The Twilight of a God. Many happy returns to Pollini and Chopin

Many happy returns to Pollini and Chopin
Standing ovation at the end of Maurizio Pollini’s 75th birthday concert at the Royal Festival Hall in London
And how could it be otherwise than a first half dedicated to Chopin whose birthday was the  following day  the 22nd February.
It was after all Chopin that sprang Pollini onto the world stage at only 18 when he won the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw.
The first piece the Nocturne op 27 n.1 in C sharp minor with hardly a murmur from Pollini’s left hand on which floated the most ethereal melody.
Similar sounds that he was to find in the Cathedrale Engloutie offered as his first encore Was not Debussy editor of an edition of Chopin’s works?
I am sure that with this great thinking musician it was not just a coincidence.
The two nocturnes op.27 floating the most beautiful Chopin melodies into the refined air created by this remarkable musician who incredibly was celebrating with us his 75th birthday.
The third and fourth Ballades again in a very subdued manner hardly rising above mezzo forte such was his self identification with Chopin as we have come to know him via the letters of his few appearances in public.
Such magisterial musicianship a lesson in taste and style.
His wonderful sense of balance and beauty of sound allowed him to shape the works with the same power as the barnstorming musicians who seem to frequent these vast halls.
For Chopin was used to playing in the salons of the day on much less powerful instruments and certainly not to an audience of thousands .
It was the mastery and years of experience that allowed Pollini to draw us into the Salon world of Chopin and the full house sat in complete silence hypnotised by this now obviously very frail musician .
Who could ever forget the first appearances of Pollini in London with the Hammerklavier,Petroushka and one of the most remarkable Schumann Fantasies that London has ever heard .
We were astonished by the perfection and power of this young Italian pianist .But most of all astounded by his musicianship similar to that of the much admired Solomon, a career sadly cut short by a stroke .
This perfection has now become the norm but Pollini has moved on and in his quest for even more identification with the composers he has lived with for a lifetime,he like Kempff too late in his life, sacrifices note picking accuracy for a sense of true legato something with much more meaning for him and for us and that he very generously shares it with .
This is why his public worldwide flock to savour this feast of music in this remarkable artists twilight hour.
The beautiful Berceuse ideally suited to this atmosphere created from the very first notes of the recital.
It was shaped with such supremely delicate rubato that one was not even aware of the elasticity of his phrasing and the total exclusion of anything percussive in his quest to disguise the true nature of the piano.
This was followed by the mighty first scherzo where a little more power and dynamism would have been the perfect foil for all that had been created before .
But Pollini chose to keep the same atmosphere and there was a general sheen and aura to the very mellow sounding instrument.
The instrument as always provided for Pollini and also in the past for Michelangeli by their faithful technician,that great wizard in his own right , Angelo Fabbrini.
I would not be surprised if the mellow rich sound was not something that they had worked on together for this very particular 75th anniversary programme.
Such is the probing,searching musicianship of this artist that has given us a lifetime of dedication to music .
The second half dedicated to the Twelve Preludes Book 2 by Debussy.
The superb exquisite sounds but also the total dedication to Debussy’s most precise indications in the score I have only heard once before in this hall from Sviatoslav Richter.
Michelangeli too was remarkable but a completely different sound world from these half lights and subtle piano and pianissimi .
Rarely rising above mezzo forte again we were drawn into the magic world of a composer who so much admired Chopin.
Already the murmurings of Brouillards and Feuilles mortes drew us into a quite unique sound world .
The spell only slightly disturbed by the Puerta del vino and General Lavine eccentric only to be re found in the sublime sounds that he found in La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune and Ondine. A real sense of humour too in the preposterous Hommage a S.Pickwick Esq ,P.P.M.P.C leading into a Canope of real magic.
Les tierces alternees could have cleared the air with a more virtuosistic contrast .
The Feux d’artifice remarkable for the wonderful final apparition of la Marseilles with such sublime clarity it seem to float into this vast hall with a simplicity and cleanliness that took the audiences breath away.
Always generous with his adoring public.
Three encores which seemed to give him even more energy as after La Cathedrale he sat down and gave us such exemplary performances of the third Scherzo and finally restored to its rightful place at the pinnacle of the piano repertoire the much maligned First Ballade.
Here at last it was allowed to sing out with such simplicity and power without any of the rhetoric that tradition has passed on to musicians without the power of Pollini to interpret what the composer actually wrote himself.
A real lesson from a master who we can only wish many many more happy returns…………..

