ROMANTIC GIANNINI SCORE IN GLOWING PERFORMANCE AT FESTIVAL MIAMI
The Italian-American composer Vittorio Giannini (1903-1966) once loomed large on America's musical landscape. He held teaching positions at the New York's Julliard School and Manhattan School of Music and Philadelphia's Curtis Institute. He was founding Chancellor at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston Salem. His opera "The Taming of the Shrew" was widely produced in Europe and the United States and many vocalists programmed his songs in their solo recitals. His many instrumental works were performed regularly (particularly on college campuses). Yet today the compositions of this important musical figure have been all but forgotten. On October 14, 2003 at UM Gusman Concert Hall the Amernet String Quartet and pianist Paul Posnak presented a welcome revival of Giannini's "Piano Quintet" - a high point of Festival Miami 2003.
Giannini's music is unabashedly romantic. From the very first notes of the solo viola, the "Piano Quintet" soars with lush, romantic melodies. Giannini's Italianate passion and superb craftsmanship find expression in every note of this wonderful score. The melodic inspiration and virtuoso piano writing are worthy of Rachmaninoff! The haunting principal theme of the opening Allegro con spirito is developed to an overwhelming climax. The Adagio is exquisite, lushly romantic music. Here the combination of piano and strings is sumptuous and beautiful. The vaulting piano line makes the concluding Allegro an almost orchestral essay. The sheer intensity of this music is overwhelming. Here is a great score that deserves to be performed frequently and recorded. Giannini was clearly a first rate composer. His "Piano Quintet" is a neglected masterpiece. We must hear more of this composer's prolific output.
Pianist Paul Posnak (a UM School of Music faculty member) has specialized in the works of neglected American composers. Giannini's splendid music could not have had more dedicated advocates than Posnak and the Amernet Quartet. Posnak brought clarity and keen musicianship to his performance. Many a piano competition winner would find Giannini's piano writing daunting and overwhelmingly difficult. Posnak gave every chord and phrase its perfect weight and resonance. He rose to the challenge of the score's virtuosic demands brilliantly. The Amernet foursome was just as deeply absorbed in the music's romantic glow. They played with deep toned expressiveness and soaring passion.
The Amernet String Quartet (Misha Vitenson and Marcia Littley, violins; Michael Klotz, viola; and Javier Arias, cello) has its own distinctive sound. The string tone is bright, the attack vigorous and intense. Every instrumental line is clearly audible and accounted for. Vitenson is a strong, charismatic leader. There is vigor and sheer joy in the Amernet's music making that makes every performance a musical adventure. Familiar music sounds freshly minted and exciting in their imaginative performances. Like the Pacifica, Ying, St. Lawrence, Colorado, and our own Miami String Quartet, the Amernet foursome is a young ensemble that is bringing new life to the chamber music repertoire.
Mozart's "String Quartet in C Major" ("Dissonance"), K.465 was given an intense, deeply probing performance. Unlike many groups, the Amernet did not romp through the score. The darker side of Mozart's music was allowed to seep through the ornate classical fašade. The dissonant chords in the concluding Allegro (which gives the score its subtitle) were given renewed weight and depth. Yet the sheer brio of the first movement was awesome. There was elegance and real ardor in the Andante cantabile. The Menuetto: Allegro really danced. This was not powdered wig Mozart. The Amernet players offered a performance of vitality and drama.
It is to the Amernet's great credit that Johannes Brahms's "String Quartet in C Minor," Opus 51, No.1 was not an anticlimax after the Giannini score. The heart of this Brahms masterwork is its inner movements. The second movement Romanze: Poco Adagio sang from the string instruments like warmly romantic lieder. The Allegretto molto moderato e comodo seemed to well up from Brahms's own folk music roots. The players brought sharply etched intensity of utterance to the opening Allegro. The final movement seemed to fly by in a storm of intensely emotional music making. The gorgeous tonal hues and absolute precision of the Amernet's playing were stunning.
The Amernet String Quartet is an ensemble to treasure. Their dynamic approach to the most familiar scores reinvigorates the art of performance. The collaboration of Paul Posnak and these gifted musicians in a rarely heard gem produced memorable music making - an inspired evening!