On November 11, Richard Valitutto opened Pianospheres' Satellite series with a performance at REDCAT. The turnout must have been better than REDCAT expected, as there weren't enough programs to go around by the time I got into the theater. No matter, as the pieces on the program were so distinct from each other that a cursory look at the composers' names would make it immediately clear which one was being played.
The first piece was so quintessentially 20's Parisian that that must have been the Poulenc (a notion that the program notes confirmed, it turned out). Valitutto moved through the gauzy sheen of these pieces effortlessly, like a fish in water.
The second piece, titled as above, so below, was composed by Valitutto. It began with natural harmonics played on individual strings of the pianos lowest octave. After a while, these notes were ornamented by phrases in the surrounding octave of the resulting partial. It was a nice, meditative piece inspired by the annual moon charts of Valitutto's birthday month. I enjoyed the use of natural harmonics in the piano, and I imagine that the best listening position for this piece would been right next to the piano, where the resulting beating between the natural harmonics and the equal temperament notes would be nice and strong.
Someone I spoke to after the concert found Sciarrino's Due Notturni Crudeli's surface-level lack of subtlety a bit offensive, though not I. During the first piece, I imagined a cognitive dissonance between the damperless top octave of the piano and the jealous lower notes that were subjugated by felt. For the keyboard spanning second nocturne, the bottom octave joined the top in its dialectical argument with the middle ranges. Valitutto sounded great hammering away at these cruel nocturnes, though I wondered if the acoustics of the theater weren't working against him.
After intermission came Messiaen's La chouette hulotte, from his Catalogue d'oiseaux. While I would describe many of Messiaen's harmonies as wonderfully complex, there are only a few pieces I would categorize as dark. A sonic portrait of a Tawny owl, this movement is of those few. Valitutto's playing seems rather well suited for Messiaen, whose musical gestures run the gamut from hammers to feathers.
Skryabin's Poeme-Nocturne, Op. 61 returned to a delicate twilight, though far from flowery. After the Sciarrino and Messiaen, this piece's place in the program was to remind us of the post-tonal prettiness that the piano is also capable of before the Giallo shadows of Deyoe's NCTRN.
Nick Deyoe's NCTRN was a dark reflection of the concert that preceded it. The top few notes of the piano was muted, creating an unpitched percussive sound that imitated the Sciarrino. The sostenuto and sustain pedals were tastefully used as triggers to highlight surprising moments of lack of sustain and resonance. Clusters disintegrated into smaller chords, and each gesture revealed a uniquely harsh novelty. The piece culminated in what I think of as a Oiseaux Exotique ending, where one repeats a single chord ad nauseum until the only thing left to do is stop.
This concert was the second Pianospheres performance of the season. I appreciated the clear programmatic focus of Vicki Ray's concert, and Valitutto's followed that trend. The next Pianospheres event is another Satellite concert, featuring Aron Kallay.