Festival Pontino 2018
THE HILLS OF ROME ARE RESOUNDING TO THE SOUND OF MUSIC
One of Italy’s best kept secrets is to be found in the mediaeval town of Sermoneta, just 50 kilometres from Rome.
Whilst the coastal towns Sabaudia, S. Felice Circeo, Terracina, Sperlonga have long been attracting crowds to their wonderful beaches, Sermoneta has been quietly attracting the greatest musicians of our time to the fairy tale Caetani Castle.
Here, in fact, is to be found one of the most important festivals of classical music.
On a level only with Festivals like Tanglewood, Marlboro, Dartington or Salzburg.
Once, whilst Count Chigi was still alive, only the Accademia Chigiana in Siena could boast a line up of the greatest artists of the day: Cortot, Casals, Ferrara, Agosti, Casella, Milstein, Gulli, Giulini, ready not only to play, but also to pass on their experience in master classes to talented young musicians.
Since 1963 the Caetani family, like Count Chigi before in Siena, have been inviting musicians of the calibre of Menuhin, Szigeti, Magaloff, Kempff, Navarra, Ciccolini, Sandor Vegh, to their Castle just south of Rome, and it is this year that we celebrate the 54th anniversary.
Lelia Caetani, the last living member of the family, who died in 1977, had created a Foundation to perpetuate the name of her composer father Roffredo Caetani.
Franz Liszt, godfather to Roffredo, attended his baptism in 1871 and in fact Liszt’s piano is still to be found in Ninfa, the wonderful gardens created by Lelia, surrounding Sermoneta.
These are the gardens that the great composer Sir William Walton and his wife Susanna so admired and often visited, before opening their own famous gardens of La Mortella on Ischia.
In fact there is so much history linked to this town, but there is also a wonderful future ahead too, if we look at how the musical activities have progressed since the death of Lelia Caetani and Hubert Howard, her husband, descendant of the noble English family of that name.
Riccardo Cerocchi, architect, has since the 70’s carried forward, in an elightened way, the initial start of the Caetani’s, creating the Campus Musicale with the great composer Goffredo Petrassi, president for many years until his death. Bruno Canino, Franco Petracchi, Bruno Giuranna, Rocco Filippini and some of the finest Italian musicians were on the advisory board, ready to ensure the integrity and continuing importance of the concerts, master classes and conferences.
Riccardo Cerocchi after a long illness passed away this winter but not before passing the reigns to his daughter Elisa Cerocchi .
Despite all the difficulties in the art and education world Elisa is carrying on her fathers great wish to inspire,create and promote great young talent with his same determination.
The autobiography of Riccardo Cerocchi “L’Ottuagenario Innamorato” was presented to the public just a few months before his death.
From these pages we are able to see what a pioneer he was in his determination to bring music and culture to his God blessed homeland.
Playing at his funeral in Latina was a great friend Santi Interdonato who had played such an important part in music in Latina .He too passed away this year and so it was Fabrizio von Arx ,a real son of the Campus, visibly moved ,dedicated his recital to them both.
His encore Liebeslied by Kreisler though he dedicated to Elisa Cerocchi,Tiziana Cherubini and all their loyal helpers for keeping Architect Cerocchi’s dream alive in this Paradise on earth.
Tiziana remembers very well a very young boy with his parents coming to study with Corrado Romano in Sermoneta .
One of the superb violinists including also Alberto Lysy,Yehudi Menuhin,Joseph Szigeti,Sandor Vegh to name but a few of the artists that have passed into history.
Fabrizio had played some years ago in Rome in the Ghione Theatre that shared the same spirit of Sermoneta of promoting and helping young talent.
Present of course were the Cerocchi’s to witness two of their star prodigies Fabrizio von Arx with Roberto Prosseda playing professionally together for the first time.
Both now have very important careers that takes them away from Sermoneta.
It was especially moving to be able to hear Fabrizio in this first year without the presence of the founder father.
Playing on a magnificent Stradivari “Il Madrileno” of 1720 he was playing in duo with a very fine Irish pianist ,winner in 1999 of the Clara Haskil International Piano Competition
Finghin an ex student of John O’Conor who had been protegee of the great pianist Wilhelm Kempff, who used to frequent Sermoneta in the early Menuhin years.
John O’Conor not only director of the Dublin International Piano Competition but also very much involved with the Kempff Foundation in Positano.
Finghin too has his own New Ross Piano festival, is curator of the annual Dublin Song Series and artistic director of Music for Galway since 2013.
A very busy life on the International concert circuit like Fabrizio von Arx.
We were indeed very lucky that they could take time off to breathe with us the magic air in this very special place
It was very refreshing to see the real enjoyment they comunicated in a programme that included some solo works as well as two important works for violin and piano.
