Ravel: Valses Nobles and SentimentalesRachmaninov: 5 Preludes (Op 32 nos 5,9,10,12,13)
Born in Kyiv- Ukraine, Sasha Grynyuk studied at the National Music Academy of Ukraine and later at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London with Ronan O’Hora. After graduation he also benefited from artistic guidance of such great musicians as Alfred Brendel and Murray Perahia.
Sasha was described by legendary Charles Rosen as “an impressive artist with remarkable, unfailing musicality always moving with the most natural, electrifying, and satisfying interpretations”. He regularly performs in most renowned concert halls throughout Europe, South and North America, Far East and Asia including Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Salle Cortot, Bridgewater Hall, Barbican Hall, Wigmore Hall and Carnegie Hall. Winner of over ten International competitions, prizes and awards Sasha was chosen as a Rising Star for BBC Music Magazine and International Piano Magazine. His recent successes also include 1st prizes of Rio de Janeiro International Piano Competition, Grieg International Piano Competition and Guildhall School’s most prestigious award – the Gold Medal – previously won by such artists as Jacqueline Du Pre and Bryn Terfel.
I imagine we will have a lot of Beethoven for his 250th anniversary year in 2020.
He was born in Bonn in December 1770 and the world is waiting to celebrate.
It was therefore fitting that the last pianist in Hugh Mather’s series should play the very first of Beethoven’s 32 Sonatas as a foretaste of wonderful things to come.
Sasha has been studying all 32 Sonatas over the past year with Noretta Conci Leech,the renowned pianist and pedagogue who was for many years the assistant of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli.
Well into her eighties she has been on a voyage of discovery with Sasha with a new Beethoven Sonata every week!
Founder of the Keyboard Charitable Trust together with her husband John ,for many years they have been helping and encouraging young musicians to find their way at the beginning of a career in music.
It is a fundamental principle of the KCT that musical values are the only ones to be nurtured and encouraged.
Much as Guido Agosti would share his musical bible with a world that travelled to Siena each summer to be inspired and reminded that performers are only a medium through which the composers wishes should flow directly.
And so it was today with a performance of great simplicity and delicacy but allied to a forward movement that gave great rhythmic urgency and an undercurrent on which Beethoven’s earliest ideas could emerge.
A very sparse use of the sustaining pedal gave great clarity and was particularly noticeable in the syncopations of the first movement development.
The seemingly innocent little turn appearing over the whole keyboard until it was transformed again into the main upward scale motif.
(I think it was Delius that described Bach as “knotty twine” and Beethoven as “scales and arpeggios!” I am not sure what they would have made of his sound world!)
In the Adagio it was the wonderfully pure cantabile phrased so beautifully that when the sustaining pedal was added it was only to create a special magical sound.
A superb sense of balance too with the crossing hands where each note was so delicately placed.
There was a wonderful sense of orchestral colour with the violas and cellos answered by the violin and flute.
The Menuet was delicate and playful with a middle section of almost Schumannesque contrast ( I am thinking of Kinderscenen op 15).
The Trio crept in almost unnoticed with a beautiful legato that contrasted so well with the Haydnesque Menuet.
The Prestissimo was played with less of the frenzy that I remember in Serkin’s performance in London many years ago.It was more pastoral and the slight relaxing of tension allowed the beautiful melodic line to sing out so beautifully.
Always with the rumbling undercurrent but it was more at peace than at war!
Very noticeable too were the full rich chords where every note was given its true orchestral value.
The Valses Nobles e Sentimentales by Ravel was a refreshing way of continuing the same rhythmic urgency of early Beethoven but with the pungent jazz and oriental sounds that are of a completely different world.
They are a beautiful collection of 8 waltzes ending in a magical epilogue so reminiscent of Schumann’s Davidsbundler dances.
With it’s nostalgic looking back over the previous waltzes.Shimmering sounds and long pedals adding magical kaleidoscopic sounds to the almost Tombeau de Couperin type clarity with which they had been presented in the previous seven waltzes.
