Leeds- Land of Hope and Glory

Leeds Land of Hope and Glory
Vitaly Pisarenko in Leeds
Great to see a full hall in the Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall in Leeds for the recital by Vitaly Pisarenko top prize winner at the last International Piano Competition in 2015.
The competition now in its fiftieth year,I believe, was created by that remarkable lady who believed so firmly that even in Leeds there could be major musical events.
With all the northern principles of common sense,down to earth intelligence and hard graft how could she fail?
How right she has been proven to be with some of the past top prize winners going on to glorious worldwide careers.Murray Perahia,Radu Lupu ,Andras Schiff,Mitsuko Uchida amongst many others that have gone on from Leeds to become the finest pianists of our era.
The most remarkable thing is that Dame Fanny Waterman at 97 is still very much participating in her brain child and it was wonderful to see her not only at the concert but also at the very interesting conversation and Q&A between Vitaly Pisarenko and the new co artistic director Adam Gatehouse.
Right from the very first competition it was made clear by Dame Fanny that this was a very special competition in which musical values were paramount together of course with complete mastery of the instrument.
And so this has been made very clear by the new nomination of Adam Gatehouse and his co partner as artistic director the pianist but above all much admired musician Paul Lewis.
It was clear right from the very first competition with the commissioning of a set piece by Benjamin Britten and juries that included the greatest musician pianists of our time: Clifford Curzon,Annie Fischer,Gina Bachauer,Rosalyn Tureck,Nadia Boulanger to mention only a few that rallied around this remarkable lady and were happy to give their time and services to create such a Eutopia in Leeds and realise Dame Fanny`s seemingly impossible dream for her beloved city
And so it was good to see this principal upheld today with the very musicianly  and beautifully shaped programme presented by Vitaly Pisarenko .
Beethoven Sonata op 26 Funeral March,
Schumann Fantasiestucke op.12 ,
Schubert Drei Klavierstucke D946
 Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies n.10 and 13.
The Beethoven op.26 was given a very musicianly performance in which the structure and overall shape were paramount.
The extraordinary opening Andante con variazioni was played with a delicacy and forward propulsion that showed an enviable mastery of all the colours that this beautiful Steinway could produce and it was clear that we were in the presence of not only a master pianist but also a formidable musician.
If the scherzo could have been more characterised it was however propelled forward with all Beethoven`s youthful energy and was the ideal foil for the extraordinary Marcia Funebre that followed.
Here all the dramatic contrasts were brought to the fore in a remarkable control of colour and texture.
The perpetuum mobile of the last movement that follows one of Beethoven`s most profound early statements was played with all the light hearted ease that only virtuosi such as Richter and Michelangeli have equalled in the past.
The eight evocative scenes that make up Schumann`s Fantasiestucke op.12 revealed all the sensitivity of this young musician.
The same sensitivity that had brought Janina Fialkowska to tears at his performance at her festival in Bavaria.
And the same tears that Rubinstein had shed when deeply moved by her own performance of the Liszt sonata at the competition dedicated to him.
There is an instant recognition by their peers when these artists can appreciate the same love and dedication to making Schumann`s remarkable fantasy re-live.
Des Abends played with an awesome control of sound that allowed us to immediately enter into Schumann`s private fantasy world of Eusebius.
Immediately awoken by the rude entrance of Florestan with a very romantically robust Aufschwung.
And soared it did with all the romantic ardour of this young lion.
To a meltingly and delicately touching Warum.
Why indeed ?
Who are we ,what are we ~ the great romantic dilemma was so candidly discussed with this very attentive audience by this young poet.
In front of the ever youthful Dame Fanny seated in the front row attentive to every single wondrous sound.
In fact she turned to me at the end ~”beautiful”~as always she had hit the nail on the head.
The trecherous difficulties of Traumes Wirren were thrown off with all the charm and lightness of virtuosi of the past.
Extraordinary misted vision of In der Nacht lead to a real story told in Fabel.
The gentle disintegration at the end of Ende vom Lied was remarkably moving.
After the interval Schuberts Drei Klavierstucke .
One of Schubert’s most elusive works to hold all the episodes together and draw them into a single whole.
This is a world that only great musicians such as Alfred Brendel or his disciple Paul Lewis dare to tread.
Here the early training in Moscow became apparent in his real legato playing without any percussiveness that allowed Schubert’s seamless melodic invention to sing as it can only do when you have acquired fingers of steel but a wrist and flexibility that are born from youthful sacrifice and total dedication.
It was indeed Clifford Curzon ,the supreme poet of this magical sound world ,that exclaimed quite candidly that it was made up of 90% hard work and 10% talent.
What he did not add was that 10% was a gift from the Gods.
It is just such a gift that Dame Fanny and Leeds have excelled in finding and encouraging over this past half a century.
The beauty of the cantabile in the second of the Klavierstucke dissolved into the most magical sounds from the most menacing to the most meltingly seductive.
The opening rhythmic motif of the first piece whispered its insistence as it separated the sublime melodic interruptions.
In the same way that the energetic and greatly virtuosistic interruptions in the final piece had brought this masterpiece to an exciting conclusion.
This young lion of the keyboard now could let his hair down in the company of Liszt as all the great virtuosi would have done in the past .
Two rarely played Hungarian Rhapsodies n.10 and 13 played as to the manner born.
Winner of the Liszt International Piano Competition in Utrecht at only twenty. Now almost ten years later here was a master showing off all the subtle colours,glissandi,funambulistic technical command and above all sense of style and real gipsy soul  which were all thrown off with just the right sense of showmanship with which Liszt himself would have astonished and seduced his adoring public in the aristocratic salons of his day.
A little early melody by Rachmaninov ,a whispered secret that Vitaly wanted to share with us to thank his very attentive audience on his long awaited return to Leeds.

