Presenting the Impeccable Maestro Valuntonis

A sensational recital for the City Music Foundation by the impeccable Mr Valuntonis.
In the magnificence of St Bartholomew the Great the scene was set for some remarkable music making from this young Lithuanian born pianist Rokas Valuntonis.
Multi award winning pianist, having studied in his homeland with Alksandra Zvirblyte before venturing to the Sibelius Academy in Finland.
Eugen Indjic followed in Paris and now completing his studies at the Guildhall with Peter Bithell.
A recent winner of the Campillos International Competition and since 2017 an artist singled out by the City Music Foundation.
If the CMF’s mission is to turn ‘talent into success’ judging by this recital last night they certainly succeeded and I suspect exceeded all expectations!
Here is what I wrote when he played in that Mecca for pianists that is St Mary’s Perivale in 2017……….. today he even exceeded that prediction.
The CMF had pulled out all the stops for this young pianist and above all providing a Steinway Concert Grand which they had mounted especially in the middle of this vast and glorious edifice on a special podium.
The seats in a semi circle with special lighting created a uniquely warm atmosphere where the public and pianist alike were united in the glory of this wonderful building.
But then the CMF do not leave any stone unturned in their quest to help these exceptionally talented musicians.
Dinara Klinton,Mihai Ritivoiu are just two others that I know that have benefited from their help and guidance.
Tonight it was the turn of Rokas Valuntonis.
The CMF help these young artists by supporting them with a comprehensive career development programme Arranging mentoring,run workshops,provide agency and management,make CDs,videos and websites,commission new music,secure airtime on BBC Radio 3 and promotion through online ,print and social media.Finally the most important part to put on their own recitals and concerts:

Bryce Morrison Linn Rothstein Peter Bithell
A very distinguished gathering for the concert that included three ex students of Gordon Green, that much missed mentor of so many of the finest pianists playing today.
Bryce Morrison that supreme expert on all things to do with the piano and many others that filled so generously this vast space in the centre of London just a stone’s throw from Smithfield Market and the Barbican Centre.
Immediately creating a unique sound world from the first notes of the Dumka by Tchaikowsky that opened this very interesting programme.
A very particular order to the programme that allowed us to enter an unusually magical sound world.

Flowers from an admirer
A similar sound world that Guiomar Novaes created in her famous Schumann recordings that as students we discovered and savoured.
A sumptuous sound in which the colours and variations in dynamics never for a second allowed us to forget the fuller vision of the architectural shape of the works.
Never a hard or brittle sound but a full sound that made this fine piano sound very grand indeed!
Notes that seemed to glisten as they wove their web around the melodic line in the Scriabin Sonata Fantasy op 19 that opened the second half.
The first movement like a dream that gradually unravels leading to the main climax before drifting back to the sublime slumbers with which it had opened.
But even here almost lifted from the seat ( as Rubinstein used to do in crucial moments) in the climax but never for a second leaving the sumptuous sound world that he had created.It was more a rhythmic impetus at just the right moment.
The second movement too, more transcendentally difficult, was spun as a web of sound from which grew inexorably the melody which was in later Scriabin to become his”star”.A “Star” that would gleam brightly and ecstatically as the climax of his fragmented type musical invention.

Rokas presenting his programme
This was followed by three Scarlatti Sonatas.
Showing off the rhythmic sometimes almost savage dance combined with the most intricate finger articulation K.487 and K.79.And in particular in the G minor Sonata K.8 with an almost operatic shaping of the melodic line.
A sense of colour allied to an unrelenting rhythmic pulse that led the way so well to the “Images” as depicted by Debussy.
“Reflets dans l’eau” was just that ,with washes of sound but allied to a clarity and sense of overall direction that gave a great virility to this work that can in lesser hands seem rather pale and opaque.
“Hommage a Rameau” was played with a much more subtle sound palate than the aristocratic french sound that we are used to in the hands of a Rubinstein.
But there was magic in the air and some quite sublime moments of a feeling serenity in between bursts of great grandeur.
Mouvement could have been slightly clearer and more driven at the beginning but when he reached the great climax his reasoning became at once clear.
He had seen the great shape of this technically trying piece and as with the Scriabin had led to the climax before disappearing as it had begun as if from afar.