The Master Speaks………Murray Perahia at the Barbican

The Master Speaks..Perahia at the Barbican
Magnificent Beethoven from Murray Perahia and the Academy of St Martins in the Fields tonight at the Barbican in London. Beethoven Concertos n.2 and 4 in their complete concerto series together.
Starting with a riveting performance of the Coriolan Overture this magnificent complex playing without a conductor .Each individual player listening intently to the other to produce a performance of hypnotic tension.
This orchestra founded by Neville Marriner I heard many times in rehearsal in the Dukes Hall in my Academy student days. In a break from hours of practise I would listen to Brendel rehearsing Mozart with them.
Wonderful memories relived today with Murray Perahia certainly the equal of a Brendel or Serkin at the total service of the music that they have lived with and serve with total dedication.
In this hall I well remember the Mozart cycle with Serkin and Abbado and seeing Serkin returning to the auditorium to listen to Abbado conducting.
Such is the unselfish total dedication to music that comes across with the truly great performers.
And so it is tonight.
No histrionics but total command and absorbed in making music together. We the public privileged to be able to eavesdrop on this communion between such musicians.
Beethoven second concerto in such a robust performance.
Gone are the usual rather feline niceties for the rough and tumble in the true spirit of Beethoven.
The second movement in particular robust but for that even more expressive .
The communion between the questioning piano and poignant subdued string reply was even more moving.
The great cadenza in the first movement, written by Beethoven at the time of the fourth for the performances by Ries, played with all the surprising musicianship that has made this musician one of the most highly revered of our time.
I remember Serkin remarking when he was asked to listen to Perahia the young student “you told me he was good but you did not tell me how good”.
The last movement played with such joy and rhythmic ebullience it created an infectious almost party spirit.
The sublime fourth concerto given a truly masterly interpretation that caught not only the audience by surprise but above all the musicians themselves.
A spontaneous standing ovation and a general embarrassment amongst the musicians exhausted,exhilarated and totally overwhelmed that they had produced such a performance.
Perahia conducting where necessary from the keyboard but in the Orphean declarations of the orchestra in the second movement there were no gestures from Perahia to the orchestra as he beseeched them from his wonderfully moving replies from the keyboard.
In the first movement such real rhythmic passion ,almost frenzy, that I have not seen in this concerto since the memorable performances of Perahias mentor Rudolf Serkin. Combined with such melting moments of sublime poetry as in the gentle unfolding at the end of the cadenza and the truly magical question and answer between the orchestra leading to such a passionate vehemently final two chords.
The last movement Rondo theme thrown off with a little too much frivolousness for my taste but how can one complain when it was played with such overwhelming conviction.
Perfection can never be totally satisfying but it can certainly be sublime as it certainly was tonight.
Much looking forward to Murray Perahias “Hammerklavier” in Rome on the 6th March. The eternal city does not know what is awaiting its lucky inhabitants.
We who heard it in this very hall a while back know that we are in the presence of a true master.

