We were all cheering this great pianist at the end of a recital that will not be forgotten for years to come.
Sokolov was put to the trial a few seasons ago and triumphed as did Murray Perahia last season .
Would Kissin,undoubtedly one of the great virtuosi of our time come through this great trial?
After last night’s impeccable performance Kissin is now high up on my list.
A performance marked by a scrupulous attention to the composers wishes.
Rarely have I hear the pedal so well noted and interpreted with great imagination.
Some said that the slow movement was too romantic.
The most passionate performance I have ever heard was by the most severe of all pianists: Rudolf Serkin.
Just look at the score as he certainly did.
Adagio sostenuto- Appassionato e con molto sentimento.
Passion not in the romantic sense I am sure but a burning inner fire boiling over with red hot passion.
Beethoven was not a man to mince words.
And neither was Kissin tonight .
What Kissin brought to this the longest of all Beethoven’s slow movements was not only passion, which for me can never be enough, but it was the sense of orchestral colour and continual growth and forward movement after 20 minutes dissolving into nothing.
Only to reawaken so magically and in such an improvised way.
As though even Beethoven was in a trance and had to find his way again.
It was just this sense that Kissin captured tonight – the stillness and beauty was an unforgettable experience.
Unbelievable pianissimi and as Beethoven rarely asks pianississimi.
Interrupted by schizophrenic outbursts that Kissin captured to perfection as I have never heard before.
Leading to the mammoth Fugue.
A real tour de force of continual changes of direction of the most almost un pianistic writing that creates such a challenge for the pianist.
Every conceivable manipulation of the fugue subject possible.
Even played in reverse leading to the most enormous eruption and then the calm.
Una corda,sempre dolce cantabile before the final reawakening leading to the triumphant final trills.
The massive final chords played by Kissin as someone who has won.
Just as Serkin all those years ago was spitting and shouting on the last note.
He had arrived but was still living the fight right up until the final vibration gave way to total silence.
As it did today by a public as exhausted and exhilarated as obviously the slayer was himself.
I remember Richter at this point repeating the fugue in the RFH unsatisfied with what we thought a superhuman performance.
Annie Fischer will go down in history as playing the Fugue as an encore after a performance of Beethoven’s last Sonata.
She was only ,after all ,substituting for an indisposed Alfred Brendel !
She recorded the 32 Sonatas and spent months editing the tapes only to say they should never be released in her lifetime!
The most memorable thing of all in Kissin’s performance tonight was his insistence on thinking from the bass.
It gave such a monumental solidity to this massive work.
So many things became so clear this evening as never before.
There were many wonderful things on this memorable journey that one can only mention a few of the very many that will remain forever imprinted in my memory.
The wonderful layers of sound in the middle trio section of the scherzo.
Just as Beethoven asks if one looks at his very precise pedal indications ,
The wonderful final bars of the first movement reminded me of La Cathedrale Engloutie in the way in which the insistent rhythm gradually was seen disintegrating before our very eyes on a distant cloud of smoke.
Sempre dim,pp sempre,ppp crescendo ff . Could Beethoven ever have been more precise and shown more care.
I loved the espressivo and cantabile just before the reawakening at the end of the first movement development section.
Now that was romantic …that was Kissin …the only really personal opinion he allowed himself but could well be justified by the indications of espressivo.
It brought a smile to my face and a wish to check the score.
From the very first declaration the long pedal of Beethoven so tellingly noted .
Forte yes but with the pedal not the usual clean clear fortissimo call to arms that we are so often treated to.
A truly memorable performance .
It was interesting to note in the programme a reference to a letter that Beethoven wrote to his pupil Ferdinand Ries that the middle movements could be interchanged.
In a discussion with Peter Frankl we were trying to think how?
Peter Frankl had played the 32 sonatas for the BBC dividing the task with Andre Tchaikowsky.
I remembered a talk that Andre, a super intelligent musical genius, gave about this very subject.
Of course this was the reason and neither I nor Peter Frankl could remember if he did in fact reverse the order in his recorded performance and if so how!
It will remain a mystery as I fear that much of the BBC archive has been wiped clean of so many important past interpretations!
New brooms and all that!
After the interval we were treated to the repertoire that Kissin has become celebrated for over the past forty years.
Played like the God he is ……….a young God ….for this is a Kissin reborn.
Recently having found true happiness as is so obvious from his playing today.
So rich in a wish to communicate and to share the enjoyment with his adoring public.
How could one single out a single one of the 10 Preludes by Rachmaninov that he played.
The famous G minor op 23 n.5 was the most overwhelming for the enormous build up in sonority,never with any harshness. The melting cantabile of the romantic middle section where the inner melodies were so subtly understated.
The impish characterisation of the 3rd prelude op 23 Tempo di minuetto. Scarbo like in its disappearance.
The overwhelming magnificence of the B flat n.2 with the melodic line so warm and sumptuously sung amidst the most delicate filigree accompaniment.
The sheer romantic beauty of the E flat n.6 played with a masculine beauty that allowed the music of great sentiment to almost play itself.
As had the beautiful cantabile prelude that is n.4 in D major.
The busyness of the C minor n.7 was absolutely breathtaking with the great melodic line shaped with such sense of colour and grandiosita’.
The heartrending “Return” as Moisewitch told us was Rachmaninov’s own description of the tone poem that is op 32 n.10.
Such nostalgia,the insistent repeated chords a mere layer of sound to the majestic melodic line in the bass.
The well known G sharp minor op 32.n.12 thrown off with such ease was absolute perfection
The majesty of the final D flat major op 32 n.13 was a memorable way to finish a recital where a new King has undoubtedly been crowned.
