“Overwhelming”is the only word possible for what was shared with us at the end of the Wigmore Hall 250 weekend marathon.
An amazing depth of sound and directness of communication that I have only ever heard a similar orchestral sound from Tatyana Nikolaeva.
Magda Tagliaferro and Youra Gulla spring to mind not only because of their sex but also for the power and directness of the composers message “seemingly”impersonal that they transmitted.
It is in fact a great personal statement but devoid of any external contamination.
The words of André Boucourechliev sums it up so succinctly:
“she scaled the heights achieved only by the greatest not just of today,but of an entire epoch”
It was a privilege to be present and Beethoven`s last great statement on the piano sonata will linger for a long time in the mind and souls of a Wigmore audience who turned out in force for this late night treat.
Playing the opening of op 111 with both hands has no importance when they are in the hands of such a visionary as Leonskaya.
What was a revelation was that each was a gradual crescendo:mf,f and ff as Beethoven has been beseeching us (it was pointed out to me by Stephen Kovacevich many years ago.He was a disciple of that other great lady Dame Myra Hess).
It was interesting the diminuendo from the chords to the trill in the opening three exclamations and that the flourish is just a reverberation of the chords and the crescendo to the trill is just relative to this.
It was quite an eye ..or more to the point…. ear opener.
Such food for thought in a true musical feast last night.
Still digesting………and ready to consult the score and relisten to Agosti’s lecture recital in the private DVD made in the theatre in Rome
Probably one of the hottest September’s for years but things were certainly hotting up in the opening recital of the remarkable season of Dr Hugh Mather`s hallowed haven at St Mary`s .
The atmosphere and excitement of Ashley Fripp’s extraordinary playing was enough to melt even the hardest of souls.
His intelligence combined to a control and subtle virtuosity was something to marvel at indeed.
A robust Chopin full of sentiment but never sentimental reminded us of Rubinstein.
La Leggierezza reminded me of the performance of Godowsky that I discovered on a late night programme on the BBC 3rd programme that kept us all glued to the radio to hear the piano rolls of leggendary pianists of the Golden Age of the Piano .
A unique collection of another philanthropic enthusiast Frank Holland in the Piano Museum in Brentford.
Just a stone’s throw from St Mary’s.
There must indeed be something very special in the air in these parts!
I have heard Ashley many times but today I heard a true artist matured under the masterly guidance of Elisso Virsaladze. As Dr Hugh Mather confided afterwards;’he has played many times at St Mary’s but it just gets better and better’
Rare to hear the three concert studies together but in Ashley’s hands they make a very refreshing group of perfect miniatures that made of Liszt the piano virtuoso who was idolised in the fashionable Paris salons.
“Il Lamento” was complimented by “Il Sospiro” with a delicate “La Leggierezza” to divide them.
“Il Lamento” was played with great feeling and a beautiful rubato that allowed all the romantic ferment to sing so naturally.
The passionate heartbreak dissolving into beautiful liquid sounds.
“La Leggierrezza” entered as a whisper with such subtle rubato.
Great romantic vehemence together with amazing brilliance and a sumptuous sense of balance made one realize what gems Liszt could conjure from his keyboard.
“Il sospiro” was beautifully shaped with the melodic line floating so expressively above the swirling accompaniment.
The climax could have been even more ‘grandioso’ as it was no doubt in Liszt’s hands and was the reason for him being chased as a pop idol by all the refined ladies in the fashionable Paris salons.
The calm after the storm in Ashley’s hands was quite ravishing though.
A true ‘lollypop’ in Ashley’s own words brought the first half to a brilliant end with an old war horse of yesteryear:”Caprice Espagnol” by Moritz Moszkowski.
And like all true lollypops it was played with all the startling virtuosity and charm of the pianists of a bygone age.
Taken at an amazing pace that surprised even Ashley but never loosing control and he was still able to add such glorious old world charm in such a ravishing palete of colours.
The final flourish took our breath away as it did Ashley’s ….but then this is a virtuoso piece full of ‘joie de vivre’ – all or nothing!
It always surprises me to think that Moszkowski was the first teacher of the prodigy Vlado Perlemuter.
A first outing,confided Ashley as he went on stage for the Schumann Arabesque op 18.
He need not have worried because he was so immersed in the Romantic world by now that Schumann’s dream was brought beautifully to life.
The etherial coda,so similar to Liederkreis, was bathed in a luminosity that came from a very subtle use of the sustaining pedal.
If Florestan was given a bit too much space in the second interlude it made a perfect contrast to Eusebius that had preceeded it.
His subtle pointing of the bass throughout gave great depth and subtlety to the seemingly simple but, in Ashley’s hands, the ever changing melodic line.
Very interesting introductions by Ashley reminded us of Berlioz famously saying that Chopin had been” dying for his entire lifetime.” Prefacing his performance of this late work: the Sonata in B minor op 58, he described in words as he did later in music the extraordinary slow movement:
”…almost a prayer of strength,hope and longing.”
It was after the arresting call to arms of the slow movement and the beautiful Schumannesque diminuendo (created by taking away the notes of the final chord in a very subtle way) that dissolved and set the scene for one of Chopin’s most poignant melodies.
Beautifully shaped long lines like the great bel canto song that it is but always moving forward- no wallowing here – and keeping the great architectural line that created a tension which held us all so spellbound.
The coda was played so beautifully with the final chords full of mystery and it led without a break into the ever more exciting Finale.
An extraordinary sense of line and shape amongst all the exciting and scintilating virtuosity that is called for and a gradual building up of sonority with romantic fervour and grandeur.
Yes after desolation there is hope!
The first movement had a great sense of drive and architectural shape.The heartrending melodic second subject was played with a robust masculine beauty that was even more poignant than in the more delicate performances that the so called Chopin tradition inflicts on us all too often!
