Max- A Celebration

Max ~ A Celebration today in St Johns
A hall full this morning to celebrate the much loved Peter Maxwell Davis

So many heartfelt words from the musicians and simple people that he had touched in his long solitary life on the Orkney Island his chosen home and the place where  he could find the peace necessary to compose most of his vast output .As he said as far away from London and he could get.

Beginning with the beautiful Lullabye for Lucy written in 1981 and here performed by the Centre for Young Musicians Chamber Choir directed by Lynda Richardson .
This tribute was affectionately introduced by Robert Saxton and there followed a message from Alexander Goehr who could not be present in person.

Three of the Five Pieces for Piano op 2 written for John Ogdon in 1956 and here these difficult pieces reminiscent of Schoenberg ably performed by Sebastian Black .

A fellow student from Max’s student days with Goffredo Petrassi in Rome. Giuseppe Rebecchini ,the architect gave an amusing testimony of their lifelong friendship and Max’s love of Italy.

Neil Martin a former student from the early days when Max taught at Circencester Grammar School told of their fortune to have such an enlightened school master .As did Rubens Askenar one of Max’s recent students from the Royal Academy of Music
.
Charlie Dale Harris played The Seven Brightnesses for solo clarinet written for Alan Hacker in 1975.

One of the last pieces The Golden Solstice premiered at St Magnus Cathedral in May 2016 here received its first london performance .
A magical piece beautifully performed by the Centre for Young Musicians Chamber Choir directed again by Lynda Richardson with Joseph Beech at the organ .

Testimony from two distinguished composers :Sally Beamish and the actual Music Laureate Judith Weir was followed by the one movement from the unfinished quartet of 2016 played by the Behn Quartet .

Finally a moving ,amusing and absorbingly real description from Sir Anthony Pappano of the preparation and eventual performances in London and Rome of the tenth Symphony when Maxwell Davis was fighting for his life.
“Alla ricerca di Borromini” testified to his life long love of Italy since his early apprenticeship with Goffredo Petrassi.

But when Pappano sat at the piano to play so beautifully the simple Farewell to Stromness there was not a dry eye in the house.
How true it is that music reaches where words are not enough…..even with someone so eloquent and communicative as Pappano

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

Meng Yang Pan in Kew

What a nostalgic visit to St Anne`s on Kew Green tonight to hear Meng Yang Pan in Mozart D minor Concerto.
In this very church where I was married 32 years ago to hear a superb young pianist,student of one of my closest student friends ,Tessa Nicholson.A very fine pianist that won a top prize in the International Piano Competition in Monza when I was on the jury in 2012.
Some very fine playing indeed under rather difficult circumstances.Very interesting to hear Clara Schumann cadenzas.
Interesting programme that made me want to stay on to hear Louise Farrencs 3rd Symphony.
French born,much admired by Schumann.Student of Moscheles and Hummel.Demanded equal pay at The Paris Conservatoire ,where she taught for ten years and succeeded in obtaining it after the premiere of her nonet.
Well performed by the Kew Sinfonia under their obviously enlightened conductor Marc Dooley.
Many of the refinements of a professional orchestra were missing but a musicianly sense of line and direction were admirably outlined.
Good attentive audience in this beautiful church where even before my marriage I had heard a memorable recital by Cherkassky who was to give so many recitals in the theatre in Rome that I built and ran for 30 years with my much missed wife Ileana Ghione

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

Craig Sheppard’s masterly Shostakovich

A really towering “tour de force” by Craig Sheppard at the Royal College of Music today.
Almost three hours of total concentration with the 24 Preludes and Fugues op 87 by Shostakovich.

Not only a real feat of memory but also his complete clarity of line allowed us,the public( with many illustrious colleagues present),to follow the musical discourse so easily.
In fact there was total silence from a rapt audience totally absorbed by Sheppards music making as they were led on a truly memorable journey.
Such total concentration and complete identification with this sound world was totally captivating.Each piece was given its own individual character but  always considered part of a structural whole .From whispered sounds to sometimes almost overpowering climaxes there was always a clear sense of line and beautiful sonorities.