Treated to the beautiful Scriabin Study in C sharp minor op 2 n.1 we thought a perfect way to end the recital.
With a public in delirium and a conqueror who had undoubtedly triumphed Kissin sat down to play a piece of his own.
A toccata he called it .
It would have have had Yuja Wang and Marc Andre Hamelin rushing to check.
A most amazing exhibition of old style virtuosity and teasingly playing with his audience as Cherkassky used to do with Morton Goulds’ Boogie Woogie Etude.
Yes this too was Boogie Woogie but Kissin’s and he was enjoying every minute of his new found fun.
A public that would not leave the hall was, after much insistence,but not that much as Kissin was having fun too.
THE Prelude .
What could be more fitting for a composer that had died only 70 years ago this week.
An amazing range of sound from the multi colours found whithin the chords to the enormous sonorities all played with such ease. The melting away at the end was heartrending and created a stillness where one could have heard a pin drop from an audience literally hypnotized by this great magician.
Not so hypnotized though that they could not squeeze just one more moment from this memorable evening .
Tchaikowsky Meditation was Kissin’s fond farewell to us on this Maundy Thursday
Lots to say about this Humble Boy with a bee in his bonnet
Well a four star review in the Sunday Times …how could I miss
it……………. just around the corner from me in Richmond.
Ileana and I used to go to the Orange tree when it was a big room above the pub .
We saw some extraordinary productions done on a shoe string budget but with such imagination and a passionate desire to communicate something new.
I remember a memorable production of Crime and Punishment by Dostoevskij in this little room.
I have been back a few times to the new Orange Tree built next to the pub as occasionally I might go back to the beautiful Matcham theatre on the Green.
Unfortunately these days commercial necessities have taken precedence over the actual reason for doing theatre.
It was the great Italian theatre director Orazio Costa Giovangigli when asked by a well off (subsidised !) public theatre company if he would consider directing a play with a budget of only 400 .
“I cannot possibly accept because I would not know how to spend the money.”
Obviously intending that artistic considerations should take precedence over any other.
Budget could be accommodated … artistic compromise never!
In my youth I would go into the Gods at Richmond Theatre to see John Guilgud,Googie Withers,Edith Evans and the whole of the great english theatre including Arthur Askey in the annual Pantomime ……..
Yes he was up there with the greats too.Bumble bee and all.
The theatre was rarely full and as a little boy I could sneak down in to the stalls to get a better look.
Times have changed and seats need to be filled!
The best way to fill them is to have our TV heros in person on stage regardless of whether they can actual sustain a theatrical role however brilliant they may be in Coronation Street!
The public are usually retired gentlefolk out for a Tuesday evening at the theatre …..Whats on eh!…….
So I am reliant on the critics . I managed to secure the last seat at the Orange Tree to see this much lauded play.
In the round with all the local gentlefolk obviously having a good night out.
The highlight for them in a play that with all generosity could
only be described as a poor mans’ Ayckbourn was when an elderly member of the cast did actually pull out his member and peed all over them!They loved it !
I stayed to the bitter end as I had paid over twenty pounds for the ticket .
Uplifted or disgusted I was neither.
Worse, indifferent !!!!!!! …..and wishing I had stayed at home.
My local cinema in Italy is on the top of Mount Circeo in San Felice.
It is the place that Anna Magnani adored and where she lived and she is in fact still there five feet down!
The 40 seat cinema named after Anna Magnani must be one of the most beautiful in the world and it shows only one film a week and tries to cater quite rightly for all tastes.
So I was thrilled to see that a few weeks ago there would be the Oscar winning film “The shape of water”.
A beautiful poster of what looks like water nymphs very artistically and enticingly depicted.
Little was I expecting what I actually got!
Roughly the plot was this:
A rather ordinary looking young lady with a handicap -she could not talk- falls in love with a monster that is kept in a cage and occasionally let loose to be badly treated by a gangster type maniac.
She elopes with the monster only to be shot together with her companion by this maniac whose intimate married pleasures we have not been spared in a quite unrelated scene.
All necessary ingredients for success according to the PR boys .
Another tick in another box .
The more ticks the more success we will have !!
The monster miraculously wipes away this little inconvenience as he does for his loved one and they swim off together to live happily ever after !
Well words at this point fail me ………
Know what I mean ?……….
Anna ….Rossellini,Fellini where are you?
Forgive us !
Ke Ma and the Worshipful Company at St Lawrence Jewry
Ke Ma at St Lawrence Jewry
I have had the pleasure of listening to Ke Ma on numerous occasions for Canan Maxton‘s Talent Unlimited and for the Keyboard Charitable Trust.
Playing now as part of a scheme for young prizewinners of the Worshipful Company of Musicians.
She performed today at St Lawrence Jewry on the Steinway that used to belong to Sir Thomas Beecham.
I remember playing op 111 on it too forty years ago when it was housed in St Martin in the Fields.
To say that it had seen better days would be putting it mildly but today in Ke Ma’s hands it was totally transformed as she herself has been transformed from being an exceptionally talent student into a mature artist.
An exceptionally intelligent musician as one would expect from her studies with Christopher Elton at the Royal Academy where she graduated last year with honours with a Masters Degree.
Winner of many important prizes and scholarships she is now presenting herself to the public as a very talented artist on the crest of the wave and at the start of an undoubted important career.
Her programme of Bach Partita n.1 in B flat,Beethoven’s last Sonata op 111 and the Variations op 3 by Szymanowski was enough to establish her credentials but then she took us all by surprise with an encore with a quite extraordinary performance of the Brahms Paganini Variations Book 2 op 35 .
Very subtle and telling ornamentation in the Bach Partita BWV 825 especially enjoyable in the Menuet 1 even changing register in the Menuet 2 .
