Ilya Kondratiev in Italy.The Jewels in the crown

Ilya Kondratiev in Italy The Jewels in the crown
“Ilya is a gem….No matter how many years go by I will always remember his performance .He is a natural beast..” Yvonne Georgiadou Artistic director of the Pharos Arts Foundation in Cyprus.
The start of the Keyboard Charitable Trust 2019 annual tour of Italy.
The tour started in Venice at the Goethe Institute for the three concerts that make up part of AGIMUS Padova organised for many a year by Elia Modenese and his wife Elisabetta Gesuato.Concerts that include Palazzo Albrizzi in Venice,Palazzo Zacco-Armeni in Padua and the Sala dei Specchi of the Ritz Hotel in Abano Terme.

Mariantonietta Righetto Squeglia
Moving on to the magnificent Teatro Comunale di Vicenza for the Incontro con la tastiera organised by Mariantonietta Righetto Squeglia and her daughter Raffaella.
It then moved on to Rome for a concert in the beautiful 300 year old Oratorio dell ‘Angelo Custode ,just a stones’ throw from the Trevi Fountains .

After concert celebrations with Dr Mallamaci and colleagues
A benefit concert for the hospitals in Benin and the Ivory Coast opened by the missionary cardiologist Dr Vicenzo Mallamaci “Ti porto in Africa”-Onlus.
A very fine new Yamaha piano donated for the occasion by Alfonsi who I have known for the past 40 years …his daughter,who was present, now runs the well known business for her 92 year old father.
A live radio broadcast the next day for Radio 3 Suite directed by Stefano Roffi who wrote after the broadcast:”Many ,many thanks to you and Ilya.A great performance ,a chance for me to do a good job and do something good for the sake of music”

Prof Ricci in Viterbo
A final concert in Viterbo for the season of the Tuscia University directed by Prof. Franco Carlo Ricci in the Auditorium di S.Maria Gradi .

Giornale di Vicenza
A programme dedicated to two of the greatest figures of the Romantic period both of whom were fundamental in establishing the solo piano as the supreme medium in the concert hall.Advancing the technical demands of the player with music that combined both poetry and virtuosity and advanced the possibility of the piano to express the utmost varieties of atmosphere and feelings via a wooden box of hammers and strings.To which, in Anton Rubinstein’s own words,the pedals became the very soul of the piano.
It was this world that Ilya Kondratiev shared with us on his Italian tour.
Starting his programme quite unusually but to great effect with the Polonaise “Heroique” op 53 by Chopin.It opened a first half of all Chopin continuing with the early four mazukas op 24 and the First and Third Scherzi.

Ilya Kondratiev in Rome
The second half was dedicated to a single work of Liszt the 2nd Book of his Years of Pilgrimage.A year spent in Italy with Marie D’Agoult with whom the young romantic virtuoso had eloped fleeing Paris and scandal to be with the eventual mother of his two children.They were joined by Georges Sand who became the great love of Frederic Chopin.
“Following the tragic death of her daughter Louise, Marie d’Agoult found herself pregnant with Franz Liszt’s child. Since she was still married to Charles d’Agoult, it was impossible to stay in Paris. She wrote her husband in May 1835, telling him that their marriage was over. “When fate has joined two people as different as we are in mind and temperament, the constant effort and sacrifices made on both sides only serve to deepen the abyss between. I ask for your forgiveness on Luise’s grave. Your name will never leave my lips except when uttered with the respect and esteem which your character deserves. As for me, I ask only for your silence in the face of the world which is going to overwhelm me with insults.”

The historic Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza
In order to avoid the scandal, which was hardly possible, the lovers made secret arrangements to elope to Switzerland. Parisian society was dumbfounded that a very prominent and beautiful Comtesse should leave her husband for a traveling pianist, and in the public eye the whole affair was branded a flagrant case of abduction.”