The Scherzo was thrown off with all the jeux perlé of a Moisewitch but the central section was played with a line and direction that gave great strength to the structure of Chopin’s rare adventure into the long term Sonata idiom.
The Bach English suite n.2 in A minor BWV 806 was played with all the intelligence and architectural strength that marked the performances of this poet of the piano.
As Ashley had said in his introduction there was very little that was English about this suite.Except for the Gigue that could be Irish it owes more to France ,Germany and Spain.
Superb ornaments in the Bourée n.1 and contrasted so well with the Bourée n.2 .A great sense of propulsion in the Gigue and throughout there was great attention to the bass. I missed though the colours and sheer beauty and variety of sound that he brought to the other works in the programme.A difficult line to tread but a journey that a poet must surely risk.
A wonderful way to start the season.
With the sun blazing from within and without!
And as Hugh Mather confided Ashley had stood in for a colleague who at the last minute was indisposed!
Viva Busoni …alive and well in Bolzano Part one ,two and three – The Final
Bolzano and the final chamber music round of the Busoni competition.
Two Shostakovich Quintets op 57
One clean and literal and the other mysterious and full of colour.
The 18 year old virtuoso Malinin who had astounded everyone with his Hamelin Paganini Liszt study and an amazing physically exciting Prokofiev 6th could not quite find the sound to blend in with his magnificent colleagues in the Shostakovich Quintet op 57.
Giorgi Gigashvili on the other hand,who had not found the sound world of Beethoven op 109, in Shostakovich he was in a world of his own as he had been in Scriabin 9th and Prokofiev 7th Sonatas.
Listening attently to the sounds of the entire ensemble he blended in so perfectly.
Obviously an audience favourite for his simplicity and his infectious “joie de vivre” that he comunicates on and off stage.
A red hot Schumann Quintet- almost too hot to handle.
Beauty of sound from Shiori Kuwahara as she had shown in her recitals, was not allowed to blossom with such hard driven committed playing from the otherwise magnificent David Oistrakh String Quartet.
Tempi a little on the fast side did not allow that magic of Schumann to seduce us as it can when time is allowed to stand still for a second longer.
I look forward to hearing Giovanni Bertolazzi in the Schumann tonight where hopefully his superb musicianship and artistry will slow his colleagues down and reveal the same magic that he had seduced us with in his solo recitals.
Also two performances of Franck Quintet from Emanuil Ivanov and Nicolò Cafaro.
What a musical sandwich!
Two fine young musicians in one of the hardest works in the chamber repertoire.
Ivanov a well oiled refined musician and Cafaro more dense and passionate with his wonderful stubby Gilels type fingers.
Hats off to Busoni for sharing their great musical values with us.
But with Benedetto Lupo and Till Fellner on the jury how could it be otherwise.
PART 2 – Second of the two chamber music finals ……..and now we await to see who will play in the final with orchestra on Friday.
Two Franck Quintets one of Emanuil Ivanov a crystalline clarity that sparkled in the dark depths that Franck depicts.
The other of Nicolò Cafaro deeper and rather submerged by youthful emotion.
I was expecting a more refined spacious Schumann Quintet from Giovanni Bertolazzi after his superb solo recitals but again tempi were too fast to allow any real romantic fervour to touch our souls with a superb string quartet that plays everything though as if their life depends on it.
It may suit Shostakovich and Franck but it certainly does not Schumann!
But this is where experience of playing chamber music sorts the men from the boys.
They are all very fine artists in search of experience of sharing their great gifts with a world that awaits and that will add experience and maturity to their youthful talent.
Fingers crossed for them all!
Rubinstein always said you are as good as your last performance and in fact the three that got through to the finals were those that had more experience of chamber music and gave the best performances.The final three performances will now be:
Giorgi Gigashvili, Prokofiev 3rd Concerto op 26; Shiori Kuwahara ,Rachmaninov 3rd Concerto op 30; Emanuil Ivanov,Saint Saens 2nd Concerto op 22
As Alfred Brendel says in the interview in the competition programme about the very first competition in 1949.He came fourth and Walter Klien was not placed at all.
Their hosts told them not to be discouraged as they would eventually become artists too!
The only other winner he was in touch with was Bela Siki the others have never since been heard of!
And so to the Gala Final PART THREE
The final of the Busoni Competition …….the three finalists who were the ones who played best in the chamber music final .
They were not necessarily the ones that had played the best final recitals though as was painfully obvious from what we heard tonight.
It is a problem that in the last edition was resolved so rightly as time has shown with the great success since of Ivan Krpan.
Tonight we heard three pianist who had played quintets so well but lacked the authority and projection of a solo concerto with orchestra.
Shiori Kuwahara played a Rachmaninov 3rd concerto that lacked the rhythmic authority.and projection for one of the great war horses of the piano repertoire.
Giorgi Gigashvili played with great authority and all the technical assurance and projection of the Russian school,but it was in places so grotesque it seemed like a parody of the work that we have known and loved from.the hands of Martha Argerich.
The film”Shine” and David Helfgot come to mind.
Cheered to the rafters he is the competition favourite and a delightful generous much loved companion to his fellow colleagues.
Emanuil Ivanov played Saint Saens Concerto n.2 almost apologetically.
The noble aristocratic opening that was Rubinsteins was played as if in a dream with no real projection of sound.
His lightweight technique was better suited to the Scherzo and his trills in the last movement were superb as they had been in the opening of his Brahms Handel Variations.
Weight.and projection were not for him.
As we await the deliberation of the jury these considerations must come to mind.
Should a solo piano competition be decided totally on the chamber music round being the last before the final?
A reversal of order might be more useful and resolve this dilemma
We were told the jury would be quick but I should think and hope there are some hard serious discussions going on backstage this year.
The special Premio Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli offered by the city of Bolzano for a unanimous winner was not awarded!
