Assumption College recital in review

Harpsichordist Paul Cienniwa pays Assumption a visit
by Matt Doherty, Staff Writer
Le Provocateur
February 28, 2013

A once silent room quickly filled with applause as harpsichordist Paul Cienniwa approached the front of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit Community Room. He stood poised in a navy blazer and collared white shirt as he introduced the first piece he would play for the anticipated crowd. He then proceeded to sit down at the 20th century harpsichord, close his eyes, and let his fingers fill the room with the music of Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti’s “Sonata in C major.”

Cienniwa has a flourishing career as a soloist, recording artist and ensemble player. His recording with Grammy Award-winning uilleann piper Jerry O’Sullivan was called “drop dead gorgeous” and named one of the top ten Irish traditional albums of 2010 by The Irish Echo. He is also featured on a two-CD set of music by composer Larry Thomas Bell titled “In a Garden of Dreamers” (Albany Records). Cienniwa has also appeared on various radio stations across the country and leads an active musical life in southeastern Massachusetts.

He has been awarded Belgian American Educational Foundation and Fulbright grants and his musicological articles and reviews have appeared in American and European journals, including Early Music, Ad Parnassum and Early Music America. As an educator, he has taught at the Yale University School of Music, Salve Regina University and Mount Ida College. He continues to teach at UMass-Dartmouth and Framingham State University.

The Assumption College HumanArts Series held the concert on February 15. Cienniwa played three different pieces of classical music, capturing sounds that were both fast and slow with various harmonic changes that kept each listener intrigued.

“It’s an unusual sonata in Scarlatti’s works,” Cienniwa said before his first performance. “Scarlatti’s [works] tend to be one speed throughout the whole piece but this one starts out slow and moves along getting faster.”

He sat upright in his chair before the harpsichord and slowly let his fingers dance along the keyboard. As the tempo sped up and his hands moved quicker, he simply closed his eyes and played the complex melodies without breaking a sweat.

“That’s great stuff; I should’ve ended with it,” he laughed after finishing the fast paced Sonata.

Before playing J.S. Bach’s “Prelude and Fugue No. 2 in C minor,” Cienniwa took a brief moment to explain the next bit of music.

“The next piece, the ‘Fugue,’ is probably the most familiar piece; it was sung by the Count on Sesame Street,” he laughed.

As he finished playing the rhythmic piece, he mentioned how great it is for people to hear this music live on a harpsichord.

“Especially this piece which is played so frequently by pianists,” he says. “I don’t want to say it is the instrument for which it was intended, but it’s something much more close in the harpsichord.”

Cienniwa is very fond of the final piece of the performance, “Suite no. 7 in G minor.” It contains six movements that all have such unique rhythms and sounds. Cienniwa explained how this 20-minute piece of music first captured his interest before sitting down again to play.

“I originally learned the Suite because I liked the last movement so much; the pasacaille,” he said. “It’s a really fun movement to play and it ends the entire Suite.”

Each movement has a distinct sound that differs from the rest. It begins with a series of chords and as Cienniwa progresses through the piece, it pleasantly surprised the listener from how different each movement sounds as it moves to the next. From the jumpy andante to the guitar-like sarabande, the audience is exposed to the wonderful variety that this piece has to offer.

As he got up and took his final bow, the crowd gave a loud round of applause. Although the concert was short, it was impactful.

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