Rubinstein used to tell the story of the first performance that he gave in Spain and the cat calls and noises with which it was greeted by an unsuspecting public in the early 1920’s.
Rubinstein was so incensed that he played them again as an encore at the end of the recital!
A cause celebre indeed.
It was infact the grandiose nobility of the 7th waltz that suited Rubinstein so well.
Sasha today too threw caution to the wind as he played with just the same abandon that makes the middle section such a contrast with it’s moving plasma of sounds.
It was a remarkable performance of a piece that can only work in the hands of a true musician ….and I might add magician!
From the pungent dissonant opening chords dissolving into almost decadant jazz type idioms.
The beautiful liquid sounds of the second waltz were played with such a rich unsentimental cantabile in which all Ravel’s magic sounds were allowed to weave.
The impish good humour of the third waltz with the very crystal clear sound world of his Tombeau de Couperin.
The Rhapsodic nonchalance of the fourth with an almost Poulenc like sense of suave french character.
Each piece was so beautifully characterised but always with the lilt of the waltz as it’s motor.
Five Rachmaninov Preludes op 32 were played with all the sumptuous sounds and Russian nostalgia of one of the most renowned of composer pianists of his time.
Perlemuter used to tell me that this gaunt looking man would appear on stage looking like he had just swallowed a knife and proceed to produce the most romantic of sounds that he had ever heard.
The beautiful cantabile sound in the G major Prelude n.5 was supported by a superbly rich accompaniment with an aristocratic sense of timing that gave such spaciousness and poignancy to these heartrending melodies.
The B minor Prelude n.10 where I remember Moiseiwitch in a final BBC television programme describing his great friend Rachmaninov being surprised when he had described this piece as the Homecoming or Return ( Rachmaninoff in fact was inspired by Arnold Böcklin‘s painting “Die Heimkehr” (“The Homecoming” or “The Return”).It is the second work of Rachmaninov’s to be inspired by one of Böcklin’s paintings; the other being Isle of the Dead.
Rachmaninov also confessed to Moiseiwitsch that this was his personal favorite among his preludes.
A full robust musical line that allowed space for an infinite variety of tonal colours.
The long central build up was masterly controlled with Sasha listening so intently to the melodic line whilst creating the most sumptuous of accompaniments.
The whistful coda like a flock of birds disappearing into the distance.
The final farewell cry was heartrending.
The prelude in G sharp minor seemed to emerge from this final chord with the same sense of flow and flight dissolving so magically into the absolute monumental nobility and grandeur of the final D flat Prelude.
Here even Sasha seemed to be sculpting the sounds as a great conductor would do with his orchestra creating wonderful sonorous sounds that brought this last recital before the summer break to a magnificent end.
Tuesday 16 July St Mary’s Perivale 2.00 pm
Maya Irgalina (piano)LIVE STREAM
Bach-Busoni: Chaconne in D minor
Rachmaninov:Moments Musicaux Op 16
Maya Irgalina is a pianist from Belarus who won the Gold Medal at the Royal Northern College of Music and has a distinguished record in international piano competitions.
Another chance to hear the concert from Perivale that was streamed live.
Holiday time not always allowing one the time during the day to listen, it is good to be able to catch up with the wonderful line of superb young musicians at St Mary’s in Perivale.
I am very much involved here in Italy with the Pontine Festival that since the time of Szigeti amd Menuhin has filled the surrounding hills in Latina during the month of July with the sounds of extraordinary music making.
Maya Irgalina is from Belarus and studied at the Belarusian Academy of Music where she was an undergraduate. She then completed the International Artist Diploma at the Royal Northern College of Music. In 2017 she graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She has won numerous scholarships including Leverhulme Trust, Yamaha Foundation, BelSwissBank. She was also the recipient of the “Gaude Polonia” award from the Polish Ministry of Culture, and twice became a laureate of a Scholarship from the Special Fund of the President of Belarus. She has won many prizes in piano competitions, including Dudley, Sydney, Maria Yudina, Scriabin etc. She is the winner of the RNCM’s highest accolade for solo performance – the Gold Medal – and had her Wigmore Hall debut in February 2013 as prize-winner of the Worshipful Company of Musicians.
