By Iride Aparicio

SILICON VALLEY, CA -- Closing  with  a golden broach the Spring Home Concert Hall Series 2021 sponsored by the Steinway Society the Bay Area, on his Return to Silicon Valley concert streamed   from  May 21 to May 24,  Catalan pianist Albert Cano Smit gave his online audience the  opportunity to compare the sonorities of  five centuries of Classical music in the works of  composers: Orlando Gibbons, (l583-1625) Isaac Albeniz, (l860-1909)  Claude Debussy ( 1862-1918),  Maurice Ravel 1875-l937) and Stephen Hough (1960).  

Cano Smit started his concert playing the music of British Composer Gibbons, originally written for the clavichord. A predecessor of the piano, the clavichord looked like an upright piano, but because it used vibrating strings for sound, its sounded Metallic, Similar to the sound of the Lute used by the troubadours or similar to the music played on a guitar.

Unlike the music played on the piano, the music played on the clavichord could never be played loud. Also, the instrument player needed to learn the peculiarities of the instrument, one of them. that the notes of C, B and C# (written on the staff) when played in a clavichord, sounded identical, because when the notes were played on the keyboard, the clavichord vibrated the same pair of strings. Another peculiarity that was unique to the clavichord,  was  the Bebung (which means trembling in German) . The unique sound was created by the finger of the  player  pressing down a key, on the keyboard, and sustaining it. Doing this, caused the strings (which originating the sound of the note) to vibrate, producing a sound of a vibrating string that was identical to the sound of a vibrating string on a string's instrument. This knowledge, may have given some listeners of the seldom performed Gibbons' Selections from Parthemia: Preludium and the Queen's Command in Cano Smit's concert, the unique opportunity to imagine how the music may have sounded in a clavichord years before the piano was invented.  

According  to The Musical Instruments Guide, the clavichord was  based in the one string instrument called the Monochord, which was played with a bow, and  remember that the piano was based on the clavichord. As we know it now, the piano was created in l700, in  Padua, Italy,  by a clavichord- player monk by the name of Bartolomeo Christofori, who using a clavi cord, added felt hammers to  hit the G-strings when a key on its keyboard was pressed down, and pedals, to be able to control the volume of the music with the feet.

Going back to the concert, we need to  mention here  that only the virtuosity of Cano-Smit' execution, accomplished to play Gibbons' s works seamlessly on the piano. The reason is that both this works are very technical and probably easier to perform at high speed in the clavichord where the notes are played with a light touch, but to play those notes at high speed on the piano, where each note need to be pressed down, requires not only strength on each finger of the pianist, but perfect dexterity because Gibbons' work is contrapuntal and the market time of his music is Presto, which means that the pianist not only needs to play it very fast, but must let us hear every note clearly, in both hands, which requires mastery.

Jumping ahead two centuries, the young pianist gave his American audience an emotional rendition of French composer Maurice Ravel's (l875-l937) Pavane (A stately court dance which originated in Southern Europe and was introduced England in the sixteen Century) by the name of Pour une infante defunte (For a dead child) which, as its name indicates, is a somber piece. 

In a slow-paced, soulful piano interpretation of Ravel's music, Cano Smit's allowed his audience to experience the pain expressed in Ravel's melody. In his playing, he created the sadness, by emphasizing the down beats of the music, stretching its tempo, and adjusting its volume to give each musical phrase, the rhythm of of a person, breathing slowly, as one does when one sobs, and marking the release or air with a chord. But he always managed to portray, musically, and effectively the mood changes,  this changes played in the higher notes,  where their sound, seem to soften the sharpness of the pain and makes it less hurtful, for a short time,before it returns. This time the melody moves to the middle keyboard, with both the pianists' hands (shown in Close Ups)  playing so close to each other that the palm of one hand  touches the  fingers of the one below. Then, after a few hands crossovers, the melody moves to the higher notes of the piano creating in the listeners a happier mood in a beautiful melodic which Ravel may have used to represent his happy memories of the child, before his or her climbing to heaven. But this melodic pattern is brief and followed by a deeper expression of sadness, which may serve to  express the realization of the loss, this time being expressed in the low sounding tones of the left part of the keyboard, and accentuated, at short intervals, by a sound of a single note. After that, in a melodic sound played in loud chords, which is followed by a soft mournful sound interpreted the high keyboard with hands crossings, the volume on the music increases slowly like creeping pain, which hurts, and hurts a little more, and more, until it reaches the zenith, of the sufferer, and then stops.  


