Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Blind pianist wows crowd at Vancouver Symphony concert

Ignasi Cambra amazed Vancouver Symphony patrons with an exceptional performance of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto on Saturday afternoon (February 22) to a near-capacity audience at Skyview Concert Hall. The Spanish pianist played the piece with impeccable technique and delivered the emotional goods with panache, a truly commendable achievement for any talented pianist. Yet one additional element made this performance exceptionally memorable… Cambra is blind.

Cambra’s condition made it all the more mesmerizing to watch his fingers dash up and down the keyboard as his every move was projected on two large screens positioned on either side of the stage. Besides commanding hand-crossovers with panache and delivering numerous immaculate trills, he also played the entire piece with great sensitively, always making sure that the melodic line could be heard even when the orchestra was playing its loudest.

Cambra gave the first movement (Allegro con brio) a joyful and lively quality that elicited an extended round of applause from the audience. The second (Largo) was dreamy and accompanied by a wonderfully silky sound from the violins. The third (Rondo: Allegro) galloped off at a good clip, and Cambra added a crisp snap to some of the phrases.

After the concerto concluded, the listeners erupted with their appreciation, and Brotons brought Cambra back to the keyboard where he played two encores. The first was a Scarlatti sonata in D minor, in which Cambra deftly displayed graceful ornamentation in the right hand. The second was the beloved and comforting “Träumerei” (Dreaming) from Schumann’s Kinderszenen.

After intermission, the orchestra gave a spirited performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony. Because this work is closer to the classical style of Beethoven’s predecessors, there are a lot of exposed sections for the strings, and those sections revealed that the violins were not always in agreement with intonation. The final movement sounded the best with Brotons and his forces finishing the piece dramatically. Another plus was the evocative playing of principal clarinetist Igor Shahkman.

To open the concert, the orchestra played the Overture to Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute. The somber sentiment of the piece came across very well with the trombones sounding grand and noble. The nimble and lighter sections needed to be slightly faster and crisper to achieve more contrast between serious and humorous. But these quibbles aside, it was fun to hear the orchestra play the piece, and that made me wonder if the VSO might consider presenting a concert version of an opera sometime in the future.

Overall, the star of the concert was Cambra, and that, of course, brings up the possibility of another appearance by him with the orchestra in the years ahead.

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