Her playing was broadcast by ABC (Australia), BBC Radio 3 and Belarusian Radio. In 2015 Belarusian TV made a film about her. Over the last ten years she has performed internationally throughout the UK, Italy, Malta, France, Austria, China, Poland, Georgia, Russia and Belarus, highlights including performances at Wigmore Hall and the Barbican. In the 2017/2018 season, Maya was a Britten Pears Young Artist; she was invited by the President of the Republic of Tatarstan to play Chopin’s First Piano Concerto in Kazan; she performed in the Malta International Arts Festival and the Accademia Filarmonica Romana with soprano Nicola Said; performed solo in the Zürichi Piano Express Festival, the Machynlleth Festival, and represented Yamaha as concert artist at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival.
It was immediately apparent her sensitive musicianship from the very first notes of Busoni’s famous transcription of the Bach Chaconne. Busoni transforming a masterpiece for solo violin into a masterpiece for piano solo.
Brahms had also made a very fine transcription for the left hand alone and in a letter to Clara Schumann described the masterpiece by Bach :” On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.”
Menuhin described it as “”the greatest structure for solo violin that exists.”
Busoni has been able to recreate the Chaconne on the piano and in a different way from the solo violin and it is a masterpiece in its own right.
Maya played it with just the right sense of elasticity and colour without ever loosing sight of the undercurrent that is constant through all the varying moods.It takes us from the opening statement played so delicately to the great nobility of the final triumphant evolution.The great bass notes in the final bars like a great organ stop never harsh but a full opening up of sound.Some very fine controlled playing with always a perfect sense of balance.The left hand octaves marked “leggiero ma marcato” never allowed to overpower the architectural line that is a constant from the first to the last note.
That is not to say that there were no startling contrast.
The “quasi Tromboni” after the first great climax was a moment of peace and religious serenity.The repeated notes that followed in the gentle build were beautifully played. Like bells pealing.
Her temperament not allowing her to completely follow Busoni’s indication of “nicht eilen” written at just the point were he knew he himself would have had to hold back.
The build up to the final Largamente maestoso was masterly and if there were one or two small blemishes during the percourse it did not detract in any way from a very fine performance.
The Ravel Sonatine found in Maya the perfect player.
With her very sensitive balance and beautiful sense of colour in the opening “modéré” so perfectly “doux et espressif.”
It was ideally suited to one of Ravel’s most delicately refined works.
A magical “Menuet” followed with just the right lilt combined with such beautifully sensitive phrasing and magical sounds for this jewel of a piece.The great washes of sound in the “Animé “that swept around the melodic line allowed to float so beautifully on this cloud of kaleidoscopic sounds.
The six Moments Musicaux op 16 by Rachmaninov was the final work on the programme.
It is an early work written in haste by Rachmaninov who needed money urgently.
But it does not betray any hurry and there are some heartrending moments combined with some startling virtuosity.
The Andante cantabile n.3 was played with a brooding outpouring of Russian feeling.The Adagio sostenuto n. 5 , an elegie played with heartrending nostalgia with the subtle Rachmaninovian harmonies only adding more meaning to the distant parting of a dear friend.
Both were superbly played with great noble sentiment and a sumptuous sense of colour .
The swirling sounds of the Allegretto n.2 showed off her extremely delicate dexterity.The Presto n.4 so often rattled off like a study was here given a shimmerig left hand on which the melodic line was allowed to sing so clearly.It led to a powerful climax of sonorous romantic sounds always with the musical line being so clearly defined.
The passionate nobility of the final Maestoso was a fitting way to end this performance by a real musician.