Done with great skill and taste it gave even more sense of colour and variety on a piano that really had very little left of its own.
The rhythmic pulse in the Allemande and Corrente was quite infectious and I could quite appreciate her non legato touch on this instrument finding some very subtle dynamic changes as she might have done on a harpsichord.
The beautifully crystal clear opening of the Prelude was the immediate hallmark of a seriously studied performance of great weight.
The Sarabande could have perhaps been even more rhythmic and more monumental The final Gigue was superbly played apart from the final two bars alla Busoni that I feel was a bit out of place in such an exemplary performance as this.
A very impressive performance of Beethoven’s last piano Sonata op 111.
The rock solid inevitability of the Maestoso was perfectly conveyed and the Allegro con brio ed appassionato had a great sense of drama and was technically impeccable.
The Adagio molto was held strictly in three with the upbeat perfectly leading to the first.
It gave a forward propulsion and poise to what Beethoven just implors to be semplice and cantabile.
The variations that evolve became a natural consequence in Ke Ma’s hands leading to the dramatic outburst of the third variation.
Some very subtle colouring of the left hand in the second was especially interesting.
The slow disintegration of the fourth variation could have been even more held back and sostenuto as it slowly descends into the triumphant appearance of the theme in turn evolving into another sphere.
The trills perfectly managed and the final pages where the theme returns in a magical ethereal world was perfectly conveyed.
Szymanowski’s early 12 variations in B flat minor op 3 were an ideal way to finish a recital and makes one wonder why this piece dedicated to his friend Artur Rubinstein is not more often heard in the concert hall.
A favourite piece of many past pianists it shows the influence of Rachmaninov,Medtner,Chopin and Brahms but there is already the distinctive voice of Szymanowski shining through.
A tour de force of bravura for the pianist to which Ke Ma rose splendidly to the challenge.
We thought this was the end of the recital but the best was still to come.
A really stunning performance of Brahms Paganini Book 2 .
Even more remarkable in that in Ke Ma’s hands we were not aware of her surmounting the not few difficulties on a fine old Steinway where this supreme challenge for a pianist was not made any easier .
Outside this beautiful Wren Church rebuilt twice after the great fire and after the second world war there stands the Guildhall.
A very moving garden with letters from soldiers to their dear ones from the trenches where they were destined never to return.
Another scheme for the Worshipful Company……of Gardeners with the Lord Mayor’s Annual Big Curry Lunch to raise funds for the forces that have and are still protecting our values today .
The garden designed to flower and give beauty where there was such devastation and sacrifice was a very moving ending to an unexpected morning in London.
“Souplesse” indeed that is just the word that Bavouzet was searching for in his illuminating words of wisdom that accompanied each of the three sections of a recital that began at 14.30 and finished at 20.30.
A superb performance by the young Accendo Quartet of the Quartet in G minor op.10 fitted in nicely in a well earned break for Bavouzet between the 2nd and 3rd parts of his comprehensive survey of some of the major piano works .
It was part of the LSO Platforms in the big Symphony Hall as a pre LSO Concert event.
I have heard a lot about Jean Efflam Bavouzet but this was the first occasion to hear him live.
Highly esteemed even in Manchester where the BBC informs us in Music Matters that Debussy had some close relatives and where the cello sonata had its very first performances.
Bavouzet is engaged in recording the Haydn and Mozart Concerto with the Manchester Chamber Orchestra under Gabor Takacs- Nagy.
His recordings of the complete Beethoven Sonatas and Complete Debussy were very enthusiastically received on the BBC record review recently.
I can quite understand Solti’s enthusiasm on discovering such a complete musician.
Solti died shortly after his discovery but Bavouzet was immediately adopted by Boulez with whom,like his colleague Pierre Laurent Aimard ,he created a great musical rapport.
Having acquired a prodigious technique from that great french school of Pierre Sancan as Aimard had from Yvonne Loriod.
It is a very precise technique of great clarity and utmost cleanliness which is so perfect for the works of Ravel and Debussy as it is for Messiaen and Boulez.
The great Debussy expert Roger Nichols was unable to take part in the proposed discussions but an interview with Bavouzet was totally illuminating and included many quotes from Dr Nichols.
“Ravel I understand says Nichols ,Debussy I do not.”
“Ravel is a classical composer whereas Debussy is not.”
Bavouzet said that it is only recently that he has come to understand the influence that Eric Satie had on Debussy .
Satie for a long time he had considered as a “charlatan sympatique”. Now having studied and recorded the complete works of Debussy he realises what an important influence he had in helping to shed the massive influence that Wagner asserted still at the beginning of the last century.
When Debussy was in Rome having won the Prix de Rome he heard the 71 year old Liszt play at the Villa Medici and his influence can be very much felt in the early Arabesque n.1 of 1890 so reminiscent of Liszt’s own Sposalizio.
Strangely enough this little Arabesque was one of Boulez’s favourite works .
It was included in the first part of the recital dedicated to some of the early works.
Starting with the Ballade slave already reminiscent of the world of the Suite Bergamasque from which Bavouzet included an extremely beautiful crystal clear account of the well known Clair de lune.
It was preceded by the Nocturne of 1892 showing a distinct Faure influence in the sheer bravura writing .
The Danse Tarentelle styrienne was given a scintillating performance of great rhythmic energy.
The Images oubliees from 1894 ,the second movement Sarabande a try out for the later Pour Le Piano suite.
Beautifully played ,the subtle influence of Tristan had been illustrated in the earlier interview.
L’Isle Joyeuse that closed this first part was given a big performance.
Some enormous sounds and an almost primitive energy lead to the great virtuoso climax.
This was not passionate playing as that is not the word you could use for this supremely intelligent musician but it was of a grandeur and at the same time an almost primeval excitement.