First prize Emanuil Ivanov,second and Busoni performance prize Shiori Kuwahara,third and audience prize Giorgi Gigashvili.fourth Giovanni Bertolazzi,fifth and contemporary performance prize Valentin Malinin,sixth Nicolo Cafaro.
Congratulations to them all and above all to Peter Paul Kainreth and his team for the superb organisation.It is important that all these remarkable young musicians have been heard worldwide on the magnificent streaming.
It is the world in the end who will decide as in the case many years ago of Alfred Brendel.
A competition can only offer a picture taken at that moment and offer a showcase for some of the most remarkable young musicians who have dedicated their lives to Art .
Mention should be made of the superb participation of the Haydn Orchester under their ever attentive and sensitive conductor Arvo Volmer
As part of the Keyboard Charitable Trust Career Development prize Chloe Jiyeong Mun will play at the Wigmore Hall London on the 27th October and Ivan Krpan will play at the Piano Expo in Cremona on the 29th September in a celebration of the founding fathers of the KCT John and Noretta Leech.
Happy 80th Birthday Liu Shikun, 2nd prize Tchaikowsky Competition,Moscow 1958.
Van Cliburn was feted like the Prince he was but Liu Shikun was imprisoned with hard labour for six years during the cultural revolution
He has founded over 500 music schools in China and he told his remarkable story in chinese.
Unfortunately the translator was inaudible most of the time.
His presence,though, was very imposing as was his playing of part of the Yellow River concerto.
A great day off to celebrate a remarkable man before the final of of the Busoni Competition now in its 70th year.
Cristiana Pegoraro in San Sebastiano The blossoming of the tree
It was in 1984 (the year of my marriage to the actress Ileana Ghione) and the year that the legendary pianist (mentored by Cortot,Ravel and Fauré )Vlado Perlemuter made his debut in Italy in the Teatro Ghione in Rome.
I had studied with him in Paris after my studies at the RAM with Gordon Green and Sidney Harrison and in Rome with Guido Agosti.
Having recently renovated a theatre in Rome (next to St Peters Square) principally for the play productions of my actress wife we were beginning to get requests from musicians to play in a city where the space for concerts was extremely limited.
I asked Vlado if he would like to come and play in Rome.
Of course he loved the idea and he and his companion Joan Booth came and were to return year after year until his 90th in fact.
He was immediately feted all over Italy but it was the very first review in the Corriere della Sera that I remember reading to him over breakfast in the nearby Columbus Hotel.
Vlado had been invited by the Signora Adriana Casagrande a few years before as a jury member of the Casagrande Competition held in mem0ry of her father in Terni.
An industrial town built by Mussolini that was the centre of steel production up until the end of the war.
One of our principle actors at the time was Walter Maestosi and his brother Elio was a well known Professor of piano.
His star pupil was a fourteen year old girl from Terni Conservatory.
Could she play in the theatre where his brother was leading man on stage with Ileana Ghione?
Cristiana Pegoraro gave the first of many concerts in 1983 and also took part in the first of many masterclasses that Perlemuter gave the day after his triumphal Italian debut.
Reminding Cristiana Pegoraro of these articles she very sweetly sent me the following note:
”Ah Chris,what a joy to read these articles!I always remember those years and Teatro Ghione with all the amazing concerts and masterclasses you were able to organise.The Golden Age of Pianists and I remember Ileana with great love……..Thanks for sharing”
Cristiana graduated at the age of sixteen from Terni Conservatory and went on to study with Lilian Zafred,Jorg Demus,Hans Leygraf and finally Nina Svetlanova at the Manhattan School of Music in New York.
We had lost touch over the years with our busy careers taking us in different directions.
I met Cristiana again in New York where she was about to give one of her many recitals in the Institute of Italian Culture.
She has become something of an Ambassador for Italian Culture performing for Unicef,Amnesty International,World Food Programme,Energency,Lions Clubs International and Rotary International.
Sustaining them in their humanitarian projects.
In June she was awarded the highest acknowledgement for an Italian woman artist by the President of Italy Sergio Mattarella
The Academy and Festival were four time recipients of the President of Italy Gold Medal award for their outstanding programming.
(Narni is a magical hillside town perched on the hills above Terni and each summer there is a teaching and performing programme of artists from the USA and Italy).
So I was pleasantly surprised to see this poster announcing a recital in a little hill top town in the Abruzzo mountains where I and others were seeking refuge from the sweltering Italian summer weather.
Usually deep in snow in the winter with many of these towns inaccessible for months.
During the summer they provide a refuge for many from the big cities who prefer the mountains to the beach.
Only 100 KM from Rome it is an area not readily on the tourist trail but a truly magical area full of tradition and of course superb local cuisine.
A little town on holiday and all the inhabitants filling the streets with good will and entertainment.
In the church of San Pancrazio there was a superb Steinway piano provided by Angelo Fabbrini (who has his studio on the beach in the nearby town of Pescara.I last saw him with Pollini in New York and then with Sokolov in Rome both of whom trust him to provide them with the very best instruments for their concerts worldwide.We also bought from him the concert grand in the theatre in the early ‘80’s ) .
A very interesting programme that Cristiana introduced to a full attentive audience that had gathered to celebrate their own native musician and composer Filippo Berardini.(1898-1950).
A celebration that his son Tito Berardini ,the mayor of San Sebastiano, has for two years celebrated with the invaluable help of Cristiana.
Repeating the concert in the Cathedral of the nearby larger town and ski resort Pescasseroli it has become an eagerly awaited annual event.
Filippo Berardini had studied at the Naples Conservatory “San Pietro a Majella” where he was the favourite student of Florestano Rossomandi ,the renowned piano pedagogue whose book on piano technique is still used today.
His compositions and biography are published in the book “Liriche per canto e pianoforte”.
It was some of these pieces that Cristiana played today in his honour.
Her own transcription of his only piece for violin and piano as well as a selection of his songs.