Sala dei Specchi Abano Ritz
In 1836, George Sand arrived with her traveling companion Major Adolphe Pictet, and the couples toured Switzerland on mules. When they arrived in Chamonix, Liszt filled in the hotel registry as such: “Place of birth-Parnassus; Profession-Musician/Philosopher; Coming from-Doubt; Journeying towards-Truth.” Sand in turn wrote: Occupation-Loafer, Date of Passport-Eternity; Issued by-Public Opinion. Sand had always had amorous intentions towards Franz, and apparently towards Marie as well. All we know for sure is that Sand described themselves as “galley-slaves of love who don’t know the value of any chain.” Shortly thereafter, Liszt performed in Paris, and the friendship/affair between Marie and George rapidly turned to hate.”
Ilya Kondratiev’s tour programme consisted of Chopin :Polonaise op 53,4 Mazurkas op 24,Scherzo n.3 op 39 and n.1 op 20. – Deuxieme annee de pelerinage :Sposalizio,Il penseroso,Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa,Sonetti del Petrarca 47,104,123 and Apres une lecture de Dante – Fantasia quasi Sonata.
A strange choice to start with the Chopin A flat Polonaise but in Ilya’s hands it worked perfectly as an opening piece for his all Chopin first half.
It was played with the same simplicity that Rubinstein used to bring to this much played work that in the wrong hands can become a bed of rhetoric and bad taste.
Here there was a complete adherance to the composers indications with a sense of rhythm and line that left no room for the usual empty showmanship that this work can suffer from .

Ilya in Rome
The left hand octaves were played like wind passing over the plain with just a slight crescendo that gave it such a telling shape and the right hand melodic line shaped with a true legato that did not have to do battle with the left hand as is so often the case.
The beautiful final melodic section before the coda reminded me of the Polonaise Fantasie where Chopin almost brings the music to a sublime halt with such subtle telling rubato before reigniting the forces and bringing the work to an ever more exciting conclusion.
The four early mazukas were played with a very telling rubato and sense of colour that was quite mesmerising.I begin to understand that the mazurka cannot be taught but has to be in your blood as it obviously was with Chopin with his nostalgic yearning for his homeland.
The clarity and sheer virtuosity that Ilya brought to the Scherzi has been mentioned in the review from Vicenza and it was also remarked on with great admiration by the director of the Rai 3 Programme.
The third scherzo was not only played with great rhythmic impetus but the filigree comments to the great chorale like melody were quite ravishing and even more so for maintaining the same tempo which gave a great sense of line to the interruptions or rather comments of the melodic line that Chopin is asking for.
Such delicacy and precision were indeed like jewels gleeming in Ilya’s hands.

Rehearsal in Vicenza on a beautiful new Bosendorfer piano
I have never heard the first Scherzo played with such precision but also with such harmonic shape and the beautiful Polish folk song in the central section was most beautifully shaped with a sumptuously rich sound which was especially beautiful on the Bosendorfer in Vicenza.
The coda was indeed exciting and the weight,precision and shaping was of a true virtuoso but above all musician.
It brought the first half of the programme to a truly exhilarating end.
It was refreshing to hear the 2nd Book of Annee de Pelerinage complete.
The Dante Sonata is a regular visitor to concert programmes as is the Sonetto del Petrarca 104 but the other pieces are quite rare additions to programmes.
“Sposalizio” , inspired by the painting in Milan of Raffaello Sanzio ,is a very fine work on a par with Liszt’s better known “Benediction de Dieu dans la Solitude.”
In Ilya’s hands it was played with a very delicate and ravishing sense of colour leading to an overwhelming climax of transcendental difficulty with double octaves in the left hand as an accompaniment to the melodic line in the right.

Stefano Roffi with Raffaello on his computer
An extraordinary performance with the delicate shimmering ending closing so beautifully this perfect gem of the miniature tone poem that it so obviously is.
It had Stefano Roffi of the Rai searching for more information on his computer.
“The penseroso” was played with all  the weight and seriousness that it demands .”The Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa” was played with the same wit that we normally associate with Percy Grainger.
A very strict rhythmic pulse kept the work joyfully alive to the last note.