Interesting that Bavouzet says that Debussy’s only indication of fortissimo in his piano music appears in the Hommage a Rameau that opened the second part of this marathon recital.
Atmospheric is the word that Bavouzet uses to dispel that of the word impressionistic that was so abhorrent to Debussy.
And the “Reflets dans l’eau” that opened Book I of Images was just that.
As “Mouvement” was given a truly transcendental performance that just disappeared in a puff of smoke…..like a soap bubble bursting as Bavouzet so charmingly put it.
Three Preludes from Book 1.
The most popular book the second being more abstract.
La Cathedrale Engloutie was remarkable for the murmured bass on which the Cathedral rises and disappears .
Truly wonderfully atmospheric as was the Girl with the Flaxen Hair played with an unmannered simplicity that contrasted so well with a disturbingly agitated view of what the west wind brought – Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest .
A truly breathtaking performance on a par with the Feux d’Artifice that awaited us in the third part of the recital that included the complete Book 2 of the Preludes.
Seven of the studies showed off every facet of this remarkable pianist’s art.
The ease with which he seemed to be directing almost conducting at the keyboard .
Beautiful to watch as it was to listen to.
A real example to watch as the music just seemed to pour out of his whole body – the shape of his arm movements were the same shape that the music was depicting.
Like a great sculptor shaping a beautiful block of white Carrara marble.
The five finger exercise with the impossible comic interruptions played with great tongue in cheek humour that hid the transcendental technique needed for the total independence of the hands.
The subtle virtuosity in the Study in thirds and the sheer beauty of the one in sixths.
As was the beautifully shaped Arpeggio study.
A real tone poem played so clearly but so poetically.
The hinted melody in the chromatic study so reminiscent of Alkan’s Le Vent that we heard recently from Mark Viner where his phenomenal technical prowess allowed the chromatic scales to murmur so clearly weaving their way in and out on their insidiously insistent journey.
What a remarkable performance of the astonishing study Pour les sonorites opposees and the final Octave study was truly overpowering.
An hour long break allowed those hardy souls to rush over to the Barbican Symphony Hall to enjoy some String Chamber Music by Debussy.
Not helped by the Barbican organisation that were determined not to coordinate the two events.
Missing the Danse sacree at Danse profane for the unheard of strict punctuality I did manage to insist on entering for a remarkable performance of Debussy String Quartet in G minor.
It was the ideal interval break from the piano works and acted like a lemon sorbet in the middle of a sumptuous meal.
Notable above all for the magnificent playing of Juliette Roos but also for the perfect ensemble of this student quartet that have a lifetime of music making together before them.
Rushing back again to Milton Court just a stones throw away for the final – third section of Bavouzet’s recital with a performance of the Complete Preludes Book 2.
The remarkable art of this great pianist was on show more than ever in these 12 miniature tone poems.
Debussy had not intended them to be performed all together but had insisted on the order in which they should be published.
Of course the title of every prelude published at the end with three dots before and three dots after are intended to be only a suggestion and certainly not an impressionistic programme.
Brouillards and Feuilles mortes played as a murmur with such clarity but that did not sacrifice for a second the atmosphere of these remarkably suggestive pieces.
The eruption of La puerta del vino was played with all the character and humour of the General Lavine – excentric (who says Satie was not an important influence?) as was the humour found in Hommage a S Pickwick Esq.PPMPC.
The aristocratic beauty of Ondine and La Terrasse were a remarkable contrast to the bleak Canope of such stillness where the pianist seemed to do nothing.
Art concealing art of course.
It is very rare to hear such clean and clear playing but at the same time of such intense simplicity.
The Tierce alternees a quite remarkable tour de force coming as it did almost 3 hours on in this marathon recital.
The eruptions in the final Feux d’artifice were quite breathtaking as was the merest hint of the Marseillaise floating on a cloud of sound as the Cathedral engloutie had so movingly done in the hands of this superhuman poet of the piano.
Not content to play the complete works of Debussy he has also made a transcription of Debussy’s most complex work “Jeux” much championed by Boulez.
It awaits all those lucky enough to buy in time the box set from Chandos that sold out immediately after the first part of this memorable afternoon in the company of Bavouzet and Debussy
By the time Alex had finished the snow was but a dream and an inconvenience that had passed.
And so on to St John’s Smith Square.
The last recital in the International Piano Series before it moves back to the refurbished Queen Elisabeth Hall for another great English talent Benjamin Grosvenor on the 26th April.
Strange that it seems to have taken longer to refurbish the QEH and Purcell Room than it did to build it from scratch! I remember Madam Tillett who was not sending her artists there and opened her own more central hall in Regent Street with a glittering roster stars who faithfully followed her.
Woe betide any that did not!
It never took off and believe cost Madam Tillett a fortune only to have to concede that the South Bank was indeed the place to be.
Memories of the Queens Hall bombed during the war were long forgotten.
SJSS has long been a venue for great pianists and I remember a memorable BBC live lunchtime recording of the Hammerklavier with Maurizio Pollini as well as recitals by Shura Cherkassky.
It boasted one of the best pianos in town and a quite acceptable acoustic to boot ……of course to us in the know the real secret lay and still does in the crypt!
Having travelled all night I was determined not to give in to my dreams and was glad to see the name of George Li with a recital of Beethoven,Chopin,Rachmaninov and Liszt.
A London debut in grand style with this recital and also the Tchaikowsky concerto at the RFH.
I was glad to get the chance of hearing live this young man who had impressed so much on the streamed performances from the Tchaikowsky Competition in 2015.
All the fun of the circus indeed and very unfair for a jury doing their best to choose just one winner from a roster of potential stars.
