Review by Colin Clarke
CHOPIN Piano Sonata No. 3. LISZT Piano Sonata in b. SCARLATTI Keyboard Sonata in b, Kk 87 • Leticia Gómez-Tagle (pn) • ARS 38 270 (SACD: 65:05)
Leticia Gómez-Tagle’s disc entitled Dance Passion received a very positive review from myself in Fanfare 39:5. This most recent release has a title, too: Si!. Spanish for “yes,” certainly; but “Si” also makes reference to the musical note B, and all three pieces in this recital are in B Minor.
That previous release also included some Chopin, most notably perhaps the Andante spianato et Grande Polonaise brillante. In 2016, I praised that performance to the skies, noting Gómez-Tagle’s aptitude for this composer, something fully borne out by this splendidly conceived Third Sonata. Limpid right-hand melodies speak of Gómez-Tagle’s sensitivity, while a fine structural grasp ensures the music never veers from its path. The SACD recording is once more of the very first order: The piano sound full, the presence all there. Competition is fierce in the Third Sonata, of course, from Lipatti to Brailowsky, from Arrau to Ax, from Uchida to Rubinstein, but when listening one is fully convinced by Gómez-Tagle’s reading. It is the exquisite balancing of the lyric with the virtuoso that marks Gómez-Tagle out as special, something perfectly demonstrated by her Scherzo: How the right hand sparkles, yet how meaningful are the contrasts held within this movement’s span! Song is at the heart of Chopin, and one hears the lines of Bellini in Gómez-Tagle’s seamless cantabile in the Largo, unfolding at its own, perfectly judged pace, with no hint of pushing or hurrying. Moreover, Gómez-Tagle finds an uncanny fascination in Chopin’s snaky, almost phantasmagorical lines, pitting a more objective mode of discourse against this in the more sparsely textured passages. The low-pedal approach to the finale’s opening statement is beautifully done, reminiscent of Arrau in its mastery of texture.
The supreme edifice of the Liszt B-Minor Sonata towers over the repertoire. Again, competition is vast. Krystian Zimerman, Bolet, Pollini, Arrau (again), Aimard, and Lazar Berman all loom like the pillars of some Lisztian Acropolis; so bravo to Gómez-Tagle, who again makes this work her own. She revels in the exploratory passages, daringly taking dynamics down to a sliver of sound at times; her cantabile, so effective in the slow movement of the Chopin, triumphs here again, as Liszt invites us into the lush forests of his ruminations. Brusque insistent staccato chords offer a polar opposite, dispatched with something of Berman’s dryness. The piano recording sustains all of this, allowing every nuance of pedal to register. For Gómez-Tagle, according to her excellent booklet notes, the Liszt Sonata is “a reflection of life, with all its highs and lows”; she goes on to relate this to the resilience of the Latin American people (she is Mexican). The resonance of chords and the legato between chords at high dynamic levels enable climaxes to make full effects without ever a sliver of crassness; Gómez-Tagle’s interpretation points just as easily to Liszt’s late period (a connection Pollini has been at pains to point out) as to his virtuoso heyday. Descending octaves seem to peal like bells at times; at others, octaves explode like jets of lava. The close, though, is truly remarkable, almost entering an atemporal space in which the final gesture links us back to the work’s opening.
The Scarlatti comes in the manner of an encore, an intended “amen” to the recital. A gently polyphonic gem, it is fully honored by Gómez-Tagle’s clarity of line and, once more, her perfectly judged sustaining pedal. Limpid and meditative, it emerges as a single exhalation of beauty. Again, the piano sound is magnificently present, the perspective ideal. Colin Clarke