This is the third time I have listened to a concert by this”youthful” looking pianist whose looks belie his anagraphical age (1968).
Having heard him the first time a few years ago with a very small audience in the very big church that is St Johns Smith Square in London.
The Goldberg Variations were announced promoted by Steinway & Sons.
So it was curious to see a Yamaha on stage and even more worrying to see the score on the piano stand!
Something made me stay to listen and Thank God I did because it was one of the finest performances that I had heard for a long long time.
I even ended up buying his video of the preparation and performance of the Bach that I gave to a well known critic in London to demonstrate the foundation for my enthusiasm .
I saw a recital announced a year or so later in Rome with the “Appassionata” on the programme and thought I would like to see if on this occasion he played with the score which these days is becoming almost the norm.
Zimerman in Beethoven 4 with Rattle,Richard Goode with a Schubert recital in the RFH are accepted and not even commented on by the critics!
Ogdon too in his last years use the score when he was severely disturbed .It is rumoured that a mistake by his page turner cost him a black eye!
Pogorelich recently too in a long awaited return to London arrived with a page turner who was allowed to sit only three or four paces behind him!
It is true that Curzon and Richter both played with the score in their later years.
It was better than not hearing them at all but they were certainly not the performances of yore
Could one imagine Serkin,Rubinstein or Horowitz with a page turner in tow!
Perlemuter up until his last performance at the age of 90 used to say walking on to the platform was like going to the guillotine!
Myra Hess too in her later years used to play Brahms 2 with the score and get completely lost.
Cortot was advised to leave the score of the Liszt Sonata open at the page where he always lost his way but to no avail – memory was not the problem!
That lonely walk on stage to face an admiring and expectant audience is not for the faint hearted and is only for the chosen few.
The solution of course as Glenn Gould found is in the recording studio where it is quite the norm to have the score open.
My wife Ileana Ghione,the renowned actress, when she was studying at the Academy of Dramatic Art in Rome did something different from what her famous actor teacher had told her.Exclaiming how sorry she was, Tofono told her there is no such thing as right or wrong in Art …….convince me!
I too waited to be convinced by Tharaud
……and in fact as you can see he certainly did that and gave one of the finest performances of Beethoven that I have heard ……….that is until this evening.
Such is the PR way of providing very little information about the artists before our eyes that I was forced to consult yet again my dear friend Mr Google to find out more of the elusive Monsieur Tharaud.
I am glad to share with all those like me that might be wondering about his formation:
“Tharaud refuses to keep a piano in his residence because of his belief that he will begin to prefer the pleasure of improvisation to the necessity of rigorous work. He prefers to practice on different instruments at friends’ residences. He composes, but is usually discreet regarding this activity. Before each recording he goes and lays flowers at the tomb of Chabrier in the Montparnasse Cemetery. When asked what a camera would record if it were present at his recording sessions, he replied that he sings, shouts, dances, and argues with the piano (“absurd behaviour – comportements ridicules”).
In 2012, Tharaud took part in the French film Amour by Michael Haneke where he played himself, alongside Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva and Isabelle Huppert, although he said that it would not be the start of a film career for him.
Born in Paris, Tharaud discovered the music scene through his mother who was a dance teacher at the Opéra de Paris, and his father, an amateur director and singer of operettas. Tharaud thus appeared as a child in theatres around northern France, where the family spent many weekends. His grandfather was a violinist in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s. At the initiative of his parents, Alexandre started his piano studies at the age of five, and he entered Conservatory of the 14th Arrondissement, where his teacher was Carmen Taccon-Devenat, a student of Marguerite Long.
He entered the Conservatoire de Paris at the age of 14 where he won first prize for piano in the class of Germaine Mounier when he was 17 years old. With Theodor Paraskivesco, he mastered the piano, and he sought and received advice from Claude Helffer, Leon Fleisher and Nikita Magaloff. In 1987, he won third prize at the International Maria Canals Competition in Barcelona and, a year later, the Senigallia Competition in Italy. In 1989, he was awarded 2nd prize at the Munich International Competition. His career developed quickly in Europe as well as in North America and Japan.
In 2009, he took part in a show devoted to Erik Satie with actor François Morel. Alongside the singer Juliette, he organised a Satie Day at the Cité de la musique, recorded for France Télévisions. He has also worked with the French composer Thierry Pécou, performing the première of his first piano concerto in October 2006 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées and later recording it.”