The somber mood created by Ravel's music, changed completely in  Cano Smit's  Iberia, (which is another name for Spain) where in just a few notes, Albeniz's music, identified the Spain of conquerors, Caballeron Andantes like Don Quixote, and  a male voice, interpreted in the lower keyboard, of a singer, singing the Cante Jondo. (As the vocal style in Flamenco, the only unspoiled form of music still left from Andalucia, is called).  And if we have a vivid imagination, as we hear Cano Smit's interpretation of Albeniz's music on the piano's lower notes, on our minds we could hear the voice of a male gypsy singer, accompanying himself with a guitar, as a gypsy woman dancer, marked the music's beats by snapping her thumbs and third fingers in both her hands, and stomps the ground with her heels, as she spin near a circle of gypsies sitting around a burning fire.

A devoted lover of his country, Albeniz whose music has been described as " A combination of Spanish, Moorish, and gypsy sounds played with an Spanish accent" was played  by Cano Smit, with an authentic Spanish rhythm. The pianist also gave life to each of  the short  melodies, played in the different keyboard ranges, that Albeniz  adds to his easily recognizable theme, which sounds beautiful when interpreted in the lower keyboard keys and keeps  recurring  in the piece, where it is played in different versions and in different ranges, in just its  first ten notes, and then is lost into a different melody.  The theme, then returns, to the higher notes, changes again, elaborated, and ends.

Triana is a faster piece where its melody and rhythm could allow it to be danced. It was also composed with a Flamenco-sounding theme, this time, allowing the pianist to imitates the sounds of Castanets, which Cano Smit realistically created with both his hands playing close together and his fingers moving rapidly as they played the upper keys of the piano. or just with the fingers of his right hand alone, as his left hand played the theme ostinato(repeated music passage) in the lower keys.  The piece ended in a Forte sound with an elaborate melody which requires great articulation on the part of the pianist's fingers, strength and keyboard mastery.

Etitaña, was not the most Iberical in sound was probable the most difficult in execution, because its melody and chords require the constant use of every finger in its execution playing at very fast speed and at Forte volume.  For a concert pianist like Cano Smit, playing this piece gave him an opportunity to display his virtuosity to his online audience.


In Contrast  with his interpretation of  the Albeniz's music,  Selections from Debussy Book II Bruyeres,  (The  French name of  the  purple  flowers,  also called Eurasian heath which grow abundantly in the moorland)  may have allowed the pianist's fingers to relax. The piece started at a Piano volume and the Tempo was andante which means played at a moderate speed.  The piece was technical and required some hands crossovers and piano technicalities.  Bruyeres was followed by La puerta Del Vino, in which Debussy uses a long Ostinato chord, similar to the chord on Ravel's Bolero, which continues being heard accompanying the non-melodic music.

The last piece in Cano Smit program, a Partita, (A suit of dances for a particular instrument) in five movements, was influenced by the music of Catalan composer Frederik Mompou (1893-1087).  The piece was written in 2017 by Englishman Stephen Hough, a great repute pianist and composer, who is also writer and a painter and lives in New York, The work was commissioned by the Naumburg Society (A society who helps young classical musicians in N.Y.)  To be composed for Albert Cano Smit after he won the Naumburg Competition (Gold) in 2017 who also premiered it in New York.

Written by a great pianist for another great pianist, Hough's Partita is definitely a concert piece. It is very technical in its execution, so it challenges  the pianist, (Cano Smit)  in each one of its five parts, to display the piano technique he  has acquired  during the years  he had spent playing his instrument:  complete control of the dynamics of the music. Executing the piece seamlessly, at the required speed. Mastering his scales with fluidity, sounding every note in his arpeggios. Balancing the sound of the melody and its chords. Bringing to life the music, in every passage, and above all, being able to play it from memory, as written, with the correct dynamics and absolute dexterity in each one of his fingers. In his online concert, Albert Cano Smit, did.