She was joined in an encore for four hands by the conductor Lorenzo Porzio.
They showed all the charm and typical lyricism of the Neapolitan Romances of that period.
Played with great artistry and virtuosity by Cristiana and the shared duet at the end made a charming interlude from the main programme of Rossini,Bizet,Chopin,Vivaldi ,Verdi-Puccini-Rossini.
I was very pleased to hear some very refined Chopin playing where her great sense of balance allowed the melody to sing out unimpeded in the Nocturne in C sharp minor Op Post.A more simple left hand accompaniment would have allowed the music to speak more naturally.But the embellishments at the end were quite magical and the two against three in the middle section was perfectly managed.
It led the way for a performance of the so called “Aolian Harp”study op 25 n.1.
It was here that she found that simplicity that had eluded her in the nocturne and the melodic line was incorported so beautifully over the shimmering changing harmonies that Sir Charles Halle had described so well when Chopin himself played it in his last ill fated tour of England the year before his death.
The so called “Revolutionary” study was played with great passion and technical assurance.
The differing dynamic contrasts played as only a true artist could do.
In fact I think it may have been these very studies that she had played at the Ghione Theatre 36 years ago!
Two of her own remarkable transcriptions opened the programme.
The Rossini Overture from “L’Italiana in Algeri” was a virtuoso transcription full of colour and and quite considerable virtuosity.
Neither this nor the Carmen Fantasy that followed were in the style of a Horowitz but it was Cristiana’s quite considerable personality and technical command of the keyboard that held this audience and I imagine her audiences worldwide spellbound.
I was sorry not to be able to hear the entire concert but dusk was setting in.
A 100 kilometer drive ahead of me through mountainous country roads where fires too were raging as always during the dry hot summer months.
I look forward to the next occasion of catching up with the little fourteen year old girl that has matured into a sensitive artist and human being.
A real blossoming of talent that I like to think was in some way influenced by the Ghione Theatre in those crucial formative years.
Glorious and Victorious – Long may they reign over us -Di Donato/Pappano Argerich/Barenboim at the Proms…….
Two unforgettable Proms on Sunday morning with Pappano and Di Donato and Monday evening with Barenboim and Argerich ……………what a marvel ……….
And the true return of a legend in Salzburg just two days later.
What energy and enthusiasm from Pappano and the American Youth Orchestra.
A truly sublime Joyce Di Donato in Berlioz that had the intelligence of a Schwarzkopf with the sumptuous creamy voice of gold of a Jessy Norman or a Janet Baker .A Strauss Symphony normally so preposterous in its outsized container but on this occasion with a breadth and vision that was nothing short of miraculous .
All this with the “joie de vivre”of making music that only the passion of youth can provide.
Barenboim and Argerich sounded a little less energetic………on Monday ….
On Wednesday it was quite a different thing…….great artists are not machines thank God ………
Try the piano player at Steinways …….any artist you want can play in your living room…….the only thing is it is always the same ………….that could never be with a true artist as was proven this week ……….
As Martha quipped to her friends “ not bad for an 80 year old.” Barenboim too as they were kids together in Argentina .
Especially when you know that they have both just flown in from Buenos Aires.
Martha the day before the concert and Barenboim later and was slightly jet lagged.
He had just played three Beethoven recitals(nine sonatas) plus conducted six major works with the orchestra and given two public seminars at his festival in Argentina.
And these two “youngsters” are already in Salzburg for tonight’s repeat concert on their tour to celebrate 20 years of the miracle that is the West- Eastern Divan Orchestra of Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim.
What wonders they are.
Above all for their generosity in trying to make the world a better and more understanding place to live in peace together.
Hats off indeed.
What a privilege to have been present
It is no coincidence that when Pappano presented himself at an audition for Barenboim with a singer for the part of Brunhilde,Barenboim famously quipped:”You keep the singer and I will take the pianist.”
Pappano became his live in assistent …………..and the rest is history…..
still very much in the making!
Occidentalis (European Premiere)
Les nuits d’été, Op 7
An Alpine Symphony
Joyce DiDonato (mezzo-soprano)
Brass of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain
The National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America
Sir Antonio Pappano (conductor)
Celebrated American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato was reunited with regular collaborator Sir Antonio Pappano to mark the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death with a performance of the composer’s sumptuous orchestral song-cycle Les nuits d’été – a musical journey from springtime love to cruellest loss.
The National Youth Orchestra of the USA undertook a journey of quite a different kind in Strauss’s monumental An Alpine Symphony, whose vast orchestral forces and massive soundscapes conjure up the craggy drama of the Bavarian Alps.
The concert opened with a new work, by Benjamin Beckman, one of the NYO-USA’s two Apprentice Composers.
Symphony No. 8 in B minor, ‘Unfinished’
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor
Concerto for Orchestra
Martha Argerich (piano)
West–Eastern Divan Orchestra
Daniel Barenboim (conductor)
Daniel Barenboim and his West–Eastern Divan Orchestra return to the Proms with a programme of emotion and sensation.
Legendary Argentine pianist Martha Argerich was the soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 – an outpouring of Romantic intensity sustained from the arresting opening chords right through to the thrilling finale.
Polish folk dances pulse through Lutosławski’s vibrant Concerto for Orchestra, with its echoes of Stravinsky and Bartok. Its bracing rhythmic energy and reticent beauty offer the perfect foil to the melodic richness of Tchaikovsky’s concerto……….
There was magic in the air …the magic that had somehow eluded these two legendary artists on Monday.
Little did the wonderfully generous Prom audience know that Barenboim had literally just come from his festival at Teatro Colon in Argentina where he had given three Beethoven recitals,conducted six major works with the West- Eastern Divan Orchestra and given two public seminars.
He was jet lagged and the great expectations for their Prom concert was not totally convincing.
Were we expecting too much?
Well we got the answer on Wednesday!
