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Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Borrowed Roses

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Gonzalo Rubalcaba by Pachy López
Pianist and Composer Gonzalo Rubalcaba - Photo credit: Pachy López

When you are as prodigiously gifted a pianist as Gonzalo Rubalcaba, you can play almost any programme and dazzle listeners as far as Havana is from Tokyo. With good reason: quite simply because you have been blessed with matchless virtuoso pianism. So, to be the envy of the world of the piano, at least among pianists playing today.  

But listeners who have followed Mr Rubalcaba’s meteoric rise to eminence will find that the pianist has approached the very familiar repertoire on Borrowed Roses in an unexpected – almost magical – manner. What is almost immediately obvious in this performance is that it is almost completely devoid of gratuitous virtuosity. It’s not as if the performance is devoid of virtuoso pianism – it is almost impossible for Mr Rubalcaba to “hide” his virtuosity.

However, the pianist’s sprightly intelligence enables him to divine, perhaps not a brand new way, but certainly a highly individual interpretation of these songs so as to delight the ear and certainly warm the heart. Mr Rubalcaba is a consummate melodicist with an unerring sense of line and a wonderfully precise and pellucid tone. Moreover, there is a marvellous rapport between the pianist and the songs, which enables him to read them with great poise and the most elegant of touches.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Borrowed Roses
Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Borrowed Roses

Never before has it seemed that a musician has delved into the emotion that each note of each song so as to infuse phrases and melodic lines with great depth of feeling, to seemingly divine new meaning in what the composers had to say. Mr Rubalcaba’s brilliance as a thinker and an innovator is very much on show here:

There’s a complete immersion in the material as well as a delicacy and grace to his reading of – for instance – Someone to Watch Over Me as the pianist dallies, almost interminably, over the phrases with the intent of not only conveying poetry but meaning and depth of emotion. While extrapolating on melody, in the gamboling, elliptical movement of his improvisations he does not shy away from ornamentation either.

Mr Rubalcaba’s performance of Take Five is driven by the hypnotic [left hand] rhythmic bass line of the Paul Desmond classic, leaving his right free to explore, with a nimble gymnast’s agility, soaring flights of fancy suggested by his febrile pianistic mind. Immediately following this is the BeatlesHere There and Everywhere in which the pianist stresses the singularly romantic aspects of the work in a performance of such controlled power in such a way as to completely redirect the narrative of the work, sending it in a stratospheric direction.

One could continue ad infinitum singing the raise of this performance and this comes to mind especially when Mr Rubalcaba approaches Windows, a piece that absolutely defined the unmatched lyricism of a Chick Corea composition. Here is where Mr Rubalcaba’s almost insolent virtuosity shines brightest. This may be the apogee of the album… unless you consider the performance of one of the two works written by Billy Strayhorn: Chelsea Bridge and Lush Life.

Perhaps the most magical aspect of the performance is how Mr Rubalcaba employs the fingers [and thumbs] of each hand to seemingly create little rivulets of harmony. Then he seems to suddenly break away from the proceedings to use his left hand to create a spiraling bass line melody, propelling the right hand on an impossibly fast, dazzling arpeggio.

Or in an abrupt about turn à la Charles Mingus he begins to stab the bass clef of the keyboard, to chop and grind out a rhythmic tattoo or issue an abrupt change in tempo. All the while he continues to use one foot, or the other to use one or the other pedals at his disposal to infuse melody and harmony with puffs of vapor into the musical conversation between the notes played by the right and the left, seemingly to create the spectral effect of orchestral winds “sighing” their way into the lyrically unfolding melodies.

You will not be alone in shaking your head in disbelief at this Houdini-like performance captured in the warmth of this brilliant recording.

Deo gratis…

YouTube Video – Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Shape of My Heart

Music – 1: Chelsea Bridge; 2: Summertime; 3: Someone to Watch Over Me; 4: Take Five; 5: Here, There and Everywhere; 6: Windows; 7: Lush Life; 8: Night and Day; 9: In a Sentimental Mood; 10: Very Early; 11: Do It Again; 12: Shape of My Heart.

Musicians – Gonzalo Rubalcaba: piano.

Released – 2023
Label – Top Stop Music
Runtime – 1:01:24

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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