The Emperor Speaks

Spontaneous standing ovation from the entire Barbican for what must be the most noble of Emperors from Murray Perahia .
Conducting the Academy of St Martins in the Fields it was immediately apparent from the opening flourishes that we were to share in a most masculine performance . The octaves were of a massively full sound that took everyone`s breath away including the orchestra .
The electric physical energy right from the outset was then maintained from the keyboard in the long tutti that follows.
Such clarity of intention and such sense of line created a tension in which every member of this very fine orchestra was swept up in.
Like some great wave ~swim or die~ such was this Emperor of Emperors.
Even the slow movement where immediately the inner parts in the opening tutti were of such a vibrant warmth that when the magical scales from the piano entered they seemed to float and hover in the air with a masculine almost orchestral authority.
So the change from the magic of the strings to the world of the wind was a totally logical sequence something I have never witnessed before.
This led so logically to the magical change into the Rondo where the added bass notes in one or two key points was so right ,for the Emperor was speaking and it literally took your breath away as indeed Rubinstein had done all those years ago.
The wonderful lyricism floating on this buoyant rhythm that had been created was quite hypnotic as were the sheer perfection of the jeux perle scales.
Percussion and pianist listening intently to each other at the end led to a final outburst played with an urgency and rhythmic clarity that had the entire audience on their feet cheering.
There was no choice the Emperor had spoken and had brought this remarkable cycle of Beethoven Piano Concertos to an end.
Looking bewildered and embarrassed by what was after all a battle fought by the Emperor and his troups he was obviously touched and moved as we all were tonight.
A Beethoven recital from Murray Perahia on the 11thJune will obviously be the highlight of the season  .
Tomo Keller leading the Academy in Beethoven`s First Symphony and soloist in the opening Romance n.2 in F gave some very fine performances totally eclipsed on this occasion by the monumental performance that they were commanded to play by our Emperor Murray Perahia.

