The Magic World of Mihai Ritivoiu

The magic world of Mihai Ritivoiu
It was Noretta Conci-Leech,founder of the Keyboard Charitable Trust who on hearing Mihai strike up the first few notes of Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata leant over to me and said this is the one.
It was the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe Intercollegiate Competition that we had been asked to judge together with Piers Lane.
I had already heard Mihai a few years earlier in a masterclass with Richard Goode and from then on had been following his progress with Joan Havill at the Guildhall with much interest.

Mihai Ritivoiu at St Mary’s
He ,of course, was awarded the Gold Medal and later graduated with honours from the Guildhall and was accepted by the Keyboard Charitable Trust where he was invited to give a special concert in the Reform Club in the presence of Sir Antonio Pappano.
He has since been selected by the City Music Foundation who presented him at Cadogan Hall with the English Chamber Orchestra under Michael Collins.
They also have produced a CD of piano works by Liszt,Franck and Enescu that has been highly acclaimed by the critics.
He has appeared many times in Romania and as a laureate of the George Enescu International Piano competition his performance of Shostakovich n.1 last autumn with the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra was broadcast live on Romanian television.
This is his second appearance that I have heard for Hugh Mather and on this occasion he was standing in at very short notice for an indisposed Mishka Rushdie Momen.
In fact it was such last minute we thought as the clock struck two that we might have to send out a search party for him.
We need not have worried for Mihai is a great professional and having had some difficulty in arriving on time just two minutes late he arrived and sat at the piano and took us immediately into his own special magic world.
It was my teacher Sidney Harrison who first said he did not teach children but when I auditioned for him he immediately saw that the piano and I were made for each other and thankfully changed his mind !
And so it was the first time I saw Mihai in masterclasses of Richard Goode and it was this that Noretta Conci immediately noticed.
Once again today it was obvious that Mihai and the piano are just made for each other.
From the very first notes there was a luminosity of sound that made one realise what Busoni meant when he said the pedal was the soul of the piano.
The Sonata in A major K24 that can so often sound like an exercise was here shaped with very subtle use of the sustaining pedal and a touch of a thousand gradations that gave a living shape and form to Scarlatti’s magic weave.
In the beautifully contrasting sonata in C sharp minor K247 the luminosity of sound was even more apparent.
I have heard many recitals on this piano but rarely have I been aware of the glow and subtle sheen of sound that was hidden within.
It is easy for a professional pianist to make a magnificent instrument sing but it is only a pianist who really listens to himself that can do the same on a piano which has seen better days.
In fact it was Richter who was quite happy to have the challenge of searching for the secrets in an unknown instrument.
The impeccable musicianship of Mihai he has inherited from his mentor at the Guildhall Joan Havill.
It was apparent yet again in an engaging performance of Beethoven’s Les Adieux Sonata A great sense of style and telling use of the bass notes at just the crucial moment.
The great fanfare in the last movement played quite fearlessly and with great rhythmic impetus.
The opening of the Farewell was even more moving for the total respect he had for the score without a trace of sentimentality but with great inner feeling.
A performance that one can put side by side with his remarkable Appassionata that won him the Gold Medal of the Beethoven Society a few years ago.
The fleeting moods of Chopin’s 3 Mazukas op 59 were magically portrayed.The second in particular dissolving into the air.And the more assertive third mazurka played with all the vigour of a native .
The sheen that he gave to the sound of the piano especially in the Liszt was quite remarkable.
The Fminor trancendental study was shaped and given a Ballade type form and any trace of rhetoric or showmanship was subordinate to the passionate sense of urgency and forward movement that swept us along to the exciting finish.
The genial “Au bord d’une source” was given a glistening performance in which we could almost see the stream bubbling along with such  nostalgia of charm and peace.
This is an absolute gem and all too rarely heard these days in concert.
Throwing himself  fearlessly into the Rigoletto Paraphrase this was the world of Liszt the showman.
Mihai was well aware of this and gave a truly virtuoso performance .
The sumptuousness of the melody and the delicate accompaniment were followed by great gusts of octaves that swept us along to a tumultuous end that was greeted by a true ovation from a discerning public that had been totally captivated by the great musicianship of this young artist.
Little were we expecting an encore of such subtle colouring as we were offered with Claire de lune by Debussy.
Such a wonderful delicate sense of balance that colours appeared like jewels in a magic box gleaming like a kaleidoscope with a thousand different shades.
There was pure magic in this fantasy world of Mihai Ritivoiu to which we were admitted so unexpectedly today.

