Stefano Bollani & Hamilton de Holanda

City Recital Hall, June 5

Bollani res
Photo: Laki Sideris.

Some musicians play with eyes closed and faces frozen in concentration, some are more animated, and then there is pianist Stefano Bollani. His exuberance ignites the music and the music fuels his exuberance in a mad spiral, his body contorting like a marionette with the music pulling the strings. Completely uninhibited and a natural clown, Bollani turns music-making into theatre – which could pall were the music being made not of such an astounding calibre.

The Italian and the Brazilian bandolim player Hamilton de Holanda have been duetting for eight years, but sound as if they have been doing it all their lives, so comprehensively did they mesh on the mostly Brazilian material. That rapport has deepened and grown more playful since their 2012 album O Que Sera (ECM), so this concert was like a game for two virtuosos.

The bandolim is a Brazilian cousin of the mandolin, de Holanda’s being customised to have 10 strings (the extra pair being lower), giving him more scope for playing chords and lines simultaneously. If, like many mandolin players, de Holanda often filled in music’s holes, it was nonetheless with dazzling melodic and rhythmic flair, while the ballads proved he could pull back to play with gorgeous lyricism.

Bollani was often much more spare, brilliantly toying with the dynamics to produce high drama one moment and high comedy the next. Together the piano and ringing bandolim shared a singular sonic relationship so that some notes converged into flaring overtones that hung in the air like an aura.

On his own rhythmically lively Il Barbone di Siviglia Bollani used a bottle of water and a crushed piece of paper as percussion instruments, between which episodes his piano playing was so effervescent that it threatened to explode. The clown in him was fully unleashed in the encores as he hammed an awful pop singer on a slice of I Will Survive. Long may he do so: he is among the finest improvising pianists you will hear.