Not expecting to be asked for more she suprised us with her favourite Scriabin Study op 42 n.5 in C sharp minor.
No doubt inspired by the passionate warmth that she had just generated in Rachmaninov.
Again notable for the beauty of her phrasing and care over the sounds that surrounded the most romantic of melodies.
We were awaiting the annual presence of our beloved Eliso Virdsladze but temporary illness has prevented that although she did make an appearance this winter to pay a loving homage to the founder of the Campus Musicale Foundation Riccardo Cerrochi
What some people may have missed is that they also have five children all of whom are beginning to emerge onto the musical scene.
The one that has not chosen a musical path Alec , is at only 15 a junior professional goal keeper.
However his father tells me he plays a mean lute prelude in C minor by Bach on the piano before going out on to the field!
Little Rose has played this season the Clara Wieck Piano Concerto and Mathew has won a full time scholarship to the Royal College in London to continue his studies with Dina Parakhina.
I asked Katherine if she was aware that Bach had 17 children!
With a contented smile that lit up her face she said she was happy with her brood of five!
It was Callum who had been invited back today to play in Hugh Mathers remarkable series in Perivale.
At 19 after early studies with his father he spent 7 years with Dina Parakhina and is now perfecting his studies in Salzburg.
And as one might imagine from such a family this was no ordinary programme with a first half dedicated to rarely performed works by Grainger and Rachmaninov.
Ending with the Brahms Variations and Fugue on a theme by Handel op 24.
An encore by great request brought forth his finest playing with a magical account of “Abschied” from Waldszenen by Schumann.
Callum is a born Schumann player with his very flexible rubato and magical sense of colour – it was indeed a farewell that was deeply cherished by all.
Callum has been including in his programmes this season in Padua,New York and Manchester fascinating all too rarely played works by Stevenson and Grainger.
His father was a prodigy of that eclectic pianist composer from his homeland,Ronald Stevenson.
Today we were teated to three works by Grainger :The Rosenkavlier Ramble that opened the concert immediately showed the natural way that Callum approached the keyboard.
With such fluid arm movements almost conducting the magical sounds that he was producing.
Cascades of silver sounds embrassed the insinuating and tingling harmonies from the final ecstatic love duet from Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss.
A work Callum told us in his very interesting introduction,that was dedicated to Grainger’s mother who had just committed suicide.
To a Nordic Princess Bridal Lullaby,dedicated to Grainger’s wife, was played with a crystaline beauty in a soothing and magical ending to this group of pieces.
It led so naturally to the typical romantic harmonies of a song by Rachmaninov “How fair this spot” op 21 n.7 in the arrangement by Gryazanov.A beautiful sense of legato and balance.
The spell was broken with a rumbustuous performance of Grainger’s well worn Country Garden.
Like Grainger’s own performance it was a barnstorming ramble showing a quite extraordinary technical prowess.
The main work was the Variations and Fugue on a theme by Handel op 24.
The 25 variations culminating in a mighty fugue on the innocent little theme by Handel.
The theme was played unusually delicately with some very clearly played embellishments .
It led immediately into the variations full of fantasy and colour.
Rather too romantically played though as this work of Brahms (unlike the works of Schumann that he played so magically as a encore) is built on a rock and it is this steady build up and unrelenting forward movement that takes us to the final triumphant outburst before the monumental fugue.
There were some very beautiful things in Callum Mclachlan’s remarkably assured performance but some of the rubato and slight variations of tempo distracted from the overall vision of this orchestral like work.Some magical sounds and a true technical command led to the gradual lead up to the final triumphant statement and from here onwards he played with just the relentless forward movement that had been missing in the previous variations.
We were too distracted by the vision of beautiful trees but it was the wood that counted above all for Brahms.
The fugue was played with great conviction and if even here there was too much fussy detail it is because of his true love for the work that I am sure this will be gradually pared off as he lives and matures with this masterpiece during what is destined to be a long and distinguished career like his parents!
