By Peter Hum, The Ottawa Citizen July 3,2011


Richard Galliano and Gonzalo Rubalcaba

NAC Studio

Sunday night

As tenderly as it began, the first piece from accordionist Richard Galliano and pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba at their duo concert Sunday night set the expectations high for something entirely dazzling.

The acclaimed French accordionist and Cuban pianist began with a luminous ballad, Aurore. Rubalcaba was remarkable, coaxing ringing, bell-like sounds from the piano. Galliano’s contribution was measured and melodic above all, as if he was holding his tremendous virtuosity in check. Although Galliano and Rubalcaba displayed absolute command of their instruments, they put feeling and simpatico first.

As their concert continued, the music grew more extroverted, dramatic and occasionally showy. But Galliano and Rubalcaba never wavered in living up to the promise that their first piece had created. During their 90-minute set’s best moments, there simply wasn’t a heartbeat between them when it came to conveying a shared sense of beauty.

With the exception of a single jazz standard, Autumn Leaves, played almost as a jaunty, off-the-cuff fantasy, most of the duo’s music was dancing and courtly, trembling and trilling, nodding to the classical, tango and musette traditions that gird Galliano’s playing.

Throughout, it was hard not to be amazed by the accordionist’s fluidity and imagination on his cumbersome instrument. He seemed utterly liberated behind its buttons and bellows, able to realize dizzyingly fast, intricate, whirling melodic lines, punchy, propulsive chords and even a range of sound effects as if he were simply speaking.

For his part, Rubalcaba revealed enormous range at the piano, evoking pure prettiness and unbridled, percussive dynamism.

Each man played two solo numbers. Rubalcaba’s first seemed like an utterly improvised, fluttering meditation that built and built from its spare, upper-register beginnings into a focused, dramatic finish. His second solo seemed like a medley nodding to his Cuban roots — although The Star-Spangled Banner was part of the mix, too.

Galliano’s solo pieces were no less impressive. One was a key-changing feat, while the other was a cinematic, moody, minor-key marvel.

The concert concluded with two broad, show-stopping pieces. Sertao was extravagant and lush, and it was the only piece in which Galliano appeared fallible. When he gasped when he failed to execute a snippet of finger-busting melody, it was kind of a relief — proof that he had not sold his soul to play as astonishingly as he does.

The concert’s encore, Tango for Claude, was a rousing, red-blooded closer, a flag-waving finish. Emotionally, it was the opposite of the concert’s hymnal beginning, but it required the same world-class levels of effusiveness and empathy from Rubalcaba and Galliano to be such a memorable success.

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