As if not enough Craig Sheppard was ready and eager to answer questions at the end .Such was his enthusiasm for this work.But it was the public that was completely worn out by the total concentration that had been forced on them by the pure conviction of the performance.Eager to share all his thoughts with other pianists gathered to admire the real mastery of this great artist who has at last returned to our shores.

Since winning one of the  top prizes with Murray Perahia in 1972 at the Leeds Competition Craig Sheppard immediately embarked on an important career which until his move to the USA in 1993 was much focused in the UK , having infact perfected his studies here with Sir Clifford Curzon,Ilona Kabos and the late Peter Feuchtwanger whose death was sadly reported only last week.

Originally studying at Curtis in Philadelphia with Eleanor Sokoloff and Sascha Gorodnitzki and later working with Serkin and Casals at Marlboro he decided to return to Seattle as Professor of Piano at the University of Washington where over the past twenty years he has been playing mainly in the USA which on todays showing has been much our loss in Europe.

Shostakovich wrote his Preludes and Fugues much impressed by the young Tatyana Nikolaeva when he was chosen to head a delegation to the first Bach International Competition in Leipzig in 1950.
So impressed was he with her playing of the Bach ’48 coupled with the fact that he was allowed by the Soviet Government to visit, outside Russia, many of the places where Bach lived and worked, he was inspired to test his own ability in this genre.

Nikolaeva gave the first performance of Shostakovich’s mammoth work and it was Guido Agosti ( one of my teachers in Italy who had heard of her whilst on the jury of the Tchaikowsky Competition in Moscow )who invited her for the first time to S.Cecilia in Rome and spoke to all his students so admiringly of her complete musicianship .

So I was very pleased many years later to re-invite her back to Rome in 1991 to play the Goldberg variations in my theatre .

Expecting a rather austere person at the airport,on the contrary the most warm person like everyone’s favourite aunt greeted my wife and I .
Having recently lost her husband , even though neither she nor we spoke a common language, her warmth and presence were so overwhelming that she was opening her case to offer presents to us almost immediately.
One of these was her original recording of the Shostakovich that she dedicated to us.
She became a dear and close friend for many years playing amongst other things The Art of Fugue ,Tchaikowsky Sonata,Mussorgsky Pictures but fear the complete Shostakovich would have been too difficult in that period for the ordinary concert goer.

She played for us right up to her untimely death on stage in San Francisco from a stroke.The concert she was to have played for us a month later in the end was dedicated to her by her friend Gyorgy Sandor.

With so much music so readily available in our homes this difficult work has now become more accessible and so it is now very much in Craig Sheppard’s masterly mind and hands to allow us the possibility to discover this modern day pianistic masterpiece in the concert hall  at last.

All is needed are enlightened people like Vanessa Latarche who realise that it is quality and not quantity and contents rather than packaging that really counts …..
But then you have to be a really dedicated artist to realise that and the Royal College is one of those all to rare places these days where they abound.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
+14

Murray Perahia – Le Roi

Spontaneous standing ovation for Murray Perahia at the Barbican tonight after his truly monumental performance of the fugue from the “Hammerklavier”.
The same frenzy and struggle that made his mentor Rudolf Serkin’s performance so unforgettable.
From the sublime masculinity of the slow movement to the truly improvisatory flourish of the seemingly false start search before embarking on Beethoven’s impossible final movement fugue.
We could literally hear the grunts and groans as Perahia shared Beethoven’s struggle with us.This total identification was even more surprising because unexpected from this true poet of the piano.
In fact the first movement was reminiscent of the poetic performances that Ashkenazy used to give in the 70’s.
For all the wonderful things that that implies for me it misses that frenzied struggle that was such a memorable thing in Serkin’s performance all those years ago in the Festival Hall.
After all ,Beethoven was struggling with total deafness and his impossibly fast metronome marking (that Schnabel attempted to observe )just shows us Beethoven’s frustration not only with his physical limitations but also those of the pianos of the day – a true revolutionary spirit indeed.
Already the second movement played with all the microscopic sensitivity that had Serkin exclaim to Richard Goode, the first time he heard Perahia:”you told me he was good,but you did not tell me how good!”.
Unique, I would say and certainly the second movement could not have been more scrupulously or sensitively played .
It was from this moment that a spark was ignited and felt through the rapt attention of the lucky people present on such a magical occasion.
Even the pause between the end of the slow movement and the opening broken chord of the last – something unusual as it is normally played without a break – sounded so right and also gave the coughers the ever eager time to express themselves between movements.

