Filip Michalak at Steinway Hall
Nice to be back in London and at the Steinway Hall to hear another of the very fine pianists selected to play in London by the Keyboard Charitable Trust.
A full house on this first day of spring – Bach’s birthday in fact !
The Artistic directors Leslie Howard and Elena Vorotko and a founder trustee Sir Geoffrey Nice QC were all present together with the founders Noretta Conci-Leech and her husband John Leech.
A very informative article has just been published about the beginnings and the workings of this gift that John Leech had made to his wife on her 60th birthday 27 years ago!
Concerned about helping talented young pianists to find their goal – that is ,an audience to appreciate all the work that their passion had driven them to.
Dedicating a large part of their youth to their art.
No one talks about that these days and our founder John Leech has certainly put that to rights in the celebratory article included here.
A remarkable achievement and very refreshing to see some of the very fine pianists helped by the trust present today.
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.