The Prince of Pianists- Zimerman at the RFH

And so we were sorry to hear that Mitsuko Uchida was ill and unable to play tonight at the Festival Hall in London but amazed that at such short notice Krystian Zimerman was able to take her place. The last two great Sonatas by Schubert in A major and B flat and four mazurkas by Szymanowski in programme. I still remember Zimermans performance, in this very hall,twenty years ago of the other Sonata in the trilogy .The Sonata in C minor, and it has remained in my memory as one of the most intimate but at the same time forceful interpretations I have ever heard.
And so it was tonight it came to mind Joan Chisell’s title of a review of a Rubinstein recital in the ’70’s :”The Prince of Pianists”. For here never have I heard,since Rubinstein, the piano sound so beautiful but also expressive with all that that implies. All the emotions and intelligence were there and one is reminded of the ” canons covered in flowers ” reference to Chopin’s Polonaises.
The A major Sonata has never sounded so grand and at the same time so beautiful .Gone is the usual hard edged Beethoven sound because here we are in the very particular sound world all Schuberts own. From the opening cascading arpeggios to the beseeching counterpoint on the return of the melody in the slow movement. Never has the hesitant final theme in the last movement sounded so nostalgic .
And so it was after the interval .Four Szymanowski mazurkas just as his mentor Rubinstein would do in the middle of an all Chopin recital like a sorbet before continuing.with the cordon bleu plate placed before us. And what a plate probably one of the most beautifully coherent performances this hall has witnessed of Schubert`s last great Sonata. I remember Rubinstein bringing his own piano to the recording studio in Rome trying to find that very special sound world that this work inhabits. Barenboim too had designed recently a single stringed instrument based on one he had found in Siena , and reproduced by Roberto Valli under his name , in the search for that elusive sound. Here Zimerman also aided by his faithful italian technician,Tonino Rappoccio, had been able to find on his own Steinway, I presume, that special mellow but full singing sound. I believe recently they even fished out an old piano backstage in Macerata and after working on it used it for this very recital programme in that city. Much to the cities delight and amazement they found they had a concert piano actually of their own. Interesting use of the pedal in the repeated single note that announces the last movement . As in the slow movement of the A major sonata before the interval. A sort of double escapement (as in Carnaval)which obviously comes from Zimermans knowledge and study of the capability and limits of the pianos of Schuberts time So many wonderful things but not just for their sake but incorporated in an intelligent ,knowledgeable discourse(with the score always visible and ready to be reinterpreted on top of the piano) that kept the vast audience in silent rapture. Three encores , real baubles turned into gems by this magician. Could they have been Medtner or even early Szymanowski?Indeed grazie Tonino per la conferma di tre Preludi op 1 di Szymanowski. No importance as it held us all in raptures well into the foyer where all our young lions were enchanted and not a little bewildered but indeed bewitched by the great lesson of intelligence, beauty and simplicity that we had all been privileged to witness.