And so George Li ,so youthful looking even now ,winning the silver medal in Moscow in 2015.
Joint second prize with Lucas Genusias .
Lucas Debargue coming in fourth.
All names that since then have been taking some of the major platforms by storm.
The actual winner of the Gold medal Dmitry Masleev seems to have almost disappeared.In fact he did not seem to have the personality of Li ,Genusias or Debargue but had a prodigious command of the keyboard and truly deserved to be crowned.
Such is the Circus aspect of the Competitions that abound these days .
But its real job is allow us to see the great talents in the making.
Mitsuko Uchida came second in Leeds and Alfred Brendel fourth in Busoni to Michelangeli’s seventh in Brussels.
In that same year of 2015 in Bolzano there was Bolai Cao who stood out for his musicality a born pianist who came in fifth and Eun Seong Kim last summer who was a quite remarkable talent came in fourth.
Tony Yun winner of the Rosalyn Tureck Competition still only 17 is beginning to be noticed.
It is just a question of time.
The ingredients are there as possibly never before in such abundance.
It is a question of maturing,polishing to perfection under inspired guidance.
Like the great painters who had their own school of craftsmen who could learn their art from their master.
From father to son indeed.
All the above are still studying under enlightened teachers Bolai Cao in Philadelphia with Sofronitzky and George Li at Harvard with Wha Kyung Byun.Eun Seong Kim at the remarkable University of the Arts in South Corea.
And so it was very interesting to hear George Li live three years on.
Still very youthful looking he has a career which is beginning to blossom in many parts of the world helped by Valery Gergiev who was the chairman of the jury in Moscow and in a commanding position as one of the worlds great conductors to notice and help great talent when he sees it.
The immediate thing about George Li which also came across on streaming was his charisma and the rapport that he was immediately able to instill with the public.
Always great beauty of sound which was apparent from the Beethoven Sonata op 10.n.2 with which he opened his programme.
One of Glenn Gould’s favourite sonatas every note was made to speak with a charm and grace that contrasted so well with the Beethovenian outbursts which were becoming even more apparent in these three early op 10 Sonatas .
A real break away from the world of Haydn into the world of Sturm and Drang that was so much part of Beethoven’s personality in his so called middle period.
The Allegretto strangely slow seemed to creep in but seemed to work in George Li’s hands as a contrast to the Rage over a lost penny of the final Presto.
However in the Chopin B flat minor Sonata this individuality became a impediment to the overall line.
It is as though his very admirable temperament and rapport with the public was taking precedence over his intellectual and musical control of such an important work.
A masterpiece that we have heard from the hands of nearly all the great pianists past and present.( Strangely Richter is about the only performance by a great pianist that I never recall being mentioned).
He indeed wallowed in the beauty of the cantabile second subject but in forsaking the inward rhythmic energy it seemed to loose its overall impact and great architectural shape.
The great bass in the development section was rather overpowering and did not seem to be a consequence of what had come before or what came after.
The Scherzo was thrown off with some liberty that lead to some almost jeux perle abandonment of what should be like a rock to contrast with the sheer beauty of the contrasting melancholic cantabile section.
The Trio of the Marche Funebre was played with a stillness that contrasted well with its sombre surrounds but here again could have been played in a much simpler way.
The beauty of this contrast is the utter simplicity with which it appears.
Rubinstein was the master who could reveal this to us in a unique way.
Sentiment but not sentimentality!
The wind over the graves of the last movement was a little bit too lightweight but played with great virtuosity.
It somehow missed the structure that in fact comes from the the bass and not just in the in the fast virtuosic filigree that abounds.
The Corelli variations that opened the second half was played with great energy and elan Some memorable sounds from the full sumptuous grandiosity to the simple nostalgic russian melancholy.
A performance with many great moments but also many that will gain in stature with maturity.
The utmost clockwork precision that Rachmaninov asks for in the fast filigree sections could be much more precise and less for immediate audience appeal for effect.
A wonderful control of sound for a young man who obviously is in love with the piano and able to communicate that love to his audience.
As he advances his studies he will realise that that is an empty victory for someone so hugely talented.
I found the beauty of the melody in the D flat consolation a little overpowered by the accompaniment but there were some truly magical moments before erupting into the Second Rhapsody where more control and simplicity could be added to his quite remarkable ability to communicate with his audience.
His two encores were greeted by a standing ovation of course.
The Gluck /Sgambati Melody from Orpheus and the Horowitz Carmen Fantasy gave the game away.
Here is a man who loves the piano and loves playing in public and he is obviously having a great success …on the crest of a wave.
A wave that will last only a short while if he does not go back to the drawing board and study the great classics which will allow him so much more freedom and enjoyment when as a mature artist he really lets his hair down.
It was however a remarkable debut recital for someone so young and hopefully on his reappearances he will mature into the great artist that his talent demands.
Supporting in their turn a younger colleague invited to give an introductory recital for the trust as they had all been in the not too distant past.
It was fitting too that Leslie Howard ,who has been at Noretta and John’s side from the very beginnings should make a short speech to present a very fine Danish pianist and to point out the aims ….and desires of a Trust whose sole aim is to provide selfless support to the extraordinarily talented pianists of which Filip Michalak today was certainly a prime example.
I met Leslie in Siena in the class of Guido Agosti in the early ’70’s.
For Agosti he could do no wrong.
His same sense of integrity and total respect for the score were the ideals of one of the most remarkable musicians of our time .
Brought up in the Busoni/Liszt tradition he was a shining beacon in an era when scholarship and respect were not alway major or certainly not fundamental considerations!
Who would have guessed that I would have met my wife in Siena a few years later.
