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Pianist Ana-Maria Vera and the London Philharmonic Orchestra Cast a Spell at the Royal Festival Hall


By John Sidgwick

LONDON, 10 February 2005—The London Philharmonic Orchestra. This is a really great band. Let there be no mistake about it. Sumptuous strings, consummate winds, inspired percussion. Unleash them onto Debussy and Ravel writing at their best and you have an unforgettable musical experience.

Last week, under the sensitive baton of the Japanese conductor, Takuo Yuasa, the orchestra demonstrated to the full the impact and subtleties of Debussy's La Mer. Yuasa, given his excellent all-round musicianship, is increasingly appreciated by broadcasters and concert managers around the world, not only for his insight into the core repertoire but also for his enthusiastic championing of contemporary composers. I suppose that La Mer has to be looked upon as core repertoire. Yet Yuasa and the orchestra made the work sound as though it had been wrought yesterday. There was a smell of the salt sea in the air. And, hideous thought, there was even the ominous threat of a tsunami. Debussy's publisher, Jacques Durand wrote: "I remember, in his study, a certain coloured engraving by Hokusai, representing the curve of a giant wave. Debussy was particularly enamoured of this wave. It inspired him while he was composing La Mer, and he asked us to reproduce it on the front cover of the printed score." No comment…

And so to Ravel and the pianist Ana-Maria Vera. Still in her thirties, Vera has enjoyed a rich and varied career that few can match. Born in the United States of Dutch-Bolivian parents, she began her musical studies with her mother at the age of three. Early on, her gifts were recognised and nurtured by teachers such as Vida Novik and Leon Fleisher, and soon she was performing with major orchestras world-wide. In recent years, she has devoted much time to chamber music and has given memorable recitals with such artists as Ivry Gitlis, Steven Isserlis and Joshua Bell. She is now resident in Britain and she chose for her first appearance on London's South Bank to perform Ravel's G major piano concerto.

Ana-Maria Vera

Ana-Maria Vera

And here, I have to hold myself back and curtail the flow of adjectives, adverbs and clichés as I attempt to describe Vera's electrifying reading of the work. The two outer movements glittered with fun, humour and superb pianism. Most importantly, there was a complete symbiosis between conductor, orchestra and soloist, so that the full range of Ravel's magic shone like a new sun. As for the middle movement, one of the most simple yet most emotional musical pages of all that were written in the 20th century, I can only say that here, Vera cast a spell of such intensity over her audience that one scarcely dared to breathe. The long opening passage, where the piano is unaccompanied, spoke of serenity, distance, of eternity even. And when the orchestra finally crept in, the players, all of them, took their lead from Vera's inspired guidance.

Ana-Maria Vera's playing, even in childhood, was always remarkable for its maturity. On the evidence of last night's performance, she has acquired added maturity, perhaps as a result of her long and recent apprenticeship in chamber music. We can only hope to hear her again in other works from her vast concerto repertoire.

John Sidgwick writes on music in Britain and France for Culturekiosque.com

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