St Mary’s Perivale

New CD promoted by The City Music Foundation

Konstantinos Destounis and Petar Dimov at St James’s for Talent Unlimited

Konstantinos Destounis and Petar Dimov at St James’s Piccadilly
The very enterprising Canan Maxton came up with a suprise concert of not one pianist but two at the lunchtime concert for Talent Unlimited.
Both have won numerous prizes and recognition in International Competitions and both are doing their final postgraduate studies at the Royal College of Music .

Petar Dimov with Canan Maxton
Konstantinos has been studying with Dmitri Alexeev and Ian Jones and is fast making a name for himself as a promoter of the complete piano works of his compatriot Theodore Antoniou His recording of the complete works has been issued by Naxos in their series “Grand Piano”.
Petar on the other hand is also an accomplished composer with many works to his name .He is completing his piano studies with Norma Fisher.
An interesting programme that showed off the diversity of the two pianists.
Konstantinos all light and brightness and Petar all dense and intense.
It is strange how the same piano in different hands can take on the character of who is at the reigns.
It is in fact as Rubinstein described to the contestants at his very first competition.
He likened the difference in character to honey.
That no two honeys are the same because the bees go from one flower to another and choose which they will pollinate.
A pianist should should learn from that and listen to as many performances as possible and take what he likes from each to add to his own ideas and form what is known as good taste !
His own good taste .
It was very interesting for me to be able to notice how similar Petar’s Schumann was to Norma Fisher’s playing that I remember from when Sidney Harrison ,my very first teacher,took me to the Wigmore Hall to hear his star pupil.
Here was this very solid playing constructed from the bass upwards that gives a fullness of sound without any hardness .In fact almost orchestral in its density.
I well remember Norma Fisher’s Brahms Handel Variations and was reminded of that today as Petar started the Allegro molto from Schumann’s Carnaval Jest from Vienna.
(A series of recordings from the BBC archives of Norma Fisher are being released on CD to great acclaim )

Petar Dimov
The rhythms were never allowed to sag or get sentimental.
Schumann writes so many times tempo come prima or tempo come sopra so this first very long movement does not loose its sense of direction and nobility.
.The Marseillaise quote almost becomes an invitable consequence of this continual forward movement.
Interesting to note that in the choice of three Debussy Preludes by Destounis it is Feux D’Artifice where the Marseillaise is heard too but in the far distance this time.
The short Romanze makes a beautiful contrast especially in the sentitive hands of Petar.
The Scherzino that followed was played with all the lightness that contrasted well with the rather pompous interruptions and the inevitable Schumann dotted figures that finishes this short movement and takes us directly into the passionate Intermezzo.
The Intermezzo played with a fullness of sound but a great sense of balance that never lost sight of the melodic line so similar to one of Schumann’s own Novelettes op 21.The eight Novelettes after all were written only shortly before this work which is op 26.
Even there op 21 n.8 is in the obscure key of F sharp minor as here it is in E flat minor as though this is music that sorts the men from the boys!

Konstantinos Destounis
The Finale was thrown off with all the rhythmic energy and virtuosity that Schumann demands.
There could have been slightly more contrast between the lyrical song like passages, maybe a lighter orchestration and slightly more time to breathe.
However this is a small price to pay for a performance that drew us in and kept our attention from the first to last note.
The three Debussy Preludes with which Konstantinos Destounis opened the concert were played with all the light and shade that allowed them to speak so eloquently.
Les collines d’Anacapri had all the subtle colours that are so apparant to anyone who has caught the funivia to this magic spot in the bay of Naples.
Some very refined playing wherethe  ending for the first time seemed to make such sense without hitting out the last rays of sunshine which is so often the case in lesser hands.
The Girl with the flaxen hair was played simply with beautiful tone as Debussy obviously intended for this simple lass.
Feux d’artifice showed of all Konstantinos’s quite considerable technical baggage.The final glissando leaving exactly the air smelling of fireworks on which floated in the distance the french anthem.
This led the way for a virtuoso account of that old war horse that is Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz n.1.
Here is was given a very clear account played with great taste and never allowing the great virtuoso feats to outway Liszt’s musical intentions.
The occasional added bass notes only opened up the piano sound even more just as Rubinstein used to do in public.
Margherite was given all the time to sing and seduce in a beautiful interlude before the partying took over with quite overwhelming sweeps of sound.
The trecherous octaves were very clearly played and the double octaves at the end took our breath away as Liszt obviously intended.