In fact Hugh Mather has already offered a return fight………..
Jonathan Ferrucci had told me how good Carole Presland was in the Faure Quartet.
He did not tell me how good!
She illuminated the hall with her masterly playing on the crest of a musical wave.
A veritable tsunami.
and Victor Braojos Lopez and Jose Songel Sanchis in a scintillating account of Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story”
The amazing Signum Brass in William Mathias’ Summer Dances
Ugne Vagileviciute Marcus Dawe and Nathan Giorgetti in Vox Balenae by George Crumb Amazing sounds played with masques ….missing only the film Zoro
Bartok Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion with Yundy Wang Ben Smith Sam Walton Aidan Marsden
Caught in the lunchtime traffic we awaited her arrival knowing full well of the chaos in the centre of London in this holiday period.
Only ten minutes late she arrived looking ever more like a film star and greeted her friends and admirers that had gathered to hear her.
Without any more ado she sat at the piano …………..and it was pure magic.
She was completely lost in her own world. So totally transported by the music that she did not even notice the rather invasive lady in the first row trying to share a 360° video to her mother I presume in Russia!
From the very first note we were transported into a magic world of such ravishing sounds and such an overpowering sense of communication where each note of the little Arietta op 12 by Grieg was expressed with extraordinary beauty and musical sense.
It was as though the music was speaking directly to every single member of the audience.
The only other person who can do that is Martha Argerich, who with her seemingly anticonventional lifestyle and individual personality plays the piano or rather communicates via the piano her genuine uncontaminated vision of music and life which for her are one and the same.Following her heart and instinct rather than wearing her musicality like a badge.It is the innocence of a child but with the wisdom of someone who has weaved her way since childhood through the jungle of public performance and never conceded anything of her inner musical beliefs to the superficial world that surrounds her.
Anyone who knows Evie will know that this description fits her too like a glove.
She also has the ravishing good looks that Martha had at her age.Che non guasta ,as they say!
Needless to say that the three Rachmaninov preludes were played with such a sumptuous kaleidocope of sounds from the almost inaudible to the most passionate outbursts.
She made this little Yamaha piano sound like the most beautiful piano on earth such was her total concentration on the sounds that she was creating for us.
The E flat major op 23 n.6 drifted in like water on which floated the most romantic of melodies .The full sonorous melodic line of the D major n. 4 where the embellishments caressed the melody in a seemless stream of velvet sounds.The beautiful liquid cantabile of the G major op 32 n.5 where the delicacy of the left hand accompaniment only added to the golden sheen that she was able to bring to this most nostalgic of melodies.
Hardly suprising that her Rachmaninov is so definitive and idiomatic as she is the daughter of Boris Beresovsky and was born in 1991 the very year he won the Gold Medal at the Tchaikowsky competition in Moscow !
The Sonata n.2 op 36 by Rachmaninov burst out of this luxuriant “hors d’oevre” like a sudden call to arms.
What passion,what subtle unbearably beautiful sounds.But above all a transcendental control and command of the keyboard that allowed her to listen so attentively hardly glancing at her hands that were only the means of expressing what she was searching for.
This was undoubtedly one of the finest performances I have heard of this work .We all know the famous Carnegie Hall recording of Horowitz but this had the same powerful sense of immediacy and demonic changes that brought this work back into the piano repertoire.
But rarely can a performance by a “normal” pianist have been so powerful as today … with the exception maybe of only Van Cliburn!
Aided and abetted by her great friend Sasha Grynyuk the programme announced : Messiaen “Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jesus”.
What we were actually treated too was the most beautiful of the 20 regards:”Le Baiser de l’enfant Jesus.”
And what a kiss this was .
The most extraordinary sounds of these tingling grating
dissonant harmonies that in her hands were played so subtly that it was of a heartbreaking beauty that I have rarely experienced.