Sala dei Specchi in Abanoù
The three Sonetti di Petrarca were played with an exquisite range of colour that sustained and allowed the melodic line to be shaped so expressively.A wonderful sense of balance between the hands and embelishments that were incorporated into the melodic line as only a true musician knows how.
This led into a magnificent performance of the Dante Sonata.
It was refreshing to note that with each performance it grew in stature until the final performance in Viterbo was quite overwhelming.
A wonderful theatricality just as Liszt himself might have performed it.
A great sense of drama and of course quite extraordinary technical control.
The Andante” quasi improvisato dolcissimo con intimo sentimento” was just that and the audience had to almost strain to overhear the secret confessions that Liszt confides.
The end of this passage after the recitativo where the keyboard seems to suddenly come alive, always in pianissimo, was pure magic with sounds in the middle register of the piano with the shimmering awakening of the right hand that I have never heard played so beautifully.
This combined with pyrotechnic feats of piano playing brought a standing ovation from a public totally captivated by this extraordinary work in the hands of a true artist.

Unfortunately no heating was allowed in the historic church in Rome
Ilya maintained this magic with the etherial web of Gretchen Am Spinnrade in a quite extraordinary performance with the same the subtelty of the pianists of the past  “Golden Era” of piano playing.
This transcription by Liszt of Schubert was Ilya’s way of thanking his public on this tour where he seminated such sparkling jewels from his magic carpet that swept him from Venice to Rome in the space of only one week.

Teatro Comunale in Vicenza
Superb review from Vicenza in english translation
The young russian pianist opened the 2019 season of “Incontro sulla tastiera” Kondratiev technically perfect in Chopin but more convincing when playing Liszt The musician reveals great technical ease with his pyrotecnic showmanship. Eva Purell VICENZA Sometimes a detail can make all the difference.Like the two red socks of Soviet effect that were worn with graceful ease by a virtuoso of the keyboard who had demonstrated not only a tendency for theatricality but also remarkable interpretative insights. On the other hand the concert for the “Incontro sulla Tastiera”that opened the new season of 2019 was organised in partnership with “The Keyboard Charitable Trust of London”,an established preparation on the International music scene that is recognised as one of the finest.Founded and directed by the pianist Noretta Conci, formerly Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli’s assistant,and her husband John Leech.The Trust has as its main aim to help greatly talented young pianists by giving them important platforms and opportunities world wide. Thanks to this partnership in Vicenza with the “Incontro” presided over by Enrico Hullweck and directed by Mariantonietta Righetto Squeglia we have been able to appreciate many highly talented pianists. This year on Tuesday evening in the “Ridotto” of the Teatro Comunale it was the turn of the 31 year old Russian pianist Ilya Kondratiev.The biography of this young “dandyish” pianist showed his predilection ,which was well demonstrated, for Franz Liszt, the inventor of the piano as we know it today. The recital of Kondratiev opened with the Chopin Polonaise known as the “Heroique”,that for many is “THE” polonaise of Chopin as if he had not written any others.It is a work that suffers from its own popularity,that in every interpretation it can seem to be a rather overplayed showpiece and the Russian pianist did not shy away from the technical demands either. It is probably the Mazukas,more than the Polonaises ,in Chopin that express his love and longing for his homeland and are his most authentic testimony. The Russian in the first half of his programme dedicated to Chopin the four Mazukas op 24 amongst the least dense of the complete set.Adding to this hommage the Scherzo n.1 op 20 in B minor and n.3 op 39 in C sharp minor showing off all his technical baggage,in parts with a crystal clear clarity almost like in Scarlatti His touch was both refined and varied helped by the warm sound of a dear old friend that is Bosendorfer of which the listeners ears are not as accustomed as they are to the full and brilliant sound of a Steinway.A particular choice that was made by the interpreter which showed remarkable originality. From the expressive confessions of Chopin in the first part,Kondratiev passes to the virtuosistic showmanship and the full ,rhythmic sounds of Liszt.”Years of Pilgrimage Book 2” with his impressions after his travels in Italy.And with this interpretation our Russian is really convincing showing off his technical ease with a kaleidoscopic palate of sounds and loving contrasts especially in the Petrarc Sonnets . A brilliant performance greeted by an ovation from the numerous public present. As a thank you for a beautiful concert dedicated by the Incontro to the memory of the business woman Fernanda Muraro Detto,Ilya offered the Liszt transcription of a Lied by Schubert”Gretchen am Spinnrade.”