Jaques Samuel Prize Winners Concert

Jaques Samuel Prize Winners Concert In memoriam Peter Uppard
Jaques Samuel`s Prizewinners Concert at the Wigmore Hall
Always a great guarantee to see that great teacher Joan Havill in the audience as she was today for the recital of her pupil Jonathan Ferrucci ,winner of this years Jaques Samuel Intercollegiate Piano Competition sponsored by Fazioli pianos.
I came especially to remember our dearly missed Peter Uppard who was on the jury of the competition which I attended a few months ago .
I had heard all the contestants except for the first one who was in fact the first prize winner .
A very high standard from all the runners up I was very anxious to see who this pianist was that Peter had spoken so highly about that I had arrived too late to hear.
That was the last time that I saw Peter who in the meantime had lost his brave fight over a long difficult illness only kept alive for many years with an apparatus strapped to his waist that he quite amusingly referred to in his usual charming way …..he was that sort of person.
I was not disappointed as it was clear from the very first notes of Bach’s 2nd Partita that we were in the presence of a very intelligent musician who really had something important to say.
A very passionate young man who played with great verve and just the right amount of showmanship and participation that held his audience’s attention from the first to the last note .
The opening dotted rhythms played with great nobility and grandeur immediately held our attention .
Followed by clean beautifully shaped part playing .
Some very discreet ornamentation always in good taste and some really beautiful playing in the Sarabande .
The dance movements especially the final Capriccio played with a rhythmic verve that was quite hypnotic.
Some magical moments in Cesar Franck’s Prelude Choral and Fugue played with great feeling and passion in the ecstatic climaxes but also the most subtle sounds in the choral or the reappearance of the theme in the final fugue .
This final magical appearance leading to a most passionate climax and some really overpowering playing of great authority that brought the first half to a close of great virtuosity .
His great sense of rhythm in the opening chords of Albeniz’s Fete Dieu a Seville even brought a smile to Joan Havills face such was his sense of authority and immediate communication .
The transcendental accompaniment to the great melodies were played with great sense of colour and excitement .The final melting away played with some wonderful evocative colours
Le tombeau de Couperin lacked the clockwork type precision that this piece so needs but it was played with great rhythmic energy and some really extraordinary colouring.
The gentle fugue exquisitely sustained but the opening prelude a little too fast to allow the clockwork precision of Ravel to really weave its spell.
The Rigaudon and the Toccata although dispatched with great virtuosity and real musical meaning sometimes this young pianists very strong temperament got the better of him in the great final outbursts.
This will obviously come with maturity as he realises the meaning of real legato as Ravels disciple Perlemuter was so keen to point out to his students with his utmost attention to finding the perfect fingering to allow the music the real weight that was in the score.
I have to say that rarely have I seen a more beautiful pianists hands as those of this young man on the keyboard tonight.
In fact in his first encore of the Prelude for the left hand by Scriabin I thought it a little bit cheeky when he played the last note so beautifully with the right hand .
But the surprise was that that last note became the first of one of Scriabin’s most passionate studies played with enormous passion,drive and quite considerable virtuosity.
A real standing ovation from a discerning audience brought the real signature to an evening of musicianly playing with a beautifully simple and unmannered performance of the Aria from the Goldberg Variations.
A fitting end and for me memorial from this young pianist that had been so admired by our dear friend Peter Uppard .
Not quite the complete artist yet as Ullman was that same afternoon but still only 23 with already an honours degree from Florence Conservatorio and now studying for a Masters degree with Joan Havill it must only a question of time before we hear a lot more of him in the future .

