As the sun dipped below the horizon Sunday afternoon, The Chopin Society UK enticed classical music enthusiasts inside Westminster Cathedral Hall with a glittering performance by Italian pianist Alessandro Taverna. Presenting Chopin, Liszt, De Falla, Satie and Stravinsky all in one programme, Taverna re-imagined his piano recital as a ballet: Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes.

© Pierluigi Marchesan
© Pierluigi Marchesan

Beginning with Les Sylphides, a suite of pieces by Fryderyk Chopin and arranged by Constant Lambert, Taverna immediately set the tone for the rest of the performance, transforming Westminster Cathedral Hall from an ordinary concert hall into a fantasy stage ripe for a ballet.

From Chopin’s Prélude in A Major to the flamboyant Grande Valse Brillante in E Major, audiences instantly imagined swirling ballerinas and a romantic pas de deux in Chopin’s waltzing melodies. Switching gears, in Liszt’s Grande Tarantelle di bravura d’après la Tarentelle de “La Muette de Portici” d’Auber, Taverna projected its operatic qualities, illuminating the melodrama inherent in the piece and crafting an image of a belting prima donna (more so than a prima ballerina). Shifting effortlessly from heavy block chords to quick, chromatic crawls, Taverna dominated the keyboard without losing the theatrical character that informs Liszt’s musical phrases.

After the interval, Taverna let his fingers run wild. Performing De Falla, Satie and Stravinsky, audiences now saw beyond ballerinas and tutus to the daring, almost frantic style that made Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes world-renowned. From the Spanish gusto of De Falla’s Three Cornered Hat to the maniacal Carnival piece by Satie’s Jack in the Box to the chaotic and flamboyant Pétrouchka dances by Stravinsky, Taverna’s playing breathed life into the music. Particularly in the last movement of Pétrouchka, La semaine grasse, Taverna created a brittle yet technically brilliant texture. Jumping between octaves, hammering out the melody and violently sliding his hands across the keyboard, there was such high energy throughout that the audience broke out in a sweat!

By the end of the performance, Taverna transported his audience outside of Westminster Cathedral Hall and back in time to the Théâtre du Chatelet where Pétrouchka was first performed. Playing with both vigor and grace, Taverna successfully brought the flair and panache of Diaghilev’s dances to life.