FORT WORTH The pianist of a thousand faces returned to Bass Hall on Saturday, and his numerous fans were happy to see them all.
Italian pianist Alessandro Deljavan, a semifinalist in both the 2009 and 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competitions, was the featured soloist for Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 as the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra continued its three-concert Russian Festival on Saturday night.
Deljavan impressed Cliburn judges and audiences in his two outings, earning a jury discretionary award at both. But he was also a slightly controversial performer because his facial expressions and body movements while playing were considered by some to be extreme, whereas others saw those physical contortions to be a major part of his appeal.
There was plenty of mugging, silent singing and gesturing in Deljavan’s performance Saturday as he took an approach to Rachmaninoff’s achingly Romantic concerto that could not be accused of being bound by tradition. Most pianists play the major themes in this work in such a way as to circle and underline them, because those heart-on-their-sleeves passages are what pay the bills in this piece.
But Deljavan and the orchestra, under the baton of music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya, seemed to take the tack of letting those themes rise more naturally from within the score rather than trying to make them stand alone. The result was a performance that emphasized subtlety and emotion rather than dazzling note-building. While he was not sloppy, he was almost nonchalant in delivering some of the concerto’s trademark themes.
Deljavan was also obviously playing the room. Having spent as much time as he has in Bass Hall, he knew he could get away with some pianissimo work that simply would not fly in most other places. It made for some gorgeous, pin-dropping moments, but it might have also encouraged him pianist to milk those quietest moments more than he should have in a few places.
The concluding movement, however, let Deljavan show off a bit of speed and power, and the exciting finish brought the crowd of about 1,800 to its feet immediately.
On the whole, the performance was one of those where the greatest strength might also be considered its greatest weakness. Many (especially those standing and cheering after the performance) welcomed a slightly different, more reserved approach to this frequently performed work and appreciated the total commitment of the 26-year-old pianist’s approach. But while that was enjoyable, I would have liked to hear firmer and more clearly delineated playing in several places.
And were the facial expressions a factor in this concerto setting? Initially, they may have been a little more distracting than in his solo recitals because we were seeing him making his usual moves while all the members of the orchestra were relatively still. But as was usually the case with his other Bass Hall performances, by the end of the piece, the audience seemed to be completely used to his demeanor.
The concert closed with a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 that lacked the sizzle of the orchestra’s reading of the same composer’s Symphony No. 4 at Friday’s opening concert, but certainly had its moments of drama.
The concert opened with brief remarks from former Fort Worth Symphony conductor John Giordano about his close friend Van Cliburn, who died in February and the pianist to whom the festival was dedicated.