For whom the bell tolls ………50th anniversary celebrations of Michele Campanella

For whom the bells tolls….
Michele Campanella fifty years on stage Celebration concert at Rome University.
It must be well over forty years ago during my student days in Italy that I ventured up to the beautiful Amphitheatre in Fiesole (the town overlooking Florence )to hear a young pianist play Mussorgsky and Liszt .A recital that has remained in my memory ever since .
I would never have imagined that forty three years later I would be listening to that same pianist in the same Pictures at an Exhibition of all that time ago. I often wondered why this fantastically talented young pianist never reached the heights of his colleague Maurizio Pollini although I would occasionally see his name in prestigious Italian music venues. I did once hear him play a few years back for a series of lecture recitals on Liszt by Roman Vlad in which he played the musical examples. He is in fact in the process of recording many of Liszt’s major works on Liszt’s Bechstein that is housed in the Chigiana in Siena. It is the piano that inspired Barenboim to have a similar instrument single strung for his recent Schubert recitals in London and in Italy just last week .
It was Roberto Valli (that wonderful magician of the piano who looked after us with his magnificent Steinways for our complete Rachmaninov Concerto Series in Pesaro ed Ancona recently) ,who introduced it to him and it was Roberto today that was looking after Maestro Campanella on a very fine Yamaha Grand of which he is an official artist. I have always been interested to find out about the different schools of piano playing that abound and even went down to Naples in the 1980’s to listen to the great Vincenzo Vitale giving masterclasses at the Villa Pignatelli. (Scaramuzza too was from Naples before moving to Buenos Aires where he has taught some of the finest virtuosi of our age – Martha Argerich is his most famous one these days) .
Vincenzo Vitale that day spoke only of music but having heard his pupils play I was aware of the very particular discipline that his method involved . Laura di Fusco,Carlo Bruno,Bruno Canino and Michele Campanella are all examples of the Vitale school and are all highly professional pianists all with a very clean precise sound . The complete opposite of the so called Matthay Method as exemplified by the sheer beauty and liquidity of sound of Myra Hess or Moura Lympany . In fact it would seem that the complete independence of the fingers ( remember the old trick of balancing a coin on the back of the hand whilst playing scales) in the Vitale method was in contrast with the totally flexibility of Matthay as was obvious from the sound produced. And so it was today some wonderfully clean ,precise musicianly playing but sadly lacking the attention to the sound produced .
I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty of sound in the opening of the Papillons by Schumann but the moment we got to the left hand octaves in the third piece the sound became hard and inflexible as this rather rigid technique seemed to take over. As this very fine musicianly recital progressed it seemed as though his arms were not part of his body and the communication between his mind ,arms and fingers seemed to exclude the participation of his whole body. This of course led to some rather perplexing moments especially in the monumental performance of Mussorgsky.The sound produced in Bydlo and Baba Yaga was almost unbearable in its violence without resonance .
This too is exemplified in the playing of some remarkable Russian pianists such as Toradze and Matsueev or previously Lazar Berman( known sometimes as Laserbeam for obvious reasons ). Some wonderful beautiful cantabile sounds unfortunately mixed with the most hard ingratiating fortissimi .It is obviously a choice but one that does not appeal to my taste where music for me must talk and there must be a comprehensible language and a love for the variety of sounds produced . Some people in the audience recognised me from the concerts in my theatre and they too exclaimed how wonderfully Shura Cherkassky had played years ago at the Ghione Theatre , a little Scherzo by Mendelssohn offered tonight as an encore together with a charming Schubert Moment Musicaux . But Shura loved the piano I exclaimed spontaneously after having my ears ringing from the Great Gate that we had just heard constructed obviously by the military forces.
It was however a very successful and moving celebration for a notable career spanning fifty years This great artist got a well deserved standing ovation ……………I will just remain with the wonderful memories of forty years ago.