Victor Maslov Tolga Atalay Un Aleksandar Pavlovic some of the remarkable young musicians taking time off to support their friends and colleagues
Hats off to Canan Maxton and her Talent Unlimited that aims to give a stage to young artists on their long and difficult jouney in music.
Young artists who are dedicating their youth to perfecting their art ……..not enough is ever said about that.
It is refreshing to be reminded though.

Canan Maxton with Aleksandar Pavlovic

Candles for our loved ones in my wife’s favourite church

St James’s Piccadilly

This beautiful church next to Piccadilly Circus dedicated to helping others

Konstantinos Destounis Petar Dimov

John Granger Fisher at St Mary’s ………………and that visa !

John Granger Fisher at St Mary’s
It was nice to be able to hear this fine Australian pianist again at St Mary’s in Hugh Mather’s series.
Having heard this remarkable pianist a year ago we were both alarmed to hear that he had been invited to leave the country where he had perfected his studies and would have to apply for a visa if he wished to return.
Here are my thoughts on his previous recital that had so impressed.
Whilst delighted to see him back having resolved this problem , one that not all musicians can so easily, one could reflect that with Brexit now very much on everyone’s lips the visa problem may indeed be even more complicated from April 2019 .
It seems strange to me and to Dr Mather, who has many dealings with truly exceptional young international musicians ,that a young artist who has been supported by trust funds and government scholarships because of their unique talent should after having studied in this country and brought honour on themselves and the institutions that have provided them with the recognised exceptional training, that has enabled their extraordinary talent to mature and grow in stature, are then invited to leave the country.
A country that has given them so much and that they now in turn could repay as well as propogate worldwide.
These extraordinary young artists are treated like builders or general workers that are trying to take advantage of all the UK has to offer without participating or repaying that debt .
I remember a story that used to go around of Segovia arriving at the frontier and the officer in control shouted to his mate :”There is an old bloke here who says he plays the banjo”.
Sokolov will not come to this country because he refuses to give his fingerprints as it reminds him of the regime that he had escaped .
No problem for him as the world goes to Europe to hear him ,he has no need to cross the channel !
It is a pity ,and something that I must say I am ashamed of, that artists of this stature after years of struggle and dedication are treated almost like criminals .
There are ways around this of course but so unsettlingly complicated and time consuming that it can take away from the time needed to dedicate themselves to their art.
In fact I was not surprised when Dr Mather told me that there had been a change of programme.I expect that John had spent more time with bureaucracy than with his art in the past months.
The first half of Chopin and Liszt for this reason sounded a bit tired with accomodating rubatos that are no part of this artists usual baggage.
It was in the study op 25 n.12 that suddenly we saw signs of the great pianist that I remembered from before.
There were of course some beautiful things in the Polonaise Fantasie that obviously was old repertoire that had been professionally prepared to honour his engagment with Dr Mather .
The Tarantella by Liszt I remember much more scintillating and less accomodating from his last appearance.

Dr Mather’s call to arms
Then after an interval during which we were invited to wander around the graveyard that is looking so beautiful at this time of the year!
Dr Mather rang the church bells or in this case call to arms?
Suddenly after the interval the clouds had passed and we were in the presence of the great artist that we remembered so vividly.
The second sonata by Rachmaninov played with such sense of colour and sense of direction.Added to a superhuman technical ability not only to play the millions of notes but to project them and keep this rather rhapsodic sonata under strict control .
The little G minor Prelude was  also played with great style.
The beautiful inner melodies of the middle section as in the Bflat Prelude that finished the programme could have had a more sumptuous sound and more subtle sense of balance.
But that will surely come when Dr Mather reinvites him back to St Barnabas to play on his magnificent Bosendorfer.
We await with joy .
So pleased that this gifted artist ,having resolved his bureaucratic problems can share with us his great artistry.
Not only in his homeland Australia where he is already well known but also in the country that has given him so much.
Now into battle with a young exceptional Serbian pianist.
(Serbia/Australia are not part of the EU as we shortly shall not be too!)
For months  he has not touched the piano whilst he battles with the bureaucracy for an exceptional talent visa.
He won an International Competition in Italy at the age of 14 and decided to study with one of the great teachers that now reside and are proud to teach in UK institutions such as the RCM,RAM in London.
Thanks to the encouragement of Dr Mather and other institutions such as the Keyboard Charitable Trust and Talent Unlimited of Canan Maxton with the collaboration ,of course, of the extraordinary teachers that are prepared to enter the fray to help these young musicians resolve their dreams and put them on track in the very difficult start to a professional career in music.