Palazzo Abrizzi Venice

Oratorio dell’Angelo Custode Rome

Tuscia University Hall Viterbo

Teatro Comunale Vicenza

Studio A Rai Radio 3 Suite boradcast

Janina Fialkowska at Kings Place

It was only a few months ago that Janina made her miraculous come back to the concert stage in London and here she is back again to open the Master Series in Kings Place.
Having repeated a few days earlier her performance of the Paderewski Piano Concerto with the BBC Philharmonic this time in Poland.
A performance we had heard at the Barbican last November when it was also broadcast live on the BBC.
Peter Frankl had been present at the Barbican and exclaimed in a simple late night E mail after the concert : “Wonderful playing by Janina. Such a natural musician, a real artist! Good night.”
Menahem Pressler had heard it on the radio from Bloomington in Indiana.

Lady Weidenfeld with Menahem Pressler
In fact Menahem Pressler at the age of 95 had come in person to Kings Place to witness this miracle for himself.
And he was not disappointed exclaiming about the same simplicity that reminded him of Artur Rubinstein.
A French programme that had that same simplicity of the famous recording of Artur Rubinstein that she had played over the hospital speakers whilst they were operating on her for the cancer that had struck her down twice.
And now she has fully recovered and plays with the same immediacy and simplicity that were the very hallmark of her mentor in his later years.

Noretta and John Leech applauding Janina together with Lady Weidenfeld
Janina tells me that she had once played the Tchaikowsky Concerto to Rubinstein and he had complained about her moving too much.
She was determined to prove to him that she could play it without the movements too and immediately got his point.
A simplicity in which all the feeling and colour are within the notes themselves without the need to bend or distort the rhythmic impulse on which the music relies.
Rubato of course but within the the tight limits that the composer implies.
A beautiful Impromptu by Germaine Tailleferre opened the truly French half of the concert and was the ideal introduction to the Fourth Nocturne in E flat by Faure.
It was this nocturne that Janina had played so beautifully on the In Tune presentation the day before on the radio.
The subtlety and delicacy of her sound world was even more magical in this performance.
The extreme aristocratic elegance was exactly what Vlado Perlemuter had asked me to tell his audience in Rome when he played some nocturnes, the very ones that Faure had sent down to him to try out in the house they shared together when Perlemuter was still a student.
The sheer washes of sound and forward movement in the Debussy Reflets dans l’Eau was played with an extraordinary sense of colour and the final two split chords were quite magically played.
The sounds from the bass in “Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir“ opened the piano up to give a palate of quite ravishing colours.
The architectural shape combined with a subtle sense of timing in which the rests became of such impassioned importance to the forward movement of the first movement of Ravel’s Sonatine.
The refined sense of line in the menuet built up to a fullness of sound that found its outlet in the Anime of inexorable urgency that followed.

Janina with two of her masterclass students Amit Yahav and Tolga Atalay Un
The second half was dedicated to the “French” Chopin and included the first Scherzo op 20  (not the 3rd as advertised ) and the fourth Ballade framing the Nocturne in E flat op 55 and three mazukas from op 33 and op 67.
Great virtuosity and sense of dramatic urgency in the Scherzo gave way to a subtle and gentle middle section which had been prepared with such a delicate stretching of time and gradual preparation for this most touching of Polish folk songs.
The coda was thrown off as only a true virtuoso can who knows how to pace and shape the melodic line with great control.
The fourth Ballade began with barely a whisper leading to a tumultuous coda after spanning a whole gamut of emotions.
The opening melody shaped with great sense of colour that was then taken up by the variations and a subtle build up to the great final explosion before the coda.
A truly virtuoso performance in which the overall shape was foremost in her mind and there was an overall sense of colour that gave such untiy to one of the pinnacles of the romantic repertoire.
The nocturne in E flat was played with that aristocratic sense of rubato that is almost unnoticeable but can make the music speak in such a unique way.It was the same shape and colour that she brought to the three Mazukas that are the very soul of Chopin’s world.A world that Rubinstein shared with us and that now his disciple is once again sharing with us in her own inimitable way.