Alexander Lonquich. For love of Schumann

Alexander Lonquich. For love of Schumann
Alexander Lonquich in Rome at Parco della Musica. Schumann recital op.4,12,WoO31and op. 6.
A long time has passed since the sixteen year old Alexander Lonquich won first prize at the Casagrande Competition . I remember him being taken under the wing of Nikita Magaloff and Sandor Vegh and now he returns almost forty years later as the great artist he has matured into, giving an all Schumann Recital in the great hall of Renzo Piano’s magnificent concert halls in Rome .
Such a refined and intriguing a choice, as befits the real thinking musician that he is today, including two rarely heard works :the Intermezzi op.4 and The Studies in the Form of Variations on a theme by Beethoven(the second movement of the seventh symphony).The later only fairly recently came to light in 1974 having been in private hands since its origin in 1833.
These two works as preludes to the masterpieces that we know so well: Phantasiestucke op12 and the Davidsbundler op 6.
Wonderful sounds all at the service of the music where one was never aware for a minute of the supreme technical and musical feats that were being performed by this master musician. Such was the concentration and total self identity with the sound world of Schumann that we were taken on a magical trip to the wonder world of Florestan and Eusebius .
The world that Schumann inhabited and that was eventually to send him in to a mental institution .
Such is the concentration though in these series of short pieces that in order to get their message across one has to stand back and in a sense almost use a classical style to allow the message that is so much integral part of the composition to speak for itself in a simple and beautiful way.
So a whole recital of Schumann in the hands of someone like Lonquich who obviously loves it so much can be overpowering . A bit like being almost smothered by love .
So much so that one cannot sometimes see the wood for the trees.
It was a fantastic recital but I just felt I would have preferred some parts to be allowed to speak for themselves in a simple way – the words are enough without any emphasis or underlining and without constant caressing and passionate embraces.
As Schnabel famously said about Mozart :too easy for children and too difficult for adults.
One just has to listen to the masterly recording of Davidsbundler by Gieseking to hear such simple restraint allied to such sense of colour that the whole architecture of this series of little pieces becomes a completely satisfying whole. So difficult to attain especially when a whole recital consists of almost 30 or so little pieces.
Geza Anda whose modern day playing of Davidsbundler was a classic example programmed them in his last recital in London , as a dying man ,with Mozart D major Sonata and Beethoven op 110.
Fou Ts’ong I am very proud to say learnt them especially for me but he too loved them so much that he was not able to show us the complete form but so many wonderful small nuances as there were  today .
A very difficult path to tread in this day of complete performances but I note that another much loved artist Andras Schiff is playing today in London the Davidsbundler coupled with Bach,Bartok and Janacek.
Very interesting to hear for the first time the Beethoven variations.
Such transcendentally difficult pieces but played with such a refined sense of colour and complete mastery that one wonders why they are not more often performed .
The Intermezzi op 4 sandwiched as they are between The Abegg Variations op.1,Papillons op.2 and the Davidsbundler op.6 have always been perhaps not totally unjustly overlooked .Such are the masterpieces before and after that this interesting work does pale in such context.
Wonderful opening to the Phantasiestucke – Des Abends played with such a refined control of sound it could almost have been a human voice .
In fact after these masterly performances we were offered one of the pieces from the Album for the Young – Winterszeit n.2 and what a revolutionary piece this is hidden away in this little box of jewels.
Standing ovation and insistence from a unjustly poorly attended recital was rewarded by the famous Arabesque op 18 with such decisive contrast between the beautiful recurring melody of Eusebius and the outbursts of Florestan (maybe rather over exaggerated here ).The wonderful ending somewhat reminiscent of Dichterliebe sent us out into the cold winters night with our hearts full of the message of love that we had been privileged to share with Maestro Lonquich .

