Andsnes and Hamelin at the Wigmore

Andsnes and Hamelin at the Wigmore
Leif Ove Andsnes and Marc Andre Hamelin at the Wigmore Hall
A much awaited concert by two of the greatest piano virtuosi of our day.
Wonderful to be greeted by two great Steinway pianos on stage but also a bit worrying to think about the amount of sound that might emanate from them.
I well remember in Siena when we were students in the late 60’s there was the famous piano duo of Gorini/Lorenzi.
In the resonant concert hall of the Chigiana Palace the best place to hear the concert was in the Campo or main square!
No need to worry tonight as it was soon obvious that we were in the presence of two remarkably intelligent musicians as was heard from the very first notes of a concert which included works by Mozart,Debussy and Stravinsky.
A very rarely heard Larghetto and Andante by Mozart completed by that remarkable musician Paul Badura Skoda in the 1960’s.
Followed by Stravinsky’s Concerto for two pianos and Debussy Suite En Blanc e Noir.
Total unity of style and musicianship led to absorbing performances where one was not even aware that there were two players .
The Mozart played with such style and wit where there was a real dialogue between the two players .Some beautiful colours but above all a unity of sound that was never allowed to overwhelm the music or the listener.
Wonderfully clean and clear pungent rhythms in the almost impersonal style of the Stravinsky of the ’20’s where the composer was looking for clean lines and using the piano principally as a percussion instrument breaking away from the great romantic tradition .
The Debussy too written near the end of the composers life the final movement dedicated to Stravinsky with whom Debussy had played the four hand version of the Rite of Spring.
But all this was just a prelude to the massive onslaught that these two musicians brought to the Rite of Spring played on two pianos.
I well remember Barenboim and Ashkenazy playing the four hand version at the South Bank Festival which was quite memorable .
Nothing,however, could have prepared us for the magnificence of what we heard tonight.
It was a quite riveting performance that held the sold out house on the edge of their seats from the beginning to the end .
The insistent driving rhythms especially from Andsnes and the clarity of the melodic line from Hamelin amalgamated into a glorious whole where we were totally swept along like in a “beautiful nightmare” to use Debussy’s own words.
These two great artist spontaneously embracing each other at the end as they too were aware that this had indeed been a once in a lifetime performance that not even they could have imagined
Superfluous to say that it was absolutely note perfect and that the treacherous difficulties were dispatched with all the colours of a symphony orchestra. There was such an insistent almost savage rhythmic drive that an almost hypnotic tension was created on which they could float all the details of Stravinsky’s revolutionary score.
A standing ovation from an audience that is amongst the most refined and discerning of all London audiences but that even they were caught up in the animal excitement that was generated .
Stravinsky’s Tango and Circus Polka were two encores offered by these ever generous artists Played with all the wit and charm of a Stravinsky who occasionally chose to let his hair down.

Yulianna Avdeeva at St John’s

Yulianna Avdeeva at St John’s
Yulianna Avdeeva at St John`s Smith Square
Winner of the first prize at the Chopin Competition in 2010,with Lukas Genuisas 2nd and Danil Trifonov 3rd.
A programme of Beethoven and Liszt which showed off her superb musicianship to the full
Only after great insistence from an enthusiastic public did she play some Chopin : the Nocturne op posth in C sharp minor and the great Polonaise Heroique op 53.
A first half of two Beethoven Sonatas op 90 and op 81a “Les adieux” separated by the 32 variations in C minor .
Playing of not only great intelligence but also of a musicality of such simplicity that these well known works were as if re born . The simplicity and directness that is the hallmark of great interpreters.
The two movement op 90 sonata played with such lyricism but also such rhythmic impulse that the contrasts in the opening ,movement and eventual disintegration were quite startlingly fresh.Vivaciously and with feeling and expression throughout as Beethoven asks .
The beautiful second movement seemed to enter as if from afar and the sheer beauty of her tone was enough to allow the most lyrical of Beethoven’s sonatas to sing in a very simple and direct manner .Not too quickly and very songfully as again Beethoven beseeches his interpreters.
“Les Adieux” seemed to enter into the same world.
Can the opening have ever been played more poignantly and with such sentiment ? Always with such a refined palate and a musicianship allied to a seemingly infallible technical command of every nuance that one was hardly aware of her presence such was the direct communication between the music and the people privileged to overhear these wondrous sounds.
The same sound world in fact of another great interpreter that was our much missed Alicia De Larrocha whose Beethoven op 28 “Pastorale” will long live in my memory for the same direct almost child like simplicity of one who has totally dedicated themselves to bringing to life the scribblings on the page .
The rarely heard 32 variations in C minor were just the right choice for this first half dedicated to the almost impressionistic side of Beethoven .
Of course the virtuosistic passages here and in the last movement of Les Adieux were dispatched with all the assurance and impulsive energy but never a smudged note of the cascading scales that were like jewels in her hands.
Rugged jewels too if needed in this pianists total control of her kaleidoscopic sound world .
The second half was dedicated to Liszt .
Again one was made aware of the wondrous sounds never percussive as these three late works were allowed to seep out of this big black box almost like some exotic perfume or mist .
La lugubre gondola ,Unstern and RW Venezia in which all Liszt’s anguish and deep inner feelings were given full reign in this strange sound world that he inhabited in his moments of grief.
Leading without a pause into the mysterious opening notes of the great Sonata in B minor.
A magnificent musicianly performance in which all the traditional rhetoric had been replaced by someone who had the means and will to delve deeply into this Romantic masterpiece.
It has no relevance to talk about her superb octaves or transcendental technical control when you are before an interpreter of such class,refinement and musicianship.
This great work was restored to the pinnacle of the piano repertoire where it richly deserves to be .