Now having flown together from London to Salzburg for three concerts ,the Barenboim Festival in Buenos Aires only a memory, they were in the mood to make music together.
Not only Martha with Barenboim but the orchestra too.
This is the stuff that legends are made of.
Not since Rubinstein have we witnessed the magic that can be produced in works that we have known for a lifetime.
This Tchaikowsky concerto was sublime.
Not a word that one would readily use for this old warhorse.
I have known this work since I was a schoolboy totally won over by Liberace and then the 1812 Tchaikowsky nights at the Albert Hall.
I have heard all the great pianist play this much loved concerto.
From Rubinstein,Horowitz,Gilels,Richter,Van Cliburn,Arrau,Byron Janis through John Lill,Peter Katin,Pletnev,Virsaladze,Alexeev ,Shura Cherkassky,Jerome Rose and many many others.
But I have never heard the sounds that I heard today from Salzburg.
Phenomenal virtuosity which as Martha herself says is “not bad for an 80 year old!”
But there was much much more.
A very subtle sense of balance and colour that illuminated passages that I have never even suspected could be so laiden with gold.
Very slight delays ,a sudden pianissimo,a sublime sense of cantabile of the Golden age of piano playing.
Such superb clarity and precision in the middle section of the second and third movements played almost without pedal.
Every note played with a precision and just weight.
………….The final octaves of course were played with enormous elan but then it was she that held the orchestra back with such pointed phrasing in the great climax that the final race to the end became absolutely hair raising.
It had this high society audience on their feet clamouring for more …………..
What could be more sublime than a totally inspired Daniel at the helm with Martha steering the way in the Schubert A major Rondo ” Per l’Amitié”.
And what greater friendship could be shared with this vast audience.
Daniel’s son turning pages and visibly moved by the subtle play between these two old friends.
The Thomas Harris International Piano Foundation Final Concerts Part 1&2(+)
Alberto Portugheis gives masterclasses in many parts of the world and the concert at St James’s Piccadilly was with some of his students from the classes he has been holding this past week in Rye, East Sussex.
Promoted by Mrs Harris in honour of her son who had played many times in this church and many other venues in London and elsewhere .
They are continuing their advanced studies with Alberto Portugheis thanks to the generosity of Mrs Harris.
Joined by Giancarlo Staffetti it was the first of two concerts to give the opportunity to these very gifted young musicians to play in London.
Ca va sans dire that there was impeccable musicianship having come under the inspired guidance of the renowned Alberto Portugheis.All of whose initiatives musical and humanitarian could fill a book many times over.
Indeed he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his dedication and crusade to bring peace to a world that has fallen into the hands of politicians!
However today he was wearing his musicians cap and it was this that we were privileged to enjoy today in the hands of these very gifted young pianists.
Nicolas Absalom whose Beethoven First concerto I remember so well,presented today the Sonata op 31 n.3 and showed the same clarity and rhythmic energy that had been such a hallmark of his concerto.
With all the freshness and youthful spririt he ignited the concert from the very first notes.
This sonata like it’s companion op 28 has a pastoral feel to it and a slightly slower tempo would have allowed the second subject more time to breath more naturally.
There is a great rhythmic drive to his playing and a clarity due to his very careful and sparse use of the sustaining pedal.
The opening chords that can sometimes sound so imposing and ponderous were here given a foreward movement leading to one of Beethoven’s most characterful and humorous series of questions and answers.
This great rhythmic drive was ideally suited to the scherzo that followed and his meticulous attention to detail was very telling.
The Menuetto could have been even more grazioso and slightly more leasurely as it was in the Trio which had all the charm and style that had so capitivated Saint Saens and who used it as the theme of his variations for two pianos.
The last movement bubbled over with youthful energy and whilst not quite rising to the con fuoco that Beethoven asks for it had a terrific foreward drive and character.
The ending could have had slightly more weight and was rather thrown off as the other movements had been too giving the sense of having arrived rather abruptly after such a successful performance.
Ángel Laguna Herrera played Schubert with the transcription by Liszt of the Soirées de Vienne n.6 and the last of the four impromptus op 142.
I have heard Angel over the past two or three years and it is good to see how his playing has grown in maturity and authority.
He tells me he now has an important post at the Madrid Conservatory as piano Professor and accompanist to the violin class.
His performance of the last of Schubert’s Impromptus had a rhythmic drive added to his latin temperament that was superbly controlled.The tempo was particularly well maintained in the virtuosistic flourishes of the central section.
The Soirées de Vienne could have had more charm and less passion.
A very solid performance that lacked the subtle charm that Liszt’s filigree embellishments have woven in a magic spell around Schubert’s original.
Angel would do well to try Schubert on an instrument of the period to realise that Schubert’s seemingly rather thick chords on modern day instruments sound completely different.
On these historic intruments there is a much more velvety subdued and less percussive sound.
It was an interesting discovery that another young lion of the keyboard,Tyler Hay, made when he was invited to play recently at Hatchlands for the Keyboard Charitable Trust of which I am one of the three artistic directors.
Two performers for the second concert of the participants of the Alberto Portugheis Masterclasses in Rye in East Sussex for the Thomas Harris International Piano Foundation.
It was very refreshing to see the pianists from the previous concert in St James’s present to applaud their friends and colleagues.
Natalie Molloy is a graduate of the Trinity Laban Conservatoire and a student of Margaret Fingerhut and Philip Fowke.
Philip and I were at the Academy together in the class of Gordon Green.It was nice to see him celebrating afterwards in the rare mid day sun.He confided that it was the fortieth anniversary, to the day, of his Proms debut at the RAH with the Ireland Piano Concerto.
Philip has had a distinguished career as a soloist but is now also dedicated to sharing his knowledge and experience with the next generation.
Natalie opened the concert with the Bach Partita n. 1 in B flat.
The most mellifluous and pastoral of the six magnificent Partitas for keyboard.