The remarkable Andre Gallo in Viterbo

The remarkable Andre Gallo in Viterbo
André Gallo at Viterbo University today for the collaboration between the distinguished musicologist Prof.Franco Ricci and the Keyboard Charitable Trust.
A yearly appointment where we already heard such stars as Alexander Ullman and Vitaly Pisarenko and now it is the turn of Andre Gallo.
Already noted by Noretta Conci-Leech and Bryce Morrison at Steinway Hall last year when Andre made his debut for the trust.
In fact Bryce Morrison,one of the most highly respected  of critics, described his playing “a superb pianist with an intriguing and daring personality” . In 25 years of the Trust he cannot remember hearing a more masterly performance from the Trusts performers .
Having already performed in the meantime in Cyprus where his concert and masterclass were received with enormous admiration and enthusiasm it was with great anticipation that we were able to hear Andre again in a recital in Viterbo .
Next friday he can be heard again in a live radio broadcast of an hour of music and interview for the Italian Radio Rai 3 at 22.30 .
Immediately apparent was the way that he caressed the piano, a true act of love that was transmitted immediately to an enraptured public overcome by the sheer beauty of the sounds he produced.
This way of caressing the piano very much in the mold of the Tobias Matthay school of playing personified in the playing if Myra Hess and Moura Lympany.
Gone is the aggressive ,percussive almost brutal way of attacking the keyboard by the so called lions of the keyboard and is replaced even in the most dramatic outbursts by a sound that is never allowed to be forced
Anyone who has read of Chopin’s insistence when teaching that was not to start with a C major scale where the hand has to be held in a restricted way .It was to start with the C sharp scale where the hand was allowed to be in a more natural position.
And so it was today a joy to behold the sounds we were hearing reflected in the shaping of his hands on the keyboard .
A real lesson of beauty being in the eye of the beholder.
Something so rare to see and hear in these days of super resilient instruments where projection of sound is no longer a question of balance but of brute force.
A single encore was enough to put a seal on what has been described by the Prefect of Viterbo as the finest pianist they have heard in the past twelve years since this remarkable series began.
The first little piece from Kinderscenen by Schumann where we could marvel at the wonderful expressive sounds produced and by his aristocratic sense of line and balance. This had been evident from the very first piece in this extraordinary recital . The Arabeske op 18 by Schumann in which the magical coda so reminiscent of the codicil of his songs and was the natural consequence of all that had so rightly gone before.
Chopin’s famous posthumous Nocturne in C sharp minor he had reverted to the original Feuille D’Album where the central section, so seemingly out of place in the eventual published nocturne , does not exist .And so this nocturne together with Grieg Das Wander and Mendelssohn’s sublime Song Without Words op 19 n.1 were played as a whole .
For not only is Andre a masterly pianist he is also a thinking musician discussing his ideas with other such distinguished musicians on the faculty of that extraordinary Academy in Imola where Andre is already on the faculty.
So many of the works presented I had never heard before in all my years of playing and frequenting concerts.
Such is his probing mind to seek out new repertoire and present it in his own seemingly simple inimitable way.
This was the case of the “Suite Francaise d’apres Claude Gervaise” by Poulenc played with all the aristocratic elegance that can restore this music to its rightful place in the piano repertoire .
Such suave nonchalance in the Novelette n.1 too and true transcendental clarity in the difficult Toccata.
It was only matched in the other unknown piece to me of Dutilleux’s “Au gre des ondes” Where the scintillating rhythm of the Claquettes and Etude were electrifying.
The two well know Arabesques by Debussy were played with just the right sense of improvisation that is so difficult for some to gauge.This though combined with the rarely heard Ballade of rare beauty .
Ravel’s Menuet Antique was given a truly enchanting performance where the subdued middle section of such sublime sound was the total foil for this hypnotic Menuet.
The Danzas Argentinas op 2 by Ginastera in which the wonderful languid cantabile of the middle dance was contrasted with the savage rhythmic impulse of the other two.
The bubbling over of subtle rhythmic energy was unmasked in the final dance played with a virtuosity and seemingly endless resilience that quite took this totally bewitched audience by storm. .

