“Get Closer” Roberto Prosseda and Oleg Caetani at the Festival Hall
As always a fascinating journey of discovery with Roberto Prosseda with his appearance with the London Philharmonic introducing the pedal piano to London audiences.
The last time he was here was with the then unknown conductor Yannick Nezet Seguin with Mendelssohn’s 3rd piano concerto ( fragments of a third concerto never finished but assembled and completed by Marcello Bufalini).
Roberto went on to record it with Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra for Decca.
(The unknown Nezet Seguin has since become director of the Philadelphia Orhestra after Riccardo Muti!)
And this time he brings to London Gounod’s Concerto for Pedal Piano in E flat -1889.
He was shown the then unpublished score in 2010 by Gerard Conde who explained that Gounod had given the original manuscript to Lucie Palicot for whom his four works were written.
A student of the son of Alkan ,Elie Dalaborde It was her appearances in Paris at the Salle Pleyel in 1882 ,having also heard Alkan himself in 1875 , that inspired Gounod and he gave her sole rights to the concerto.
Unfortunately she retired from the concert stage in 1895 when she married for the second time and the manuscript disappeared.
A report from the musicologist Paul Landormy recalled :”I remember what a strange impression was produced by the sight of this graceful and dainty person perched on a huge case containg the lower strings of the pedal-board beneath a grand piano resting on it.What surprised us above all,pleasantly enough to be sure,was to see Mme Palicot wearing a short knee-length skirt ( entirely necessary but astonishing in those days),and her pretty legs darting most adroitly to reach the different pedals of the keyboard she had at her feet !”
Roberto Prosseda has recorded all four works by Gounod for Hyperion directed by Howard Shelley in his Romantic Piano Concerto Series.
He had commisioned from the Italian organ builder Claudio Pinchi an innovative system so that a pedal piano can be created from any two grand pianos.
Two Steinway D pianos one on top of the other with the Pinchi system that allows them to be transformed into a pedal piano.
The problem is that the pedal technique used for the organ cannot be applied since it requires a particular sensitivity of touch,as the pedals control a piano with hammers and strings.
So a more pianistic approach is required,using the weight of the leg and transferring the weight from one note to another in order to achieve a legato and enable a rich sonority and good control of dynamics.
The sustaining pedal is seldom used as both feet are often busy playing the pedal board.The hands are required to play differently than on a normal piano as the player’s balance and seating position are often altered by the constant movement of the legs!
No one was aware of all these difficulties listening to the superb performance of Gounod’s long lost concerto.
The outer movements were extremely rhythmically controlled in their question and answer between pianos and orchestra .
It was in the beautiful Adagio and in the Schumann encore – the fourth of the six Canonic studies for pedal piano – that one could appreciate to the full the supreme artistry and superb sense of style of Roberto Prosseda.
Infact I was witness backstage to the orchestral players coming one by one to congratulate Roberto especially for the beauty of his performance of the Schumann encore.
Praise indeed coming from his colleagues in the London Philharmonic.
It is very nice to see the success of the young pianist who studied in the Sergio Cafaro/Martinelli household a stone’s throw from our theatre in Rome(Teatro Ghione) and was reared by the Campus Musicale in his home town of Latina.
He often used to play in our theatre in Rome as ” try outs ” for his appearances in International Competitions .
I well remember the joy of Fou Ts’ong on hearing that Roberto would be playing in his Masterclasses.
He also went on to study with Fou Ts’ong and William Grant Nabore at the International Piano Academy in Como created and run by William Nabore a former disciple of Carlo Zecchi (Martha Argerich is honorary President).
For some years he was artistic director of the Pontine Festival together with Fabrizio von Arx continuing their great tradition by bringing Elisso Virsaladze,Charles Rosen and many others to the summer festival in Sermoneta in the grounds of the Caetani Castle.
A festival started in the 60’ by Menuhin/Szigeti and Alberto Lysy.
His father was Igor Markevitch and his mother was Donna Topazia Caetani from whom he chose to take his name to prolong the family lineage.
Not only with a renowned father whom I heard many times on this very stage but also with a superb pedigree of studies with Nadia Boulanger and Franco Ferrara.
He gave some superb performances of Messiaen : Hymne and the Symphonie fantastique by Berlioz that I well remember his father performing with such electricity here all those years ago.
We await many new discoveries from Roberto Prosseda in London on his remarkable journey in the music world where he delves with such intelligence and artistry .