Enescu at Covent Garden

Spectacular production of Enescu`s rarely performed Oedipe at Covent Garden today.
Starting with a true coup du theatre with a tableaux vivente that appears to be an opening curtain that suddenly starts to move,there must have been about 50 people on stage and a most spectacular ending with Oedipus disappearing into a stream of light and water.
Of course this sort of sprechtgesang relies on staging as there are no memorable arias or melodies.This is pure story telling along the lines of Henze,Weil or even Britten.
A superb John Tomlinson as Tiresias,the blind prophet and of course an equally superb Oedipus in Johan Reuter.
But the company ,for you cannot call a moving mass of singers a chorus ,was all the more remarkable for bringing the whole scene alive as in the then revolutionary use of the chorus in Peter Grimes in the forties.
I well remember the great stage director Orazio Costa telling me that he walked out of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in the 50`s when the trade unions would not allow its chorus members to be used as actors.
Here the revolutionary director known as La Fura dels Baus has changed all that once and for all -Thank God.
Hugh Canning in the Times quite rightly states it us the best thing for years to hit the Garden and he should know!

foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
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Chopin Concerti at the Chopin Society

The two Chopin concertos with the Sacconi string quartet and Janina Fialkowska at the Chopin Society today.
Surrounded by friends I was reminded of the beauty of sound that had been so apparent the first time I heard her forty years ago.
It was the piece that Artur Rubinstein had advised her never to play in public ~ the Vallee d` Obermann of Liszt ……obviously he had never heard it as she played it that lunchtime at the Fairfield Halls all those years ago.
Today I was reminded of that sound,the very sound that had reduced Rubinstein to tears with her interpretation of the Liszt Sonata at his first Competition in Israel and had prompted him to take Janina under his wing.


Of course the new Steinway played its part too.


Beautiful to hear the aristocratic filigree of Chopin so clearly with just the quartet beneath.
We missed of course the sound of the full orchestra in the tuttis.

Swings and roundabouts one might say but it was a real lesson to be able to appreciate Janina’s aristocratically poetic way in the hallowed hall of the Chopin Society.


So many beautiful things to admire from the graceful way she slid into the last movement of the second concerto or the majestic poetry and subtle virtuosity of the first movement of the first concerto.
Admirable ensemble from the quartet able to follow the ebb and flow of Janina’s expressive playing .
Such was the simple logic of her playing that we were all swept along by such definitive interpretations of great sentiment but never sentimental .


Is that not the great lesson of her mentor Artur Rubinstein that had us flocking to his concerts in our student days to discover the secret of his disarmingly direct approach of incredible beauty.


A lesson well learnt from Janina much to the delight of all her students,friends and admirers present today .

foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.

