Chiyan Wong at St Martin in the Fields for the Concordia Foundation.
Bach:Goldberg Variations BWV 988 (after the Busoni edition)
What a treat today in this “Wonderful Town” to quote Simon Rattle .
A real thinking musician presenting one of the greatest works ever written for the keyboard.
To a packed out audience in St Martin in the Fields that had taken a break from the frantic pre-Christmas rush to spend an hour in the presence of that sublime master: J.S.Bach.
Chiyan is one of those totally dedicated musicians that whatever he plays is convincing and so it was only with a little trepidation that I ventured today to hear him present the Busoni edition of this masterwork.
Gone is the era of the rather inflated transcriptions of Busoni and the like .
We live in an era of historic instruments and research into the original scores and origins of these works.
But it was after all Mendelssohn who discovered and revealed to the world the masterpieces of J.S. Bach still hidden away in the archives ,and Busoni who brought the great organ works into the concert hall.
Many of these great works can be played in any combination and I have heard the Goldberg variations in various string groups and of course from many of the great musicians both past and present, all totally different one from the other .
I remember in 1991 inviting Rosalyn Tureck to return to the concert stage after years spent away from her doting public in order to study in depth the composer of which Harold Schonberg,the great american musicologist and critic, described as the ” High Priestess of Bach.”
I invited only a month later Tatyana Nikolaeva to play the same work and was greatly criticised for not having more interesting programmes!
They were both totally different but very great performances.
Nikolaeva more human and warm.
Tureck like a rock of superhuman intellect and total dedication to what she knew were the composers wishes.
The performance I most remember was for the magical appearance of the aria after the quodlibet and was by Andre Tchaikowsky.
Leaving the pedal on the final G of the last variation and then allowing the aria to float on it as if like a magical apparition was truly an unforgettable moment .
This much missed artist ,who died so young, leaving his skull with all his impish intelligent humour to the Royal Shakespeare Company for use in Hamlet.
It was too fragile to be used and I am sure Andre would have much enjoyed this strange ironic twist of fate.
Recently of course we have had the beautifully musical performances of Angela Hewitt where the song and the dance are the principal motivation.
As with the latest great performance from the young Beatrice Rana, a BBC young generation artist who has already recorded Tchaikowsky 1 and Prokofiev 2 with Pappano.
Chiyan Wong is one of the new generation of artists trained from a very early age in England and that are now taking the music world by storm.
England always criticised for not providing the same sort of training in childhood as in the countries of the East or in America.
Thanks to Chethams,Purcell and Menuhin Schools this has now all changed .
Chiyan studied from the age of 12 at Chethams and then at the Royal Northern College of Music under Norma Fisher .
Still only in his 20’s he has a curriculum that includes many prestigious prizes :Hattori Foundation,Jaques Samuel, Horowitz competition in the Ukraine and the Premio Liszt in Parma.
After recent performances of Prokofiev 2 in Singapore and Liszt in Hong Kong he was dashing back after his performance today to the Hong Kong Philharmonic to play the Liszt Fantasy for the New Year Festivities
Total command and clarity were the impressive hallmark of this very interesting performance.
Busoni edition yes but played with the intelligence and sensibility of a young man of today.
Chiyan Wong confided that he was always daunted by the thought of performing this monumental work and asked me if I would turn pages for him. “Why the music Chiyan you are a big lad now!”
I regretted saying it ,but back came the reply that he did not need it after all.
Exactly as Rosalyn Tureck had done in Florence all those years ago.
About to cancel the performance (she well into her 80’s ) we told her that the head of Deutsche Grammophon had especially flown in to hear her .
She not only played but discarded the cards she kept as a pro memoria in the piano .
She too even after a long career had been daunted by the idea of performing this monumental work.
Chiyan appeared without the score and proceeded to hold his audience in his hands for a totally convincing and in many ways masterly account of this very discreetly tainted Busoni edition.
Luckily Chiyan too had decided that Busoni’s triumphant reappearance of the Aria after the Quodlibet was really no longer in style with our present day thinking and respectful knowledge of Bach’s thoughts and so Chiyan had in the Busoni tradition composed a modified equally original version of the Aria in style with both Bach and Busoni!
Hats off to this thinking musician to have found his own solution ,respectful to both Bach and Busoni.
The opening Aria played with just that right amount of personal rubato that allowed the music to breathe and live so touchingly but with dignity never falling into sentimentality.
Infact it was in the slower more lyrical variations that Chiyan really excelled with so many really beautiful things where the part playing right from the second variation was so telling and expressive.
His insistence on non legato almost staccato whilst admirable did mean that the sense of line and admirable rhythmic impetus was slightly colourless.
