Marialena Fernandes offers Viennese delights at her piano recital

‘Connecting the Generations’, presented by the Bangalore International Centre, featured a wonderful collection of piano miniatures from Vienna

Updated - March 26, 2024 06:20 pm IST

Published - March 22, 2024 06:43 pm IST

Marialena Fernandes performing at the Bangalore International Centre.

Marialena Fernandes performing at the Bangalore International Centre. | Photo Credit: Lekha Naidu

Bangalore International Centre’s tribute to Women’s Day was a week of programmes celebrating women. ‘Connecting the Generations’, a piano recital by Marialena Fernandes, was a wonderful collection of piano miniatures from Vienna. Not only was Marialena’s talent at the keyboard much appreciated, but she charmed offstage, with her warm approachability and friendliness, with a genuine desire to connect.

Connecting is important to this Goan, born in Mumbai. “I had a wonderful childhood. As in most homes in our community, there was always a piano, so music was an integral part of our lives. As was the church, where we sang in the choir. Our home was a hub in the neighbourhood, open to all, with people of all faiths coming over. It was the same in school: we looked forward to celebrating each others’ festivals Where else can one celebrate such diversity?”

Marialena misses India so much that she has to visit at least every other year. “I love the street noises, wonderfully colourful clothes, the amazing food … I find all this nowhere else in the world. Yes, there are the drawbacks, from the awful political situation to pollution, broken pavements … But I’m amazed when I see the smiles of ordinary people who have so little to be happy about. In the West, where people have so much more than these people, you don’t see such smiles and happy faces! I come back for the warmth of the people.”

Her deep commitment to sharing her music sees her conducting workshops in every city, reaching out to young aspiring music students. “Practice, practice, practice, is what I tell them. Don’t be discouraged by setbacks like not winning a competition. They must encourage you to persevere, not surrender. But you must have a vision, with concrete aims, not a vague dream.”

Her desire to reach out manifested itself in her introductions to the pieces, emphasising how much she wanted to share the music she is able to create, that she passionately loves. It was this genuine warmth that added an immediacy to her performance.

Not only did she choose pieces of reasonable length, easily grasped by the audience, the strong melodic component of them appealed enormously. When pieces are unfamiliar, it is difficult for people to be absorbed by them, and one’s attention wanders. But because the melodies had immediate appeal, the audience was able to enter into the music and stay with it. Marialena’s own evident enjoyment greatly enhanced this very important factor in a performance.

The link between her chosen composers was Vienna, now Marialena’s home. Three of the composers — Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms — wrote the pieces while living in the Austrian city, which was a vibrant musical centre. Rachmaninoff was the odd one out, his only link to Vienna being his great admiration of the Viennese spirit of Beethoven and Brahms.

Marialena interacting with the audience.

Marialena interacting with the audience. | Photo Credit: Lekha Naidu

It is perhaps not so surprising that Beethoven, writing the Opus 126 Bagatelles at the end of his career, dispensed with compositional virtuosity. Many artistes in their maturity arrive at the essentials in their chosen fields, by which time they have pared down their creativity to what is important and have the courage to dispense with the complex, to show the value of simplicity. Therefore some of the Bagatelles have affinities with his larger more complex instrumental works, and are seen to be modifications or shorn versions of some aspects of them.

Though they are short pieces, Marialena conveyed the essence of Beethoven’s musical language: their harmonic intricacies and melodic fretwork. Her right hand was often so light that the sound was at times almost imperceptible. The left hand was suitably strong and the combat between the right and left chords in Beethoven’s 4th Bagatelle was given more prominence with her emphatic gestures.

Marialena treated the audience to Schubert’s rarely performed 3 piano pieces D 946, inexplicably not better known, for they are as scintillating as his famous Impromptus that precede this Opus. Written in the year he died, they are perhaps a farewell, full of his life’s agony, sensitively and poignantly realized in his glorious melodies. Rendered delicately, Marialena brought out the beauty of the singing line, but was equal to the fervid urgency of the staccato and driven triplets as well. Schubert’s tragic personal life is so inextricably interwoven into his music that listening to this fine rendering made for a very moving experience.

The programme’s surprise was Rachmaninoff’s 3 Preludes Op23, #s 4, 5 & 6, for one does not associate the Russian composer with Vienna. Their inclusion was most welcome, for Marialena’s virtuosic skill was apparent in her execution. The rich Russian sound [following Tchaikovky’s example], is a superbly crafted romantic composite of utterly sensuous melody contained in classical structure. Rachmaninoff encouraged each performer to bring to his compositions his/her own individualized experience and Marialena did justice to his injunction in the stunning G minor Prelude, whose format encourages such personal involvement. She pounded out the big splashy double octaves but suitably managed the lightly skimming passages with a requisite light mercurial touch.

Marialena ended with 4 pieces from Brahms’ Op 119. Written in his final years, they display some of the experimentation he allowed himself. Though they are miniatures, they are profound character pieces, testing the musicianship of the performer. In the B minor Intermezzo, for example, chords are delicately slivered

into a translucence, and Marialena’s pedal control helped capture this fragility. The E flat major Rhapsody has a more symphonic flavour, shifting from a euphoric major key to its minor counterpart, requiring quick changes by the pianist.

Not only was the recital admirable, displaying Marialena’s rhythmic gracefulness and superb keyboard artistry, her warm personality added a special dimension as well, making it a memorable evening.

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