Imaginary Folklores

ROBERT McCARNEY listens to Azorean pianist Diana Botelho Vieira


29 October 2022 was a very soggy Saturday in León. However by the time I arrived at the Sala Eutherpe the clouds had opened to reveal the last rays of the setting sun. The Sala is an intimate venue and you always receive a warm welcome, but this time it seemed warmer than usual. Maybe that was just my imagination and was solely because I had actually talked to the musician who was going to perform for us the day before. Maybe it was because, unusually, we had one of the composers of the music we were going to hear actually present in the room. I am not sure but there was a palpable buzz in the air when I took my seat in the front row.

Diana Botelho Vieira had prepared for us a short journey across Europe through its rich heritage of folk music in the shape, more or less, of a palindrome. She started and ended her recital with two short pieces by Janáček, each associated with memory as is folklore in general. From there we went to Portugal via Hungary. In that although music by Bartók was not actually performed in the concert she played a suite of seven pieces written in memory of the great Hungarian folklorist and master of piano composition composed in a sense by the Portuguese Bartók, namely Fernando Lopes-Graça at the beginning of the 1960s. The influence of Bartók was clearly noticeable in this suite but equally so was Lopes-Graça's individial voice and the inspiration he took from his native folkloristic sources.

Everything that Diana played in her recital was connected in some way and from the Lopes-Graça she moved to another set of seven short pieces by one of his pupils: Sérgio Azevedo. She dazzled us with his second book of Rustic Pieces - seven pieces that bristled with enormous rhythmic energy, but yet were filled with simple melodies and some wonderfully rich harmonies. Likewise some of the pieces were a wonderful recreation of traditional Portuguese music that one could expect to hear in the street. The piano in Sala Eutherpe is one that certainly earns its keep in that it has been played literally every day for the last twenty years. For that reason I have always had the feeling that it has seen better days. However any misgivings I had about the instrument were completely forgotten during Diana's recital - such was her total involvement with and mastery of the music she was playing.

Diana Botelho Vieira performing in Portugal. Photo © 2016 Bruno Amaral
Diana Botelho Vieira performing in Portugal. Photo © 2016 Bruno Amaral

From there we were taken back to Moravia in the company of Janáček's first set of pieces he titled On An Overgrown Path. Clearly the most well known piece of the evening; Diana's interpretation was well worth waiting for. The rhythmic subtlety in her playing - something I have always imagined is very hard to get right – was exceptional, as was her control of dynamics in a work that ranges from aching, quiet beauty to thunderous outbursts. Her overall grasp and conception of the piece was marvellous and it was evident that it was a piece she had lived with and loved for a long time. She played it as if she was conversing with an old friend she hadn't seen for a while.

From there we had a few more pieces from Sérgio Azevedo's first book of Rustic Pieces. In fact one of these was the first thing he wrote as a teenager that still remains in his catalogue and it was because of the obvious promise that he saw in this same work that Fernando Lopes-Graça took Azevedo on as one of his last students. Again the rhythmic flexibility was to the fore and there was also, at least to my ears, a very keen sense of humour throughout these pieces. Both sets were wonderfully enjoyable, stimulating and evocative: a very fine discovery for me.

Sérgio Azevedo (born 1968)
Sérgio Azevedo (born 1968)

As I said above, we finished where we started with a short nostalgic piece by Janáček which hung in the air as Diana removed her hands from the keyboard. The Sala Eutherpe is intimate, as I said. It has a maximum capacity of 120 and sadly, since the COVID-19 pandemic, some people are still clearly not comfortable with attending concerts in such a small venue. That said the audience present last Saturday sat in total rapt attention throughout Diana's riveting recital and greeted each piece with rapturous applause which only increased when she stood up to take her final bow. Although he was humbly reluctant to receive any praise or take any of the attention from Diana'a magnificent interpretation, there was also warm applause and recognition for Sérgio Azevedo. All in all, a great night in León's Sala Eutherpe was had by all.

Copyright © 1 November 2022 Robert McCarney,
León, Spain





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