The music spoke so magically that the message from this true believer came across and touched every heart in the audience judging by the tears that were visible on many of their eyes.
Mesmerised by the sounds.
The almost chiselled embellishments accompanying the sumptuous final melodic outburst expressing sounds that I have never heard before.
It was quite overwhelmingly moving.
I have only heard Rubinstein playing ten of the “Visions Fugitives” by Prokofiev or “A prol do Bebe” by Villa Lobos who was able to make the music speak as Evie did with Messiaen today.
Joan Chisell said in her review about “The Prince of Pianists” that I love to quote:”Mr Rubinstein turned baubles into gems.”
I would not say that Messiaen was a bauble but up until today I had not realised how poignantly he could help us to experience his own mystical belief.
A little piece by Tchaikowsky “Au village” was full of old world charm and scintillating almost ‘jeux perle’ playing.
A truly magic fairground of a bygone age.
A little mazurka by Chopin played equisitely as an encore.
A wonderful sense of dance but such bewitching colours.
She shouted out to her old school friend from the Purcell School Alexander Ullman to ask if he knew what opus number it was.
It was of no importance what number it was ………..it was an absolute gem and that is all that counted today.
Such insistent applause brought her back to play the Rachmaninov Prelude in E flat again ….as Sasha said afterwards even more beautifully than before.
I go to a lot of concerts and listen to many remarkable pianists but this is one that will remain with me for a long time.
I had heard Jamie Bergin this winter in a programme of Beethoven,Chopin and Ravel and was instantly won over by his artistry and refined musical pedigree.
He has inherited this from his early formation with Murray McLachlan,Joan Havill,Karl- Heinz Kammerling and last but certainly not least Lars Vogt to whom he became assistant in Hanover.
His second major recital in London this year for the Kirckman Concert Society.The first,last January, was in St John’s Smith Square.And now due to a cancellation by an indisposed Ian Bostridge we were able to hear him again this time at the Wigmore Hall.
This was an artist in meditave mood on an Eldorado of a cloud in which the sumptuous sounds he shared with us was a private confession of subtle personal artistry.
An almost whispered succession of sounds played so stylishly we almost craved for him to make a nasty sound!
Such is his superlative sense of control and balance ,a technical prowess that knows no difficulties allied to an intimate knowledge of the scores as one would imagine from a student of Joan Havill.
To quote from his own words describing the programme that he had chosen at the last minute for this unexpected recital:
”op 109…full of fantasy conveying a wonderful sense of improvisation ….. the third movement opens with one of the most beautiful melodies I have ever heard and I sometimes find it difficult to stop playing!”
It is very rare that words can convey some of the meaning of music but I think Jamie got fairly near tonight.
The first movement of op 109 was played indeed in an improvisatory way with a flexibility of pulse and colour that was extremely personal.Some might say over romantic but here was a man in love and not afraid to share it with us.
The second movement as contrast could have been more decisive and rhythmic but much to my surprise that was to come with the innocent simple statement of the theme of the final variations.Some very subtle colouring in the following variations and a sublime sound in the slow almost waltz like statement of the theme.
The fast semiquavers were played with a sheen that allowed the melodic line to sing out as is rarely the case.
Some transcendental piano playing of course,ca va sans dire with this pianist.
The spell momentarily broken with the entry of the fugato that soon was allowed to dissolve so naturally into the sheen of magic sounds created from the trills on which the melodic line sang so beautifully.
The gradual dissolving in a cloud of mystical sounds led to the final statement of the theme all the more poignant for its total simplicity.
The seven fantasies op 116 by Brahms were :”like being taken on amazing emotional rollercoaster….some moments are absolutely heartbreaking.One can only wonder what Brahms went through to write such music”.
And so it was with a Brahms that was not Brahms but a truly emotional journey from an artist with a very delicate sound palette that could create the magic of deep melancholy of the meltingly beautiful lament of the second Intermezzo or the beautiful prominent left hand weaving its web in the third with the beautiful liquid cantabile melodic line floating on its surface or the pure magic of the fourth and the ghost like search of the fifth.The suave melodic line of the sixth with its melting cantabile in the middle section.The forward drive of the seventh with its sumptuous melodic middle section.
