telltale stylistic fingerprints of early Albeniz and Granados. Ms. Mascolo-David recreated these pieces with obvious warmth and lyrical sensitivity.

Beethoven’s Sonata No. 17 in D Minor, Op. 31 No. 2 received a performance that could be described as more dramatic than tempestuous. As Beethoven reputedly told his friend and pupil, Anton Schindler, “just read Shakespeare’s Tempest”. Some have likened the Sonata’s opening arpeggiated chord to the auspicious lifting of Prospero’s wand in justification for its subtitle, even if “the piece is filled with drama, fury and intensity” (Ms. Mascolo-David’s notes), introspection rather than ferocity (c.f. the Thunderstorm of the Pastorale Symphony) characterized this particular interpretation. To be sure, the Beckmesser in me lad me to observe that Ms. Mascolo-David could have paid heed to a few minute details. Specifically, at the beginning of the first movement’s development section, there are quarter rests after the D Major and diminished seventh chords but no rest after the F Major that leads directly into the pouncing Allegro. And the pianist was a shade cavalier about heeding the distinctive hairpin dynamic markings in the Adagio (bars 27-28; again at bars 69-70). In the main, in terms of rhythm, pacing, tempo and brooding color, Ms. Mascolo-David was intuitively on the money: She got right to the heart of this masterpiece.

More than a century separates the Beethoven “Tempest” from Leos Janacek’s fiercely wonderful Piano Sonata “ October 1, 1905” whose violent gestation makes perfervid, angry note of Czech woodworker brutally killed in Brno while demonstrating in demand for creation of Czech university. The composer impulsively destroyed its original third movement (and would have done away with the previous two “Presentiment” and “Death” had well meaning friend and admirer not copied the manuscripts of these beforehand). Juxtaposing the Beethoven with the Janacek made for perceptive program building and it was elucidating to hear the two pieces, so utterly different but so very much alike in their shared “drama, fury and intensity.”

After the intermission, we heard Daniel McCarthy’s “Time Out of Mind: Six tales of Middle Earth” a 2001 composition inspired by R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy “The Lord of the Rings” and dedicated to Ms. Mascolo-David. The work is in six movements, “Flight to the Ford”; “The Mirror of Galadriel”; “The Drums of Moria”; “The Shadow of the Past”; “Hours: Silent Malice”; and “The Muster of Rohan”. McCarthy, who was born in 1955, is Chair of Composition and Theory at the University Of Akron School Of Music in Akron, Ohio. I was particularly taken with the penultimate movement –a toccata-like but spasmodically eruptive affair-but Ms. Mascolo-David championed the music with sardonic virtuosity. Although I didn’t warm to McCarthy’s obviously well crafted music to anything like the same degree as Beethoven, Janacek or even the Fragoso or the concluding Valsas Brasileiras of Francisco Mignone, it should be noted that McCarthy has been much published and performed of late (as any trip to the internet will tell you).

Mignone (1897-1986), Brazil’s answer to Johann Strauss, became famous in his native land as the “Rei da Valsa”. His 24 Valsas Brasileiras were composed in high maturity between 1963 and 1984 (which is to say long after his Fantasies brasileiras and Four Brazilian Sketches, the only Mignone composition known to me in Toscanini/NBC Symphony broadcasts of 1943 and 1944). Ms. Mascolo-David’s advocacy of selections from this group (billed as New York Premiers) was valuable; revealing a far more consequential musical persona than I had previously heard or suspected. They were played to the hilt.”