Mild-mannered Italian pianist Ludovico Einaudi has been burning up the Billboard classical crossover charts for months and luring growing multitudes to iTunes downloads and a mass MySpace friendship. That he has become a sensation is partly because of the very mildness of his musical manners.
A tall, handsome and tranquil figure, Einaudi kicked off a U.S. tour with a dreamy and sometimes sleepy 90-minute show Tuesday at Largo at the Coronet. What can come off, on records such as the new "Divenire," as slight and suitable for background listening gains an air of mystique in a live setting, especially in one as evocative as Largo's new home. The vintage Coronet Theater's cinematic quality enhanced the same quality in Einaudi's playing.
Still, Einaudi's music wants for substance and identity. Not classical, not jazz, it is instead a mood-painterly pastiche of instrumental pop and movie-music atmospherics. He ladles out simple melodic fragments with the right hand over arpeggios and gently tolling chords by the left.
Trills and faint ornaments might fleetingly appear, but he mostly heeds a soft-core, less-is-more, minimalist creed. At times, the music conjures pastoral loveliness. In vapid moments, less equals less, spilling into a misty New Age realm.
Einaudi likes to hang out in minor modes and lean on the piano's sustain pedal, as he did Tuesday, stitching together multiple shorter pieces into rolling medleys.
As a player, he does boast restraint and crisp control, but he seems to edit out any impulse for adventure, harmonically, rhythmically or conceptually. At issue here is a contemporary easy listening sensibility -- not a bad thing, but one that makes for a trying time in the close, concentration-geared quarters of live performance.
For his first encore, Einaudi played the Largo's funky upright piano, the strings of which had been "prepared," making for a half toy piano, half "real" piano sound and a charming departure from the evening's Steinway Lite sounds.
Capping it all off, he offered up an instrumental version of the Rolling Stones ballad "Lady Jane," itself a mock-classical exercise.
Classical music fans might wonder whether Einaudi's popularity could lead new listeners in the direction of the real thing, a hopeful side effect of his fame.
For now, one is reminded of the Gertrude Stein remark "There's no there there," originally a comment about Oakland, frequently used to describe Los Angeles and suitable for certain willfully vaporous modes of music.
Woodard is a freelance writer.