The Magic Carpet of Emanuel Rimoldi

The magic of Emanuel Rimoldi
Magic moments in Padua with Emanuel Миямото Мусаси
Wonderful to be back in this beautiful hall where my old teacher Vlado Perlemuter used to play regularly when he was well into his eighties.
The hall that Richter loved too and would often spend hours working on his programmes that he would record in nearby Mantua.
The same magnificent Steinway “D” of 1954 that Emanuel Rimoldi played this morning in a programme of Mozart Sonata K.310,Liszt Aida paraphrase and the Ten Preludes op.23 by Rachmaninov.
The scene was set by my dear friend Filippo Juvar responsable for inviting some of the finest musicians to Padua over the past 40 years.
I well remember the telephone call after Perlemuter’s Italian debut in my theatre in 1984 at the age of 81.
Incredulous that this leggendary pianist,pupil of Moskowski,Cortot and Ravel was alive and still playing in public.Perlemuter had lived in the same house as Faure who used to pass him his latest compositions to try out.
Would he play in Padua?
Thus started his Italian career that lasted until his 90th year.
We shared Annie Fischer too.
They felt “en famille” and so looked forward to making music amongst old friends.
And what music!
So it was to Filippo I looked as Emanuel Rimoldi sat at the same piano this morning.
Fresh from his Wigmore Hall and Manchester camerata debut for the Keyboard Trust only a week ago.
There was certainly magic in the air in Padua today and I think I can quite rightly say that rarely can Padua have heard a more beautifully ravishing recital than today.
In Hollywood lingo you might say “A star is born”.
A Mozart as though hearing it for the first time.
So unexpected but oh so right the different layers of colours that he found in a truly noble Allegro Maestoso.
Quite startling the sheer beauty of sound combined with a sense of style and structure that I have not heard since Rosalyn Tureck and been so taken aback by the seemingly simple way the music is allowed to speak.
A glorious delicate cantabile in the Andante con espressione that was just as Mozart indicated.
The tempestuous middle section always kept perfectly in style and the magical minor section was truly memorable .
One could almost feel the public gasp in astonishment.
The murmurings of the Presto at just the right tempo that made the magical major section in Mozart’s seemingly endless invention so unusually right.
With the statement of the theme in the left hand we were made aware too of what invention there was in the right.
Instead of the usual “starter” this was a performance that like those of the much missed Curzon one never wanted to end.
He made us realise what a true genius Liszt was in a performance of the Danza sacra e duetto finale da Aida di Verdi S.436.
A work in which gone is the ceremonial march and pomp that is usually associated with most productions of this much loved opera.
Liszt has seen into the heart of this work which is one of the most touchingly moving chamber operas.
Just as Zeffirelli had realised in his memorable production in Verdi’s little jewel of a theatre in Bussetto.An Aida restored to its touchingly intimate atmosphere as Liszt too had totally understood.
So it was with the meltingly moving statement in the left hand that Liszt had brought this neglected masterpiece to a close, just as Verdi had intended.
Some amazing feats of delicacy and transcendental virtuosity that was totally at the service of this very poetic atmospheric piece.
Finishing in the same key as the first of Rachmaninov’s op 23 preludes begins was only one of the very memorable things hidden in this artists subtle musicianship.
Art that conceals art one might say.
Preludes as only once before heard in such a musicianly whole and that was from that very first recording that astonished and ravished us all years ago.
That of Sviatoslav Richter.
We marvelled at the seriousness and total dedication to the score of pieces that had been up until then used as a vehicle to show off many a pianist’s technical bag of tricks.
Here as then they were restored to their rightful place at the pinnacle of the piano repertoire.
The delicate strands of the first prelude  in which  all the various layers made total sense coupled also to a ravishing piano sound.
The second famous”cavallo di battaglia” of so many pianist played with such grandiose virtuosity and temperament the wonderful left hand melody in the central section allowed to sing because the ravishingly subdued accompaniment was held so much at bay.
The gentle disintegration of the Tempo di Minuetto so poignantly nostalgic .
Unbelievable sense of control in the D major cantabile where the filigree accompaniment in the right hand seemed to float in the air as the melody was allowed to sing with such poise and good taste.
The famous Alla marcia played with such solid rhythm and shape and some very violent climaxes played with almost military precision always timed to perfection that led to the most thrilling performance .The elusive ending at last made such sense as I am sure the Paganini variations would in his hands too.A sense of being thrown off but with the real musical meaning always foremost in mind .
Wonderfully nostalgic sixth prelude with an awesome sense of balance that allowed the piano to reverberate in an extraordinarily expressive way .Led to the enormously busy C minor prelude where the melody shaped with such care seemed to soar above the most intricate of weavings .
The enormous difficulties of the ” feux follets ” prelude played with a seeming ease .This was the only one I felt could have had a little more old style teasing rubato at the cadences  The last Largo played with such understated sense of line and balance it really was a lesson in its self in true cantabile playing .
Total silence with the rapt attention of an almost full house brought an ovation that was thanked with the little Waltz Melancolique by Rebikov that I remember Cherkassky playing in my theatre as an encore .
Here it was again with just the same charm and colour of that other much missed magician of the keyboard .
What amazing people true artists are .
Emanuel who had played the same programme well enough in London just a week ago had now reproduced a performance and a piano sound in Padua the like of which I just never thought I would live to hear again after the passing of Rubinstein and Cherkassky.
All together an overpowering emotional experience totally unexpected …..
That is the glory of art of course.