Leonardo Colafelice at the Filarmonica

Leonardo Colafelice at the Filarmonica
Leonardo Colafelice at the Filarmonica in Rome this evening in their complete Beethoven series in the Sala Casella .
One of the best kept secrets here in Italy is what we call the Florence of the south meaning the cultural capital of Italy . It is in fact that wonderful city of Lecce, all Spanish Baroque in the heel of Italy .
When we were on tour with the Importance of being Earnest and Pirandello’s La Vita che ti Diedi we could not believe that even the man on the petrol pump had a season ticket for the theatre .Even at the back of the stage was a statue to the great Tito Schipa .
Martina Franca in the Valle d’Itria,the shin that leads to the heel one might say, has become one of the major Opera Festivals in Europe along the lines of Wexford in Ireland in discovering unknown opera masterpieces and performing them for the first time in modern times.
Paolo Grassi (together with Giorgio Strehler founders of the Piccolo Teatro di Milano – the National Theatre) and the great violinist Gioconda da Vita were both born in Martina Franca.
Riccardo Muti was born in Monopoli in Puglia where the pianist Benedetto Lupo has been teaching for some years with some startling results: the most recent of whom Beatrice Rana is rapidly taking the international concert scene by storm.
A recent CD with Pappano of Tchaikowsky 1 and Prokofiev 2 has had the critics world wide searching for superlatives .
And so it was today the turn of Leonardo Colafelice from Altamura in Puglia present in the fourth recital in the complete Beethoven Cycle that Andrea Lucchesini has devised for the Filarmonica to give a stage to some of the most remarkable young Italian pianists that are appearing ever more frequently as top prize winners in International Piano Competitions .
Matteo D’Amico,renowned composer and artistic director of the Filarmonica, had decided to include a short contemporary work by young living Italian composers in every concert with a brief interview with Guido Zaccagnini of Rai 3 radio all to be broadcast at a later date. A wonderful opportunity for these great young talents,pianists and composers alike , to be heard by a wider public .
The series opened in October with Federico Colli,winner of the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2011.
Leonardo Colafelice at only 18 was a finalist in the Rubinstein Competition ,and went on to win second prize in Cleveland as well as being finalist in the Busoni competition last year . Beautiful piece by Francesco Fournier “Fernweh ” a world premiere was full of beautiful colours as well as some very virtuosistic sections reminiscent of Stravinsky.
It was Stravinsky played as an encore: Dance Russe from Petrouchka and the March from Pletnev’s transcription of the Nutcracker that showed off to the full, the range ,colour and virtuosity of Leonardo Colafelice’ s remarkably assured playing .
His Beethoven was very correct and musicianly presented but I felt it was too Beethovenian in the sense of being too stern ,lacking in the colour and character that he reserved for the other of today’s composers on the menu.
Whereas Leonora Armellini in the second recital in this series had shown us what colours and sensitive music there is in Beethoven not only the stern severe unsmiling teutonic composer that Leonardo had chosen to show us this evening .
Surely the little sonata op 79 in G major is full of charm and wit apart from great rhythmic drive – deprive it of that and we have a series of wonderfully performed scales and arpeggios but there is no story being told.
The very opening Sonata op 54 Tempo di Minuetto lacked the very lilt and charm that this unique little sonata offers sandwiched as it is between the great Waldstein and Appassionata sonatas .
Surely the wonderfully played octaves in op 54 should not sound so bare and unyielding even although played with an enviable assurance.
The Sonata op 81a” Les Adieux” that ended the recital was by far the most successful Beethoven performance of the evening of the four Sonatas offered .
It was exactly as though Beethoven having pointed out the story our wonderful young virtuoso was happy to tell it to us and to lead us with his imagination into a territory he had not dared venture before .