Joshua Bell at the Barbican

Joshua Bell at the Barbican
Joshua Bell and Sam Haywood in recital at the Barbican tonight.
Some extraordinary playing completely lost in the vast hall and so I am much look forward to hearing it again on the BBC Radio 3 tonight at 19.30.
Joshua Bell playing playing the Huberman Strad that I last saw in the hands of Ruggiero Ricci during the many concerts that he gave in my theatre in Rome in his latter years .
I even remember Ruggiero and I being being chased by the police with the strad tucked under his arm as we tried to cross St Peters Square late at night after the concert to get to his Hotel .
It was the famous Strad that had been stolen from the Carnegie Hall green room many years before Ruggiero had it .
I thought on his retirement that he had sold it to Midori as he quipped in his inimitable way ” I hope she does not break it”.
It has obviously passed hands from one great violinist to another.
I remember Joshua Bells first appearances as a teenager in Rome with the European Youth Orchestra .
From the famous Bell family in America this young man has since taken the world by storm Thirty years on he is rightly described in the Barbican programme as legendary and there is no doubt that he is one of the finest violinist of our time .
Strangely there was no real sense of communication in the Beethoven op. 12 n.1 Sonata .
The first movement rather thrown off in an almost Mozartian manner that although early Beethoven this music already had the sturm and drang that were such hallmarks of this revolutionary composer.
Great physical participation from Joshua Bell injected just such energy that was needed into this great classic as in the Brahms D minor Sonata and the FAE sonata movement of Brahms. Some beautiful musicianly playing from Sam Haywood in a real conversation between stylists and above all musicians of great sensibility ,where the technical problems that abound were resolved with quite remarkable beauty of sound and texture.
In fact it was perhaps the lack of the rugged almost animal detachment that was missing on this occasion where the great sweeping lines were lost in such refined detail much of which unfortunately was lost on us present due to the size of this great Orchestral hall,home for many a year to the London Symphony Orchestra
It will be very interesting to see what subtle detail the microphones were able to capture from near.
There was certainly no doubt about the animal insistence of the recurring motif in Ysaye’s Ballade for solo violin.
Given a truly breathtaking account which is not surprising as Joshua Bell had told us in his introduction that his teacher,Josef Gingold, had studied it with Ysaye himself.
The concert concluded with the Vocalise by Rachmaninov in which the beautiful dialogue between piano and violin was followed by a transcendental performance of Sarasate’s great showpiece for violin: Carmen Fantasy op.25.
The great aplomb and physicality of Joshua Bells performance bringing much unexpected applause during the great showmanship endings of the various sections of this pot pourri from Bizet’s magical score .
As promised ,in his introduction, in place of the promised contemporary work by Aaron Jay Kernis we were treated to two encores of violin showpieces .
Chopin’s nocturne op posth received a magical performance from both players and if the Wieniawski Tarantelle did not have quite the impact it would have in a smaller hall it was, as you will hear tonight, quite a tour de force.