An intelligent, serious performance that showed of her intellectual and musical skills.
A performance though that just missed the feeling of the song and the dance that is from where this music is born .
It was in the last movement, the Gigue ,where she was forced to cross hands and move more fluidly that brought the music to life with a sense of colour and shape that had been lacking in the other movements.
There was , though, also much to admire as in the beautiful repeat of the Sarabande where the hushed ornamentation was very discreet but for that reason of great effect.
The shaping of the phrases and the” knotty twine” that Bach delights in should correspond more to her body movements to give more fluidity and sense of horizontal flow ( as opposed to her more vertical approach).
This very assured performance, though, prepared us for the beautiful Beethoven Sonata op 90 with Laura Mercedes Sanchez.
This most Schubertian of all Beethoven Sonatas was played with great temperament and feeling.She moved so well and it gave a fluidity and sense of colour that Natalie’s more intellectual approach just missed.
Laura though could have done with Natalie’s control as she plunged into the first movement with such passion and drive.
Beethoven only asks for ‘f’ and to ‘play with liveliness and with feeling and expression throughout.”
Gradually she allowed the opening to dissolve, as Beethoven asks, and it led to some most beautiful playing with great attention to the precise detail that Beethoven asks for.
Always maintaining the forward drive and never allowing the tension to sag it gave great architectural shape to this most subtle of movements.
A subtlety only to be found again in the Sonata op 101 that immediately follows this and brings us into the realm of the Gods with the last five evolutionary statements that Beethoven sculptured under such adverse circumstances.
” Not too swiftly and conveyed in a singing manner “ is what Beethoven asks in the second movement that is a pure Schubertian outpouring of song.
Laura found exactly the right balance that allowed the melodic line to sing out unimpeded.The rhythmic outbursts with which the melodic line is interrupted were played with great rhythmic drive and technical assurance and the reappearance of the melody in the tenor register was quite magical.
One or two slight blemishes did not disturb the overall beauty of the performance and in any case were concealed in a very professional manner.
Hats off to all five students who displayed all the musical values that they have been privilged to enjoy in the past week of Masterclasses with Prof Alberto Portugheis.
All in honour of Thomas Harris whose Foundation created by his mother he is the Artistic Consultant
Piano Barga the jewel in the crown…….part one ,two and three final
It is from 1967 that Opera Barga was created by Peter Hunt and his wife Gillian Armitage together with Peter Gellhorn.All gathering in this jewel of a town perched in the hills above Lucca to present chamber opera of the highest level during the summer months.
Gathering friends around them from the highest echelons of music and theatre from their busy professional life in London .These have included John Eliot Gardiner,Bruno Rigacci,Maria Francesca Siciliani,Nina Walker and many others
I well remember an old colleague of mine Hilary Griffiths conducting Walton’s “The Bear” with the composer and his wife present in 1976.
Now in the hands of their son Nicholas Hunt under the artistic direction of Massimo Fino the opera continues with rare Vivaldi performances under the direction of Federico Maria Sardelli.
But for the past three years a festival dedicated to the piano has been added under the direction of that eclectic musician Roberto Prosseda.
And so it was last night in the magnificent Loggia of Villa Oliva that we could hear the pianist Valentina Lisitsa the first “You tube star” on the classical scene.”With more than 200 million YouTube views and some 500,000 subscribers to her channel, Valentina Lisitsa is one of the most watched classical musicians on the internet, using digital innovation to champion classical music and performance. Impressed by her YouTube success, the Royal Albert Hall, in an unprecedented step, opened its doors for Valentina’s London debut on 19 June 2012. That concert, recorded and filmed by Decca Classics, became her first release on the label; it was also Google’s first-ever live HD stream.With her multi-faceted playing described as “dazzling”, Lisitsa is at ease in a vast repertoire ranging from Bach and Mozart to Shostakovich and Bernstein; her orchestral repertoire alone includes more than 40 concertos. She has a special affinity for the music of Rachmaninov and Beethoven and continues to add to her vast repertoire each season.
Valentina Lisitsa is not only the first «YouTube star» of classical music; more importantly, she is the first classical artist to have converted her internet success into a global concert career in the principal venues of Europe, the USA, SouthAmerica and Asia.Washington Post Online wrote: “It’s striking that her playing is relatively straightforward. ‘Straightforward’ is an inadequate term for virtuosity. She does not tart the music up. She does not seek to create a persona, much less impose one on what she is playing. She offers readings that are, when you penetrate through the satin curtains of the soft playing and the thunder of the loud playing, fundamentally honest and direct.You feel you’re getting a strong performer but also a sense of what the piece is like rather than of how Lisitsa plays it. I was impressed, sometimes dazzled and sometimes even taken aback by the ferocity of her fortissimos. And she is also a delicate, sensitive, fluid player who can ripple gently over the keys with the unctuous smoothness of oil.”
She posted her first video on the internet platform YouTube in 2007, a recording of the Etude op. 39/6 by Sergei Rachmaninoff. The views increased staggeringly; more videos followed. The foundation stone of a social-network career unparalleled in the history of classical music was laid. Her YouTube channel now records 346.000 subscribers and 147 million views with an average 75.000 views per day.
For the 125th anniversary of Tchaikovsky’s death, Decca will release a special CD-Box in November 2018: the complete works for solo piano by Tchaikovsky recorded by Valentina Lisitsa (as well as some duets recorded with her husband and duet partner Alexei Kuznetsoff). Some of the works have just recently been rediscovered and were never recorded before.
It was infact Tchaikowsky that closed her programme with the original but rather heavy handed literal transcription of his Nutcracker Suite.Choosing very carefully some of the better known pieces to make an attractive close to her concert .
It is Pletnev though who added his piano genius to Tchaikowsky’s well known Nutcracker Adding that sense of wonderment, colour and scintillating virtuosity that Tchiakowsky’s own transcription rather misses.Rather heavy handed in places where the wonderful melodic line should fly high.Valentina though brought some beautiful sounds to the little Sugar Plum Fairy as it almost veered out control as she let it out of its magic music box.
