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In Boston University’s “A Musical Journey through Latin America” on Thursday, Argentine pianist Lilia Salsano displayed remarkable technical ability while performing an unconventional presentation of solo piano pieces written by lesser-known Hispanic composers.
Underwritten by Boston University’s Voces Hispánicas and the Peruvian Ministry of Culture as well as other sponsors, the concert sought to present the work of these composers in celebration of national Hispanic Heritage Month. The mission of the Voces Hispánicas is to strengthen the cross-cultural dialogue between artists from Spain, Latin America, and the United States. While the concert was generally well executed, the set following the intermission was noticeably better performed and appeared to be more in keeping with Salsano’s artistic strengths.
The first half of the program was made up of the works of composers from Argentina, Peru, Mexico, and Cuba, all of whom primarily worked in the 20th century. Among these were better known artists such as Argentine Astor Piazzolla, famed for his tangos, and more obscure ones such as Ernesto Lecuona, whose charming “Danza Lucumí” was the highlight of the set. Salsano, the sole piano soloist in the concert, exhibited great command of the complicated rhythms that characterize Latin American music and a restraint of expression that is admirable given contemporary trends in the concert piano world, in which many musicians emphasize expressiveness at the expense of musicianship. This restraint, however, occasionally verged into a sense of lifelessness or dullness; for the first half of the show, it seemed at times that Salsano was giving the performance a half-hearted attempt. In spite of these problems of musicality, Salsano’s strong technical skill carried the performance.
The second half of the program featured music composed by Peruvian Marco Antonio Flores-Villanueva, resident composer at Boston University. This section was more interesting in some respects, in that hearing several pieces from a lesser-known composer gives a much better sense of his overall style than one “typical” or “indicative” piece. Flores-Villanueva’s work is distinguished by a very heavy debt to Chopin—the central theme of whose “Heroic Polonaise” sounds suspiciously like the theme of one of Chopin’s nocturnes—and a brightness in sound that was not by and large found in the works of the first half of the program.
Here, Salsano excelled: by the second piece of the second half, the “Heroic Polonaise,” she was exhibiting a passion that suggested that her true calling as a pianist is to interpret the great piano solo pieces of the late Romantics. At the same time, she maintained a strictness of technique that lesser pianists lose when striving for expressiveness. The second half of the show reached its peak in her performance of Flores-Villanueva’s “Nocturne,” in which her impassioned dynamics did not cause the delicate right-hand melody to be lost in the rich, thunderous harmonies.
Overall, the concert’s refreshing nature was maximized by its choice of pieces and the fact that, unlike many concerts of similar theme, it was not dominated by the one or two Latin composers who happen to have reached a relatively wide audience. It even chose to exclude the work of Spanish-born Isaac Albeníz, choosing to focus rather on lesser-known modern Central and South American composers.
Unfortunately, the closing minutes of the performance were marred by minor technical difficulties, primarily hiss from the left stack of speakers. Given freer rein in oeuvre and better technical support, Salsano would definitely be able to give a performance of exceptional caliber. In spite of its flaws, though, this concert was largely successful in its cultural and artistic goals. As part of Boston University’s art and culture series celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month—which also includes other classical concerts and a panel discussion sponsored by BU’s Department of Romance Studies— it was a great success in giving an attractive presentation to lesser-known Latin American artists and highlighting a musician whose fame has been primarily local to this point.
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