By B. Sterling Young
This past Saturday evening, the internationally renowned violinist and Catholic University violin professor, Alessandra Cuffaro, gave a captivating performance alongside her husband, pianist and conductor Simeone Tartaglione at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn. The concert program included works by Vivaldi, Kreisler, Sarasate, Mannino, and Paganini, resulting in two hours’ worth of music altogether. The concert had been sold out for three days prior, leaving thirty audience members (who had called late in the week) without a ticket. Indeed this exclusive performance was a treat for all in attendance.
The program began with a spritely rendition of Vivaldi’s “Spring,” which set a light and airy mood for the evening. However, the program quickly took a colorful turn with Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 2 (“La Campanella”), in which Cuffaro delighted the audience with her unique flair as well as technical mastery. Next, Cuffaro showcased works by Kreisler, including “Liebeslied” (“Love’s Sorrow”) and “Prelude and Allegro in the style of Pugnani.” With this last piece, Cuffaro stunned the audience with her impressive bow usage in the “Prelude” and lightning tempo in the “Allegro.” Indeed she left the audience reeling before a well-deserved intermission.
The second half of the concert commenced with none other than Paganini’s Capricci. An important note: Cuffaro was the first Italian woman to perform Paganini’s 24 Capricci (exceedingly difficult violin solo pieces) all in one concert! For this evening in particular, she selected two Capricci from her extensive repertoire: Caprices No. 13 (nicknamed “Devil’s Laughter”) and No. 19. The whimsical introduction of No. 13 tickled the audience, who were soon taken aback by the moody second section, in which Cuffaro played the infamous sixteenths devilishly fast. At a slightly slower pace, No. 19 kept all attention on Cuffaro’s perfect octaves and precise intonation throughout the entire caprice.
Cuffaro then followed the captivating Capricci with a lyrical piece by Massenet, “Meditation from Thais,” moving the audience with a display of serene emotion. But the program picked right back up with Sarasate’s infamous “Zigeunerweisen,” again featuring precise intonation as well as tremendous speed. Finally, the program featured a work by contemporary Italian film composer Franco Mannino, Violin Concerto No. 2. Standing out from the rest of the program, the climactic piece alternated between fast, tumultuous sections leading up to soaring harmonic progressions. The thrilled audience demanded not one, but two encores via thunderous clapping. Cuffaro responded with Vivaldi’s “Summer,” and lastly, a lyrical piece from the film, “The Mission.”
A memorable night for all, Alessandra Cuffaro and Maestro Tartaglione’s performances set a high standard not only for solo violin repertoire, but also for piano accompaniment, as Maestro perfectly followed Cuffaro throughout all of these difficult pieces, paying close attention to her every move. The performance left many audience members inspired, including her students who came to see her perform!
As for similar performances in the near future, Cuffaro will also be performing in Delaware, Maryland, and in Tuscany, where she will play Mannino’s concerto again, this time as a soloist with an orchestra.