It was in the Orphee Suite by Philip Glass in the transcription of Paul Barnes that we were treated to the magic sounds and almost obsessive repetitions of what seems like a silent film score.Almost honky tonk piano bar brought suddenly wonderfully to life as Valentina seemed to relish this instant rapport with the public after a rather unexciting performance of Beethoven.
Some truly magical sounds and long pedal notes in a rather overlong transciption that could have easily been trimmed as she had done with Tchiakowsky!
The Beethoven “Tempest” Sonata op 31 n.2 whilst full of magical sounds missed the very backbone of Beethoven.Rhythmic precision and architectural shape were sacrificed for some beautiful effects that did not add up to a whole.The long pedal that Beethoven asks for were respected but without really listening and adjusting her touch to the accumulation of sounds .The effect was the opposite to which Beethoven was obviously alluding on the instruments of his period as Andras Schiff has shown us recently with his revelatory performances on historic instruments.
It was in the encore that she suddenly let her hair down and gave her husband page turner a well earned rest as she plunged into the Liszt 2nd Rhapsody with all the aplomb of the entertainer that she obviously is.
Like Khatia Buniatishvili she too seems to pass from seductive magical sounds straight into the big guns with out any transition or real sense of line.Not quite the phenomenal technical resorses of Khatia but they are two big guns taking the popular classical world by storm indeed.
They are two beautiful ladies who have brought classical music to the masses. A rousing cadenza and massive octaves had this refined society audience on their feet.
Gathered together in the paradise that is only to be found in Lucca and surrounds and treated to an exciting evening of entertainment that has been enjoyed together with us tonight by over half a million spectators on you tube.
We await the superb duo Roberto Prosseda Alessandra Ammara tonight in the beautifully restored Teatro dei Differenti in Barga .Roberto has promised to include the piece written by his teacher Sergio Carafo for the 80th birthday celebrations that Roberto gave with Francesco Libetta (before his marriage to Alessandra Ammara) in the Teatro Ghione where Sergio and Roberto gave many performances over the years.
All directed by a great friend from my student days in London the distinguished conductor Jan Latham – Koenig …..small world …….
PART TWO …Barga Teatro dei Differenti- Alessandra Ammara and Roberto Prosseda Ravel,Respighi,Mendelssohn,Cafaro,Petrassi.
And so to the second day of Piano Barga with the artistic director at the helm of a recital in duo with his wife and duo partner of twenty years Alessandra Ammara.
I well remember their meeting at the International Piano Academy in Como and of their eventual marriage in a magical partnership of twenty years that has produced many performances together and solo in a true partnership, each sustaining the other.
Three wonderful children has sealed a happy lifetime together.
I remember Alessandra thanking me for my wedding present of a mirror.
Every time I look in the mirror I will think of you.What more could one ask!
They are very special people.
Both have made some wonderful recordings and Roberto always talks about Alessandra’s wonderful recordings of Schumann and Ravel.
No recordings of their piano duo performances yet.
As Roberto explained in his introduction:the piano duet was a way of bringing music into the home in the 18th century and it is this intimacy and immediate sharing of a musical discovery together that was so much part of what used to be called “Hausmusik”.
Unfortunately these days with the advent of digital electronics this way of sharing music in the home has become a rarity.
But not in the Prosseda household where musical values and shared experiences are an essential part of a true musicians life.
Incidentally Roberto told me that with the manager of Yamaha Music Europe,Giovanni Iannantuoni, they have started a competition for contemporary composers to write a short piece for the unique Yamaha Player Piano .
They have already received forty compositions from aspiring young composers!
One must move with the times but always in an artistic direction as Roberto continually shows us in his musical career full of fantasy curiosity,invention and of course superb musicianship.
After a programme of Ravel ,Respighi and Mendelssohn it was nice to hear again the work written by Roberto’s teacher Sergio Cafaro.A transcription of themes from Carmen that had won a first prize for this student of Goffredo Petrassi.
Following with a surprise second encore by Goffredo Petrassi of his Sicilienne and Marcia.An early work of charming childrens pieces that I remember playing a few years ago with Lya De Barberiis in the presence of Petrassi’s widow,Rosetta Acerbi,on the occasion in 2012 of the founding of the De Barberiis Foundation for young musicians at the Teatro Ghione in Rome.
I remember Gianni Leta and Valeria Valeri being present.(There is a foto of her on the wall in this theatre).Quite a nostalgic choice of encore for me but I like to think that all these wonderful people,including Goffredo Petrassi and my wife Ileana Ghione are looking on with great admiration for what Roberto and Alessandra are continuing to do for art.
I remember too placing Roberto’s CD of the complete piano works of Petrassi into the then blind composers hands where he was our neighbour for years in Circeo.
Roberto like all great gentlemen allowing his wife to sit at the helm tonight – also allowing her to take control of the pedals!
A Ravel of great delicacy in which there was a great sense of balance and colour creating from the opening Pavane immediately an intimate atmosphere for these fairy stories.Even the little cuckoo was allowed a voice amidst the shimmering magical sounds.The beast was sufficiently beastly to allow the beauty to shine so radiantly.Laideronnette,imperatrice des pagodes evoked so magically this make believe world,technically no mean feat.The Jardin Féerique was played with such simplicity and subdued calm that the gradual build up to the final delicate glissandi took our magic carpet into the Ravelian heights of this wonderful world of fantasy .
Respighi’s original transcription of his Antiche Arie e Danze better known in their orchestral version were played with great charm.But also with an enviable clarity and precision and some delicate jeux perlé from Alessandra thrown off with the ease of a true musician.
The concert finished,as it infact should have begun according to the programme,with Mendelssohn.