Ullman- the supreme stylist

Alexander Ullman the supreme stylist
Alexander Ullman at the Wigmore Hall
Little did I expect to be overwhelmed by Stravinsky twice in the same week in the same hall but that was just the case today .
Alexander Ullmans extraordinary performance today of the Firebird with only two hands was every bit as overwhelming as Andsnes and Hamelin’s Rite of Spring had been last week with four .
This extraordinary transcription was written by my old teacher Guido Agosti when he was only 27 in 1928 – only eight years after Stravinsky’s own transcription of Petroushka  which he dedicated to Rubinstein in an effort to convince him to play his music.
Agosti’s transcription is even more demanding that Stravinsky’s.
The colours and orchestral sounds that Agosti manages to conjure up together with the same savage rhythms that require the most enormous technical feats of agility and an almost polyphonic sense of line that spans the whole keyboard and ranges from pianississimo to fortissimo.
Andsnes,Hammelin,Rubinstein all great virtuosi but above all supreme stylists .
To this list we can add today the name of this remarkable young british pianist Alexander Ullman .
Student of William Fong at the Purcell School .Of Fleisher in Philadelphia and now at the Royal College with Ian Jones and Dmitri Alexeev.
The supreme control was not only in the virtuoso parts that certainly abound but also in the security that brought the savage driving rhythms to life and all this combined with an extraordinary range of colours .
The appearance of the melody in the Finale of the Firebird was sheer magic.
A rising sun that was allowed to shine in all its glory and brought this remarkable recital to a conclusion.
Liszt’s magical En Reve was just the right encore that allowed us to share just a little more magic from the hands of this remarkable young artist.
Bach’s Toccata in C minor showed right from the outset the intelligence of this young musician but it also made clear that this was a performance by a stylist not by a rigid scholar.
Although all Bach’s tempo markings were scrupulously noted Bach has in fact left much to the fantasy of the performer.
The slur at the end of the first subject was unexpected as was the echo effect on repetition but in the hands of such a stylist it was totally convincing as were the virtuoso interruptions seemingly almost improvised.
Nothing was added to Bach’s original score but it had the same power as a Busoni transcription and had one wondering why it is not more often played on the piano.
I think the last person I heard play it was that other supreme stylist Martha Argerich as a curtain raiser to the Liszt Sonata in Florence in 1972.
It has remained in my memory ever since as indeed today’s performance will for me and without doubt the very full audience that were present today.
Papillons op 2 by Schumann were an ideal choice after the Bach .
The freedom allied to a strict sense of direction and line were combined with all the kaleidoscopic sound world of Florestan and Eusebius .
The wonderfully lyrical 5th piece sang out as did the middle section of the 10th.
The quiet rhythmic build up in the 9th made a wonderful foil to the searing beauty of the 10th that is so reminiscent of the Davidsbundler op 6 that were to follow from Schumann’s pen.
If I found the fortissimo in the 8th piece rather overpowering his interpretation was completely vindicated by the final magical piece where Schumann’s pedal was scrupulously noted and opened up this magic box allowing the clock to strike so clearly as indeed Ravel was to do in Le Gibet.
The Pas de Deux at the conclusion of Pletnev’s wonderful transciption of The Nutcracker must be every pianists dream to play.
A secret wish to be a Liberace or Rawitz and Landauer.
But it requires supreme virtuosity to be able to sweep up and down the keyboard whilst allowing Tchaikowsky’s melody to sing out in all its glory.
Magical playing too in the Intermezzo where the wash of sound was a completely different sound world from the music box that was the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The Russian Trepak played with all the peasant folk music that it portrays provided just the difference in sound from the quite extraordinary Chinese Dance.
Pletnev had played the Sleeping Beauty in my theatre in Rome many years ago and we marvelled at this old style virtuosity of the great romantic tradition a world we thought we would never experience in our day.
I remember Sandor asking why he wanted to be a conductor when he can play the piano like that .
The same supreme sense of control, colour and style that we heard today at the Wigmore Hall .
All thanks to YCAT and to the Keyboard Trust that has had such faith in this young man and in helping him mature into the artist we have before us today .
I think you could safely say that they have come up” trumps”.

All About Piano!