Costanza Principe at St Mary’s Perivale

Costanza Principe at St Mary’s Perivale
The young Italian pianist gave a beautiful recital today in Hugh Mather’s Tuesday young virtuoso series.
From the first notes of the Mozart variations on a minuet by Duport K.573 it was obvious that we were in the presence of a highly sensitive musician.
The exquisite shaping of the theme and the purity of the trills caught our attention from the very first notes.
Such pure crystalline tone gave just the innocent simplicity that can be all too elusive for any but the finest musicians.
Each variation was shaped not only with great technical skill but there was much more besides in a performance where every note had a meaning.
Great character to the final variation gave even more poignancy to the final re-emergence of the theme .
So it was no surprise to see on the programme of a real thinking musician Schumann’s late Gesange der Fruhe op 133 very rarely heard in public but much admired by that great musician Guido Agosti.
No one who ever heard him playing and intoning the magical fourth piece in his studio in Siena will ever forget those magical sounds.
Somewhat similar to the 4th Ballade op.10 of Brahms in the hands of that other Italian magician Michelangeli
It is an elusive piece that Costanza managed to hold together making the five movements into one whole .
Not sentimentalising Schumann’s romantic musings but giving an almost classical performance that worked extremely well in this very complex piece.
Now she must find the magic that her illustrious predecessors have shown us in the past and imbue these magical pieces with the same wonderful tone colour that was so much in evidence from the very first notes in the Mozart variations.
The second part of the programme was given over to a monument of the piano literature : Brahms Variations and Fugue on a theme by Handel op 24 .
An innocent theme which is a rock on which the 25 variations are built leading to the triumphant return of the theme and a massive final fugue almost in the Bach Busoni style. Wonderful lead up to the final statement of the theme played with a relentless rhythmic impulse that led to some transcendental playing in the infamously difficult fugue .
It might have been better to have played the opening theme almost coldly without any of the warmth and shaping that was so much part of Costanza’s musicianship so as not to anticipate what was to come later in Brahms’ hands .
In the second variation the two’s against three’s give us all the rubato we need already written into the score.
Some very robust octave playing in the 4th variation contrasted so well with her true legato octaves in the 6th and the majesty of those of the 9th.
A great sense of rhythm in the 7th and 8th contrasted so well with the maestoso of the 13th.
The extreme technical difficulties of the 14th and 15th,reminiscent of the Paganini variations,was thrown off with just the right musicianly rock solid virtuosity that this piece needs.
The beautiful lyricism of the 19th was only surpassed by the luminosity of her sound in the little music box that is n.22 that comes before the storm.
The very revealing trills and ornaments in this seemingly innocuous opening theme were absolutely perfect which is no mean feat as was noted with envy by our connoisseur host and piano expert Hugh Mather.
I gather she is about to go on tour throughout Europe with the Turkish Symphony Orchestra playing nothing less than Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto which in my day was only for the bravest of men.
She even finds to play a different recital programme in her home town of Milan this weekend.
Remarkably she is till to graduate with her Masters from the Royal Academy this summer where she studies with that renowned teacher Christopher Elton.
Another very fine recital in this very well attended Tuesday series of some of the finest young musicians of our time .

A Piano for Cuba- 5 star review

Send A Piano to Cuba Ann Liebeck and Marcos Madrigal in Oxford
Beautiful concert at Somerville College in Oxford yesterday .
A series of concerts organised by Dani Acosta to create funds to send pianos to the Conservatory in Havana where they are sadly lacking. Somerville the Alma Mater of Margaret Thatcher and Vera Britten,was also the college of AnnLiebeck one of the leading lights of this project.
She was the soprano solist who together with the remarkable Cuban pianist MarcosMadrigal gave a concert of Cuban and Argentinian music.
A very resonant hall in the antique chapel which suited ideally the powerfully expressive voice of Ann Liebeck.
A very fine Steinway ,newly acquired, will provide a splendid venue for all the future concerts that will surely take place in this intimate space.
Marcos listening very attentively with a real musician’s ears gave a very robust but never overpowering performances of the enormously difficult accompaniments to these ravishingly evocative songs by Lecuona and Ginastera.
Some wonderful sounds in Ginastera`s “Triste”,reminiscent of Bartok`s evocative Out of doors suite,provided the ideal foil for the singers wonderfully evocative performance. Some songs by the lesser known Cuban composers:Guerra,Vitier,Prats and a truly rousing ending with Roig `s Salida de Cecilia Valdez given a truly operatic performance by Ann Liebeck who had performed the entire recital in perfect spanish.
Not bad for an Oxford girl !
Allowed a well earned breathing space with two short piano solo interludes in which Marcos Madrigal was allowed to let us admire some of the solo piano works of Lecuona which are to be found on his new very well received CD.
A small but distinguished audience on this cold and wet day and we very pleased to welcome the distinguished Professor Reinhard Strohm who came to support and admire his former student Ann Liebeck
The next event for Marcos Madrigal is his exciting new chamber music festival in Havana in April .
He has come a long way since Claudio Abbado discovered his talent and enabled him to study abroad