Louis Schwizgebel at the Wigmore Hall

What a wise and knowledgeable person Dame Fanny Waterman is especially when it comes to spotting musicians with that very rare insightful classical style .
And so it was on this Sunday Bank Holiday that I was more than grateful to race from the Chopin Society to the Wigmore Hall to hear the remarkable, refined artistry and intelligence of Louis Schwizgebel the pianist that had won second prize at Leeds to the first prize awarded in 2012 to the young very individual Italian virtuoso Federico Colli.
Dame Fanny was right indeed because here is an artist of the Curzon/Perahia school.
Not only giving us insightful performances of the classics but also restoring the works of Liszt to their rightful place with the same intelligence and artistry …very much the school of my old mentor Guido Agosti, disciple of Busoni
And so it was that the first encore in this extraordinary recital was one of the most played waltzes by Chopin op 64 n.2 but played as rarely we have heard it before .The tantalising sounds from his remarkable team of ten individual fingers and the subtle tone colours found all within a certain strict framework was to be marvelled at.
Followed unexpectedly by La Campanella played with all the tone colours and subtle virtuosity that we associate with a past age .
The little 3rd of Schubert’s moments musicaux was reminiscent of the much missed artistry of Clifford Curzon .
Beginning with Haydn’s C major sonata HXV1.50 it has got me hurrying to consult the score to find all the marvels that this young man revealed to us .
From the beautifully shaped line to the magical music box sounds in the first movement Ornaments played in the strict classical style but could the final two chords of the slow movement on the beat have sounded so beautifully right .
Four of Schubert’s Lieder remanaged by Liszt were shown for the little masterpieces that they really are .
From the beautiful echo effect in Standchen to the flow of the stream in Auf dem Wasser zu singen.
The sheer simplicity of Du bist die Ruh and finishing with Das Erlkonig that was every bit as terrifying as Fischer Dieskau’s famous interpretation with Gerald Moore.
A single work after the interval of Schubert’s big A minor Sonata .
From the opening utterance it was clear that we were in for an extraordinary journey from the seachingly sensitive and inquisitive mind of this remarkable artist .
The nobility of the first movement was matched by the extreme delicacy of the slow movement .The whole sonata held within a strict framework but with such imagination that one of the most difficult of Schubert’s Sonatas to interpret was made to sound so inevitably right .
Reminded tonight of Krystian Zimermann’s extraordinary performance of the last two of Schubert’s Sonatas in the Festival Hall last month.
It is refreshing to know that Louis Schwitzgebel is heir to this very rare breed of master musicians that are also masters of their instrument
How much we have to be grateful to Dame Fanny for,for never compromising the real musical values for pure virtuosity and bringing these likes of Perahia,Lupu and now Schwizgebel to the public’s attention.
Hats off indeed to this remarkable lady now in her 95th year.

foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.

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Welcome to Janina Fialkowska

Welcome back to London to Janina Fialkowska playing with the London Mozart Players Mozart’s beautiful little C major concerto K415.

Some beautifully refined playing sometimes overpowered by the orchestra much due to the very resonant St Johns acoustic.
Maybe the ideal performance for balance would indeed be for string quartet and piano something that often happens with this perfect trilogy of jewels K413,414,415 .
Alexander Ullman came to greet Janina who finds time to help and promote young talents in her festival in Bavaria which is now her home.

I remember Alex telling me how much he owed her for revealing the true meaning of Chopin’s mazurkas to him.Janina with the the same generosity, sharing her experience and artistry with the younger generation, as Artur Rubinstein had shared with her in her formative years.
So it will be quite a treat on Sunday at Westminster Hall at 4.30 for the Chopin Society to hear her play the two Chopin Concertos with string quartet.

foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
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Richard Goode at the Festival Hall

Some very serious music making from Richard Goode at the Festival Hall tonight in Schubert’s last three sonatas.
Playing from the score did not detract from his innate musicianship for it is not for excitement and public participation that Richard Goode has built up a following amongst discerning admirers.
In fact we had the impression that we were evesdropping on a recording session and that our presence was really superfluous.
Some exquisite sounds and control. Even in the most tumultuous parts there was always the utmost control and an overall sense of a perfect balance.
The most moving performance was saved for the last sonata where there was an overall sheen to the sound and some real rapport was created between the artist and the public.
A very fine artist but seemingly more attuned to the private confines of a recording studio than the vast space of the Festival Hall.
It is no surprise that he together with Mitsuko Uchida have been responsable for one of the major chamber music venues inherited from Serkin in Marleboro.Of completely different temperaments
we are in the realms of a select few where public performance comes second to the absolute faithfulness to the composers wishes.This in turn can lead to performances where the magic between performer and public is not of paramount importance as was felt this evening at his very fine recital that in one sense failed to ignite Schubert’s last sublime utterings.

foto di Christopher Axworthy.

Bach comes to town

What better way to start a beautiful spring day in London than with solo Bach played on the cello by Antonio Meneses .

A day that will finish with Gergiev and the LSO in Trafalgar Square.
What an amazing place London is!
Pletnev confided with me that playing at the Wigmore Hall was like playing “unter ze water”.However controversial that may seem to the discerning audience that flock  to this hall in particular,Pletnev is a great musician and  there is an element of truth too.


We were made wonderfully aware today of what a wonderful acoustic infact it has for string instruments.


From the first note played with the real “peso ” of a master the hall was filled with beautiful,rich almost orchestral sounds from Antonio Meneses refined palette.
More the school of Fournier  than that of the naked emotions of Casals but the universal message of peace and love imbued in the second suite by Bach was transmitted with the same intensity to an attentive Sunday morning audience.