The solo works for violin were played with a rhythmic energy and sound that defied the extreme humidity that left the scores dripping as were the artists too.
A handkerchief and clothes pegs were an indispensable help for some remarkable playing.
The Preludio from the Partita n.3 was played with such drive and precision.Fabrizio almost dancing as he used his whole body much like I remember Sandor Vegh many years ago.
The violin and body become one in a true artist and it was this that was so overwhelming .
The magnificent creamy rich sound from the Stradivari too.
Fabrizio had described the innovation and far sightedness of Stradivari in augmenting slightly the size of the baroque violin to anticipate the needs of music of the future from composers such as Brahms,Beethoven,Tchaikowsky etc.
The 24th Caprice by Paganini was played with transcendental virtuosity.
It came as a great surprise when after the concert Fabrizio confided that Paganini cannot be played in such humidity!
Perhaps it was Finghins handkerchief loaned so mischievously to Fabrizio to wipe down his violin every so often that made us completely unaware of the struggle that was being so splendidly won.
The four Pieces that make up Brahms op 119 showed just what a fine musician Finghin is. It is not easy to interpret all the detail that Brahms marks in the score and to allow the music to breathe and live so naturally.
The Adagio of the first Intermezzo was realised with a stillness and sense of balance but always with a sense of shape and line disolving into nothing in what must be one of Brahms’ most intimate confessions.
The second Intermezzo was beautifully judged and he made the transformation from poco agitato to the grazioso middle section sound so natural and inevitable .
The joyfully playful 3rd Intermezzo was played with just that charm and minimum of pedal that I remember made Curzon’s performances so magical.
The final Rhapsodie was played as a true musician who can bring a sense of nobility and grandeur to a piece that can so often sound so thick and heavy handed.
Horizontal not vertical indeed with some wonderful details somewhat reminiscent of Chopin’s 3rd scherzo in the choral and shimmering comments and with a lilting charm in the middle section’s grazioso .
The coda was made ever more exciting for the sudden fortepiano and minimum of pedal before the final rhythmic built up.
In the two works played together there was all the complicity and enjoyment of two musicians sharing in a conversation.
The Suite Italienne by Stravinsky.
Made up of six pieces I believe each one to fit on the side of a 78rpm record.
In the scherzino a slight mishap with the page due to a wind that had suddenly blown down on us had Fabrizio reading over the shoulder of his partner Never missing for a second the conversation that they were sharing with a public thrilled and mesmerised by these two such talented “lads”.
A truly monumental,performance of the Cesar Franck Sonata ended the evening .
The excitement and passionate involvement was combined with moments of calm and ravishing beauty.
The understatement of the opening was immediately contrasted with the most passionate outpourings.
And the virtuosity in the second movement generated an electricity to an audience following every second with baited breath.
Noticeable was the total involvement both of pianist and violinist that seemed to be riding a wave together.
The beautifully simple question and answer of the last movement led to the final passionate outburst where Finghin allowed himself full reign with the sumptuous sounds of the “Madrilena” shining aloft so potently.Two stars shining brightly tonight indeed.
Three Romanian dances by Bartok was an encore by public demand.
Now totally warmed up and more than ready to give a savage and devil may care performance that had the audience on the edge of their seats.
The second encore as I have said was a love song by Kreisler dedicated by them both to the warmth and welcome they had received from Elisa’s magnificent team.
Of course everyone that crosses the draw bridge in these parts is a true musician and it is this humility that was noticeable tonight.
Alfonso Alberti,the pianist who had given a splendid recital the night before ,ready to turn pages for his colleagues who had been applauding him the night before.
After the discovery two years of this natural “cathedral” of trees in Ninfa ,Alfonso Alberti had devised a programme around the theme of Ruins .
In the previous two years it had been based on nature and birds and this year the title given was that of the very first piece in his programme from Debussy’s Images “Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut.”
A special programme devised and introduced so eloquently by this pianist whose real passion is for contemporary music.
It should be remembered that an important part of the Campus has always been its seminaries and concerts of contemporary music that preceeds the festival.
Including visionary works by Liszt of the four Valse oubliee.It was his remarkable performance of works by Stefano Bulfon and Harrison Birtwistle that stand out.
A sense of line and colour and a self indentification with this sound world that I had immediately noticed a few years ago when he was asked to stand in at 24 hours notice and produced a programme entirely from memory of the most complicated scores of Messiaen .
The concert this year which included the title of the moon was by coincidence (?)on the very evening when a total eclipse was announced.
A single encore of a visionary piece by Alkan, a contemporary of Liszt and Chopin.
This long and complicated programme came to an end but the enthusiasm radiated by this remarkable eclectic musician had completely won over a very numerous audience.
The marvels of this enchanted cathedral were just as astonishing as the red moon that followed us on our way home through the beautiful Italian countryside