The concert began with a very simple but pure performance, perfectly in style of Haydn’s Variations in F minor .Not missing in Beethovenian robustness in the climax but seeming to dissolve before our very eyes.Infact exactly as Haydn had indicated in the score .

Mozart A minor Sonata played all perfectly in style with Perahias unique way of shedding light on the most hackneyed of pieces.
Always a robust performance but in the sound world that the music belongs so the climax even in the sublime slow movement took us by surprise.The last movement entered the stage as a whisper that was to be transformed into the central major section only to disappear again before the rousing last chords .
I was completely taken by surprise by the totally different sound world that seduced us in the first of Brahms’ Intermezzi from op 119.
Only one other pianist I know is capable of that magic sound ( that was all Rubinstein’s for those that were lucky enough to have heard him ) .And Rubinstein was indeed mentor of Krystian Zimerman who in the only other pianist today that can create such an atmosphere of sheer ravishing beauty from the very first note .
There are no words to describe the beauty of the four pieces that make op 119 ,in the hands of this poet.
I think the same words of Rospropovich would apply to Perahia here.Words  that he used for my old teacher Vlado Perlemuter when he played in his Festival in Evian :” C’est le Roi”
I had heard great reports of this concert from Craig Sheppard in Seattle. Praise indeed coming from another great pianist who was top prize winner with Perahia in the 1972 Leeds Competition .
It is strange how many of the pianists that actually have made their home in London very rarely if ever play in their adopted city, although feted worldwide.

foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
+11

Marc- Andre Hamelin at the Wigmore Hall

rAnother great night of piano playing with Marc- Andre Hamelin at the Wigmore Hall tonight.
Much reminded of Jorge Bolet and Earl Wilde and the legendary school of David Stapleton .
Almost no movement from the pianist but total concentration on the sounds that were being miraculously produced .
And how we could also marvel at Hamelin’s recital tonight of the amazing school of Canadian pianists that has burst on to the International scene.
From Glen Gould and Oscar Peterson to Janina Fialkowska, Angela Hewittand Louis Lortie and,of course, above all Marc Andre Hamelin who amazed us this evening ,as he has been doing throughout the world for quite some time.

Maybe the most remarkable performance was his first encore of Schubert’s A flat Impromptu D935 played with such subtle tone colouring that there were minutes of silence at the end by the numerous audience truly mesmerised.A public  that perhaps had come only expecting the usual pianistic fireworks that this pianist keeps up his sleeve.

We were not disappointed ,however,in a programme that included Liszt,Feinberg and Lyapunov .
An eclectic programme for a public that was yearning back for the Golden Age of piano playing.

A beautiful early piece by Liszt opened the concert:” Apparition” that immediately established Hamelin’s credentials as a superb Liszt interpreter.

Followed however, on this occasion , by rather ordinary performances, for an artist of Hamelins stature,of the well known studies Waldesrauschen and Un sospiro .
But then almost as though he had been warming up we were treated to a startling performance of the rarely heard Ernani paraphrase leading to a truly overwhelming performance of Liszt’s masterpiece of this genre: the” Reminiscences de Norma “- the famous Norma Fantasy .
Here was a true masterly understanding of the pedal that could produce the most full orchestral sounds as well as the most melting cantabile and of course the famous ” three hand technique” so much used by Liszt’s great rival Thalberg was quite breathtaking.
Complete mastery of the driving rhythms of this piece that not for a second wavered even in the light of the most transcendental difficulties.

