Reveles’ Piano Recital: Keyboard Insights from Bach to Debussy

Programming on a concert series sponsored by a church tends to the conservative side, and Nicolas Reveles’ piano recital at La Jolla’s Torrey Pines Christian Church Sunday (May 24) was no exception. In a lineup that would have brought a smile to the visage of any music appreciation teacher, Reveles lined up the usual suspects in perfect order: J. S. Bach, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, with a smattering of Claude Debussy added just to prove he was not a total slave to convention.

But his approach to these composers proved anything but conventional, skillfully illuminating the musical world of each composer in strongly conceived and beautifully detailed performances.

His account of an early Haydn Sonata, actually titled Divertimento, Hob. XVI:5,  brought out the composer’s playful manipulation of themes and structure, a pleasant contrast to the customary view of Haydn’s keyboard music as the pedantic predecessor to the genius Mozart. And I was impressed with Reveles’ graceful treatment of the middle movement’s mellifluous melodies, not to mention his confident brio in the finale.

Although I was not swept away with the opening sections of Bach’s Toccata in E Minor, BWV 914, after Reveles launched into the vigorous concluding fugue, his brilliant articulation and lucid textures demanded respect. In my experience, achieving appropriate balance and clarity playing Bach’s dense counterpoint on the piano is far more challenging than realizing it on the organ or harpsichord, instruments for which he actually wrote and whose dynamic level remains constant. Reveles met this challenge with room to spare.

In three Debussy pieces from the first volume of Preludes, Reveles projected the same sparkle and vivacity as his Bach fugue. We know that Debussy disliked the “Impressionist” label when applied to his compositions, and “Les collines d’Anacapri” and “Minstrels” make his case perfectly. Each of these preludes exhibits an athletic, highly focused musical depiction—the former a rugged landscape and the latter a troupe of lively entertainers—which Reveles brought off with refreshing sharp delineation.

His classical era sonatas, Mozart’s C Major, K. 330, and Beethoven’s C Minor, Op. 13 (“Pathetique”) are familiar to any serious piano student, but Reveles demonstrated how revisiting these gems can provide unexpected insights. I wondered why he took Mozart’s Andante catabile (the middle movement of K. 330) at such a slow tempo, but it proved ideal for the elegance with which he executed its profuse ornamentation.

His abundant rubato in the Beethoven slow movement struck me as tribute to those Lisztian opera aria paraphrases of a later generation, not a surprising approach considering Reveles’ current position at San Diego Opera. In Beethoven’s electric Rondo, Reveles paid particular attention to the composer’s juxtaposition of dark and light moods, which prevented it from descending into a mere flashy finale.

He saved that flash for his encore, Joaquín Turina’s “Sacro Monte.”

This recital was presented at 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, May 24, by the Concert Series of Torrey Pines Christian Church, 8320 La Jolla Scenic Drive North, La Jolla, CA (www.torreypineschurch.org)

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Ken Herman

Ken Herman, a classically trained pianist and organist, has covered music for the San Diego Union, the Los Angeles Times' San Diego Edition, and for sandiego.com. He has won numerous awards, including first place for Live Performance and Opera Reviews in the 2017, the 2018, and the 2019 Excellence in Journalism Awards competition held by the San Diego Press Club. A Chicago native, he came to San Diego to pursue a graduate degree and stayed.Read more…

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