Vitaly Pisarenko at St Mary’s
I have written a lot about Vitaly Pisarenko since that first time six years ago that I heard him in L’Aquila.
The Keyboard Trust had been asked to bring three young pianists from three different nations to perform in a new concert hall that had been donated by the city of Trento to the city of L’Aquila savaged so recently by an earthquake.
The great architect Renzo Piano has designed a concert hall that was erected outside the city walls of this noble city so brutally ravaged by an earthquake.
Claudio Abbado had offered to give the inaugural concert.
It was Guido Barbieri, critic,radio broadcaster and artistic director of the Amici della Musica who approached Noretta Conci-Leech and John Leech with the idea of bringing three young pianists to share their experiences of music and enthusiasm with the people of this noble city where music had been of such importance.
The Amici della Musica is one of the oldest institutions in Italy.
Artur Rubinstein was an honorary citizen and many great artists would regularly perform in L’Aquila,Siena ,Perugia and Rome which were long established philanthropic institutions.
A long weekend in which three pianists would play ,talk and share their enthusiasm with the people of L’Aquila that had suffered so much and needed an injection of music, youthful enthusiasm and hope.
Mei Yi Fou,Pablo Rossi and Vitaly Pisarenko were chosen to play a series of concerts in three days on the wonderful Steinway piano donated by Angelo Fabbrini from his renowned Steinway showrooms on the seashore in nearby Pescara.
Some wonderful music making and a great following from these highly cultured people who had been so cut off by this tragedy that had hit them so unexpectedly.
It was when Vitaly Pisarenko played the Bach/Siloti Prelude in B minor that Noretta Conci-Leech and I looked at each other in disbelief at the beauty of the sounds when the choral melody is accompanied by the most intricate arabesques .
A unique sense of balance as his hands caressed the keys with transcendental sensitivity.
It was love at first sight for Noretta Conci-Leech .
She had been seduced by the ravishing sounds produced by this young russian pianist.
Many years have now passed and Vitaly Pisarenko has played all over the world.
Even in the Rachmaninoff Series that the KCT were invited to play in Ancona,Fabriano and Teatro Rossini in Pesaro.
The complete works for piano and orchestra in which Vitaly Pisarenko played n.2 and 3. Alexander Ullmann n.1 , Jayson Gillhamn.4 in the original version and Marcos Madrigal Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini.
In 2015 Vitaly was a top prize winner in the Leeds International Piano Competition where he played Rachmaninoff n.3 under Mark Elder.
Playing worldwide he still has time to complete a doctorate at the RCM where he completed his Masters Degree with distinction in 2014.
His mentors have been Dmitri Alexeev,himself top prize winner at the Leeds many years before.Sharing all his experience with his younger colleague as has Boris Petrushansky too at the Piano Academy in Imola.
But today I have rarely heard Vitaly play with such a subtle sense of colour and intelligence in a programme where many of the works I had never heard before in my sixty years of concert going!
Brahms Theme and Variations op 18b I have never before seen or heard in a recital until today.
I know about Brahms’ “a’s” and “b’s” as in the famous Quintet op 34 .
Op 18 is from 1860 and is the second movement of the Sextet transcribed for piano for his beloved Clara Schumann.
This fine Yamaha piano that I have heard so many times under so many different hands was today transformed in this piece into a magnificent sounding Bosendorfer .
From the mellow singing middle register to the sumptuous full chords there was a chameleon type attention to colour that gave such a sonorous rich sound to this unjustly neglected work.
It was in fact Richter who was quite happy to play on any piano because he wanted to hunt and search out the secrets that were hidden in this wooden box of strings and hammers.
It does indeed take a truly transcendental command to be able to enter into this contest.
So it was today with the second work of Brahms the slightly better known Scherzo op 4.
The partner of the great Sonata in F minor op 5.
An almost orchestral work in which the driving rhythms and unrelenting energy were contrasted with lyrical passages of a sumptuous rich string like sound.
Unrelenting to the abrupt insistent final chords .
It reminds me many years ago in 1970 being in the class of Andre Tchaikowsky in Dartington Summer School in Devon.
Andre had been asked by the Hungarian authorities to look out for one of their prodigies who was to study with him and George Malcom.
Katy Kennedy a fellow student of mine from the RAM had prepared the Brahms Scherzo for the masterclass.
Andre declared that he did not know it and a voice from the back seemed very surprised .Andre with his usual impish humour said why do you not teach it to her then.
Greatly embarrassed the fourteen year old Andras Schiff proceeded with his task!
The same ravishing beauty we heard all those years ago in L’Aquila was the hallmark of the beautiful song Im Herbste of the second movement of the Sonata op 22 by Schumann.It was played with such a hushed subtle cantabile in which the accompaniment was played with a truly transcendental control in that very dangerous area of “piano” and “ pianissimo” that sorts out the boys from the true masters.
As fast as possible Schumann implores in the first movement and then faster and still faster and it was this sense of urgency and unrelenting youthful forward movement that was so involving.
The wonderful shape too to the cantabile contrasts.
The Scherzo played with crisp clear acciaccturas without for a minute loosing the urgency.
The great sounds in the last movement made the piano sound like a very grand piano indeed.
A work that used to be played a lot but has been neglected for too long .
Of course in the hands of a master it is indeed the great outpouring that Schumann obviously intended.
Images oubliees by Debussy a work I have only once heard in concert.
An early working for the Estampes and Pour Le Piano very much influenced by his Pelleas e Melisande from the same early period of 1894.
Lent ,doux et melancolique was the almost Lisztian opening Images but with the unmistakable stamp of Debussy’s later sound world already present.
Played with subtle technical mastery ,never notes but washes of colour spread across the entire keyboard.
Sarabande is the first working of the second movement of Pour Le Piano beautifully shaped with some wonderful full noble sounds.
Nous n’irons plus au bois is the last Image and it is a well known children’s song.
A cross between Jardins sous la pluie from Estampes and the Prelude of Pour Le Piano.
Played with a clarity and rhythmic impulse that brought this virtually unknown work to a thrilling conclusion.
The two well known arabesques by Debussy were a link between Debussy and the two Chopin Scherzi that closed this exhausting programme on such a hot day.
The subtle colours of the first arabesque played with such refined rubato contrasted so well with the crystal clear sparkling second one.
The two scherzi I have written about many times but on this occasion I was entranced and pleasantly surprised by the subtle way that the middle melodic section of the first scherzo was played.
In the true fashion of the great interpreters of the past where in order to give a true liquid cantabile the hands are very subtly out of sinc with each other.
It is a magic trick that Cherkassky was a master of.
Persuading us that the piano could sing.
We were persuaded by Cherkassky on many an occasion as we were today.
Breathtaking the grandiose sense of style,colour and true virtuosity of these two well worn warhorses.
No encore offered as we were all equally exhausted by this commanding performance from this demanding young virtuoso.