Andre Gallo and Gala Chistiakova with the Manchester Camerata

Up Close:The Next Generation Andre Gallo and Gala Chistiakova in Carnival Mood
Greeted on the way to the train by this publicity for Manchester.
Could not be more spot on.
Sharpish indeed as the pianists from Keyboard Charitable Trust have been experiencing over the past few years in an enlightened collaboration with the Manchester Camera– Britains most exciting chamber orchestra.
The brain child of Geoffrey Shindler who wanted the young musicians from the Keyboard Trust to experience making music with “his” orchestra in his beloved Manchester.
And what an vibrant place Manchester is with exciting new venues opening all over the city to share music with audiences that until now had not known what they were missing.
In fact bringing them “Up Close”
It was only fitting that Alexander Ullman, a star shining brightly thanks also to the KCT , should open the series in the award winning Whitworth Art Gallery.
He was followed by other stars :
Emanuel Rimoldi in “Home” a community arts centre where once stood a leather factory.
A very teasing title for Valentine day of “Camerata in Love” with Ilya Kondratiev.
Mark Viner performed unknown works by Alkan in the Anthony Burgess Foundation that was once a rubber factory
Vitaly Pisarenko brought Beethoven and Bartok to a Hungarian Fest in Albert Square where once stood the famous Freemasons Hall in the heart of the city.
And now an Aquatic Carnival in the magnificent new Stoller Hall that is part of Chethams School of Music just opposite the Cathedral.
Two stars shining brightly here too.
André Gallo from the south of Italy where he astonished audiences at the age of nine in S.Carlo Opera House in Naples performing the 24 Chopin Studies .
Lazar Berman took him under his wing and had a lasting concern for him in the Piano Academy in Imola where after his death Franco Scala took over his musical education .

Andre Gallo                              Gala Chistiakova                 Vitaly Pisarenko
Now at 29 he is astonishing audiences with his supremely natural musical gifts.
No less remarkable Gala Chistiakova performing both the Chopin Concertos in Moscow when only 12.
Now established in Grossetto where she has a music festival with her husband Diego Benocci that is bringing remarkable young talents from specialist schools in Russia including the renowned Gnessin School to Italy in an exchange programme that allows hundreds of children to feast on the culture that is Italy, “The Museum of the World” ,to use Rostpropovich’s own words.
Gala is also mother to fourteen month old Leonardo,of whom Vitaly Pisarenko is the godfather.
She had taken time off to perform in this remarkable series but had to get a very early flight back to her family the next day.
Vitaly had come up especially from London after a month long concert tour of South Africa.

Carnival of the Animals the final work on the programme with the complete ensemble
A real party atmosphere was created with ten members of the Camerata together with the two pianists enjoying every minute of the work that Saint Saens had momentarily put aside his third symphony for .
He had such fun writing this Aquatic Carnival for Shrove Tuesday in 1886 but did not allow it to be published in his lifetime as he thought it would detract from his image as a “serious composer”!
The second performance in the same year was in the presence of Franz Liszt at the house of Pauline Viardot.
It was in fact published only after the composers death in December 1921 except for the beautiful Swan for cello that Saint Saens allowed to be published in 1887.

The video especially created by a special programme for children, called Carnage of the Animals
It certainly gives every player a chance to shine and in the hands of the Camerata it also gave the chance to autistic children to create a video especially for the rousing final.
Bringing music to the people and people to the music indeed.
Up Close indeed giving children with difficulties a chance to participate and express themselves artistically.
Each of the artists was allowed to shine in their own particular way as explained in the very amusing introduction by Janet Fulton,our amazing and unexpected percussionist.

