The Simons Center Recital Hall might as well have been a small cafe in Italy when pianist Rita Marcotulli and accordion player Luciano Biondini performed for appreciative crowd Thursday evening, the first of six shows they’ll be playing at the Spoleto Festival.
The Italian duo brought mixed tradition and jazz in a set that covered everything from romantic ballads to prepared piano.
Marcotulli could fluctuate easily between sweet, simple piano licks, like those that opened the concert, to furious pounding, rising and falling in intensity and volume.
At times she reached inside her piano to pluck the strings with one hand as she played the keys with her other. She transformed her instrument from a typical piano into something that sounded almost like a harpsichord by placing an object upon the strings.
Her technical skill was matched by her apparent passion. Biondini, too, gave it his all. Each note he played, whether drawn slowly from the bellows of his accordion or plunked with purpose on its many keys, registered on the musician’s face. He smiled when the music smiled and furrowed his brow through difficult passages. He stood from his stool when the music surged and sank back down when the it receded.
The most exciting moments came when Marcotulli and Biondini played together. Their instruments and inflections were perfectly synchronized and Biondini even called out “Yeah!” when they nailed a particular run.
For all of the duos impressive musicality, the accordion lent the tunes a certain cheesy quality — but it was a savory, ripe parmesan of the highest quality.
Their set consisted mostly of songs the duo had written themselves, along with two dedications including Jimmy Webb’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.”
“We want to thank you for caring,” Biondini said before the last song of the evening. “We’re very happy to be here, but especially me because I’m from Spoleto.”
Kate Drozynski is a Goldring Arts Journalist fro Syracuse University.