Victor Maslov at St Mary’s

Victor Maslov at St Mary’s
Victor Maslov at St Mary`s Perivale today.
Very moved to see that this remarkable young pianist is the recipient of an Eileen Rowe musical Trust Award.
Eileen Rowe the remarkable teacher in Ealing who dedicated her life to sharing her passionate discipline for music with young children.
We as students would be only too pleased to help her with her enormous piano practice in her house in St Stephens Road where every room contained a piano.
Danielle Salamon,Katherine Stott and many others were accepted into her musical family and treated to the wonderful roast lunches that were part of a days teaching for her.
Generous in life as she is in the hereafter having left all her goods to creating a fund to help needy young musicians resident in Ealing.
The Trust administered by her star pupil Vanessa Latarche,now head of keyboard studies at the RCM ,together with Doctor HughMather,retired consultant physician at Ealing Hospital ,whose children were pupils of Eileen Rowe.
He is now the passionate instigator and Deus ex Machina of regular concerts in which not only can some of the finest young talents be appreciated by his discerning public but like Miss Rowe in giving regular paid engagements to these young artists he is offering more often than not a much needed life line in a very delicate part of their professional life.
Dmitri Alexeev a long time resident in Ealing since his victory in the Leeds International Piano Competition in the 70`s when he took first prize from the likes of Mitsuko Uchida and Andras Schiff.
A long time favourite in Rome where I heard him give the most remarkably physical account of Rachmaninovs third piano concerto.
In fact his total identification with the music has remained with me ever since when he used to play regularly in Rome as he was Lanza Tomassi`s (the head of the radio in Rome)favourite pianist.
His performances in my theatre in Rome were organised by another remarkable lady who was his agent in Milan:Donatella Brizio.
In particular his performance of the Chopin B minor Sonata will long be remembered by all those lucky enough to have been present
Alexeev now with the same dedication as Eileen Rowe has become one of the most renowned and sought after teachers in the world. A place in his studio at the Royal College of Music is one if the most sought after accolades of aspiring young pianists from around the globe.
And so it was with great anticipation that I came to Victor Maslov`s recital today.
Winner of many prizes and competitions he is now perfecting his studies at the RCM with Alexeev as a Future of Russia Foundation scholar.
Some wonderfully delicate quiet playing that revealed all his early training in Russia.Indeed fingers of steel but wrists of rubber gave a very special sound to this not easy to tame piano.
The Brahms Handel variations suffered,however, from a lack of insistent propulsion and instead of a continuous crescendo to the final triumphant explosion of the original theme we got a series of exquisite episodes.Hampered by some rather fussy rubatos and insistence on finding counter melodies in the repeats we rather lost the overall architecture of this monumental almost orchestrally conceived work.
Whereas Dmitri Alexeev’s totally physical identification with all he plays in which the shapes and sounds of the music are reflected in the movement of his body and hands. Strangely enough above a certain level there was none of this self identification which led to a very brilliant but rather brittle sound. Not the rich orchestral sound world of Brahms. It was this above all that was missing in what has the makings of a remarkable performance.
The massive fugue almost an inevitable release as is the coda of Chopins fourth ballade ,was played with great assurance but a feeling that Victor had not quite tamed the difficult beast set before him.
The little encore of the exquisite Prelude in G sharp minor by Rachmaninov showed off the real artistry of this young musician.
His performance of the 8 Etudes Tableaux op 33 also had some most poetic moments in the quieter passages that abound.
Here again in the sumptuous sound world in the more robust passages the full robust sound was substituted by a very brilliant but again rather brittle sound where he seemed to exclude the very bodily participation that was so unforgettable in Alexeevs performances .
I have no doubt that this young man inspired by his teacher will aspire to the career that he already richly deserves.