                                       Janet Fulton with Andre Gallo
What fun everyone had .
Not only the performers but also the audience that were captivated by the menagerie that was paraded before them.
From the Lions roaring,the Hens and Roosters crowing even the Tortoises dancing the Can Can.
But what virtuosity from these superb players only a few days from returning from an exhausting five concert tour of China.
The elephant of Daniel Storer on the double bass .
The beautiful playing of Amina Cunningham creating a magical aquarium on her incredible flute.

                                          The magic flute of Amina Cunningham
Of course the characters with long ears were so hilariously depicted by the violin director Adi Brett with Katie Stillman.
Daniel Bayley’s cuckoo in the depth of the woods with his C and A flat call on the clarinet .Our two virtuosi pianists fooling around with scales and exercises .
Janet Fulton’s Fossils evoking images of skeletons playing card games on her xylophone

                            Janet Fulton introducing their Carnival
One could not forget the magical swan of Hannah Roberts with the etherial accompaniment from Andre and Gala.
Leading to the finale in which everyone could make their own inimitable comment
.Ending with the “Hee Haws” of the donkeys as if to say the donkey has the last laugh
The concert had begun with just two pianos .
Two wonderful Steinway “D” ‘s .
One at home and the other on loan from the Halle’s Bridgewater Hall ,yet another wonderful venue that this extraordinary city can proudly boast.

Andre Gallo and Gala Chistiakova in Mozart Sonata K448 that opened the concert
As Geoffrey Shindler proudly exclaimed a sublime Mozart played with such finesse and purity of sound .
Perfect ensemble from our two pianists,who truly played as one.
The beauty of sound in the slow movement where time seemed to stand still.
The last movement bubbling over with that innocent charm that is so much part of Mozart’s genius.
The opening Allegro con spirito that grew in spirito as they warmed to the sheer joy of playing this masterpiece to such an attentive audience.
The sense of balance and give and take between the two pianists was infact remarkable
They played as one .No greater compliment is possible.
A rarity too was included in the programme.
That of Schumann’s Andante and Variations in B flat in the original version WoO10 for two pianos,two cellos and horn.
Written in 1843 but on Mendelssohn’s suggestion he published it as op 46 for just two pianos.Omitting two variations as well as the introduction and interlude.

Emma Wigley,the magician behind the scenes with the Camerata
Brahms ,on the other hand recognised the value of the original and premiered it with Clara Schumann in 1868.
Playing of great delicacy but also of great virtuosity from our two pianists with the cello of Hannah Roberts together with that of Chris Murray from the Heath Quartet and with the horn of Naomi Atherton adding that sheen to the most romantic of works
After a tiring tour of China what better way to celebrate than the opening of a celebratory bottle or two by Bob Riley the manager of the Camerata and James Thomas head of artistic development and programming.

              Bob Riley letting his hair down with his orchestra
I am sure that there are many more surprises in store for these young musicians with the Manchester Camerata – “the supreme experimental orchestra “.

                                Gala Chistiakova with James Thomas

     A celebratory “selfie” of the “gang” from the Keyboard Trust  after such an                                                            exhilarating evening