The Joy of Music with Badura Skoda

A real joyful encounter with Paul Badura Skoda tonight in St James`s Paddington . As Bryce Morrison said in his programme notes Badura Skoda, like his teacher Edwin Fisher, is from the school where the piano prefers to be played rather than hit,coaxed rather than bullied into life,the block buster world of the ultra virtuoso,alien territory.
And so it was this evening where many of the details and note picking accuracy were instead replaced by an immediate simple musicality that allowed the music to speak for itself .
An eventful evening in many ways where one of the public was taken ill and unknown to the artist ,as to most of the audience lost in the world of sublime world of Schuberts four Impromptus op 90
An ambulance was called and it all looked so hopeless,until during the G flat Impromptu the miracle occured and the man who had slithered under his pew was resucitated by the immediate help offered from St Marys nearby …….I like to think that Badura Skoda’s Schubert had much to do with it too.
Not satisfied with offering a large programme of Mozart D minor Fantasy,Haydn C minor Sonata ,Schubert Four Impromptus and Beethoven’s last sonata .
After an interval, that the pianist had to pass on foot with the public, as in the confusion his green room had been locked and people were more intent on their Champagne that what our 88 year artist was doing!.
However after the interval Badura Skoda moved his stool nearer to the large public that had gathered to hear this legendary musician ,as he wanted to explain the piece by Frank Martin ,that had been dedicated to him , by the relatively unknown Swiss composer.
Charming very amusing and informative ” chat” about the Fantasy on Flamenco Rhythms . The clear lines of op.111 after made us realised how privileged we were to hear this musician from another age .
A beautiful little piece for glass harmonica by Mozart ( played with unbelievable cristalline sound on this “Boston” piano) was the perfect encore for a memorable evening
The age of the complete Viennese musician whose only preoccupation was to be the direct go between,between the composer and the audience.
I well remember when Paul played for us at the Ghione Theatre in Rome and during the rehearsal he had the whole piano works in his lap . When I found him he explained that there were some notes that needed injecting with a liquid he had been given by Bob Glazebrook at Steinways. Rather alarmed I immediately rang Glazebrook in London who reassured me that the bottle contained water as they could not allow Maestro Badura Skoda to ruin all the pianos in Europe!
And Perlemuter telling me of this jury member at the Casagrande competition in Terni, a small industrial town created by Mussolini outside Rome, who jumped down from his post to tune the piano when it became unbearably out of tune.
Wonderful to see him in such good form and know that the great Viennese school is alive and well in his hands and being shared with the numerous young musicians who flock to him for his invaluable advice and comradship.
Carlo Grante in particular often passes days comparing scores and playing the numerous antique instruments that make up the Badura Skoda household in Vienna.

Happy Birthday Ginastera and welcome back Barbara Nissman

Wonderful to meet Barbara Nissman at last for her centenary celebration concert of Ginastera at Kings Place in London. Also billed as Prokofiev`s 125th,Bartok`s 135th and Liszt`s 205.
This to show the direct link between the composers.Something she expertly spoke about as she began with Liszt`s Dance at the village inn .Followed by Bartok`s percussive Allegro Barbaro before arriving at Prokofiev and Ginastera .
Originally the idea to write a concerto for piano and percussion after her much admired performance of his first concerto lead to a very moving portrayal of her friend Ginastera who wrote his 3rd Sonata for her in its place from his hospital bed in 1982.
Infact this was his last work dedicated to Barbara Nissman and bears the inscription “Thanks be to God”.
Although living in Switzerland he always thought of himself as a man of South America.
Ending her remarkable recital with Ginastera’s masterpiece his first sonata written thirty years earlier.
Such energy and transcendental piano playing left us all breathless,but certainly not Barbara who at the end greeted all her numerous illustrious friends and admirers and one felt she could have easily started all over again. Over the years I feel she has become a close friend ,in a correspondence that has lasted over twenty years, from the day her dear friends Rosalyn Tureck and teacher Gyorgy Sandor spoke about her to me on their regular annual visits to Rome.
We had never actually met in person but her numerous CDs would happily arrive regularly in my office at the Teatro Ghione and we even shared our grief over loosing our beloved spouses.
So it was a very poignant meeting at her astonishing performance today in London.
Oh for the next twenty years of happy correspondence together.

That Nightingale in Westminster Square

A nightingale sang at the Chopin society today in the form of Piers Lane. Such a spell was set with the exquisite sounds he spun in Chopin’s nocturne op 27 n.2 that at the end not a breath was heard until the magic was broken by an enthusiastic public that had been regaled by almost two hours of some of Chopin’s best known works. Some unexpected embelishments that Piers had found in the original edition in Warsaw showed what a complete thinking musician we were privileged to hear. But above all such a sense of balance that allowed the piano to sing as rarely it can these days. An impassioned performance of the F sharp minor polonaise made the beseeching mazurka in A minor even more poignant. Asked by the pianist not to clap between pieces so that we could savour his refined choice of the different keys of some of Chopins most famous pieces.Op29,49,10n.3,47,44,55,62 . Ending of course with the sublime Barcarolle which Cortot likened to being in heaven and Ravel admired so much . I well remember listening to someone playing a piano transcription of “A nightingale sings in Berkeley Square” on BBC radio 3 and being overwhelmed by the beauty of the sound I just had to stop and listen. It was,of course,Piers Lane. Alas there are very few these days that can make the piano sing as purely and simply as that nightingale by the name of Piers Lane .