Ashley Fripp at St Bartholomew the Great

Ashley Fripp at St Bartholomew the Great
Ashley Fripp at St Bartholomew the Great for the City Music Society. Mozart K.311,Liszt Sposalizio,Ravel Gaspard de la Nuit
Quite a surprise to find this church in London by Smithfield Market in the shadow of the Barbican.
The oldest church in London dating back to the 11th Century.
Even the more surprising though was the wonderful acoustic for the lunchtime recital by Ashley Fripp for the City Music Society Young Artists Series .
A wonderful sounding Steinway “D” at the foot of the altar created the ideal situation for some remarkable music making .
Ashley  Fripp Gold Prize Winner from the Guildhall and now completing his studies in Florence with Elisso Virsaladze has already been admired in many important venues throughout the world .
I well remember a remarkably poetic performance of the Chopin D flat nocturne op 27 from Warsaw even the more remarkable as it was on a Kawai Shigeru piano!
Unfortunately arriving late for his recital as I had mistakenly made for St Lawrence Jewry the usual venue for the City Music Society concerts not having fully understood this change of venue.
But what a change!
Whereas in St Lawrence the resonant acoustic was not helped by an over brilliant Fazioli piano instead of Sir Thomas Beecham’s old piano that is resident there .
Dinara Klintons remarkably subtle piano playing last year was completely lost in this “church” acoustic .
The change to St Bartholomew the Great was a revelation in that every note could be savoured to the full with just the right amount of resonance that can help an artist create real intimacy in such a large space.
The wonderful sounding Steinway Concert Grand sitting so nobly in the middle of this remarkably ancient building.
Arriving for the second movement of the Mozart D major Sonata K.311 I was completely seduced by the sublime melodic invention of one of Mozart’s most simple and touching slow movements.
In Ashley’s very sensitive hands this movement was allowed to sing and be shaped with such ravishing sounds that filled every crevice of this noble edifice .The very subtle use of rubato and the exquisite ornaments completely won over a very full hall where not a pin could be heard such was the atmosphere and concentration that Ashley was able to capture .
The charm and wit of the Rondeau was played with all the style and virtuosity that one could expect from a disciple of Elisso Virsaladze . But there was more to it than that for there was a personal involvement and sense of character that totally contrasted with the sublime slow movement and that showed a great musical personality that allowed the music to talk so directly with such conviction .
Introducing Liszt Sposalizio – The Marriage of the Virgin – Ashley demonstrated his intellectual involvement that got to the very core of the music and allowed him to interpret it with such meaningfulness.
Some very subtle colours in this very suggestive piece where the terrific technical demands were never allowed to overpower the real musical line.
Gaspard de la Nuit by Ravel ended the programme and as Ashley told his audience it was written by Ravel with the intent of outdoing even Liszt’s Transcendental Studies with the technical demands required by all those that dare tread its waters.
The poems of Bertrand eloquently read by Ashley before each of the three movements to his attentive audience.
The water nymph Ondine can never before have sounded so happy to bathe in these subtle waters created on this occasion
The tolling bell of Le Gibet played with such understatement that it became even more insistent and sinister that usual .
Scarbo played at an almost impossible pace but held together with such breathtaking virtuosity that made one realise how Ravel had indeed succeeded in his mission to out do Liszt.
Some amazing feats of virtuosity from Ashley but always with the most subtle colours and sense of the real character of each piece to the fore as he had so courageously described in the poems read before each performance .

Hin-Yat Tsang at Steinway Hall

Hin-Yat Tsang for the Keyboard Charitable Trust at Steinway Hall
Hin-Yat Tsang at Steinway Hall in London tonight. Some wonderful performances from Albeniz to Bizet taking in Scriabin,Barber and Schumann.
It was fifty years ago that as a first year student at the Royal Academy I would practise there in the evenings hardly able to believe my luck to be there  too and to be surrounded by people that loved music as much as I did.
There were some regulars who used to practise almost as much as me and one of these was Eleanor Wong who together with her sister Linda would be there every evening too.
Eleanor a final year student of that remarkable and versatile musician Freddie Jackson who some years later died whilst conducting the Verdi Requiem in the Dukes Hall……what a way to go for a wonderfully dedicated musician.
Eleanor would often knock on my door and ask if she could try out her programmes for up and coming performances in concert and competitions (she won the silver medal at Vercelli) Having just started at the RAM and not used to hearing such fine playing I was bowled over with just the right enthusiasm that helped her in her quest to prepare .
Linda her sister too,a student of another very fine sensitive musician , Max Pirani ,would often play too .
Two Wongs don’t make a right Gordon Green would affectionately quip!
Not in this case for sure .For both were remarkably talented with that inner energy that only comes from real passionate involvement and dedication
All this to say that Eleanor is now founder of the prestigious Hong Kong International Piano Competition with musicians of the calibre of Peter Frankl,Bryce Morrison,Vladimir Ashkenazy and Peter Donohoe on the jury.
She herself is often to be seen on the juries of International Competitions and was last seen on the Leeds Competition of Dame Fanny Waterman (who coincidentally had her 97th birthday today too)
Eleanor Wong has built up an enviable reputation for spotting and training great young talent some of whom then go on from Hong Kong to perfect their considerable talent at colleges in London as she herself had done all those years ago.
Just such a case is Hin-Yat Tsang who has just graduated with honours from the class of Dmitri Alexeev (coincidentally winner of the Leeds Piano Competition in the 70’s)at the Royal College of Music. Now continuing his studies in Berlin with Klaus Hellwig this youngman ,only in his early twenties, will be flying off, after his recital for the Keyboard Charitable Trust , to Barcellona to compete in an International Piano Competition himself.
I could not help but notice many traits of his teacher who had so impressed a young student fifty years ago.
The same inner fire that seems when he is at the piano to exclude all else with his total concentration and involvement with the music.
Even the way he holds his hands and the stillness of his body whilst expressing with discrete facial expressions the varying moods that he is experiencing in the music.
The very complex Humoreske by Schumann `was given a totally convincing performance held strictly under a tight reign but allowing at the same time the music to move and breathe naturally.
Andras Schiff had noted just this in the masterclasses at the RAM where he was very impressed and inspired by Hin Yats interpretation as indeed the audience including some very distinguished musicians at Steinway Hall were witness today.( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdqiQ9VQxrE.)
A nocturne “Homage to John Field” op.33 by Samuel Barber together with his encore of a “Song without words” by Bizet just showed what an inquisitive and informed musician  Hin-Yat Tsang is.
The Barber full of the “fioriture ” as in Chopin or Field but translated into the twentieth century sound world of Barber of some quite transcendental difficulty.Thrown off with all the colour and seeming simplicity of art that belies art.
The Bizet was given an aristocratically suave typically french nobility with all the charm that could have been almost of a Chaminade or Poulenc.
Bryce Morrison tells me that Glen Gould, that inquisitive genius ,was the last person that surprisingly he had heard treading these waters.
El Puerto by Albeniz that opened the programme again was given a musicians performance with strong rhythms and sense of line that did not allow these spanish folk idioms to descend into sentimentality.
On the contrary as Alicia De Larrocha has taught us over the years the real passion and tension lies in the rhythm and colours that need only to be played with a simplicity that allows the story within to be revealed in all it moving majesty.
Scriabin’s Sonata Fantasy played with some real technical mastery where the musical line was always allowed to appear and disappear in between the typically virtuosistic spider like figurations that are so much part of this early Scriabin .
All the youthful preparation that had been lain so solidly by Eleanor were now at the service of the music from this remarkable young pianist who we wish well in his undoubted successes on the International circuit.
Present in the hall were the founders of the Keyboard Trust Noretta Conci-Leech and her husband John Leech.
Hats off to them for founding this Trust whose sole aim is to help remarkable young talents such as on display tonight to find a public with which to share their exceptional performances.
For they know that it is only by playing regularly in public that these young musicians that have dedicated their youth to studying the piano can progress and learn to fly to heights that not even they could imagine.

