Northfield pianist Alison Bruce Cerutti left no doubt as to her place among Vermont’s finest pianists and musicians Sunday at the newly renovated Barre Opera House. She delivered deep and probing performances, from the intimacy of Debussy to a monumental Chopin sonata, but perhaps more importantly, to a new work by one of Vermont’s finest composers.
It was great to hear the Barre Opera House’s excellent Steinway D (9-foot) concert grand piano in action for the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Anyone there Sunday can give testament to the glorious sounds that emanated from this fine instrument. Of course, Cerutti helped.
Brookfield composer Erik Nielsen’s “The Calling” is an inviting two-part journey that begins with a delicately and harmonically striking but gorgeous introduction. But it’s not long before we go through brasher moments, from jaunty to rhapsodic to jazzy, rising and speeding to a climax before coming to a rest. The second part is something of a ballad, beginning hauntingly becoming charming, building to a striking passion before fading out.
“The Calling” represents Nielsen’s most attractive style, with which he uses contemporary harmonic and rhythmic language to illustrate and color a musical picture rather than as an end in itself. With Cerutti’s deep understanding, her delicate coloration and not so delicate when called for performance, “The Calling” proved truly compelling.
Cerutti used much the same pianistic qualities in her performance of Claude Debussy’s Ballade, which proved simply exquisite. The same can be said, though a wider dynamic range would have added to her performance of Debussy’s “L’isle joyeuse.” Cerutti has the fine rhythmic and tonal control to make this gorgeous Impressionist music sing.
The major work on the program was Frederic Chopin’s monumental Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58, which made up the entire second half of the program. Although it lacked the near-perfection of the first half of the program, Cerutti securely delivered the work’s lyrical depth and power.
In her well thought-out performance of the sprawling opening movement, Allegro maestoso, Cerutti successfully distinguished the separate lines and delivered their lyricism, never losing the overall structure, achieving its power. The rapid-fire Scherzo felt a bit unfocused, but the lyrical trio was delightful.
Cerutti’s masterfulness showed most in her very personal performance of the Largo, the slow movement, delivering its irresistible lyricism and grandeur. Despite some insecure moments, Cerutti achieved the virtuosity and power of the Finale. Cerutti delivered a genuinely exciting performance of the sonata.
Cerutti opened the program with an elegant and charming performance of Jean-Phillipe Rameau’s Gavotte and Variations. Baroque masterpieces, though written for harpsichord take on a particular rich joy when performed on piano.
Despite sustained applause and a standing ovation, Cerutti chose not to perform an encore. Perhaps there’s nothing more to say after the magnificent Chopin?