Thanksgiving in Rome

Afkham and Helmchen at S.Cecilia for Thanksgiving.
Martin Helmchen and David Afkham at S. Cecilia Rome.A concert that confirms that there is a great new young generation about to take the concert scene by storm.
It was obvious with the first stroke of the young German conductor’s baton that we were in for an evening where the sparks were flying. A baton that like all great conductors was only at the service of the players but when it was necessary to dig deeper into the music the human hand was the most expressive means . Were not Giulini’s hands just the nearest thing to a Michelangelo sculpture?
Pappano too leaves his baton to one side when he really wants to grip at the heart strings.
But here in this orchestra – Pappano’s Orchestra – every player has an important part to play ,and to see the enjoyment and concentration on every players face is extraordinary Never more so than watching the energy and real participation of the first violin Roberto Gonzales Monjas ,who I had noted with such admiration in Pappano’s Fidelio recently.
A real love affair which is confirmed in Pappano’s contract extended by mutual agreement only a few days ago until 2021.
Till death do us part .Hats off indeed.
A Magic Flute Overture full of youthful energy and a respect for the very precise markings that Mozart indicates in the score.
However I had really come to hear Martin Helmchen who a highly esteemed pianist friend in London had spoken so highly of and whose name I have seen appearing with ever more regularity.
In fact he is part of an elite of young pianists who are fast making a name for themselves in a profession where it had seemed that the barn storming virtuoso was the norm. I am referring to five pianists in particular ,two of whom have been particularly associated with Alfred Brendel .They are Paul Lewis and Martin Helmchen together with Inon Barnatan,Igor Levit and Francesco Piemontesi.
All have one thing in common which is absolute fidelity to the composers wishes and as Pollini has said it is at this point and only at this point that one has the freedom to interpret the music with one’s own personality. Murray Perahia ,of course, is the supreme example for us today.
But there are also these great young musicians who are conquering a public who is tired of hearing just notes being spun faster or more beautifully without any real reference to the source from which they were born.
And so it was with this young German Martin Helmchen today that we heard a Mozart D minor Concerto K 466 as we have not heard it’s like since Haskil,Brendel or Pires . This was a young man’s Mozart full of passionate energy that together with David Afkham and the passionate involvement of Roberto Gonzales Monjas and his colleagues held us spellbound for a half an hour of sublime music making.
Some slight embelishments in the slow movement were so much in style that instead of being annoyed one was delighted,,, as was shown by the smile on the conductors face when he realised that here was some real spontaneous music making.
I missed a little the Curzon approach where every note had a place and an individual meaning but that can only come with maturity and experience .
The slow movement of the Mozart Sonata in F  K.332 offered as an encore, however, had all the things that had been missing in the concerto. Time seemed to stand still such was the attention to detail with such subtle phrasing and style .I would say this was the nearest thing to perfection that I have heard for a long time .
The last Shostakovich Symphony ,of course received a virtuoso performance from this very fine conductor but after such refined Mozart performances I really did not need anything more . Great thanks indeed to Cecilia on ” Thanksgiving”

Daniel Barenboim at S. Carlo Naples

Daniel Barenboim at S.Carlo Naples
Daniel Barenboim at Teatro San Carlo di Napoli How wonderful to see this beautiful theatre full to the rafters for Daniel Barenboim’s repeat Sunday afternoon recital of Schubert, Chopin and Liszt.
A beautiful Barenboim concert grand awaiting for whom Jacqueline Du Pre described forty years ago as the greatest musician of our time. They were in their early twenties and known as the “golden couple” before she was stricken so cruelly with Multiple Sclerosis before her thirtieth birthday. I well remember going down to an afternoon performance at the Brighton Festival of Brahms Second Piano Concerto with Rubinstein at the piano and his young protege Barenboim on the podium.
Apparently there had been a special lunch party before the concert and so when Rubinstein attacked the opening cadenza even Barenboim looked down rather amused at a very approximate rendition. This was the first time that I had had a chance to hear Rubinstein’s famous interpretation! And so I was reminded of the Grand Viveur and great much loved pianist this afternoon and I can well imagine Barenboim enjoying to the full a wondrous sunny pre Christmas Naples and then suddenly finding himself in front of a shiny Barenboim piano in one of the most magical theatres in the world.
Two Schubert Sonatas in the first half :the early D.575 in B major and the great penultimate Sonata in A. Some beautiful things, of course, but some very approximate passage work on the rather mellow sounding piano that Barenboim had commissioned especially from Roberto Valli .A copy of a piano that Barenboim had found in Siena. And the great thinking musician had created a piano not overstrung in search of that very particular Schubertian sound.This was, in fact, the instrument we heard last year in London for his greatly received complete Schubert Sonata Cycle. Beautiful singing cantabile but a bit too reminiscent of the Fortepiano for my taste in the more Beethovenian passages that abound in these works.
Strangely enough ,though, it seemed to suit Liszt Funerailles and Mephisto Waltz very well. Infact the performance of Funerailles was the highlight of a recital which was certainly not one of Barenboims most memorable. Chopin’s first ballade had some beautiful things but seemed to conceal the fact that this was not one of Barenboims best days.
The slow movement of the little A minor Schubert Sonata D537 offered as an encore showed us the original germ of the rondo of the great late A major heard in the first half. All played with a lack of Barenboims usual energy and I just hope that like Rubinstein all those years ago that this great artist had savoured Naples to the full and will tomorrow take Rome by storm refreshed as we all were by a magical sojourn in one of the most unique cities in the world.

