18th January 2008: Valentina Díaz Frénot plays at St James's, Piccadilly

18th January 2008: Valentina Díaz Frénot plays at St James's, Piccadilly

By Ray Picot

The distinguished Argentine pianist Valentina Díaz-Frénot presented a fascinating collection of music by composers from Paraguay, Argentina and Spain, to an appreciative audience at St James's, Piccadilly on Friday 18 January 2008. Despite her considerable reputation as an international concert artist, she seldom plays in the UK, so this visit was all the more welcome. She lives in Paraguay with her family, and has done much to champion the little known music of her adopted country, which she has recorded, whilst also supporting young artists. This concert gave us the opportunity to hear the fruits of her work.

From the very first notes it was apparent that Ms Díaz-Frénot has a commanding technique but with close attention to subtle nuance which was so telling in the delightful Juguete (Story) and Two Dances which opened the programme. Written by the first Paraguayan composer, Juan Carlos Moreno González, the music boasts an attractive melodic style which incorporates folkloric elements, drawn from Guarany song, and popular dance rhythms.

Performed with great panache, Nancy Luzko's lively Sonatina, provided a sharp contrast with its more modern idiom and succinct structure. The piano writing is percussive in style, redolent of Ginastera, but not derivative.

Like Moreno González, Jorge Martínez was a well established Paraguayan composer, and his Childrens' Games is one of his better-known pieces. This lovely work is firmly embedded in the Romantic era, and explores the fascinating polka paraguaya, which was so popular in the 19th century. Ms Díaz-Frénot is equally at home with this music, which she played with just the right degree of Romantic dash.

Across the border to Argentina, we next heard the music of Pedro Sáenz, who's works have featured in previous ILAMS concerts. The quirky suite of dances, That Buenos Aires, is a well-written piece in a Neo-Classical vein, comprising a 'Milonga' (the tango's precursor), 'Vals Criollo' and the ubiquitous 'Tango' to conclude, all served up with great wit and aplomb.

One of Valentina Díaz-Frénot's notable achievements is her recording of all four books of Isaac Albéniz' masterpiece, Iberia (directly evidenced after the concert by the demand for the CD set). Selecting 'El Albaicín' and 'Eritaña', she contrasted most effectively two pieces respectively inspired by gypsy culture and flamenco in the respective cities of Granada and Seville. Ms Díaz-Frénot showed great empathy with these complex pieces which require considerable flair for detail and a strong technique to be entirely successful. To quote a colleague, she conjured gorgeous fluid and diaphanous sounds, and no less in the concluding work, 'Navarra', a posthumous supplement to the suite. Thought by the composer to be inferior and unworthy of inclusion, it was played in the version completed by de Severac, enabling us with a historical perspective to appreciate its finer qualities.

To round off this wonderful lunchtime recital, we heard a Scarlatti sonata, as an encore. It was given a scintillating and memorable reading that drew very warm and appreciative applause.



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