Jonathan Ferrucci at the Sala dei Giganti in Padua A Giant amongst Giants
This morning in Padua….what a way to start the day on Mozart`s birthday.
A young Italo/Australian pianist makes his Padua debut in the Sunday morning series dedicated to talented young musicians.
Jonathan Ferrucci , a young Florentine who had completed his studies recently with Joan Havill at the Guildhall in London.He had been heard by Noretta Conci-Leech and her husband John Leech in the Wigmore Hall and on their recommendation had applied to The Keyboard Charitable Trust who today presented him to the Amici della Musica in Padua.
The Amici della Musica hold concerts in the Pollini Conservatory Hall and in the historic Sala dei Giganti where I brought Vlado Perlemuter and Annie Fischer in the ‘80’s.
Filippo Juvarra is still at the helm of the Amici della Musica di Padova after 50 years of inviting the finest musicians to his adored Padua.
In fact Christian Zacharias had just played a few days before in his annual recital and one of his rare appearances these days as a solo pianist.
He was a student of Perlemuter who thought the world of him.
But for three seasons now the Amici della Musica have also dedicated a special sunday morning series to talented young Italian musicians.
Filippo asks me every year who we have on the roster of the The Keyboard Charitable Trust (of which I am a trustee and artistic director together with Leslie Howard and Dr Elena Vorotko) that he could include.
He chooses one from our list of Italian pianists.
Giganti is exactly the right word for what we heard today in a hall where all the greatest pianists have left their indelible shadow.
Richter loved to prepare his programmes here before recording them in nearby Mantua.
Today it was the turn of a young man of slight build who gave one of the finest performances I have ever heard in public of the 24 Preludes op 28 by Chopin,or in Fou Ts’ongs words the 24 problems!
Preceded by the Bach 4th Partita so full of colour and imagination one just wished he could have taken more time on his miraculous voyage for us mortals to savour all the refined nuances and his supremely intelligent musicianship,as one would expect from a student of Joan Havill who can boast also Paul Lewis from her unique studio at the Guildhall in London.
I had heard Jonathan Ferrucci a few times at the Guildhall in a masterclass with Murray Perahia and at his Wigmore debut as winner of the Jaques Samuel Intercollegiate Competition.
I had missed him at the actual competition as he was the first to perform at 10 am and I was late!
But a great friend and much missed colleague Peter Uppard told me I had missed a superb performance and the actual final winner.
But recently I had heard part of his Artists Diploma public recital and had been bowled over by his performance of the C sharp minor five part fugue Bk 1 by Bach. https://www.facebook.com/notes/christopher-axworthy/miracles-at-the-guildhall-ming-xie-and-jonathan-ferrucci/10155795520292309/
Joan Havill was pleasantly surprised by my enthusiasm as was Martin Roscoe and Ronan O’Hora who were adjudicating.
He was of course awarded his Artists Diploma and tells me that now he has a special fellowship to come to the Guildhall whenever his calendar will permit.
He recently took part in Richard Goode’s masterclass playing the 4th Partita that we were to hear in Padua.
It was interesting to learn from his psychotherapist, philosopher father that he was born in Florence and had studied for ten years with a remarkable teacher Giovanni Carmassi before coming to London to complete his studies with Joan Havill .
I remember when I too was studying in Italy with Agosti and spending much time with another remarkable but almost unknown Florentine musician :Giorgio Sacchetti.
World fame is not for the true Florentine and I can quite understand after living in Florence that the outside world is of little importance compared to what this city has to offer true artists both past and present.
Hardly suprising that Andras Schiff and Zubin Mehta have made their homes here for years!
Sting is often seen on visits from his nearby estate.
Jonathan’s father ,having just arrived from Australia for this recital , made a present of the book “A pianist prepares” which after the performances in Padua I was very keen to read.(Jonathan’s father is Torinese living in Florence and his mother Vivien Reid is Australian both of whom have been fundamental in preparing this book “Conversations with Giovanni Carmassi”)
Just opening the first pages was enough to see where the extraordinary talent of this young man was born and nurtured
“Don’t waste notes “immediately sprang into view and it was this that was so evident in the recital today.”Passion for music is a nasty illness”……….”Each note counts because the tiniest part of a musical piece holds a gem. “
A true bible for real musicians.
Jonathan Ferrucci is now being helped by some of the finest musicians of our day and regularly plays to Angela Hewitt and Richard Goode having first been drawn into the fray by the indomitable Joan Havill.
“You will have to eat a lot of steaks “ said Joan on hearing that he wanted to prepare Brahms 2.He has since been coached on it by Richard Goode in New York who generously gave of his time to someone so talented.
Jonathan tells me he does yoga six times a week and travels with his special rug.
Also it is evident from the way that he uses his whole body that he has the same energy of tension in relaxation that kept Rubinstein and Perlemuter on the stage until their 90’s.
His father tells me he has no alternative plan for his life …it is this all or nothing passion that kept the audience riveted to their seats for much more than the expected hour of music.
In fact the chimes of the great bells in Padua started to peal as he threw himself into the 16th Prelude in B flat minor.No one in the hall was aware of any distraction other than the music that was unfolding before us in this magnificent hall of Giants.