Mark Viner’s Voyage of Discovery

Mark Viner’s Voyage of Discovery
Mark Viners voyage of discovery
A very stimulating and interesting afternoon at St Mary’s today in Hugh Mather‘s Sunday afternoon recital series  at St.Mary’s Perivale.
Mark Viner the young Oxford born virtuoso,trained at the Purcell school under Tessa Nicholson and at the RCM under Niel Immelman presented a fascinating programme of Alkan and Liszt.
There was hardly a single piece that I had heard before so it was much appreciated Mark’s very learned introduction to these rarely if ever heard works of Alkan and Liszt.
It was very interesting to learn that the Alkan Nocturne op.22 was somewhere between Field and Chopin and to know from Delacroix’s diaries that Chopin,Liszt Georges Sand and Dumas had been in the audience when Alkan himself performed it in a Paris salon.
To have also Alkan’s original pedal markings pointed out too.
A beautiful piece that thanks to Mark’s discovery may now be performed more often as with the Trois Andante romantiques op 13 n.2 that opened this recital.
In both we were treated to sumptuous sound on a not easy piano that showed to the full Mark’s mastery not only intellectually but above all technically.
With a sound palate that went with his complete immersion in a genre that has not been delved into since the time of Raymond Lewenthal and Ronald Smith.
Both of whom were considered pioneers to have discovered and brought to our attention the figure of Alkan that up until then had just been a name in history books of the so called Romantic era in the salons of Liszt and Chopin .
Some amazing feats of virtuosity in the study op 35 n.10 “Chant d’amour- chant de mort,”with its amazing shift from light to dark from a sublime cantabile to a funeral march finale.
These studies,”dans tous les tons majeurs”, we will be lucky enough to savour in April when Mark’s recently recorded CD should be available.Probably a first recording as far as I am aware.
Quite a feat when one considers that at only 27 his 2 CD’s of Thalberg and Liszt Paraphrases have already been on the market for some time.And justly to great acclaim. The research and preparation necessary for such an operation requires just the total dedication and enthusiasm that Mark exudes on the platform .
Quite happy to give the most amusing erudite introductions and then to be able to produce in sound what many intellectuals have only been able to describe in words.
The Paraphrase de Concert on Ernani de Verdi S.432 by Liszt which completed todays recital was given a truly astonishingly grandiose performance that made one wonder why it has not been heard as often as the famous Rigoletto paraphrase .
The charming Pastorale – Schnitter- Chor aus dem Entfesselten Prometheus S.508 has only ever been performed by that other champion of Liszt’s music Leslie Howard.
Here given a beautifully clear precise performance to contrast with the much more complex sound world of the Chaconne and Ernani Paraphrase in this second half of his programme that was dedicated to Liszt.
It was good to hear for only the second time in concert the Chaconne und Sarabande aus dem Singspiel Almira von G.F. Handel S.181 .An amazing piece with quite a remarkable build up beautifully achieved by Mark today as it had been by Mariam Batsashvili recently at the Wigmore Hall.
It was good to see the original scores too after the concert and to realise just how important it was to get back to the original source to appreciate how much more precise the composers were with their indications than some of the editions that have sprung up over the years since .
All thanks not only to Mark Viner but also to Hugh Mather and his faithful trusting audience that have for some time championed this young pianist who is fast making a name for himself as a very unique english trained virtuoso.