Yes, for us musicians I suppose this was very much the same as the Sunday morning mass.


Tortelier once asked me if I understood what “peso” meant and indeed today it was made abundantly clear by the stream of clear resonant notes that poured out of Meneses magnificent instrument and filled every corner of this remarkable hall.


Last time I heard him play was at the Brazilian Embassy in Rome with that other remarkable musician Maria Joao Pires in a memorable account of the first Sonata by Brahms .
So it was interesting to hear the cello solo this time in a programme starting and ending with Bach.


The other works were four caprices by Piatti ,a composer I well remember from my early struggles with the ‘cello.The early studies of Piatti are standard fare for beginners but these Caprices were certainly not for the likes of us.Caprices full of the same type of virtuosity as those of Paganini for the violin.Played with all the flair but also colouring and virtuosity that these pieces require to bring them to life.


Ending with a Suite by Gaspar Cassado with all the spanish rhythms and acrobatics that one would expect from a virtuoso who died only  in 1966.
I well remember his Japanese widow, a very fine pianist living in Florence in the late sixties and hearing about her leggendary cellist husband.


By great demand ,even if the coffee and Sherry were all ready waiting for this enthusiastic audience  ,an encore of Bach was the order of the day  to complete this feast of music with the Sarabande from the fourth suite .


And so off to Trafalgar Square with Gergiev and Tchaikowsky obviously a different kettle of fish from our Sunday morning awakening with Bach but I am sure just as arousing in its way.

foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.

 

Monumental Brahms of Louis Lortie

Monumental Brahms from Louis Lortie tonight and as he rightly pointed out at the end of an extraordinary performance of the F minor Sonata it was in no small way thanks to the magnificent Bosendorfer at last in its rightful place on the stage of the Wigmore Hall.
Chosen especially for the hall some years ago by Andras Schiff it has been known as the most expensive green room piano ,as nearly all artist go for the home Steinways or even import a Fazioli.
The fully orchestral sounds that he was able to muster in the Brahms was due in part to the remarkable bass that this instrument has, allowing the piano to open up not only to sumptuous full sonorous orchestral tuttis but also to the more intimate reflective episodes.
Of course the taught rhythmic control that Lortie exhibited was rare indeed but essential for the structure of this difficult work.So often without this total control the work can seem very episodic.
This was certainly not the case here .
Infact by the time he got to the sublime slow movement he had the public in his hand on one of those rare occasions reminiscent of Rubinstein or Curzon when audience ,performer and music become one……..in short there was magic in the air.
Lortie had totally won the confidence of this discerning public who trusted him as they would a Perahia or Zimmerman never to lead them astray but to show them the wonders and beauty of a work as if being heard for the first time.
Spectacular Scherzo leading to a magical introduction to the last movement that was again held under complete control so when the final coda erupts it was even more of a surprise for him that for us.
The first half of this extraordinary programme was made up of Mozart A minor Sonata K.310 and Beethoven op.101.
Both played with a rigour that did not exclude sensitivity or tenderness when required.
I personally would have preferred not to have ornaments added in the repeats of the Mozart as if the ornament was a variant and not simply an expressive device.However it was very discretely added but maybe not necessary for someone who sees and feels so clearly the overall line of these masterpieces with a simplicity and directness that does not need variants .
Op 101 was characterised again by very taught rhythmic control allied to an intelligence and complete understanding of style .
The Bosendorfer in the first half,though, was less convincing as one felt there could have been more variety of sound on a different instrument.When it came to Brahms this suited the highly orchestral type of writing perfectly whereas the instrumental writing of Beethoven and Mozart in these two sonatas never has the deep sonorous bass notes that abound in the F minor Sonata and are so much part of this very fine Bosendorfer.
A standing ovation for a remarkable evening with a true musician who after much insistence offered a beautifully simple but persuasive performance of Mozart’s Fantasie in D minor ……..too easy for children but too difficult for adults as Schnabel would say ,but not on this occasion the magic had been set and was there to stay.

foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
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