It reminds me of Perlemuter giving a masterclass at the RAM in the Heath period of strikes (novita!).I had just played op 111 and he was demonstrating to a rather over careful student this very prelude.
Whilst playing the lights went out but this great pianist already in his late 70’s carried on in darkness to the end.It has gone down in history and his companion Joan Booth loved to remind me of this unforgettable occasion.
It seems above all irrelevant but also irreverent to talk about the performances that we heard today.
As Carmassi says………”The bewitching power of music may be partly lost in an age when works of art can be technically reproduced ….but though it may be useful and instructive to listen to a recording,it will be a pale copy.It is the difference between a living person and his photograph”
It was refreshing to see a pianist so much part of the music he was playing.
Almost sculpting in the supple body movements that followed so naturally the shape of the music that was unfolding.
Even standing to give more impetus and energy and the final three notes of Chopin’s last Prelude were hurled at us like stones into the fray.
The first notes of the Bach Partita immediately commanded our attention and the rhythmic impetus was set with a beautiful change of register or tone colour in the 9/8 section that follows.
The Allemande was shaped so beautifully and the heartrending ornaments that Bach himself notates reminded me of a phrase of Cortot that Perlemuter wrote in my score of the 4th Ballade of Chopin all those years ago:” avec un sentiment de regret”.
Such was his identification with this sound world there were “no wasted notes here”.
In fact he has that God given gift to make each note speak as I have experienced only in the same measure with Menahem Pressler and Graham Johnson recently.
The Courante I found a shade too fast even though written in 3/2 .It lacked that insistant pulse that Rosalyn Tureck was a true master of.
Jonathan tells me that Richard Goode suggested an even faster tempo than todays.Maybe in a less resonant hall he is right but the pulse must always be unrelenting.(The many times that Rosalyn came to Rome I always had to provide a metronome for her to keep her enormous temperament under control!)
Angela Hewitt an Richard Goode I know think of the song and the dance element in Bach but anyone who had heard Tureck would realise why Harold Shonberg called her the High Priestess of Bach and why Rubinstein quipped that Tureck made Bach box office!
The wonderful thing with truly great compositions is that there is room for so many possibilities -no photographs here- to quote Carmassi.
Rosalyn put Bach on a pedestal and Angela and Richard brought him down to earth.
A very nice contrast was found with a perfect tempo for the Aria played in true spirit “giocoso”.
Beautiful tone and great sense of balance in the Sarabande that follows.
A crystal clear Menuet that led straight into the Gigue.
Played with great rhythmic impetus but again for this hall I found it a little too fast.
Wonderfully played of course, it’s transcendental difficulties completely mastered – for me it just needed a little more weight to end such an imposing work.
The Chopin Preludes op 28 was one of the finest most convincing performances that I have heard in the concert hall.
From the flexibility of the opening to digging deep into the bass of the second and the washes of sound in the third Prelude over which the melodic line could ride so undisturbed.
A series of tone poems but each with the great overall shape in mind.
The aristocratic sounds from the bass in the well known fourth and the fifth that seemed to slip in almost unnoticed.
Great sense of balance in the Lento assai of number six where the balance between the left hand melodic line and the almost yearning right was absolutely perfect.
The little Andantino that follows could have been played more simply before the superb outburst of the Molto agitato that is the eighth.
This and the twelfth in G sharp minor showed a total command of the keyboard that allowed him to plunge the very depths of these trascendentally difficult preludes.
The tenth and eleventh were thrown off with all the ease of someone who knew that this was a light contrast between Chopin’s most passionate outpourings.
The thirteenth in F sharp I found the left hand a little too unsettled to allow the melodic line to be shaped undisturbed.Similar to the C sharp minor nocturne op 27 this I am sure is what Chopin meant when he said rubato was like a tree with well planted roots but branches that could sway in the wind
The fourteenth like the end of the B flat minor sonata was like a rush of wind before the sublime “raindrop” Prelude.
Beautiful cantabile and wonderful shape to the embellishments .The question and answer in the central section was quite overpowering .Not quite as much as Sokolov but much more integrated into Jonathan’s vision of the complete work.
The Presto con fuoco was thrown off as a true virtuoso.
With the bells of Padua chiming nothing could stop this young man having entered so completely into this magic world and taking us with him.
The great bass notes in the A flat Prelude that follows was played like Debussy creating a most telling haze from which we could hear the melody from afar.Not the usual sforzando that lesser artists are apt to offer.
Showing some signs of the fatigue that he was beginning to feel having given such extraordinarily involved performances at eleven in the morning.
The great drama of number eighteen awakened his spirit with the end in sight.
Not before plunging into the twentieth in C minor the first chord taken almost standing to get deeper into the very soul of the notes that disappeared so magically to a whisper.
The great drama of the octaves in the molto agitato after the delicate cantabile of the twenty first.
The liquid trickle of water leading into the most tumultuous final Prelude .Hurling himself into this final fray.Hurling the final three great notes at the piano like rocks to the wind.
A quite remarkable performance that showed off not only his transcendental technique which we were not even made aware of such was his poetic and musical involvement.And above all a musical intelligence that had us following every note in hushed silence.
Scriabin’s little prelude op 9 for the left hand alone was his way of thanking us for the total concentration that we had all shared with him.