Roberto has made a great name on the International scene with his recordings of the complete works of Mendelssohn which include the complete works for four hands with Alessandra.
I heard him play with the London Philharmonic under Nezeit- Seguin the 3rd Concert reconstructed by Bufalini from fragments that Roberto had found in the archives. He went on to record it with Mendelssohn’s own orchestra in Leipzig under Riccardo Chailly.
A beautifully evocative overture took us into another magic world this time of Shakespeare and his “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Some beautifully light and brilliant playing from Alessandra with wonderfully integrated playing from her partner.
The scherzo was played with superlative lightness and startling precision and virtuosity from both players.
The wedding march was a fitting end to this 20th Anniversary programme that has sealed a remarkable relationship born on “Wings of Song.”
Tonight thanks to Yamaha Music Europe a piano bonanza of six pianos directed by Jan Lathan Koenig fresh from conducting the Moscow New Opera where he is artistic director.
Bach,Reich and the Ravel Bolero are in the programme in the beautiful Loggia of Villa Oliva,San Pancrazio,Lucca ……..
Part 3 Piano Bonanza at Barga
And so my final day in magical Barga but still two more recitals in the Teatro dei Differenti with Gile Bae playing the Goldberg Variations tonight and Julien Libeer a recital of Respighi,Bach/Busoni,Chopin,Lipatti and Bartok on tuesday.
On monday again in the Loggia of Villa Oliva Enrico Pieranunzi “Unlimited”.
But tonight thanks to Giovanni Iannantuoni of Yamaha Music Europe there are six grand pianos lined up for six fine pianists to play together under the stars in this magical Villa.
Directed by Jan Latham- Koenig who admitted at the rehearsal that it was more difficult to get six pianists to play perfectly together than it was an orchestra of a hundred musicians!
Jan I have known since our student days in London.
We pianists were in awe of of he who who could sit down and play “ by heart” any of the Wagner operas.
He won the Royal Overseas League piano competition but then went on to take the world by storm as a conductor.
He recently brought his New Moscow Opera company to the Puccini Festival.A post in Moscow, he tells me, he has held for the past ten years.
He has just conducted a new CD too that will shortly be issued of the Mendelssohn concerto for violin and piano with of course the Mendelssohn expert ‘sans pareil’ Roberto Prosedda !
I last heard him conduct all the Beethoven Piano Concertos with Evgeny Kissin and the S.Cecilia Orchestra in Rome.
(Kissin and I are fellow trustees of the Keyboard Charitable Trust of which I am co artistic director.Roberto was much helped by the KCT at the beginning of his career and he will now present, at the end of september, the KCT at his Cremona Expo with the founders John and Noretta Conci Leech together with a closing recital by the Busoni winner Ivan Krpan representing the KCT /Busoni Career Development Prizewinner ).
What a line up of pianists with Valentina Lisitsa and her husband Alexei Kuznetsoff together with Roberto Prosseda,Massimo Salotti,Gile Bae and Sarah Giannetti.
The Bach concerto for 4 keyboards and orchestra BWV 1065 in the transcription for 6 pianos by Filippo Cioni.
An Allegro of great rhythmic drive in which each piano in turn was allowed to be the solist with a great sense of balance between the six black beasts shining so magnificently under the subtle atmospheric lighting in the Loggia.
Some beautiful sounds in the Largo after the dramatic opening flourishes.A beautiful shimmering liquid sound was created in which Bach’s modulations were allowed to captivate us in this pastoral atmosphere that had been created by six pianists listening so attentively and sensitively to each other.
It was Jan in the rehearsal that had with just one word changed the final Allegro from a battle ground to a beautiful rhythmic dance.
Music is made of the song and the dance but the piano is basically a percussion intrument where hammers hit the strings.
It is good to be reminded, as Jan did, that Bach wrote for instruments that were plucked not hit.
It made all the difference and brought this opening concerto to a magnificent close.
Steve Reich introduction
Little were this refined public aware of what they were about to receive next!
Steve Reich “Six Pianos” written in 1973 when Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells hit the charts!
At the rehearsal Jan had asked how long the performance had lasted …………..I got rather a frosty look when I replied 16 minutes too long!
It was infact 18 minutes and conducted with great conviction.
Performed by the six pianists perfectly syncronised as they played the same notes over and over again ad libitum ( Jan’s).
The public at the concert after the first ten minutes started to look rather alarmed as they realised like this they might “miss their last buses home!”
They need not have worried as a charming young percussion player appeared on the scene and started to intone, almost inaudibly at first, the famous rhythm of Ravel’s Bolero.
As Jan had pointed out in the rehearsal : play as quietly as you can only allowing the famous theme to emerge on each piano in turn as this most famous of crescendi (together with those of Rossini) was allowed to build up naturally to it’s final explosive cadence.
A superb performance of this transcription by Roberto Prosseda’s esteemed teacher Serghio Cafaro.
And it was Roberto as artistic director of Piano Barga who suggested that each of the six pianists should offer a short solo piece as an encore.
The conductor too would play- but last!
What could be shorter than the superb performance that Roberto offered of Chopin’s Minute Waltz.Massimo Salotti offered a very atmospheric Armenian piece.
It was followed with a beautiful account of the slow movement of Mozart’s Sonata for two pianos in D major played by husband and wife team Lisitsa- Kuznetsoff.
Valentina Lisitsa then offered Ravel’s beautiful water nymph Ondine from Gaspard de la Nuit.
Sarah Giannetti a scintillating Moment Musicaux op 16 n.4 by Rachmaninov.
Gile Bae gave us a Toccata by Bach and she will play the complete Goldberg Variations this evening.
That left only our conductor to play in his inimitable way ” Les Biches” by Poulenc.
His performance of Poulenc “Dialogues des Carmelites” at Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires has passed into leggend.
What an evening!
No thought of missing our last buses home when there is such magic in the air.