I can understand his reasoning for contrasting the lyrical with the almost etude type writing but feel that a little more weight would have allowed more real shaping on this very fine Steinway at St Martins.
The 19th variation that Busoni marks Allegretto piacevole was played slower with a very telling light staccato that lead into more serious Busoni territory.
The 20th variation played with pedal that made it sound most unexpectedly like a music box especially for the first of the variations that leads to the build up and the explosion of the 29th .
But in Busoni’s hands he had obviously seen the 22nd variation “alla breve” as a crucial point of arrival played with all the Busoni fanfares ablaze.
The 23rd variation almost descending into a Lisztian study gave way to a simple heart rending version of the Adagio, one of the most profound of Bach’s keyboard works, left to speak for itself in the genial hands of Busoni .
The contrast was tellingly found with his insistent non legato in the following variations but for my taste rather too staccato.
The transposition by Busoni into the higher part of the piano register in the trill variation that is n.28 left me a bit perplexed as to how Busoni could have perceived this almost Paganinian interlude before the magnificent explosion of the 29th.
Here Busoni’s rendition added great grandeur to the penultimate variation that can sometimes be a little helter skelter even in very illustrious hands.
Here he put the hand break on to great effect.
Of course the Quodlibet that is the 30th variation lead in Busoni’s hands to the triumphant reappearance of the Aria .
But as mentioned before Chiyan Wong had as a modern day musician understood that the Quodlibet was the point of arrival and that the gentle touching appearance of the Aria should appear as a dream and should not disturb the now slumbering insomniac count for whom they were composed.
Moments of total silence in which one could have heard a pin drop after the final chord of Chiyan’s Aria was the greatest compliment that one could have paid to the monumental performance offered by this extraordinary thinking musician.
Having touched the very hearts of a public that just sought refuge from the confusion of Christmas in Trafalgar Square today
Leonidas Kavakos and Yuja Wang at the Wigmore Hall in London tonight .
Last night in the S.Cecilia Hall in Rome……………and tomorrow?!
They looked tired but they certainly did not sound it .
Yuja in the slinkiest of dresses .
Grey lame’ split up the side and completely backless.
None of which was relevant to the control and wondrous sounds that she found on the piano .
Lid wide open she never overpowered the totally assured sounds of Kavakos’s “Willemotte”Stradivarius of 1734.
Inspired but the magnificent sounds from the piano he matched and complimented them with a range of power and subtle colours that lead to some really memorable performances of the four great works on the programme.
A monumental performance of Schubert’s great but sometimes very allusive Fantasy D.934 in which an architectural sense of line was matched by a clarity and sense of colour that brought this work to life as very rarely it can be in lesser hands.
Some very subtle colours in the Debussy Sonata with that very aristocratic French sound that was never allowed to descend into sentimentality.
Bartok’s Sonata .1 of 1921, written for Jelly d’Aranyi (who gave the first performance with the composer),was given a truly transcendental performance that had the audience on their feet cheering these two great artists to the rafters .
A single encore by Szmanowski ,the Myth n.1 “La fontaine d’Arethuse” played with all the subtle colours that only these two great artists could conjure up together in a truly magical evening
“I met Joan and Vlado for the first time in Dartington in 1968 and then studied with him in 1972/73 commuting to Paris whenever I received a postcard from him written in his turquoise ink . If it was a Saturday I sometimes had to wait while the Rugby match finished !
In 1984, two years after the opening of our theatre in Rome with my wife Ileana Ghione, I approached Basil Douglas with the idea of persuading Vlado to make his debut in Italy. He came in December 1984 and made his debut at the age of 81. The French Ambassador sent a note saying he had a prior engagement a letter that Vlado tore up once he had asked me if I thought he could not be of use to the theatre in the future ! Always the perfect gentleman.
He came one year that was the anniversary of Ravel’s birth and the TV wanted to record part of the concert and make an interview. Vlado refused but we had the crew hidden out of sight in the balcony,with Joan’s connivance too, and he was on the news that night.
When he realised it would be useful for the theatre he agreed to the interview as well.
Immediately after his Rome debut Filippo Juvarra called from Padua to ask if Vlado would come and play for them in the Sala dei Giganti. He did not know that this leggendary figure was still playing.
We shared Vlado for the next 9 years and he played every year for us in Rome giving masterclasses too .
He was invited to play afterwards in many cities notably Florence where Jane Camilloni lives and whose parents lived in Florence – Joan’s God daughter who she used to take to boarding school in England.
Jane’s aunts were living in Ewelme at the time -Jelly D’Aranyi and Adila Fackiri .
Jane’s parents came to hear his Florentine debut .
Jane played too in Vlado’s masterclasses in Rome ….he was very impressed .
