Before MusicFest Vancouver 2011, the gorgeous brunette gracing the festival guide was largely unknown to Vancouver—and Canadian—audiences.

But when the festival draws to a close on Sunday, you can be sure the name Mariangela Vacatello will be on the lips of many.

The dazzlingly virtuosic young Italian pianist, whose interpretations of Franz Liszt have gained her fans across Europe, played her first two Canadian concerts this past week: the first was a bold all-Liszt program on Wednesday (August 10), and her second was this morning, where she shared the Christ Church Cathedral stage with Vancouver’s Vetta String Quartet.

It was a less flashy program this time, but it was enough to convince listeners of her talents. After a lovely performance of Franz Schubert’s Quartettsatz in C Minor, D. 703 (the composer only wrote one movement before abandoning the work), the quartet ceded the stage to Vacatello, who performed a set of delightful Etudes by Claude Debussey.

The first, “For the five fingers”, poked fun at the unrelenting studies by Carl Czerny, beginning with the left hand running up and down the first five notes of the major scale, with pointed interruptions by the right hand, before delving into dazzling atmospheric fingerwork in which Vacatello created a blurry, Impressionist effect without ever losing the crispness of individual notes.

In “For the sixths”, the pianist coaxed a liquid sound from the instrument, her loose hands seeming to stroke at the piano even as her fingers were running a marathon across the keys. “For the eight fingers”, played without the thumb, was a spidery ride up and down the keys at breakneck speed, while the last, “For the octaves”, was a playfully bombastic bit of showmanship.

The last work of the hour-long evening saw Vacatello team up with the Vetta Quartet for a richly satisfying performance of Robert Schumann’s Quintet in E-flat Minor, Op. 44., where she proved herself to be a skillful and sensitive chamber musician, as well as a dazzling soloist. In other words: she’s the whole package.

© Mariangela Vacatello