Pianist Benedetto Lupo delivers an emotional performance in Vancouver

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At the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on Sunday, November 3

If there’s one thing you can count on an Italian musician for, it’s feeling. And that’s just what pianist Benedetto Lupo delivered in his Vancouver Recital Society performance at the Chan Centre. Dressed head to toe in black, the slight, physically unassuming Lupo gave an unabashedly emotional performance of works by Johannes Brahms and Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, beginning with the gentle and sweetly sentimental Three Intermezzi Op. 117, by Brahms.

Lupo gently caressed the lullabylike first movement, “Andante moderato”, actually lulling a few of his more elderly listeners to sleep, before jolting them back with a pedal-heavy second movement, “Andante non troppo e con molto espressione” (literally: “Not too slowly, with lots of expression”). The last of the three movements, “Andante con moto”, Lupo imbued with a dark, brooding character. Then, with scarcely a pause, he launched dramatically into the composer’s Fantasien Op. 116 with a sudden fury.

A set of seven movements alternating between energetic capriccios and reflective intermezzos, they were a study in contrasts—filled with moments of florid passion but also quiet redemption. His foot never far from the sustain pedal, Lupo wasn’t shy about eschewing clarity for emotion—subtle, this was not.

Things really got heavy in the second half of the program, with Tchaikovsky’s rarely performed Grand Piano Sonata in G Major, Op. 37. Before sitting down to play, Lupo took time to explain the work, noting that it was composed during a time in which Tchaikovsky was gripped by depression, and obsessed by the idea that fate was inescapable. The first movement, “Moderato e risoluto”, Lupo filled with a sense of blind fatalism, even in its momentary lighter passage. In fact, in speaking earlier, he had noted that the only uplifting melody of the work is actually the melody of the Gregorian chant “Dies Irae”, used in the Catholic Requiem mass. When the passage arrived, it was initially soothing, but soon became menacing as it shifted into the lower register.

The “Andante non troppo quasi moderato”, with its persistent repeated note—like a relentlessly tolling bell—was full of pathos, while the “Scherzo” was a blur of notes and false levity, farcical and mocking in character. When the last resolute notes of the “Finale” came, with its echo of the “Dies Irae” theme again, all thoughts of the sunshine outside had been extinguished.

Lupo lightened the mood a little with his two encores and seemed reluctant to end the recital—clearly no worse for wear after pouring his heart out all over the place. The audience, for the most part, seemed charmed. There were a few grumblings about his sentimentality, but he played with such earnestness that it seems petty to begrudge him this.

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