There was an angry crowd in the interval that could not understand why this great pianist had not played in Florence before.
No one had thought of asking him until Claudio Arrau at 84 cancelled and they needed someone to open their season. They called me up and I took him to Florence always with Joan of course.
He played in Milan,Venice too.
In Venice my wife ,who was a well known actress was allowed to jump the queue with Vlado to visit S Marks Tower whilst Joan and Filippo looked on bemused.
P.S. I have known Joan and Vlado since 1968 as a student in Dartington but could only consider them as close friends from their first visit to us in Italy in 1984 .
Joan loved to recall the time in 1972 when Vlado was giving classes at the Royal Academy and I was playing to him Beethoven’s op .111 and exclaiming how come there were not more people for one of the greatest musicians of our time. He was demonstrating the most difficult of the Chopin Preludes …n 16 in B flat minor when the lights went out ……… It was the time of Heath and strikes etc …………….Vlado continued playing to the end in pitch darkness …it has passed into history at the RAM
We had often visited them in Ewelme and Markham Square and of course loved having them both with us in Rome.
Joan often used to say that he came for us ….He adored my wife Ileana .
We visited Vlado in Paris a month before he died .Joan who commuted regularly into her late 80’s on Eurostar was not there on that occasion as Mmlle Schmidt was very much in charge .
Vlado did not recognise us on this last occasion but he loved my caressing his hand and we loved being with him .
Mlle Schmidt was very kind to us all. She was an ex student of his and became his carer. It must have been difficult for Joan and Vlado with their very discreet relationship mostly afar from Paris.
When we arrived back in Italy we were listening to the Italian Radio 3 and heard someone playing Chopin.
“This is Vlado Perlemuter who passed away today”
My wife,Ileana Ghione, passed away too in 2005 playing Hecuba on stage in our theatre ……..” an eye for an eye ……when will it ever finish” she was struck down by an aneurism and died on the operating table that night.
Since then Joan has been an absolute rock .
No rhetoric ,as my wife had asked me just before her all night operation,but warmth,intelligence and always there .
Many memorable evenings in Markham Square on my monthly visits to London.
She would provide the simplest most wonderful meals …Baked potato,Baked apple and Steak cooked on the red hot slab which she tested for its heat in the only way possible!
When she could no longer cook easily I would take pot luck from Marks and Spencer’s just at the end of the Square or a Roast chicken when in Ewelme .
One visit I had just arrived from Italy and took my nephew’s Jaguar around to Joan’s with the usual Marks and Spencer fare .
Included a bottle of red wine too in the deal …….Joan was not a great drinker and maybe had a glass.The rest of the bottle seemed to disappear though .
Driving back I was flashed at by the police who suggested I was driving erratically ……….I was of course driving on the opposite side from Italy and in a car much bigger than mine in Italy so I was ultra careful.
Asking if I had been drinking I explained I was having an M&S dinner for two with my dear 100 year old friend ………….one of the pleasant young policemen said that he was recently married and often took advantage of the same deal.
We were near my house in Kew and I suggested we go back there whilst we waited for the breathaliser to arrive.They were quite happy to wait by the car and were obviously sizing me up.They explained about the test and that if it was over 30 what the eventual consequences would be .
Blowing into the thing we waited with baited breath to see the result …………..15 !!!!!!
They offered to drive me back home with apologies all round and I considered sueing M&S for selling me coloured water !!!!
As she got older I realised she was missing music in the house and I took along many young pianists to give private recitals on Vlado’s piano …………..in Ewelme too ………Alexander Ullman,winner of the Liszt International Competitions in Budapest and Utrecht,Vitaly Pisarenko winner of the Leeds Competition,Mark Viner,winner of Alkan Competition in Athens,Evgeny Genchev ,Marcos Madrigal ……..Pablo Rossi who I took down to Ewelme one evening bringing supper with the music too.
Mark Viner,the last to play, came over about eight months ago when it seemed that Joan was on her way out.
The family had be reunited and she began giving away her books and pictures to dear friends and family.
I was not convinced that we should give up so easily and Mark came over to play ….it was just what she needed together with the three pints of blood provided at the local hospital ….and our Joan was back with us for a while longer .
She even asked for her books and pictures back to enjoy until the end was in fact nigh.
I was with Joan all day Saturday 2 December,fire ablaze as always ………..I hope she knew that I was there with the red scarf that she had given me for my birthday just a month or so ago.
Fond memories of the Birthday cake that she had ordered from Martin- the Viking’s wife Nitta……………………I told her I was looking forward to seeing the curtains that Nitta was making with Eileen,her sister’s design .We had a lovely evening together admiring the curtains and talking just a week before she died.. ………….I told her I had booked a flight to spend Christmas with her ……to give her something to look forward to ……..me too of course,nothing could have been nicer.She was wonderful company right to the end .