Alberto Portugheis the Renaissance Man

For love of Beauty and Peace Alberto Portugheis annual birthday concert
A very full St James’s Piccadilly today for the annual birthday concert of that true polyhedric renaissance man that is Alberto Portugheis.
Alberto has dedicated his life to searching for peace and filling our lives with beauty instead of war.
He has written books on lasting world peace and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008.
”The Game of War”,”A Path to Peace” and” $$$$$$$In their hearts” give us some idea of the passionate campaign that this man is still waging at the age of 77.
In fact Alberto dedicates much time and energy to campaigning for lasting World Peace through the organisation that he presides,HUFUD(Humanity United for Universal Demilitarisation ) of which the Honorary President is his lifelong friend Martha Argerich.
Who would not remember their 75th Birthday that they celebrated together in a concert at the Wigmore Hall?
Alberto is also a master chef and was well known for his radio programmes of musical menus.
He even opened a restaurant with Martha Argerich in West Kensington called “Rhapsody” that many famous musicians used to appreciate including their great friend Shura Cherkassky.
But above all Alberto Portugheis is an acclaimed musician since winning the first prize at the Geneva Concours de Virtuosite.
With many distinguished recordings to his name of amongst others: Chopin 4 Ballades,Ginastera Complete Piano Works,Khachaturian Piano Concerto with the LSO together with the complete works for piano .
His latest CD is dedicated to the Complete Works of the Spanish Composer Elena Romero.
And so it was today that Alberto shared with us a lifetimes’ love of Schumann with “His Favourite Schumann” which included Papillons op 2,Toccata op 7 and Carnival Jest of Vienna op 26.
Played with the passion of someone who has lived with and loved this music for a lifetime.
This was “old syle “ playing in which the overall line and musical message was of paramount importance.
Any smudged details or imperfections were a small price to pay for the love and passion that shone through today in the hands of this truly Renaissance Man.
Happy Birthday dear Alberto we owe you a lot .

Alberto Portugheis
Forward by John Leech founder with his wife Noretta Conci-Leech of the Keyboard Charitable Trust

HAO ZI YOH at St Martin in Fields

Hao Zi Yoh at St Martin in the Fields
It was nice to hear Hao Zi Yoh again at St Martin in the Fields in the centre of London.
I have heard and admired her playing many times in Italy and in London as you can see from my previous thoughts above.
She was born in in Malaysia in 1995 and after her early successful studies there moved to Germany to study in Freiburg and completed her studies at the Royal Academy in London with Christopher Elton.
A very full audience with many distinguished guests including the founders of The Keyboard Charitable Trust:Noretta Conci-Leech and her husband John Leech.

