Performing Arts

Davide Cabassi kicks off PianoTexas festival with Schumann, plus a Cliburn favorite

Italian pianist Davide Cabassi
Italian pianist Davide Cabassi

The 35th year of the PianoTexas International Academy and Festival kicked off Saturday night in TCU’s PepsiCo Recital Hall. Over the next three weeks the festival will be presenting an impressive array of fresh and veteran talent in solo recitals, chamber music, concerto performances and coaching sessions.

Saturday night’s opener featured Italian pianist Davide Cabassi, a finalist in the 12th Van Cliburn Competition who has gone on to an active concert and teaching career (he’s currently a faculty member at the Monteverdi Conservatory in Bolzano, Italy).

Each PianoTexas festival has a theme, and this one is devoted to the music of Schumann and Brahms (PianoTexas is not pedantic about its themes, though; a few other composers are generally slipped in).

Schumann and Brahms were a notable team in their lifetimes. Brahms was virtually adopted by Schumann and Schumann’s wife, Clara, and after her husband’s death Clara remained a close personal and musical adviser to Brahms for the rest of her life.

Cabassi opened his recital with Schumann’s Scenes From Childhood, a series of brief pieces that include one of the composer’s most familiar short works, Träumerei (“Dreaming”).

Cabassi’s performance of the set was a little on the heavy side. These are not necessarily pieces for children, but they are also not virtuoso material, and a somewhat lighter touch would have been appropriate.

Still, there were high points, and Träumerei was one of them.

The other Schumann on the program was Carnaval, a work that has received a lot of play at the Cliburn Competition down through the years. Cabassi seemed on the mark with this one, giving a performance that nicely balanced lyric beauty and virtuosity. The final march was triumphant.

Cabassi turned away from Schumann for his final work of the evening: Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. For much of the musical public, Ravel’s orchestration of the work is the most familiar version, but the original for solo piano has become so frequently played at the Cliburn that it’s probably the dominant version around here.

Cabassi gave it quite a thrilling performance, one that avoided all sense of routine.