Jamal Aliyev at St James’s

Jamal Aliyev and Maria Tarasewicz at St James’s Piccadilly
JamalAliyev and Maria Tarasewicz at St James`s Piccadilly for the Concordia Foundation series of Gillian Humphreys.
Having heard Jamal over the past few years it was splendid to hear how this promising and exceptionally talented young student has blossomed into the great artist that overwhelmed a very attentive audience in St James`s Piccadilly today. Right from the opening work with the Paganini Variations on a theme by Rossini one was immediately aware of being part of a very special occasion. The subtle phrasing,the total involvement and a transcendental control of the instrument where the music was allowed to speak directly to a public completely mesmerised.
Paul Tortelier,who would have been 103 yesterday played it in my theatre with just the same communication and showmanship that it so much part of this encore piece. Jamal playing with just the same weight on a Gabrielli cello of 1752. After such a performance one wondered how he could play anything else afterwards. Helped also by the resonant acoustic and the exquisite playing of Maria Tarasewicz who was with him every inch of the way.
Some beautiful sounds on this very fine concert Fazioli and with the lid fully open such was her musicianship she never overpowered the cello. In fact in the Arpeggione Sonata there was some very fine duo playing in which each of these young artists were listening attentively to each other in a real musical conversation.The seemingly endless melodic invention of Schubert only equalled by Mozart,was given a performance of such eloquence and musicality each player replying to the other in a totally convincing performance. Some exquisite sounds from the piano totally matched the passionate commitment from the cellist.
This same passionate commitment was in evidence in a remarkable performance of the first movement of Dvorak`s cello concerto. The same commitment and nobility that was so much part of Jaqueline Du Pre`s historic performance with Daniel Barenboim in the Albert Hall during the political upheaval forty years ago. Such was the participation of public and performers that the cut in the orchestral part although understandable nevertheless came as a surprise . I am sure that it will be only a question of time before we hear Jamal play this work with the greatest orchestras worldwide.
A transcendental performance from both players of Chopin’s Polonaise Brillante played with great flair and sense of style and colour which characterised this very passionate performance that brought this magnificent concert to a rousing conclusion. Present to share in his success were two remarkable ladies:Gillian Humphreys of Concordia and
Canan Maxton who have followed and helped the progress of Jamal in his journey from an exceptionally talented young cellist to the mature great artist that kept this packed lunchtime audience so enthralled.