Noretta and John Leech congratulating Hai Zi Yoh after her recital
A very interesting programme that showed off all her intelligence and command of the keyboard.
From Mozart Sonata K.283 showing off all the elegance and virtuosity of the young Mozart.
The rhythmic energy in the outer movements was projected with a clarity and exemplary sense of style.
The beautiful Andante was allowed to sing with all the simplicity and purity that Mozart demands.
It was the same directness and sense of architectural shape that she brought to three Rachmaninov Preludes op 23.
The D major n.4 was allowed to sing as was the ever romantic E flat n. 6 building up to a sumptuous climax that was never hard and always within the context of the melodic line.
Played like the true musician that you would expect from a disciple of Christopher Elton.
The C minor n.7 was played with great virtuosity.
The great bell like melody in the bass was admirable shaped as Rachmaninov spread his magic web over the whole keyboard.
A good preparation for the 7th Sonata op 83 by Prokoviev.
The second of the so called “ war sonatas” 6,7 and 8.
The seventh written in a particularly stressful time with the Stalinist regime.
Having just written a work to celebrate Stalin’s 60th birthday he embarked on this Sonata for which he was awarded the Stalin Prize (second class) much to his surprise.
The first performance was given by Sviatoslav Richter in 1943 and after the work “ Cheers” or “Hail to Stalin” in 1940 Prokofiev started work on the “war sonatas” that contain some of his most dissonant music for piano.
Throwing herself into the fray this waif like young musician was able to produce some fierce and arresting sounds with all the rhythmic energy that Prokofiev demands.
The relentless momentum of the last movement was received with cheers from an audience that had been seduced by the energy and technical command of Hai Zi Yoh.
The hidden message of Prokofiev in the Andante caloroso was beautifully shaped and infact was taken from Liederkreis by Schumann…his song Wehmut – sadness ……..whose words Stalin was obviously unaware!
”I can sometimes sing as if I were glad yet secretly tears well and so free my heart.Nightingales sing their song of longing from their dungeon’s depth,everyone delights,yet no one feels the pain, the deep sorrow in the song.”
A short recital in which Hao Zi Yoh had been able to show us the three totally different worlds of Mozart ,Rachmaninov and Prokofiev.
A rather bright Steinway did not yield the same colours as Beechams old Broadwood that I well remember from a few years back (it is now housed in St Lawrence Jewry).
But it did give us the chance to appreciate to the full the complete technical command of the keyboard and intelligent musicianship of Hao Zi Yoh.
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No encores were possible after such a dynamic performance of Prokofiev and she was greeted by many friends and admirers afterwards that included the founders of the Keyboard Charitable Trust for which she has recently been selected to play.

Receiving flowers from an admirer
Completing this exhilarating morning in London with the exhibition:: Gainsborough’s Family Album at the National Portrait Gallery.
What an amazing place London is!

Noretta Conci Leech and John Leech with Hao Zi Yoh

Ashley Fripp at St Mary’s

Ashley Fripp at St Mary’s

Ashley Fripp
A beautiful programme to start the year at the opening Sunday afternoon concert at St Mary’s Perivale.
Ashley is a favourite with Hugh Mather’s very discerning audience and this charming wooden “redundant” church in the countryside setting of Ealing Golf Course was completely sold out for a popular programme of Schubert,Schumann and Chopin.
It was also streamed worldwide so a much wider audience could appreciate the remarkable concerts that have been up until now for the lucky few.
I have written many times about Ashley’s performances and it is good to see how his playing has matured and grown in stature since winning the Gold Medal at the Guildhall where he studied with Ronan O’Hora.https://www.facebook.com/notes/christopher-axworthy/ronan-ohora-at-the-wigmore-hall/10155506340997309/
But even more since he has been under the eagle eye of Eliso Virsaladze in Fiesole whilst completing a doctorate on the piano music of Thomas Ades at the Guildhall .https://www.facebook.com/notes/christopher-axworthy/elisso-virsaladze-in-latina-the-grande-dame-of-the-piano/10156059610812309/
A fascinating programme of sixteen little pieces :
Schubert 4 Impromptus op 90,Chopin 4 Impromptus and Schumann’s eight pieces that make up his Fantasiestucke op 12.
Finishing a long programme with Chopin’s 4th Scherzo op 54.
I remember Walter Klien giving a similar programme of many miniature pieces many years ago and it can be not only tiring for the performer but also for the listener.
The concentration needed for each piece can be extremely wearying.
But when you have a real artist at the helm the pieces can become a series of contrasted tone poems in the context of an overall form that each composer has tried to create.
A fascinating voyage of discovery as in today’s case with Schubert ,Chopin and Schumann.
From the first note of the C minor Impromptu of Schubert it was clear that Ashley wanted to draw us in to hear this magic world that the composer had created.
A beautifully expressive melodic line seemed to evolve out of the opening declamatory bare octave.Ashley almost conducting as he coaxed the sounds out of the piano before him.
The second impromptu seemed to glow so seemlessly from his fingers as the passionate contrast with the rather military middle section and coda was made even more remarkable.
The beautiful G flat Impromptu was beautifully shaped and the accompaniment played with such a delicate web of sound that allowed the melodic line to sing out unimpeded.
I personally wish he could have found the same luminosity that he immediately found in the opening A flat impromptu of Chopin.
I realize of course that he did not want the web of sound that Schubert creates to disappear in the same delicate shimmer that is of Chopin’s world.
Even though the last Schubert impromptu was played with a delicate shimmering sound and the balance between the hands in the more passionate melody that follows was quite remarkably controlled.