After the interval two sonatas by Feinberg number 2 op 2 and number 1 op.1 .A composer that I had been introduced to in my theatre in Rome where the Russian pianist Vladimir Leyetchkiss would come to play every year bringing transcriptions of this virtually unknown,to us , composer.
Interesting Sonatas that need to be reheard and no doubt will be in Hamelin’s hands.
Sonatas in one movement like the Berg Sonata but more akin to Scriabin and Medtner in content .

Two studies by Lyapunov that he had written with the idea of completing Liszt’s own Transcendental Studies ( 12 by Liszt instead of the 24 of all the major and minor keys) .
I had heard them many years ago by that great but underrated pianist Louis Kentner,that my old teacher Gordon Green told me was tipped to become the next great name after the war but somehow his amazing playing, a bit like Cziffra, was not suited to the microscopic note perfection of the recording studio.

Amazingly difficult studies of which Hamelin played two.
The famous Lesghinka number 10 and an amazing number 12″ Elegie en memoire de Francois Liszt “.
Here all Hamelin’s enormous sonorities filled every crevice of the hall with the most sumptuous sounds and had the audience on their feet for a most remarkable show not only of piano playing but also of real musicianship.
This was evident  in the choice of encores of a Schubert Impromptu and a movement from a Haydn Sonata played with all the wit and charm of a Brendel.

Next stop tomorrow Murray Perahia with the Hammerklavier …..to be followed by another great pianist Craig Sheppard with Shostakovich’s complete Preludes and Fugues .( The former at the Barbican tomorrow and the latter at the RCM on Wednesday) .
What a coincidence that they were both top prize winners in the Leeds Competition in the early 70’s and are both performing in London all these years later in the same week.
No doubt that we are lucky to be in London the true capital for Classical Music

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

Old Mother Hubbard and all that …..

Wonderful marketing at Kings Place where everything must come under a title in this.beautiful “airport lounge” under the Guardian`s offices in Kings Cross next to the beautiful Camden Canal.
Escalators and space the like of which have never been seen at the Barbican or RFH.
Wonderful peace reigns  with no smell of fried onions and curry that  assails you  these days in our hallowed concert halls .
Infact a wonderful bowl of soup ……..of course some brown bread that the very nice waitress put in a brown bag for me ……….packaging,you see is their forte , for as I opened it not even the birds would have risked their beaks on it !
Very busy technical team downstairs all communicating frantically to each other via headphones and microphones attached to their heads.
A picture gallery for the interval (unfortunately with beautifully designed labels so small as to be not much use without a magnifier).
All this wonderful packaging but unlike its upstairs neighbours of the Guardian and the Spectator, when you take the lid off to peek inside it is hopelessly empty.
Much was the case yesterday as I tore there to hear the wondrous playing of Louis Schwizgebel (announced ,of course on In Tune )……..or
so I thought……..

“Byron in Switzerland 1816 The Year Without a Summer”, was the obligatory title.
Conceived and curated by Ian Ritchie who was also one of the splendid narrators.
Problems with the microphone,surprising with all the staff in evidence ,but would seem a battery had to be placed in the radio microphone during the performance.

Starting with Louis Schwizgebel’s splendid Erlkonig,which had been much admired at the Wigmore Hall a few weeks ago,followed with a very musicianly account of the first movement of the” Moolight” Sonata and two ravishing pieces by Fanny Hensel Mendelssohn.Interspersed with readings of Byron from Ian Ritchie and Di Sherlock.

Startlingly original performance of Cloches de Geneve the first half ended with a very musicianly( but rather dull for Schwizgebel) performance of Vallee d’Obermann,no doubt learnt for the occasion .

Interminable interval interrupted by a typical overloud and hence incomprehensible announcement  that we are used to at airports around the world ,one assumes that the interval was over and we were invited to take up our seats .

Two large music stands had appeared with lights etc and we were in for a Melodrama by the distinguished composer Judith Bingham:”Byron,Violent Progress” premiered in 2008. Based on a modern journey she had made with Ian Ritchie ,the poet Aidan Andrew Dun and photographer Alberto Venzago.

