Misteli Duo October 2000

Maria & Mauro Misteli at the Greenwood Centre Oct 2000

Maria and Mauro Misteli are a young Italian-Swiss duo, based in Geneva (though the name may not be of Swiss origin; a web search reveals many more hits in Finland). In their mid-teens, this brother-and-sister duo concluded a short tour in England with an invigorating recital at Hampton Hill. Their advertised programme mixed the familiar and the less so: transcriptions of two Domenico Scarlatti keyboard Sonatas (or properly, Esercizi) and one by the 9-year-old Mozart (K. 19d), Giuliani's virtuosic Variazioni Concertanti (Op. 130), Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Fuga Elegiaca and two well-known short pieces by de Falla, including the Danza del Molinero. The second half opened with each in turn playing a solo item: Mauro in the Serenata espagnola by Joaquín Malats (1872-1912), and Maria replacing the advertised Tango en Skaï by Roland Dyens with a Barrios Prelude.

The duo started with Scarlatti's L238 Sonata, a gentle concert opener which showed off the instruments' beautiful tone and the duo's interact iontogether, though their phrasing was a touch jerky at times. It was apparent here and in the succeeding L23-one of Scarlatti's most famous works-how closely they listen to each other, particularly Mauro following Maria's lead. More 'baroque' in manner and florid, it is a severe test for any player. After a slightly hesitant start, they seemed to settle but towards the close Maria came to grief with her tuning (seemingly of the upper E string) and could not compensate quickly enough in the music's rapid flow. The problem was rectified before the start of the delightful Mozart sonata but did audibly unsettle them. The opening Allegro was full of youthful charm, though some of the ornamentation could have been articulated more cleanly. Phrases that should have leaped lightly from the fingers did not always do so, though this is an occupational hazard of transcriptions, rather than with works written directly for the guitar. The central Menuetto could have been lighter and more dancelike, but both players excelled in the Rondo which was nicely judged, particularly the quiet episode just before the close.

That finale marked a watershed in the evening's music-making for from then on neither player really put a foot wrong. The first half concluded with Giuliani's Variazioni Concertanti, one of the duo repertoire's most taxing challenges. If there were lingering doubts over technical ability, these were dispersed in the opening flourishes, which start quietly and build up with an almost harp-like sonority. Each variation was nicely delineated, but the duo's grasp of the overall structure was clearly evident. The glassy sonority in the second-to-last variation was delivered immaculately by Maria.

The two solo turns opened the second half. Mauro's playing of Malats' Serenata was most assured, fully exploiting the music's more overtly Hispanic character. Not to be outdone, Maria's Barrios was very deft. They then came together for the Fuga elegiaca by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco 1895-1968): playing this for the first time without music, they displayed a good sense of rhythm through the contrapuntal textures and a nice range of colour in the prelude. The two de Falla dances (the first from La vida breve) brought the whole to a rousing conclusion. Their encore, the much arranged Tico-tico, was well done though might have gained from a more overtly bravura presentation.

The Duo are still young and developing, but their maturity was impressive and their talent dazzling. Mauro perhaps emerged on the night as the stronger player, although at her best Maria has perhaps the more refined technique. Overall, their recital was the most enjoyable that I have attended at Hampton Hill, and they are, I believe, names to watch out for in the future.

Guy Rickards