Piano Festival at the Institut Francais
Amazing 24 hours at the Institute Francais ..”All about Piano”
Melvyn Tan is a fellow disciple of the legendary Vlado Perlemuter so it was a great pleasure to complete this weekend in “France” with a visit to Perlemuter`s english home in Chelsea during a break from the numerous events at the Institute to share a private concert for Joan Booth by Leeds top prize winner Vitaly Pisarenko.
Now in its fifth year this special weekend dedicated to the piano has become a welcome oasis for all pianofiles .
Steinways abound in the Cine Lumiere,Library and Iselin Room. In fact the festival was born when the Institute decided to recondition their own beautiful Steinway – a very fine Steinway with a very special voice indeed . It was suggested that they could also host a Piano Festival with the participation of their friends at Steinways who could provide the other instruments .
Very interesting programmes organised by Francoise Clerc ,the artistic director ,who obviously knows ” all about pianos” . Ably helped by the managing director Elsa Martin and abetted by a wonderful french restaurant in the Institute itself .
It is a real oasis in the heart of South Kensington .
I managed to hear in 24 hours four concerts and a masterclass together with supporting performances from star students from the Paris and Royal Scottish Conservatoires. Apparently a different UK conservatory is approached each year to choose some of their fine students to perform along with those of the Paris Conservatoire .
Space is given not only in the Masterclass – this year Melvyn Tan – but also a short “curtain raiser” to the concerts of the more established artists . A wonderful idea to give these fine musicians an opportunity to play to a discerning public much along the lines of Pires and Argerich who so generously share their platform with the stars of tomorrow. This led to some remarkable performances from all concerned .
The opening concert starting with Melvyn Tan’s extraordinary performance of Jonathan Dove’s “Catching Fire” . A toccata type piece especially commissioned by Cheltenham Festival last year for as Melvyn Tan explained a “very important birthday”. It was the second piece that Dove had written for the artist and this time he was asked to write a piece that would be a ” work out”. It certainly was that and received a thrilling performance by this very individual artist.
His Beethoven op 109 and Liszt’s Sonata in B minor had some very memorable things but also suffered from trying to share too many things in his overwhelming love for the music he was performing . This love was shared and defined the following morning with two very fine students Alexandre Lory from RSC and George Todica from the Paris Conservatoire. In the Chopin Andante Spianato Melvyn Tan was able to explain that a more classical approach would in the end be more expressive and noble exactly as I remember Perlemuter would do.
In fact in the Schumann Fantasy that George Todica played I was reminded of my own lessons with Perlemuter and a score covered in annotations .Some fine playing much appreciated by Melvyn Tan who also explained how important it was his work with singers to learn how and where to breath with the music on an instrument where it is quite possible to play in a totally mechanical way without a single stop for breath!
Reminded of so many things and it was wonderful to see how the artist seemed to move and sway whilst the students played so expressively demonstrating what Chopin himself used to tell his students about tempo rubato.Likening it to a tree with the roots in the ground but the branches free to sway in the breeze.
Tristan Pfaff in the library played a wonderful programme of pieces that he explained “first of all I love these pieces of music ” . It sounded just like that on this beautiful reconditioned Steinway that has such a magnificent voice. Hommage a Edith Piaf and Les Chemins de l’Amour by Poulenc were followed by some Debussy pieces including his wonderfully suggestive “La plus que lente”. Very interesting transcription by Weissenberg of Charles Trenet En Avril a Paris . The Barcarolle by Offenbach in a rare transcription by Moszkowski (Perlemuters first teacher). La mort de Thais by Massenet in another rare transcription by Saint Saens . Ending after Liebestraum and the 3rd consolation with Horowitz’s spectacular Racoczy March . Spectacularly played I was reminded of Perlemuter’s description of Rachmaninov playing in public . He thought he was the greatest most romantic of pianist he had heard even though he looked as though he had swallowed a knife, In fact some wonderfully seductive playing which was for me the highlight of my marathon this weekend but from a young man that just did not look the part at all!
The opposite of Cedric Pescia who did . I had just read in the Gramophone such a wonderful review for his Schumann series that he is sharing with the likes of Francesco Piemontesi and Finghin Collins as part of a collaboration with the Clara Haskil Competition with Claves . He had studied at the International Piano Academy in Lake Como and am sure he has played in my theatre in Rome as part of our collaboration with that remarkable teacher William Grant Nabore.
A concert with the title of Beethoven meets Cage . And was the juxtapostion of prepared piano and late Beethoven and their relation to silence.
In fact after a performance of Beethoven’s last Sonata we were were invited to participate in Cage’s 4’33” which is in fact total silence.
The Sonatas for prepared piano of Cage were given some very strong performance with some very interesting original sounds. The Beethoven Sonata op.111 could indeed have benefitted from more preparation from this very fine player and I sincerely hope he is not going to abandon his classical training for what are experiments in sound /silence.
Still time to cross over to Chelsea to hear Vitaly Pisarenko play on Perlemuter’s piano in an informal concert in preparation for his recital as top prize winner in Leeds International Piano Competition
Back in time to hear Barry Douglas the Gold prize winner in 1986 at the Tchaikowsky competition in Moscow . Some very strong playing from this amazing Irish pianist. Not least his architectural performance of Schubert’s great C minor Sonata allowing the music to move forward without wallowing in the sublime moments that abound. The Brahms Paganini variation were given a truly musicianly performance where all the great technical demands passed into second place to the structure and shape of this monumental work. After much insistence from a full hall we were treated to encore of an Irish folk melody exquisitely but never sentimentally played . This was playing serious musicianship and technical prowess.
Much looking forward to an “Englishman Abroad “again next year.