                                     Andre Gallo in rehearsal

               Gala Chistiakova enjoying every minute of the rehearsal

Llyr Williams opens the 30 Anniversary International Piano Series

Llyr Williams at QEH London
The welsh pianist Llyr Williams opened the International Piano Series at the recently re opened Queen Elisabeth Hall on the South Bank in London .
A musician’s programme of Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms as befits a former BBC New Generation artist and a recipient of the Borlotti- Buitoni award.
I was very pleased to be able to listen live to this pianist who has been performing all the Beethoven Sonatas in a series at the Wigmore Hall.
Unfortunately there is not much information about his formation in the programme or about any of the other artists in the series .
As is the norm these days which seems to be more about recent events than the actual birth and nurturing of the talent that has brought them to the fore !
Marketing it is called !
(Thanks to Google I learn that he had an early taste for opera and a love for Wagner at the age of ten.He got a first class degree from Oxford Queen’s College at 22 and did postgraduate work at the RAM with Michael Dussek,Julius Drake,Hamish Milne and Irina Zaritskaya)
However Linn Rothstein who had invited me had told me that he studied at the Royal Academy in London and studied to be an accompanist .This was with only the programme information (cost 4 pounds) before referring to the “master” Google
Unable to ascertain for certain but as music speaks louder than words it seemed obviously the case as exemplified by the wondrous sounds and extraordinary sense of balance which was combined to a musicality that left no doubt as to his intentions.
Let us not forget the great singing tradition in Wales .
Adelina Patti had a castle there and Dame Gwyneth Jones and Margaret Price wanted to turn it into a National Singing Academy.
Something that Dame Gwyneth learnt when singing in our theatre in Rome that the Arts Council had turned the idea down.
I remember the coaching from John Streets sharing lessons with Graham Johnson and being overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of sound that was possible from the piano to he who listens!
In fact if I had to say who can make the piano sing today more than any other I would not hesitate in saying Graham Johnson and Menahem Pressler.
I often say to young pianists go and listen to Graham and learn how to make the piano sing!
It was even more evident in the single encore offered of the Schubert G flat Impromptu after a long and musically difficult programme .
The magical way in which he could make the melody sing out over a gently murmuring accompaniment reminded me of Gerald Moore playing An Di Musik at his farewell concert.
With Elisabeth Schwarzkopf,Victoria de los Angeles and Dietrich Fischer Diescau looking on he captured a public that had been overwhelmed by an evening of sublime music making .
”Am I too loud” he might very well have asked .
Never !Would be the only answer possible as indeed was the case tonight.
The introduction in the programme too showed a true musical mind .
One that had thought of the recital as a voyage of discovery.From the Beethoven 32 variations based on an eight bar harmonic progression similar to the Baroque chaconne form .To the Brahms Variations in D minor obviously inspired by the great Bach Chaconne in the same key.
These two works as an introduction to two important works :that of Schumann Humoreke op 20 and Brahms Sonata in F minor op 5 .
An imposing opening to the Beethoven as you might expect from someone who was signing after the concert his 12 CD set under the title of Beethoven Unbound.
Some really beautiful detail but somehow the energy behind the notes was missing.
The extraodinary thing about Gilels and Annie Fischer’s performance of this work was the driving energy from the first to the last note .
Here was some extremely beautiful playing but the savage almost animal like Beethoven was missing which left us with a series of episodes where the underlying pulse was missing.
The Schumann rarely have I heard the opening so beautifully played .
The melody projected to perfection.
But when it came to the more articulated sections that make such a telling contrast between Florestan and Eusebius the rhythmic energy and articulation became part of a wash of musical sound.
The great sounds of the piano from which emerge the most heartrending melodic invention was not possible when the whole landscape was one of such beauty.
It became a little boring.
We were in the end yearning for a change of scenery.
It was the same in the Brahms .
A quite remarkable performance but I remember that of Kempff in this very hall where the eruptions of sound were contrasted with the most liquid of cantabiles.
A true orchestra in his hands
Here there were some wonderful moments especially in the slow movement that was a model of perfection for subtlety of balance and projection of melodic line of pure beauty .But the great passionate finale of this movement did not take our breath away as it surely should .
The Brahms variations after the second movement of the String Sextet op 18 n.1 was written as a present for Clara and was given perhaps the most satisfying performance of the evening ………….
…………….that is until we struck gold with Schubert.
It is without doubt that the Welsh have music in their blood and soul.
It is evident when they speak ,sing or as tonight play an instrument.
A remarkable lesson of musicianship indeed in this era where the modern day pianos are used to being beaten to death instead of being caressed and truly loved
P.S. Another fine young Welsh pianist Luke Jones writes :
Luke Jones He lives just a stone’s throw away from my house in Wrexham! Small world it is.
 He studied as a youth with a local teacher called Lottie Williams-Parry and was a student at Ysgol Morgan Llwyd, he went to study at Oxford University in Music whilst taking lessons at RAM. I believe he studied with Hamish Milne whilst a student there. He worked a great deal for Live Music Now and I think YCAT in the early 2000s. I believe he also studied a bit with Julius Drake and Irina Zaritskaya and a few other names that escape me.
 His mother and father are also very keen on music and I understand took him to many concerts as a child. I recall he mentioned to me once he has a copy of Chopin Polonaises signed by Sviatoslav Richter.