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.