Ileana Ghione a student of Agosti’s opera singer wife,Lydia Stix who held a course under the intriguing title ” Da Schoenberg ad oggi”.
Franco Ferrara and many other distinguished musicians in Siena were baffled and slightly amused with it as they saw a parade of actors and actresses add a bit of life to the rather respectful atmosphere that pervaded the hallowed ground of the “Chigiana”in those days .
We opened a theatre in the centre of Rome together in 1982 where Leslie Howard gave his Rome debut 33 years ago accompanied by Noretta Conci-Leech and her husband who at the age of 60 had just retired from his distinguished posts in the city.
Ready to help his concert pianist wife in her lifelong quest to help nurture young talent.
Small world indeed having since been invited to be part of the Artistic triumvirate with my distinguished colleagues Leslie Howard and Elena Vorotko.
Today Filip Michalak,still only 22 kept a full house in his spell with music of Scarlatti,Haydn ,Bacewicz and Chopin.
A Scarlatti that bubbled over with the infectious ” joie de vivre” that Alicia De Larrocha in all her jewel like simplicity used to excite us with a few years ago.
I learn that Filip’s teacher Prof Julia Mustonen- Dahlkvist from the Swedish Academy was a student of that great lady.
The same simplicity and absolute clarity was apparent today as he offered these two little jewels with a polish and absolute precision that had an infectious joy to it.
The precision of the trills in the Sonata in D minor K.10 was no mean feat on a Steinway concert grand!
Haydn Sonata in E minor Hob VI 34 was played with the same clarity and enviable precision of the Scarlatti that preceded it.
Played with a musical intelligence but in no way tip toeing around the notes that contain almost as much substance as Beethoven’s monumental 32.
But played with a real sense of style that made one wonder why these Haydn Sonatas are not more often heard.
Sokolov presents 3 Haydn Sonatas as the first half of his recital programme this year. And what a wonder they are.
I remember Fou Ts’ong being being a great advocate of Haydn and not understanding why it was not played more often .
It takes a great musician to bring these works to life with the colour and sense of style that they demand.
Filip played with a wonderful sense of colour in the Adagio never allowing the rhythm to flag always with just the right amount of pedal to allow the piano to sing without becoming too dry.
A first movement that was a model of style .So delicately poised but with a rhythmical impulse that never allowed the attention to waver for a second. A vivace molto of great charm played again with a clockwork precision that was very much a hallmark of the De Larrocha school of Frank Marshall.
A tour de force of transcendental pianism showed the other side of this young pianist in Bacewicz’s monumental 2nd Sonata of 1953.
A virtuoso performance not only for the keyboard command but for the amazing kaleidoscope of sounds that he could find in this rather dry acoustic.
As the composer says herself ” A lot happens in my music .Aggressive and at the same time lyrical”.
And certainly a lot happened in a performance that mesmerised all present with a wish to know more music of this much neglected composer.
A student in the ’30’s of Boulanger for composition (paid for with a scholarship from Paderewski) and later Carl Flesch for violin she gave secret underground performances during the terrible war years in Warsaw.
Dedicating herself totally to composition after the war I remember playing once a violin sonata of hers and of course there is the notable present day advocacy of Zimmerman with this very sonata.
An advocacy that is on a par with that of his mentor Rubinstein for his friend Szymanowski.
A short interlude before the Chopin B minor Sonata gave Leslie Howard just time to regale us with a few words of wisdom.
Filip although Danish born is of Polish parents.
His mother a pianist .
And so it was an evident choice to finish his recital with the Sonata op 58 by Chopin.
Some beautiful sounds always in this young poets hands but for me all the intelligence and scrupulous respect for the score was not as evident as it had been in the first half of this remarkable recital.
Of course many many beautiful things but maybe rather too generous with the pedal to allow the perfect clarity that had been so evident before.
It was played with the true passion and character of that other young pole that had the longing and nostalgia for his homeland far away.
A very exciting and heart felt performance for a true poet of the piano made one hope that under the guidance of his very fine teacher, who was present in the hall, he might take another look at Chopin’s indications and leave the old Chopin tradition to the past where it truly belongs.
Great festive spirit after the concert exhilarated by an hour of unforgettable piano playing.
And his teacher dashing off to Harrow school for another of her students ,an ex pupil of Harrow playing Mozart K488. Not fully understanding the meaning of Public School she explained that is was very much a private school with the father of one of the students dropping in by helicopter!
What a distinguished audience it was indeed.
Nice to see Jack Buckley from Seen and Heard International with pen in hand having left Rome where he reigned for over 50 years.
A great friend and benefactor of Walton and Maxwell Davis as Arts officer to the British Council he has now retired to London where he is offering us his experience and knowledge.
Bryce Morrison needs no introduction to the piano world and it was good to see him so enthusiastic about Filip’s characterful playing of Chopin.
Many a word has been said about this remarkable British pianist but there is still so much more to say after today’s extraordinary performances that brought out the sun …a firebird of such radiance the snow just did not stand a chance!………..
A new CD in the offing Alex tells me when I asked him why he was playing the Prokofiev Cinderella Suite.
A first outing for this piece that will be included in his CD “Ullman at the Ballet”!?
After his recent performances with the Ballet in Oslo when he played Gershwin song transcriptions and The Nutcracker with the dancers all around him on stage!
I am not a great fan of Prokofiev which I find exploits too often the percussive side of the piano rather than trying to persuade us that in the right magical hands it can seem to sing as no other.
Hugh Mather was very happy to invite Alex to his Tuesday afternoon piano series that is breaking all records of attendance even in the snow!
Almost apologetically Alex said he was playing this new work with the score and with Hugh Mather turning pages to boot.
Well even Hugh’s eagle eyes had a job to keep up with this quite extraordinary performance.
