Kiskachi’s infernal dance expertly assays and explodes the harpsichord

Sun Nov 05, 2023 at 11:22 am

Anna Kiskachi performed at Live! At 10th and G Saturday night, presented by Capriccio Baroque.

Anna Kiskachi opened her harpsichord program with Handel Saturday night, presented by Capriccio Baroque at Live! At 10th and G.

In the Eighth Keyboard Suite, she immediately showed her instrumental facility: the Overture had a taut rhythmic spring and dashing articulation, and the Sarabande contrasted with free phrasing that underscored the aching melody. The Passacaille began simply but, under Kiskachi’s firm control, slowly built into massive textures of crisply articulated runs and satisfyingly tangy chords.

When she followed up with Johan Huys’ “Ceci n’est pas une passacaille,” a deconstruction of the form, it became clear that Kiskachi also loves to shake things up. Kiskachi spread the music across two harpsichords and an ottavino, mixing and matching merrily. At one point she played both harpsichords at the same time, sitting on the bench between the two with an insouciant expression to sell the chaos. At another point, she put her whole forearm on one of the keyboards as if she was settling back into a chair, with a tiny smirk at the clatter. It was a delight to hear the baroque form so expertly assayed and then exploded.

Capriccio Baroque has not only hosted previous Kiskachi performances but also sponsored the screening of her 2021 “Film en Miniature,” which has a similar theatrical vibe. Saturday marked the first performance of the “Firebird: Infernal Dances” program, and Kiskachi dedicated it to her three-month-old daughter, who she said “knows this program better than anyone else.”

The Handel and Huys made up the first of the program’s four tableaux. The other three mixed repertoire written when the harpsichord reigned supreme with Kiskachi transcriptions of more recent works, with emphasis on both dances and on the passacaglia.

In Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer’s “La Marche des Scythes,” opening the second tableau, Kiskachi tore through the furious march rhythms with overwhelming force, taking a moment to pause and smile in a little quiet moment before the storm resumed. Though the musical languages are miles apart, later in the tableau she brought out similar qualities in Manuel de Falla’s “Ritual Fire Dance,” as she plumbed the capabilities of the harpsichord expertly to ensure that the orchestra was not missed.

In the third tableau, Kiskachi alternated between selections from Baroque composer Lous Marchand’s Pièces de clavecin and her transcriptions of Béla Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances, switching between harpsichords to suggest two streams of music running side by side. She also found the dance pulse and a tinge of wildness in the Marchand, especially in the mounting virtuoso complexities of his Chaconne, to match Bartók’s earthiness.

The program culminated with the fourth tableau, solely composed of Kiskachi’s transcription of the “Danse infernal” from Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird. It was worth the wait. Kiskachi’s performance shone with a multitude of colors, bristled with tension, and relentlessly pushed forward, as if it had fed on all the energy from the previous tableaux. This is complex music to render for two hands, but Kiskachi’s technique allowed her to nail the rhythms and capture a wealth of detail. Rather than proceed into the triumphant music than ends Firebird, Kiskachi left her transcription with an unresolved chord at the end, suggesting that while the music had to stop at some point, the infernal feeling would live on.

Kiskachi followed up with two encores: a riff on Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Wachet auf” that featured her own jazzy improvisations, and a blistering rendition of Baroque composer Felix Maximo Lopez’s “Variaciones de fandango espanol.” Together they encapsulated this evening of music: unconfined by tradition, thriving on juxtapositions and creativity yet always riveting.

Capriccio Baroque next presents harpsichordist Byron Schenkman in a program of music by Haydn and contemporaries January 13 at Live! At 10th and G.

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