Ashley with Dr Mather presenting his programme to an awaiting world audience
Ashley immediately transported us to Chopin’s delicate sound world with the magical fiorituri of the first Impromptu played with a delicacy but always within the wonderful flexible line that he allowed to sing so naturally.
It was the same magical balance in the F sharp n.2
Rather on the slow side to begin but then led to a fluidity that the right hand accompanying scales seemed to weave their web above a sumptuous left hand melodic line.
The melodic interruptions played with such a melancholic nostalgia which led so naturally into the almost Poulenc like Impromptu n.3.
The magnificent G flat impromptu that in Rubinstein’s hands, as in Ashley’s today, had such a refined aristocratic sense of line that surely it must have been the inspiration for Rubinsteins old friend Poulenc whose own A flat Impromptu I think is dedicated to him.

Ashley’s CD of the Chopin Concerti
The famous Fantasie Impromptu, the last of the set, started with the bare left hand octave that was immediately encapsulated into the busy passionate weaving of this remarkable piece.
Very similar to the opening in fact of the Schubert C minor with the bare chord that then dissolves into the very fabric of the piece that follows.
It takes the ear of a very fine artist indeed to be able to paint with such a subtle palete of colours and the true artist who can then shape them into a whole landscape.
It was exactly this that Ashley did with the Fantasiestucke by Schumann that followed after a brief interval.
Each of the eight pieces was shaped as a miniature tone poem.
The abundant use of pedal in the first “Des Abends” allowed a wonderful luminosity of sound without any hardness but with such a subtle sense of colour it was indeed a sublime song without words.
“Aufshwung” showed his aristocratic sense of balance in a piece that too often can allow Floristan to rear out of control.
The beautifully simple “Warum” was contrasted with the coquettish caprice of “Grillen”.
Leading immediately into “In der Nacht” keeping the overall shape of these eight miniatures in mind.
The middle section here was played with such a breathtaking sense of colour and nostalgia.

Ashley with an admirer after the concert
The story telling of “Fabel” could almost have been set to words.
The technical difficulty of “Traumes Wirren” was of no significance for Ashley as he shaped this Feux Follets type piece with a sense of style and delicacy disappearing into thin air like Rachmaninov does in his preludes op 23 n.5 and 32 n.12 many years later.
The grandeur of the “Ende vom Lied” was just as I remember Rubinstein in his very last public recital and the Schumann dotted rhythms were given a shape and meaning that only a real artist could appreciate.

Dario Ntaca and his student flown in especially from Berne where he had been performing two pianos with Martha Argerich
The fourth and most elusive of Chopin’s Scherzi was the final work in this wonderfully long programme.Played with all the aristocratic musicianship that Ashley has aquired under the guidance of Elisa Virsaladze .The long slow middle section played with such feeling but with a forward movement never sentimental but full of the nostalgia that crowns Chopin’s last works .
The little waltz op 70 n.2 beautifully shaped was Ashley’s way of thanking his always affectionate public here at St Mary’s and who knows where else in the world too!

The latest CD of Bach , Ades and Chopin

Unlimited Talent Mathew Lau at St Barnabas

Unlimited Talent Mathew Lau at St Barnabas

Dr Hugh Mather with Matthew Lau explaining his programme to a rapt audience
What a way to start the year at that Mecca for all young pianists in Dr Hugh Mather’s extraordinary series of concerts at St Mary’s Perivale and St Barnabas.Many of the finest young talents are invited by this ever generous benefactor to give concerts before a very discerning public.
This is Friday concert number 515 so it states on the programme and is only a small part of the well over a hundred concerts offered to these very talented musicians every year.
Little was I expecting to hear such talent from someone so young and modest as the young man who was presented today in collaboration with the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe.
In fact Matthew Lau was the winner last March 2018 of the Beethoven Junior Intercollegiate Piano Competition.
I have heard many of the winners of the Senior competition which have included pianists of the stature of Ilya Kondratiev and Mihai Ritivoiu and many others .I was infact on the jury with Noretta Conci-Leech and Piers Lane when Mihai was unanimously awarded the first prize for his remarkable performance of the “Appassionata”.