Never have I heard a Prokofiev where every note – and there were many- spoke so directly.
The last time I heard anything so beautiful (and that is not a word I would readily apply to this composer) was the Visions Fugitives of Rubinstein on a recording taken from the 10 recitals he gave at Carnegie Hall .The famous recitals that he announced to Sol Hurok that he wanted to donate to charity to thank the American people for all they had done for him in his long career!
Also on the all too rare occasions in Prokofiev 3rd Concerto and 7th Sonata from Martha Argerich too.
Convince me, there is no such thing as right or wrong , is what Sergio Tofano told my wife at the equivalent of RADA in Italy when she exclaimed that she had made a mistake.
That God given gift nurtured from young at the Purcell School together with his fellow school friends Evelyne Berezovsky and Kausikan Rajeshkumar all have the power when they are playing to be 100% in the music.
No external force could distract them or us in that moment .
It is a very rare thing indeed and now with the training he has received from Fleischer,Macdonald and Alexeev he has been able to maintain that almost youthful innocence that Rubinstein had until his 90th year.
Pressler indeed at 95 sill has it as is evident from his new remarkable CD called “Claire de lune”.
As I say from my previous thoughts, the Pletnev transcriptions are a dream for pianists .
Rawitz and Landauer indeed.
The only difference is that like Thalberg or Liszt there are only two hands on the piano.
A true magic trick that we thought had been lost with the passing of these two giant innovators of the modern piano.
Sandor could never understand why Pletnev wanted to dedicate himself to conducting when he had such a unique gift for the keyboard!
The appearance of the sun in Agosti’s extraodinary transcription of Stravinky’s Firebird was pure magic coming as it did after the most amazing pyrotechnics .
The build up to the final where Agosti uses the entire breadth of the piano was quite overwhelming.
“En reve” that Gordon Green was one of the first to propose to his many now renowned students,was the ideal encore .
At peace indeed with the world.
The sun now blazing outside this beautiful little wooden church that has been reborn to give space to such extraordinarily gifted young musicians .
Thanks are just not enough for Hugh Mather and his dedicated colleagues.
Denis Kozhukhin at the Wigmore Hall and Stephen Hough at the RAM
Dancin`in the aisles with Kozhukhin after Stephen Hough`s surgery
So nice to go back quite regularly to my old Alma Mater where I graduated in 1972 having entered thanks to Sidney Harrison and left five years later with the Gold Medal having studied for my final two years with Gordon Green.
Listening to Stephen Hough referring with great affection to our mutual teacher I was brought back all those years to the common sense and unassuming humility of those hardy souls from the North.
Gordon had studied with Petri ,a student of Busoni, and radiated a calm and professional preparation together with a warmth and friendliness that was more than repaid by the great pianists and pedagogues that came out of his studio.
Christopher Elton,Peter Donohue,Philip Fowke,Simon Rattle,Tessa Uys,Ann Shasby,Richard Mc Mahon,Peter Uppard,Peter Bithell.John Blakely and many many more all talk still with great affection for the Greens’ whose club in Liverpool was frequented by anyone in the know who was passing by.
Or students invited down as a special treat before an important competition when Gordon taught in Manchester and London but lived in Liverpool.
And of course his stories that he would repeat with such charm and glee one was always glad to hear again of Richter practising Bartok 2 and overheard on the house phone by a friend who called and sympathised with Gordon over having such a poor student!
And indeed Stephen today on being greeted by the Clementi Sonata in F sharp minor op 25 n.5 that he did not know was quite happy to recall our other teacher Vlado Perlemuter.
He would not teach any works that were not actually on his repertoire list and woe betide any one that dared .
Gordon on the other hand was happy to know new works and to work on them together with his students.
And so Stephen in what he calls his Surgery was happy to listen and offer some constructive advice to a remarkable student of Christopher Elton,Anna Geniushene.
A surgery that aims to sort out one or two problems of interpretation or technique with the good down to earth reasoning that in the half an hour allotted it would not be constructive or helpful to pretend to offer anything other than constructive criticism.
Something all too rare in public masterclasses that seem too often to be the showcase for the master not the student.
Watch out M.Bashkirov!
Anna Geniushene I had heard last autumn at the Busoni competition where she gave a remarkable performance of Prokofiev 6th Sonata and was one of the finalists in a competition that is fast regaining the recognition that it had lost in the past due to politics.
Today she played with great assurance and real sense of colour and the digital clarity of a Michelangeli.
Mozart himself had warned his sister of the technical difficulties of the over 100 Clementi Sonatas .
Horowitz took them into his repertoire when his wife brought a collection back from Italy.
Stephen was happy to admire the superb preparation but suggested that she had not fully understood the style .
Pointing out the bowing and breathing that a string complex would have given to allow more shaping and less pure digital delight.
Who has studied Gradus ad Parnassum would understand how easy it is to fall into this trap that Mozart had warned his sister about .
Thinking about this dimension and relating this work in an orchestral way was just the right suggestion to add another dimension to this remarkably fine performance.
Yundi Xu played the Fourth Ballade of Chopin .
One of the pillars of the Romantic repertoire .
Pointing out the three main elements in the Ballade and asking this fine young lady pianist to think of a story and to search for all the magical sounds that are in this masterpiece.
What greater story teller has there ever been that Shura Cherkassky who was also one of Stephen Hough’s greatest admirers!
Stephen has been recognised by the world for what Shura had seen and admired in him all those years ago.
The true heir to the great Romantic tradition when the piano was made to speak and tell a story just as the great lieder singers would do with the human voice.
Unfortunately I had to leave early in order to get to the Wigmore Hall for the recital by the winner in 2010 of the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels. A pianist I had heard a lot about from William Grant Nabore of the International Piano Academy in Como.
