IVAN DONCHEV – In search of Liszt

IVAN DONCHEV – In search of Liszt

gran coda Erard n.53283 of 1879
Extraordinary performance by Ivan Donchev in Villa Mondragone,Frascati on a piano similar to Liszt`s famous Erard that was in Villa d`Este.
Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique in the transcription by Liszt.
Now in its 7°edition a concert series under the title of “The ‘sound’of Liszt at Villa d`Este” directed by Giancarlo Tammaro the actual owner of this precious Erard piano from 1879 that was found in a Religious Institute in Rome in 1991 and played in public again in 1992.
Although not the original Erard that Liszt played in a famous concert he gave in the Throne Room in Villa d`Este on 30th december 1879,it is very similar to the original Erard that Liszt mentions in a letter to Baronessa von Meyendorff in 1878:
“Thanks to the kindness of Maestro Carlo Ducci who has more than 200 pianos to hire between Florence and Rome I will have a superb Erard at the Villa d`Este and also a fine Kaps in case a “first class”pianist wants to play two pianos with me.”
The original piano was also found in a religious institute in Rome in 1991.They are still the owners having restored it and put on show in the Metropolitan Museum in New York and now resides in Vienna.

Ivan Donchev and Maestro Giancarlo Tammaro
Thanks to the generosity of Giancarlo Tammaro this very similar Erard is housed in the Congress Centre of Villa Mondragone and is on permanent loan to the University Roma 2 on the proviso that it is maintained for public concerts.
Although Liszt changed his abode in Rome many times his country home was always the Villa d`Este that he called his ” El Dorado”.
He would also have frequented the nearby Villa Mondragone ,so it was a happy coincidence that due to the unavailabilty of Villa d`Este this year the concert series has transferred to the equally splendid Mondragone in Frascati.
The hills around Rome abound with great villas that overlook the Eternal city and would have been frequented by nobility on their “grand tour” of Italy.
The splendid Villa Aldobrandini dominates the centre of Frascati and these other great villas surround each other and are now mostly congress centres or Hotels.

Liszt’s frock coat.
The generosity of M°Tamarro has no limits as he introduced the concert so learnedly and provided an illuminating highly researched programme.
He even had on a stand next to the piano the frock coat that Liszt wore according to a very old lady who had bequeathed it to him saying it had been in turn left to her and that it was used by Liszt when his own had become drenched in the rain.
A rain that was very much in evidence even today!

A page from the 34 page programme
A nice story that may or may not be authentic.
Liszt was somthing of a pop star idol in his day and even cigarette butts were conserved reverently by his adoring lady fans!
However nothing had prepared us for the superb performance that awaited us on this damp Sunday morning.

Ivan Donchev illuminating his performance from the keyboard before the complete performance
The Bulgarian pianist Ivan Donchev,a prodigy of Aldo Ciccolini had meticulously prepared the 1833 transcription that Liszt had made of Berlioz`s Symphonie Fantastique.
Liszt was a great friend and admirer of Berlioz and had even tried to persuade him not to fall for the Irish actress Harriet Smithson but eventually ended up as testimony at their wedding!She was the inspiration of this monumental work.Two years later became an alcoholic!
More importantly it is thanks to this transcription that Berlioz`s music especially in Germany became known.
As Ivan explained you can either just play the work as so many do these days with the invention of the I pad or you can really delve deeply and immerse yourself totally and in fact fall under the extraordinary spell of this masterpiece.
That was the reasoning that surprised even M°Tamarro when he closed the music stand and proceeded by memory to give us a fascinating spotlight journey through the various trasformations of Berlioz`s ” idee fixe.”
Of course he had absorbed so thoroughly the Symphonie and had come to love it (exactly as Janet Baker had reasoned recently in the moving film “in her own words” when she insisted on giving a world premier at Carnegie Hall without the score ,as she needed to possess it in order to transmit it!)
It was exactly this love and commitment that made the hour long journey so riveting.
So often these “antique” instruments can sound so weak in the vast concert halls of today (I am thinking of Andras Schiff recently with his valiently informed performances in the Festival Hall in London of the Brahms Concertos on a 1860 Bluthner……conducting from the keyboard as he very wittily exclaimed: “it is sometimes good not to have a policeman”)
Here today was the ideal location to be able to appreciate all the qualities that had so impressed Liszt.

curriculum of Ivan in the programme
It will be interesting too to be able to hear the same performance in the theatre of Villa Torlonia (Mussolinis residence in Rome recently restored )next Sunday morning 5th May on a modern Steinway concert grand.
A magnificent performance only hampered by the lack of the vast range of sounds to which our ears are accustomed.But there were also some very interesting things (as there had been with Schiff) which shed light on so many points of balance.
There was a luminosity of sound that in this musicians hands made the idee fixe so clear.
Of course there was a lack of that 6th gear in the more powerful moments as in the March to the Scaffold or in the powerful interruptions at the Ball.But the second movement did though have a wonderful sense of shape and style.
The Witches Sabbath was given a most powerful reading and the great chimes rang out with all the power of the great orchestra for which it was written.
An amazing tour de force.
A transcendental command and total control even in the most taxing episodes.
But also a great sense of style and balance allied to the sensitivity and poetry of a true artist.
Amazingly he still had the energy to offer two encores,much shorter as he pointed out,on the insistence of a very enthusiastic public.
Liszt Paganini study n.4 played with all the aristocratic charm and virtuosity of his mentor Ciccolini.
A second encore of Offenbach or Rossini took us back to the salons of yesteryear.
It brought this sumptuous feast to a close where time seemed to stand still on this Sunday morning in this great and nobile edifice in search of the Abbe` Liszt

Ivan Donchev receiving a book  from the hands of Maestro Tammaro about Villa Mondragone

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