Using a setting of Byrons “She Walks in Beauty” was rather let down by the two new sonnets by Aidan Andrew Dun,which seemed to have to find a rhyming word for the end of each phrase that quite frankly was out of place here and rather puerile.
Music performed most professionally by Schwizgebel but one wonders why this piece should need another airing especially with a musician of such calibre on stage.

However Schubert’s beautiful last uttering “Abschied von der Erde” The music played most beautifully  by Schwizgebel ,and thankfully without the rather ordinary words that Schubert had originally set.

To end this rather short second half, Mendelssohn’s Andante e Rondo Capriccioso op 14 .
A wonderful performance as only Perahia or Serkin would have given us  but  spoilt on this occasion by the narrator thinking she had to recite over the top of such sublime music making…………

All out before nine ….no encores offered from Schwizgebel , although much desired under the circumstances .

And so for the next package Take your pick:  Dancing up a new dawn,Spring into Baroque Unwrapped,Living in the moment,A place beyond words,Unlocking the Kora and now arrives on internet The cello unwrapped !

Oh for a simple recital without a title where excellence will speak for itself  in this very nice hall without all being wrapped up in a five pound note …….Old Mother Hubbard and all that ………

foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
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Tristan,the greatest love story ever

Tristan the greatest love story ever.

What a mixture of emotions it provoked this evening for the ENO’s magnificent production of Tristan and Isolde at the Coliseum tonight .

In this theatre that I had not returned to since the death of my wife( on stage in Italy in our theatre – struck down whilst playing Hecuba).We had come to hear Il Trovatore that we were using for a production of Pirandello’s Questa Sera si Recita a Soggetto directed by my wife Ileana Ghione.

A telephone call from Italy between Act 1 and 2 tonight from another great actress and our closest friend to discuss the arrangements for our dear Terry Dalfonso ,whose film on Picasso had just been screened in London a week before, and who had not been able to attend as she too was struck down by a stroke on Capri where she had shot most of the film,

So theatre, real life,love, death all mixed up was a potent mix for this superb tale of eternal love that was about to unfold on the stage of the London Coliseum

From the opening bars of the Prelude it was obvious that there was magic in the air .Wonderfully expressive playing under Edward Gardner that anticipates the wonderful drama that is about to be revealed.An almost inaudible side drum and a single clarinet after the most exilarating climaxes signals the almost hushed opening of the curtain to the baited breath of the audience that had overheard such marvels.

And there in the production of the new artistic director of the ENO Daniel Kramer and much helped by the set designer Anish Kapoor,three separate corridors almost forming a pyramid in which Isolde appears in one and Tristan in the other.And at the end of the act King Marke arrives triumphantly in the middle one as Tristan and Isolde instead of taking a deadly potion are administered instead a love potion and the lighting changes to red as the real drama unfolds.

Wonderful singing from Stuart Skelton and Heidi Melton as Tristan and Isolde but also from the whole company in particular from Craig Calclough as Kurwenal and Karen Cargill as Brangane ,the two servants.
The great love scene of Act 2 lasting well over an hour in a set that seems like the inside a crystal or magic cave reminiscent in many ways to the famous sculptures of Arnoldo Pommodoro

Tristan and Isolde declaring the impossibility of their love and their decision to die together in their moment of bliss before day breaks.
The final act in which the wounded Tristan dies in Isoldes arms the moment she reaches him was indeed doubly heartrending tonight with the great eternal love that they aspire to at the end. The  searing and soaring voice of Isolde reaching out over the sumptuous playing from this magnificent orchestra with Wagner’s incredibly moving Liebestod.

A night to remember.

Also ,on a much lighter note  I remember my first visit to the Coliseum to hear Artur Rubinstein in a Gala Benefit Evening with the Israel Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta .
Always wonders with  Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto in Rubinstein’s hands but he was not happy with his playing and quipped to Mehta as they walked off stage:” Well its only money .dear boy” referring of course to the ticket prices that were sky high for the good cause that they were all promoting.

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