The devilish virtuosity of Liszt and Horowitz
The programme finished with Liszt’s famous Mephisto Waltz n. 1.
A savage dance indeed that was apparent from the very first appearance of the melody.
Always within the sound world that had been created it carried us along with him in an ever more startling world of transcendental virtuosity that had made of Liszt the “pop” idol of his age .
From the seductive melody of the middle section to the gradual re-awakening of the drunken party.It led to the most exciting playing that almost took our breath away just as I am sure it must have done for Liszt’s audences.
Almost throwing himself from on high at the most dramatic moment it brought this devilish piece to an enthralling end.

leaping for joy at being able to share his music with us.
It was apparent from the very opening of the evening
the enjoyment that he was obviously having from playing to such an attentive audience.
It was the same enjoyment of a given few that live for that moment of sharing their music with others without the slightest outward sign of strain or fear.
Fearless indeed as he offered to a totally won over audience the Carmen Fantasy by Horowtiz.
Thrown off with a fearless charm and enjoyment that the great man himself used to electrify his audiences with.
Just as Liszt himself had done in the salons of the aristocracy reducing the most refined gentry to animal like fervour by his devilish artistry.
Rokas introducing the pieces he was to play explained that he had chosen four early Mazukas op 6 by Chopin before Schumann’s Etudes Symphoniques op 13.
It was Schumann himself that had first recognised the genius of Chopin in his early work ( op 2 to be precise) with his famous “Hats off a genius.”
Having studied n Paris with Eugen Indjic one of the top prize winners of the first Rubinstein Competition in Tel Aviv.Rokas had obviously been made aware of the very unique world of the Chopin Mazukas.
Some of the most subtle and poetic musings of Chopin.But also the most elusive.
Each one is a little tone poem that tells a story and is full of the subtle rhythms of his native dance.It was a world that Rokas has absorbed so well and that gave us the subtle almost musette type sounds of the C sharp minor Mazuka or the spirited almost playful question and answer of the E major.
The sublime melodic line of the F sharp minor in which the sense of elastic rubato was so naturally felt.
The main work in the first half were the Etudes symphoniques op 13 by Schumann.
A work dedicated to William Sterndale Bennett ,who was Principal of the Royal Academy in London and a fine pianist and composer who championed the work in England.
A work that Robert Schumann had advised Clara was not worth playing!

Two students of the great much loved  pedagogue Gordon Green.
Peter Bithell in discussion with Ann Shasby
Interesting that the theme was by an amateur musician Baron von Fricken whose daughter Ernestina had been a love of Schumann. She is depicted as Estrella in his Carnaval op 9!
Sterndale Bennett was the teacher of that great pedagogue Tobias Matthay who had in turn created a famous school of piano playing, based on extreme sensitivity of touch.
The “Matthay” school from which were born Dame Myra Hess and Dame Moura Lympany amongst many other very great artists.
A remarkable performance and it was here that I was reminded of that Novaes sound that had impressed me as a student with her recording of Carnaval and Papillons.

The Director presenting the City Music Foundation
A sumptuous rather subdued sound in the little theme of Baron von Fricken that was immediately enlivened with the very precise rhythm of the first variation.
From the sumptuous melodic line in the following variations with alternating butterfly like accompaniment and virtuoso splitting of hands .To the almost Mendelssohn like lightness of great dexterity with all the time a great build up to the 8th variation.
Agosti likened this to the grandeur of a Gothic Cathedral.
It was the supreme the stillness in th central section that created the atmosphere within this variation that was even more moving for being able to evesdrop in this noble building.
The beautiful nocturne like variation n.11 where the counterpoints were so clearly painted by the right hand with only a murmur of sustenence from the left.
A relentless finale of great clarity and sense of balance brought this first half to a close.
Dumka by Tchaikowsky was the opening work that is so rarely heard in the concert hall these days.
It was the work that Rokas so rightly chose to open his recital.
A true gem of a tone poem where every facet of tonal colour and virtuosity was at the service of the story that Tchaikowsky wanted to tell.
It was a piece that immediately created the atmosphere for a memorable evening where surely his great love of performing together with his unique poetry and artistry are the hallmarks of an important career that awaits.
“Chapeau” indeed to the City Music Foundation and their prodigal son, Rokas Valuntonis

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