Mishka Rushdie Momen at St Barnabas

Some exquisite piano playing from Mishka Rushdie Momen at St Barnabas today. Schubert`s Wanderer Fantasy and Schumann`s Waldszenen given remarkably mature readings with such refined musicianship it made you wish that the Florestan element in her playing could have been brought more to the fore to provide more rhythmic contrasts. But this was a real poet speaking intent on sharing her dream with us as was obvious from the Janacek “In the mist ” offered to an insistent and surprisingly numerous public. Ideally suited to the sound world of Schumann where Eusebius is predominant in these late Schumann pieces some really beautiful sounds had the audience almost evesdropping on these poetic musings. The Beethovenian Schubert of the “Wanderer” although musicianly shaped with some really beautiful moments particularly in the very Wanderer movement lacked the rhythmic drive and impulse so much part of this particular work. Hats off to Hugh Mather and his remarkable team that have assembled such a discerning and loyal public that allow him to offer engagements to some remarkable artists and give them the much needed concert experience. Also for discovering some of the more extraordinary talents from those now frequenting our Academies. Next concert on Sunday at 15 of another remarkable pianist very much in view Ashley Fripp and following closely on Dinara Klinton,Evgeny Genchev and Tessa Uys with Ben Schoeman

Alex Ullman at the Wigmore Hall

A near capacity house for the young british pianist Alexander Ullman building quite a reputation for his refined piano playing .
After his highly successful Chopin recital for the Keyboard Charitable Trust a month ago he reappears again at the Wigmore Hall for YCAT with a programme of Haydn,Ravel and Liszt.
Winner at the age of only twenty of the Bartok/Liszt Competition in Budapest it was hardly surprising that now four years later he gave a monumental performance of Liszt`s Sonata in B minor.
A truly mature and unforgettable performance of this war horse in which the dramatic contrasts were fully realised without resorting to the more usual rhetoric whilst never sacrificing the overall architectural shape.
Never were we made aware of the transcendental difficulties such were we swept along by his performance of this masterpiece of the romantic literature ,at last restored to its rightful place.
Magnificent idea to lead straight into the sombre bass notes of the sonata without a break from the magical sounds produced in Ravel`s Oiseaux Triste.
Opening with Haydn Variations in F minor of such intelligence and elegance but not for one moment forgetting that this was the forebear of Beethoven. A real tone poem was created with superbly executed ornaments incorporated into the line .Some really beautiful legato playing created just the magic needed for two or Ravel`s Miroirs:Noctuelles and Oiseaux Triste.

The “Grand” piano of Dinara Klinton

A truly “Grand”piano from Dinara Klinton at the Wigmore Hall tonight for the Musicians`Company Concerts . Affectionately known by her collegues as Miss Feux Follets for her performances of one of the most difficult piano pieces that has astounded all that have heard it. It had the great pianist Emanuel Ax in a fit of laughter in his Masterclass at the RCM some months ago. Incredulous laughter from one if the worlds finest pianists ,no greater compliment is possible. But Dinara is,much more than that as her performance of five of Liszt’s Transcendental Studies ,two Scarlatti Sonatas and Prokofiev Sarcasms showed. Rarely has the Wigmore Steinway sounded so “Grand”. Maybe not since Raymond Lewenthals marathon Liszt/Alkan recitals in the 60`s have we been treated to such a sumptuous sound . Truly a grandioso piano sound so rare these days. But not only because of the phenomenal dexterity of this young artist but because there is much more besides as we were made gloriously aware of in the slow Paysage study.Or the beauty of sound and colour in the Scarlatti sonatas. Maybe the same rhythmic energy as in the more dextrous pieces was slightly missing in Paysage but the glorious sound more than made up for it and was obviously as the artist intended. Amazing performances of Mazeppa and of course Feux Follets will have me searching for her new CD of the complete Transcendental Studies. Prokofiev Sarcasms showed of all her vast range of sound and tone colour and the rhythmic energy had me running for the door at the end to avoid the beautiful flute and piano duo with which she incredibly shared the platform but had no place here. Some very fine duo playing from a composer pianist,Pavel Timofeyevsky, who seemed to be improvising he was so into the music and a very fine flautist,Anna Lugovkina, but unfortunately Dinara,a real lion of the keyboard just swept all others aside on this occasion