Today’s programme at St Barnabas
Talent cannot be taught but it can be nurtured and encouraged as is obviously the case with this young musician from Prestwich in Manchester.
He has been taught by John Gough  at the Junior RNCM and is currently at the age of 18 continuing his studies with him at the senior RNCM.
The real problem arises now of how to give a more profound and varied technical repertoire to a young musician without destroying his extraordinarily delicate and sensitive natural musicality.
In the eastern countries it is well known the technical grounding and hours of work that talented children are expected to follow in specialist schools.
This of course can give them a technical repertoire that they can call on to express their musicality.
It can with the wrong sort of training also kill any natural musicality and substitute it with a mechanical perfection that we are often aware of with great virtuosi who can play Rachmaninoff and Tchaikowsky but do not know what to do with a Beethoven Bagatelle!
Here is a very talented young man who will now dedicate the next few years to resolving this problem.
It could be a choice of repertoire like Schubert Wanderer Fantasy,Beethoven Waldstein,Schumann Etudes Symphonique,Brahms Handel Variations or the Chopin 27 Studies where in conquering the musical values one also gains in technical skill.
Matthew and his mentor of course will choose the route that most suits as did Paul Lewis and Stephen Hough who have taken their rightful place on the world stage as two of the supreme interpreters of our time.
Stephen Hough chose to go to the USA but his real training was from Gordon Green at the RNCM.
Paul Lewis had been closely followed by Alfred Brendel but only after early training from Joan Havill.
Some really exquisite playing starting with the rarely played Six Variations in F major op 34 by Beethoven.
Almost Mozartian in Matthew’s hands but it is the work that precedes the great Eroica Variations and there is much more storm and drang than one would have imagined in this extremely beautifully shaped account.Richter played them at one of his early  London recitals and I do not think I have seen them programmed since.
Of course he also had moments of great temperament but the actual depth of sound on this magnificent Bosendorfer has yet to be found.
The two Etude Tableaux by Rachmaninoff were beautifully shaped which is so much more preferable than the usual barnstorming pianism that they are so often subjected to in lesser hands.
The Etude op 33 n.4 was played with such a playful sense of colour and the passionate outburst of the main theme in op 39 n.5 showed just what is there, ready to be be released in these important few years of total dedication to music that he has before him.
The three Debussy Preludes revealed all his delicate sense of balance.
But in the hands of a true virtuoso such as Richter “Voiles” with more depth of sound can reveal even more of its secrets.
A very accomplished performance of the very difficult “Ce qua vu le vent d’Ouest” showed considerable technical skill allied to a rare musicality.The ferocious side will be more obvious as his technical command grows.”La Terrasse des audiences du clair de .lune” from Book 2 was beautifully evocative.
The opening octaves of the Rigoletto paraphrase were beautifully shaped and showed off all his already remarkable artistry.Some of the more difficult passages were resolved with beautifully rounded phrasing taking perhaps more time than Liszt intended.
More Eusebius than Florestan but nevertheless a very successful and enjoyable performance of a piece that is too often put in the wrong hands.
As Ilona Kabos once said to me many years ago “ Darling you play it beautifully…..disgustingly beautiful…..you would play it better if you were a better pianist”.
Rather cruel at the time but it certainly made me work and of course now I can appreciated exactly what she meant even though seemingly at the time too direct!
All this to say with what pleasure and admiration I followed this opening recital of the year and am sure that Matthew Lau will be a name to watch out for in the not too distant future.

Mr and Mrs Lau
It was very refreshing to see his parents present and the surprise for them and Matthew of the ovation he received after his very beautiful playing.An uncontaminated innocence of youth  unused to  playing in public was very refreshing to witness.
He had not expected an encore but on Dr Hugh’s insistence he played one of the most suggestive of Rachmaninoff Preludes,the one in G sharp minor .Not perfect as it was so unexpected but talent will always out as it did here too today.