Mastery at St Mary’s Rokas Valuntonis

The Master Speaks Rokas Valuntonis at St Mary’s
Rokas Valuntonis at St Mary`s Perivale.
Sensational performances by a master pianist.
It was a very pleasant surprise to hear this charming young man from Lithuania for the first time.
I had met him at a private concert in the house of that renowned pianist Norma Fisher but had never had a chance to hear him until now.
I introduced him to Hugh Mather at a concert in Perivale.
Hugh listened to a “you tube” performance of his Mozart/ Volodos Turkish March and immediately invited him to play in his remarkable season at St Mary’s.
And so it was yesterday that Rokas Valuntonis gave a short Tuesday afternoon recital at St Mary’s.
I was surprised to see an old RAM friend Peter Bithell there too as well as many other remarkable young musicians including Andrew Yiangou
Word has obviously got around that we have a major new talent in our midst.
In fact a Pogorelich type with that most remarkable technique to match ears that can hear and project sounds that most others never reach.
Together with an extraordinary digital precision and clarity that is of the world of the young Pogorelich or Arcadi Volodos.
He graduated in Lithuania and at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki.
He has had guidance in Paris from Eugen Indjic ,a top prize winner in the first Rubinstein Competition together with Emanuel Ax and Janina Fialkowska ,and a very remarkable musician that we were privileged to hear in London recently thanks Lady Rose Cholmondeley at the Chopin Society.
Like all great artists,having won many major competitions and performed a great deal in Europe he is still searching for musical stimulation and guidance which he is now receiving at the Guildhall under that remarkable musician Peter Bithell.
He could not do better for Peter was the finest pianist of my generation.
A top prize winner at an early age in the Busoni , Casella and Santader competitions
A real thinking musician with an impeccable musical pedegree starting with Harold Craxton and finishing with Maria Curcio taking in Guido Agosti and Gordon Green.
He is now a highly esteemed professor at the Guildhall and at the Summer Academy in Bloomington USA.
A charming presentation showed all his acute intelligence and wit.
Thanking Hugh for the opportunity to give his first concert in the UK and having seen the beautiful antique church where the concert was to take place he immediately thought of a programme of suitably sombre respectful music by Bach .
But then he had an after thought and decided to dedicate it rather impishly to the Devil . After all there would be no Heaven without Hell!
Hence the inclusion of Liszt Mephisto and Gounod Faust Paraphrase.
Ending of course by great demand with the Turkish March.
The concert began with three rarely heard Scarlatti Sonatas. K487,K.8,K 79. in which one was struck by the precision and carity of his touch.
Never a harsh sound but just the right rhythmical energy and quite considerable temperament that can turn these gems into living sounds weaving their thread so simply and inevitably .
A sparing use of pedal made the contrast even more gripping in the middle slow sonata K.8.Played with such liquidity of sound and sense of subtle colour and shaping one was reminded of the miraculous Scarlatti performances of Horowitz.
Never the dry accademic approach but a very respectful one that brought the music alive using dicreetely all the possibilities of an instrument that the composer could only have imagined in his dreams.
The four early mazukas op 6 by Chopin were played to the manner born.
Here one was immediately made aware of the bagpipe sounds and rhythms of Chopin’s native land that he was describing in these miniature masterpieces.
And so for a really devilish performance indeed of Liszt’s famous Mephisto Waltz n.1.
Here again one was aware of the acute attention to sound and detail in a breathtaking performance ranging from transcendental virtuosity to heatrending cantabile.
The subtle use of the pedal and his very sense of searching out all the range of sounds and colours that rarely we hear these days of barnstorming pianism.
Rarely if ever have I heard this good but not remarkable Yamaha piano be transformed into a Pandora’s box full of magical sounds and excitement in the hands of this master magician.
Of course this is what make the piano such a much loved instrument a true orchestra in the right hands, and why all the greatest composers from Bach onwards have been able to create their masterpieces for an instrument that inspires so much love.
It is in large part due to a sense of balance and the ability to convince us that this is not only a percussion instrument where hammers are hitting strings but an instrument that is capable of a true legato and a kaleidoscopic range of sounds.
This is what technique really means and this is what is so rare where a majority of pianists aim to play as fast and as loud as they can with scrupulous attention to the composers written indications.
The pianos these days can take it.
Our ears cannot !
In order to bring the composers indications to life you have to understand the intention and real meaning behind the notes and have intelligence allied to a total command of the instrument to begin the search for the style, colour and feeling in the notes.
“Words without thought no more to Heaven go” as Boulanger loved to quote from Shakespeare.
Of course but words are not enough there is even more within the notes for he who has the talent and dedication to search within.
That is the real interpreter and it is very rare these days.
The example for me today are Murray Perahia and Krystian Zimerman.
It is hardly surprising that their mentors were Vladimir Horowitz and Arthur Rubinstein!
The Sonetto del Petrarca n.123 fared less well as Rokas’s search for colour and sound, remarkable though it was, did not allow us to follow the line.
Somehow we lost the thread as infact he momentarily did too.
Wood for the trees in this case in a recital that had been of an authority and assurance of few.
No outward signs of exuberance or showmanship as can be in this music of Liszt the greatest showman ever.
With his complete concentration on the sounds that he was producing it was all in the sounds that he was transmitting to his very attentive audience.
Entering into the real style for which this music was written he was never afraid to add the odd bass note or fill in very subtly some of Liszt’s intricate meanderings around Gounod’s Faust .
“Je sens ,Je trasmet” not sure who wrote that but it is exactly what went on today.
Rokas had written a Paraphrase of   Lithuanian folk song especially for today’s concert
 As he said .His op.1
He had given the title for the programme knowing that the incentive would make him actually finish the piece.
Full of nostalgia for his Lithuania in the recurring opening motif repeated after some glistening arpeggios reminiscent of the Tchaikowsky transcriptions of that other great vituoso of our day Mikhail Pletnev
Sensational is the only word that can describe the performance of Mozart’s famous Turkish March in the paraphrase that Arcadi Volodos has made of it .
Such ease,charm,sumptuous sounds and teasingly infectuous virtuosity it just brought tears to ones eyes for the sheer perfection that was on show.
An audience held spellbound and absolutley incredulous .
Dear Hugh Mather you were right as always but you are going to have a hard job to follow that !
Many thanks to you and your faithful public for welcoming Rokas to London.
We have been waiting a long time!
After that what could be better than a magical performance of the Barber of Seville in Jonathan Miller’s famous production conducted by old friend Hilary Griffiths .
Having conducted many of the major opera companies in the world making his debut in London at last at the ENO

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