Festival Pianistico Bartolomeo Cristofori

Festival Pianistico Bartolomeo Cristofori in Padua
The Bartolomeo Cristofori Festival in Padua today with Leslie Howard and Mattia Ometto the Liszt Symphonic Poems for in Liszt’s original arrangement for two pianos in the Auditorium Pollini
and just two hours before a recital by the eighteen year old Nicolas Ventura in the historic Gabinetto di Lettura
12 of the 13 Symphonic Poems by Liszt recorded just a month ago in Padua and now presented to the public in this new Pianistic Festival devised by the remarkable eclectic pianist Carlo Grante.
A perfect ensemble where one was not aware that there were two pianists on two pianos such was the total fusion of sound always kept under control and only unleashed in the inevitable heroic climax of these romantic masterpieces.
The Orpheus Poem of such poetry and subtle colouring was shaped with such delicacy by these two great artists I would say that this was the real highlight of this marathon performance .
The final Mazeppa,of course, had all the fireworks that one would expect but always kept under a such keen control that it was never allowed to overpower the listener as can so often happen with two concert grands one pitted against another.
Here with this duo there was no battle but a total cohesion of sound and sense of line that one was allow to savour the form and shape of these much neglected masterpieces.
Leslie afterwards tells me that it was Sir Thomas Beecham back in the 1950’s who made the only recording of Orpheus and several other major works of Liszt now shamefully neglected .What a pioneer Sir Thomas was,apart from being one of the great Mozartian’s of his time .I well remember the recording of Beechams Lollipops – what a treasure trove of rarely heard gems all made to sparkle by that veteran wit and master musician.
Much looking forward to the recording made in collaboration with the Cristofori Festival of Leslie Howard and Mattia Ometto.
This is a Festival immediately noted for its serious intent to present the piano in all its forms in a very scholarly way.
Hence the presence last month of that veteran Paul Badura Skoda and lectures on the invention by Cristofori of the first piano and also on the sound world of Scarlatti given by Carlo Grante -who has just finished recording all 500 Scarlatti Sonatas.
That very fine young pianist from Padua Leonora Armellini in a recital the first in a series of the complete works of Chopin .
Carlo Grante too presenting the three sonatas of Schumann .An interesting combination that apart from the well known op 11 and 22 includes the lesser know Sonata without Orchestra op 14.
So much to admire .savour and learn from in this festival that has also not forgotten to give ample space to the remarkable young talent that is being nurtured here in Italy .
And so it was today ,almost as an aperitivo,that the stage was given to an eighteen year old pianist from the Padua Conservatory Nicolas Ventura in a very difficult programme of Beethoven op 90,Chopin Second Ballade,Nocturne op 15 n.1, and the Polonaise in F sharp minor followed after a short break by the fiendishly difficult Brahms Paganini Variations book 2 and ending with Scriabin’s most beautiful fourth sonata.
It was in fact in the virtuosity required in Brahms and in a Scriabin Study offered as an encore that Nicolas gave the best of himself. Seeming to be more relaxed in the virtuoso intricacies of this music he allowed the piano to sing more naturally and less harshly on this rather bright Yamaha piano.In the most mellifluous of all Beethoven’s Sonatas he had not found the singing legato and poetic phrasing that he was to find later in the more technically difficult works in the programme.However a real talent and one to look out for in a year or two when he has had time to mature and gain experience .
All this is just the Primo Trimestre of the First Festival.Much looking forward to knowing what the future has in store for the lucky people of Padua.

