As an admirer of Sir András Schiff’s approach to music making, an encounter with one of the few pianists that the maestro has promoted as part of his “Building Bridges” series certainly pricked my attention. The occasion came when the Gstaad Menuhin Festival offered the public the opportunity to watch (as part of their own “Matinée des Jeunes Étoiles” cycle) an hour-long streamed recital by Venetian-born Chiara Opalio. Interestingly structured, alternating very rarely played works by Beethoven and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach with works included in standard recital repertoire, the performance was only a qualified success.

Chiara Opalio
© Gstaad Digital Festival

Part of CPE Bach’s significant keyboard output, his Keyboard Sonata in A major, Wq 55/4, published in 1779 but composed at least a decade earlier – is mainly of interest for those exploring the rapid transformation from “complicated”, “academic”, contrapuntal scores to “simple”, charged with emotions ones in the Sturm und Drang years. The middle, Poco adagio movement, in F sharp minor, includes a generous theme with Mozartian connotations that Opalio elegantly underlined. The 15-minute-long sonata’s outer movements are quite energetic in character, nonetheless without any especially distinctive character. Opalio played all the repetitions with beautiful articulation but, considering that she faced a Steinway piano and not a clavichord (the composer’s favourite instrument), dynamic contrasts could have been more prominent.

Beethoven’s Ten Variations on “La stessa, la stessisima” from his one-time teacher Antonio Salieri’s opera Falstaff, is also a work of limited general interest. Nevertheless, it provides a valuable insight into the composer’s early attempts to tame a compositional procedure – the theme-and-variations – that would become central to his entire oeuvre. As many other times, Beethoven selected a theme that sounds dull and bland to most listeners, but succeeds in creating a series of transformations not really astounding, but still clever and witty even if a bit monotonous (there is only one minor variation in the B major set). The interpretation did not have any particular sparkle and Opalio’s articulation was sporadically not even enough. The last and longest variation – Allegretto (alla austriaca) – with the original theme brought back, barely transformed, at the very end, was the most successfully rendered.

Chiara Opalio
© Gstaad Digital Festival

In between the Beethoven and CPE Bach, Opalio performed Schubert’s Impromptu no. 2 in E flat major, D.899. Besides some similar unevenness, her interpretation was correct, lacking most of the needed Romantic intensity. She did not bring out enough the depth of feeling, the sorrow, the anguish, focusing too much on the torment. One could not hear any Winterreise or Wanderer reminiscences. The Impromptu no. 4 in A flat major, with its cascading arpeggios and whispering chords, played at the end of the recital as an encore, sounded much better.

If Schubert’s Impromptus can be viewed as both a song cycle and a four-movement sonata, the same could potentially be said about Brahms’ Four Ballades. Opalio successfully captured their coherence, the balance between narrative and contemplative, power and vulnerability that marks these early works of tremendous maturity. The pianist expressed the nostalgia in the Wiegendlied-like no. 2 in D major well, but her staccatos were not mysterious enough. The same could be noted about the middle section – col intimissimo sentimento – in the no. 4 in B major, while the chords in Intermezzo did not have sufficient transparency. Nevertheless, the melodic line floated beautifully above the texture, Opalio’s Brahms being clearly the most effective rendition of her recital.


This performance was reviewed from the Gstaad Digital Festival video stream

**111