Now here was someone with all that remarkable ultra sensitivity to the sounds from pianissimo to mezzo forte.
Something that has rather glibly been described as the Russian sound .
Of course that is ridiculous but it does explain the very early training in the Eastern countries that gives fingers of steel with a flexibility of rubber that paradoxically can give a complete control of the quietest of sounds on the piano .
It can also lead to the most percussive loud sounds that only today’s pianos can take without exploding.
There are many examples of them too !
It was though the complete command of Richter that took us by surprise on his arrival in the west in the 60’s.
Gilels was remarkable and arrived in the west before Richter talking about his legendary colleague who was about to follow.
Richter was unique for his supreme intelligence and temperament combined with a superhuman control of sound .
It was good to be reminded from Denis Kozhukhin of those magical unearthly sounds that Richter astonished us with all those years ago.
The magical sounds in Debussy’s Preludes Book 1 for the centenary celebrations.
Voiles and Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir filled the air with rarefied sounds. As did the desolation of Des pas sur la neige or the supreme challenge of Ce qu’ a vu le vent d’ouest . The sheer tongue in cheek joy of Minstrels or La Danse de Puck.
The magic was there but what was missing and that had been so astonishing in Richter or Pollinis performance of the Debussy Preludes was the complete adherence to the minute indications that had been so meticulously put by the composer.
I remember the memorable performance of Agosti for his 80th birthday in Siena where each prelude he described in words before playing with such intelligence.
This is sometimes misunderstood by interpreters intent on finding the mood at the expense of the detailed indications left by a composer who had after all edited the works of Chopin.
Lumped together for historical convenience Ravel and Debussy as impressionist composers nothing could be further from the truth.
Debussy knew exactly what he wanted with the same precision as Ravel .
He was in a way just more modern in the sounds that he has visualised.
It was just this aspect that was missing in Kozhukhin’s performance .
It was in the masterclasses of Fou Ts’ong who whilst admiring the great pianist was most critical of Michelangeli’s freedom in the same works.
After the interval Kozhukhin really let his hair down and gave some extraordinary performances of Gershwin.
This was his real world .
Oscar Peterson,Art Tatum we were taken into their world with a fabulous technical control and just the right amount of showmanship in the Rhapsody in Blue that brought the house down.
The three little Preludes were played with such an irresistible sense of style I have only heard that slow middle prelude played with such an almost indecently sensuous languor from Byron Janis many moons ago.
Opening this second half of “songs from the shows” were the eighteen hits that Gershwin had put together in 1932 – George Gershwin’s Songbook .
They were all here opening with Swanee and including all the old favourites like Fascinating Rhythm,Lady be Good,’S Wonderful,The man I love ,I got Rhythm and many more .
All fabulously played …..you can keep the Debussy Centenary for another time ……this was quite extraordinary playing from someone who at last was having fun.
Nadia Boulanger was quite right to turn Gershwin down when he asked her for lessons in composition.
She realised she would just ruin his unique natural talent and flair …Lady be Good indeed.
It would have been so much more in style if instead of ending each piece with a full stop he could have run one into the other. As Stephen Hough had told us in the afternoon that the great pianists of the past would improvise from one piece to another a lost art these days.
An extraordinarily exhilarating second half from a great pianist and above all a great showman.
Many years ago Carla Bazzini,the agent of Paul Tortelier and Gyorgy Sandor spoke to me about a remarkable new recording of the original piano version of the Enigma Variations by Elgar together with his Concert Allegro and some other smaller pieces.
She had taken part apparently in the surprise 60th birthday concert for Noretta Conci-Leech to consolidate all her work in helping young musicians at the start of their careers.
Seven grand pianos on the stage of a notable City Institution with Leslie Howard and Andrew Wilde at the helm with other well known musicians and students of Norettas including Maria Garzon.
This had been the official recognition of the Keyboard Charitable Trust organised as a surprise birthday gift from her husband John Leech.
So I was doubly surprised and delighted when I was rung up by a Maria Garzon who having got my number from her ex teacher and now great friendNoretta Conci-Leech , wondered if I could help her with a concert she had been invited to give at the Spanish Academy in Rome?
She had been invited to give a recital as a homage to her friend and composer colleague Alejandro Yague who had passed away last year.
A former Prix de Rome and thus resident at the Academy in 1976-78.
A composer and student of Goffredo Petrassi and assistant to Stockhausen both of whom I knew well from their performances in the theatre just a stones throw from the Spanish Academy.
On the programme of all Spanish music was the difficult Fandango by Soler which she was playing with the score and she needed someone she could trust to turn pages for her.
Although the authenticity of this piece is somewhat in doubt it is generally considered to be one of the major keyboard works of Padre Antonio Soler.
The concert opened with two keyboard sonatas in G major and F sharp major and closed with the Fandango.
Introduced by the pianist it included Halley by Yague dedicated to her as well as works by Albeniz,Granados and her friend Joaquin Rodrigo.
An informal concert for friends of the Academy.After a very warm appreciation of not only fine playing but her very informative introduction we were treated to two encores of the De Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance and a charming little piece that had been one of her first pieces learnt as a child. It was not only a great pleasure to meet Maria Garzon but also to be able to be invited to her Music Society in West Hampstead delighted in her turn to help the next generation to be heard as Noretta had done for her all those years ago.
And what a wonder this Spanish Academy is .
Situated in the Gianicolo ,just by the famous Fontanone the overlooks the whole of Rome.
The American Academy in the Medici Palace is just next door and boasts Liszt’s piano.
But here in S.Pietro in Montorio where the Academy is based in the famous Tempietto of Bramante and what a wonder it is.