Jaques Samuel- Fazioli Intercollegiate Piano Competition-Wigmore Hall

Jaques Samuel Fazioli Intercollegiate Piano Competition – Wigmore Hall
Jaques Samuel Intercollegiate Piano Competition at the Wigmore Hall today…….winner Jonathan Ferrucci from the Guildhall .
Sorry to have arrived too late to hear only the last piece of the first competitor who was in fact the winner . A beautiful performance of the set piece “The poet speaks ” from Schumann’s Kinderszenen.
Working from the bass upwards with a solid sense of structure as one would expect from a student of Joan Havill .I was sorry to have missed his Bach Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, Franck’s Prelude choral and fugue and the Bartok Sonata especially as I heard from a jury member afterwards what an intelligent musician he was as was evident even in the little set piece by Schumann.
James Guan from the RAM gave a very musicianly performance of Mozart’s Sonata K.333 and a virtuoso performance of Rachmaninoff’s Moments musicaux op 16 .Hampered by not really coming to terms with a bright Fazioli piano (Fazioli was one of the main sponsors)he produced some rather hard rather than full sounds especially in the sumptuous sound world that Rachmaninoff creates.
However this not easy piano could be tamed as Ilya Kondratiev showed us all in a really great performance of the Liszt Sonata . Not impeccable but with a sweep and passion allied to an intelligence that one has come to expect from a student of Vanessa Latarche at the RCM .He could,maybe , have taken a little more time in certain moments to allow us to savour the overall picture that he had so magically created and also he himself could have savoured the silences more ,but those are only small details in such a remarkable performance.Some really beautiful sounds not easily found on this piano made us realise what a truly grand piano this Fazioli could be in the right hands.His Schumann too played with a simple musicality that allowed the music to speak for itself as the title decrees .His Beethoven played with great character but here he too had not quite judged yet the real voice of the piano before him.
Oda Voltersvik also showed us what beautiful sounds there were in this piano in the right hands.Never a harsh or shrill sound or a moments doubt in a very difficult Shostakovich Second Sonata that I had not heard since Gilels played it at the Festival Hall in a sparsely frequented Schubert and Shostakovich recital……and I well remember the master getting completely lost in this very complex sonata.Never a moments doubt for her though either musically or in any other way in a refreshingly beautifully shaped Ballade in G minor by Grieg. Her Schumann a little too fussy to allow the music to speak for itself but some really beautiful sounds from this student of Trinity Laban Conservatoire.
All in all some remarkable performances from all four colleges and it must have been very difficult to judge an outright winner but in the end a very distinguished jury decided on Jonathan Ferrucci .A jury consisting of Hamish Milne,Ruth Nye,Peter Uppard,Peter Tuite ,Stuart Mitchell and of course last but certainly not least inspired by the indefatigable Terence Lewis managing director of Jaques Samuel’s Pianos ever ready to help young talents find and audience .
Very nice to speak to Peter Uppard ,after all these years. We were both students of Gordon Green at the RAM and I still remember Peter’s remarkable Wigmore debut with Beethoven op 109 and the Liszt Sonata which he tells me has just been reissued on CD . Hats off to all four colleges for sustaining and encouraging such remarkable talent .