On a showery October evening, Cardiff welcomes back giant of the classical stage, Ludovico Einaudi, for the first time since he graced the Wales Millennium Centre nearly seven years ago. The Italian pianist and composer continues to dominate the modern classical sphere (last year he became the most streamed classical musician of all time, apparently). The size of the audience he can now draw reflects this, with a bump up on this visit from the impeccably designed environs of the WMC’s Donald Gordon Theatre to the significantly less appealing arena.
The uncomfortable folding chairs, which litter the floor, and the bare, industrial aesthetic of the space feel totally at odds with the often intimate nature of Einaudi’s work. It’s like turning up to watch a ballet on a building site. The choice of venue is no doubt a commercial one, a thought bolstered by a visit to the merch desk, where even the most jaded cynic would be staggered at the prices (2013’s In A Time Lapse album on vinyl for an eyewatering £60, anyone?).
Promoting his most recent album, Underwater, Einaudi’s performance is preceded by 30 minutes of dripping sounds over the PA. It’s an unimaginative and, frankly, irritating gimmick, and it’s a genuine relief when the mutton-chopped maestro arrives onstage and the water torture ends. However, the show that he gets underway is not an immediately significant improvement on the interval sound effects. Underwater is a dull, unambitious album, lacking the explorative quality of predecessor Elements or the songwriting punch of earlier releases, and so the first part of the set, performed solo and drawing heavily on his latest record, is a frustratingly bland experience.
Passion is there in abundance and Einaudi’s playing is, of course, flawless, but the gulf in quality between newer material and trusty classics is made immediately apparent the moment he is joined onstage by a violinist and a cellist (with a percussionist joining later on) for a run-through of older material. The atmospheric Fly, from 2006’s Divenire, and the sole nod to Elements both demonstrate Einaudi’s talent for expansive, progressive composition. Nuvole Bianche – thrown out late on – is a glorious minimalist anthem. When he’s good, he’s astounding.
Ludovico Einaudi, Utilita Arena Cardiff, Thurs 19 Oct
words HUGH RUSSELL