She passed away the same day as my wife (12 years previously) in the light of the Super Moon and I like to think that Ileana opened her arms to light the way for my dearest friend.
“Underneath the spreading chestnut tree little old Hitler said to me:if you want to get your gas mask free join the blinking ARP.(air raid protection corp).”
Amazing recollection from a 104 year old .
How could you ever forget it she comments
Here is a recent page from her diary that she kept every day of her long life
A beautiful day to say Goodbye ………18th December 2017 Ewelme
What an evening with Menahem Pressler , Peter Frankl , Noretta Conci and John Leech from the Keyboard Trust and many other distinguished musicians.
All present to celebrate the winner of the 2017 Rubinstein International Piano Competition in the hall where that great man Arthur Rubinstein gave his last public performance in 1976 to try to prevent the hall from being demolished.
In fact a programme of works very much associated with Rubinstein :Beethoven’s Appassionata and the Funeral March Sonata of Chopin.
Followed by works dedicated to him by his great friends Szymanowski: Mazukas op 50 1-4 and Variations op 3 and Stravinsky ending with the three movements from Petrushka .
Great discussions afterwards between Menahem Pressler and Peter Frankl not only about tonight’s programme but also taking in Kurtag,Dohnanyi and Schumann not to mention Cortot,Casadesus,Moszkowski and Perlemuter.
Two of the greatest musicians of our day in amicable discussion about music and musicians.
Pressler about to record with Matthias Goerne Schumann’s Dichterliebe and Kinderscenen and Peter Frankl to play on the 13th in Budapest chamber works by Dohnanyi.
All present to salute a new young colleague, winner of the competition that bears the name of the much loved and never forgotten Arthur Rubinstein.
Simon Nehring,in 2017, the first Polish pianist to win the Rubinstein Competition in Tel Aviv, having studied in Krakow with Prof Stefan Wojtas and Olga Lazarska is now at Yale University in the class of Boris Berman.
It is hardly surpring that the highlight of the concert was to be found in the refined and subtle tone palate of his compatriot Karol Szymanowski.
The four little Mazurkas op 50 that Rubinstein used to play after the interval in an all Chopin programme almost like taking a sorbet before continuing with the feast.
Here played with that same sense of rhythm and dance that is so much part of the Polish tradition.
A real sense of colour that had somehow eluded him in the first half where the great Appassionata although played with true authority seemed strangely black and white.
I well remember the wonderful second subject of the Allegro assai first movement in Rubinstein’s hands given all the time to unfold as he directed the great orchestra that he had in his ten magical fingers.
Although the tempo was admirably maintained with superlative technical command tonight the great Beethovenian contrasts and sense of orchestral colours were missing.
Some beautiful things in the Andante con moto cortege and a wonderful question mark before plunging into the Allegro ma non troppo.
Here again rather too fast to allow Beethoven’s innate orchestral sense to tell.
A coda played with almost superhuman precision at breakneck speed with breathtaking virtuosity.
It was just a pity for his really intelligent musicianship not to take the time necessary to give more character to this, one of the mightiest of all Beethoven’s Sonatas.
A beautiful opening to the Chopin Sonata op 35 and the whispering of the opening theme was superbly well controlled .
I missed the sumptuous colours of the second subject and the grandeur of the bass notes in the devolpment though.
The second movement rather too fast and monocrome with no real sense of dance but rather a fantastically played study.
A beautiful Marche funebre even though the trills in the left hand were rather too percussive and intrusive at times. The Trio in particular played with great poise and control.
The last movement was played with enviable clarity and superb virtuosity but did it really sound like the wind on the graves?
The Szymanowski early variations in B flat minor op 3 were played with all the colours allied to superb virtuosity and musicianship that had obviously contributed to his success in the Rubinstein Competition.
A real sense of sumptuous colour and a very refined palate allied to a great sense of line and forward direction .Leading to a final Allegro con fuoco that brought this rarely heard piece to a brilliant end.
The three Movements from Petrushka were played with astonishing virtuosity and sense of colour but I could not help feeling that there was no real sense of the dance in the Danse Russe or La Semaine Grasse.
The rather clean and clear sparse use of the pedal brought this mighty orchestral piano transcription into the realm of Stravinsky’s own definition of the the piano being nothing but a utility instrument that sounds right only as percussion.
A standing ovation and as an encore a beautiful little piece by Paderewski charmingly announced by this great young virtuoso and was played with all that same colour and sense of style that he had brought to his other compatriot Szymanowski this evening.