And so to today ……..third time was indeed an even happier experience with Scarlatti/ Beethoven op 109- Rameau /Beethoven op 110.
The Scarlatti sonatas as rarely heard with such style these days – the nearest was Horowitz on his famous recordings in the ‘60’s.
Here was such a startling sense colour and variety of register.The sudden rhythmic impulses reminded me of the legendary recordings of Landowska.
A very interesting choice from the 550 sonatas and introduced so well by Lorenzo Tozzi’s exemplary programme notes.
Opening with two sonatas in D minor.
K 64 that showed immediately his startling sense of colour and purity of sound.
The well known K 9 was played with such enchanting magical trills with slight hesitations followed by sudden rhythmic impulses like electric shocks.
The magic box sounds in the C major K 132 held the audience’s attention with bated breath.
The famous E major K 380 had a telling echo effect with such pauses that gave this piece real space and allowed it to speak at last so eloquently.
K 3 ,the very first of Scarlatti’s sonatas, and the one in which Tharaud delighted in the cat like leaps up and down the keyboard.
Leading to the startling contrasts of K 514 with its virtuosistic figurations and very telling flexibility.
His final choice K.481 in F minor fell to an Andante Cantabile in which his sublime singing touch and extraordinary sense of balance was allowed full reign to seduce us all.
The Rameau too that was a prelude to late Beethoven was played with such fantasy and such liquid pure sound.The “Rappel des Oiseaux”from the Suite in E minor that we are used to hearing in the perfection of Sokolov was here given with such a sense of colour.
The same precision (or almost) of Sokolov but here we could almost see the birds fluttering around the piano.
Four pieces from the Suite in A minor finishing with the well known Gavotte et Doubles where the startling difference between Scarlatti and Rameau ,so eloquently described by Lorenzo Tozzi, were brought vividly to life by this great artist.
We were invited after the concert to a CD signing with Tharaud for his new recording of Beethoven’s last great trilogy. They crown his 32 Sonatas that span his life from the youthful innocence op 1 to the profound simplicity of op 111.
Today we were treated to op 109 and op 110 .
Op 111 hopefully next time.
I was interested to hear in the extraodinary music shop before the concert a performance of op 110 that I assumed must be Tharaud.
On asking I was told by the very informed record salesman that it was Gilels!
I had heard Gilels many times in London and will never forget his Beethoven Concerto Series.His Brahms 2 coupled with Tchaikowsky 3 had Gilels and Sir Adrian Boult at logger heads in the rehearsal during the cold war period.
A recital of Schubert Moment Musicaux and little A minor Sonata followed by Shostakovich 2nd Sonata was a deadly combination for drawing an audience which missed one of the most beautiful recitals I have ever heard.
Of all the Russian school Gilels was the one with his Princely feet firmly placed on the ground and it was very interesting to hear Tharaud just an hour later.
Tharaud’s Beethoven was full of fantasy allied to an intelligence that led to exemplary performances.
Op.109 in particular was full of fantasy whereas like Gilels in op 110 he had his feet much more firmly on the ground.
I found the first movement of 109 a shade too fast but on consulting the score it does in fact say “Vivace” in the original score…..”ma non troppo” was added only to the original edition as though Beethoven too wanted a fluid but calm flow.
The end of the Prestissimo was played with a Serkin like urgency.
It led to the sublime Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo where Tharaud’s magical touch allowed one of Beethoven’s most profound utterings to sing with tenderness and feeling but without a trace of sentimentality.A performance of great serenity even though never missing the urgency in the Allegro vivace or Allegro ma non troppo variations.
Op 110 on the other hand was played with much more passion and I found some of the chordal outburts a little too overpowering for the great melodic line that Beethoven shares with us from beginning to the end.
It was interesting to note that Gilels too had given me the same impression but playing at a much more sedate tempo it seemed to work so well.
A little waltz by Schubert played with the same colour and subtle rubato that allowed us to eavesdrop on this most intimate of performances.
The spell was broken by the drums and wild dance in the Scarlatti Sonata in D K 141.
The famous “Argerich” repeated notes were given a shape and colour as with “Sokolov’s” Rameau that brought this remarkable recital to a breathtaking close.
I just hope that he will now put away his scores until old age and take that ultimate plunge into a world that is already very much his own.