But here was a personal vision that experienced only the ecstasy of the Andante,Adagio or Andante con grazie e intimissimo sentimento of the Intermezzi .But the implied contrast of Presto agitato,Allegro passionato or Allegro agitato of the three capriccios was missing.
Smoothed over very beautifully.But in order to appreciate true beauty we need comparison and contrast and it was this that was missing in this secret message of Jamie’s Brahms.
The three pieces that make up book one of Iberia were played with a great sense of colour .As Jamie relates :”The music has such a generosity of spirit and freedom …. I was inspired to play it when I heard Alicia de Larrocha’s iconic recording.”
It is considered one of the most challenging works for the piano: “There is really nothing in Isaac Albeniz’s Iberia that a good three-handed pianist could not master, given unlimited years of practice and permission to play at half tempo. But there are few pianists thus endowed.” Thus spoke a review in the New York Times of de Larrochas performance.
And the performer tonight too had a no fear of the great leaps of the “Fete dieu a Seville” or any of the transcendental demands of these three pieces.
“Evocacion” was full of the simmering atmosphere of Spain as was the irrsistible dance of “El Puerto”.The enormous dynamic range that Albeniz asks for from “ffff” to “ppppp” abound especially in “Fete dieu” which could have had more contrast so the startlingly beautiful ending would have come as more of a lugubrious journey into the infinite.
I well remember Rafael Orozco in these pieces many years ago with the blazing passion of a young and passionate spaniard
.He ran away with the Gold medal in Leeds and I remember Annie Fischer asking me what had become of him since.
He lived in Rome and came to see Alicia de Larrocha whenever she played for us.
He chose to die early with his partner.A life lived passionately until the last!
Jamie had a different vision of these pieces .Full of hidden lights and sounds, intoxicating perfumes and intimate seduction rather than the brazen spain of noise and bustle and the excitement of the corrida.
The Berceuse by Chopin op 57 :” soothing and peaceful with a hypnotic effect that seems as if everything is frozen in time “
It was infact just that with a beautiful bell like cantabile and played with a simplicity that allowed the variants to evolve so naturally.
It led to the final work, one of the most important works of the romantic piano repertoire :the fourth Ballade by Chopin op 52.
”There is so much tragedy and drama and the coda is known for being fiendishly difficult.”
It was the masterly build up to the coda that was so remarkable in a performance of great beauty always moving forward and never sentimental .The sustaining bass in the statement of the opening theme allowed such freedom but within the limits of the great architectural line.
The coda of course was played not only with fearless technical prowess but with great care over the musical line to the final cascading arpeggios and final chords.
A recital that was today the triumph of Eusebius with Florestan only allowed an occasional glimpse of the beautiful landscape that was being sculptured in the hands of this remarkable young musician.
It was wonderful to see a completely sold out Queen Elisabeth Hall for the concert by the Royal College of Music Symphony Orchestra.
Two major works on the programme: one for a virtuoso pianist and the other for a virtuoso orchestra.
Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto has long been a hurdle and great test for a pianist not only of technical prowess and stamina but also for a great romantic sense of passion and colour.
I remember John Lill playing it many years ago at the RCM with Sir Adrian Boult and the many articles that were written about this amazing young British hope to follow in the footsteps of John Ogdon.
There was even a film,”Shine” based on this momentous event even though some of the details were blurred for “ artistic” reasons.
John Lill like the young 22 year old Victor Maslov ,who played today,chose to play the “big” cadenza which was almost unheard of fifty years ago because of it’s extreme technical demands.
We need not have worried today because in the superb hands of this young Russian pianist who is currently studying with Dmitri Alexeev at the RCM we were treated to an exemplary performance.
I well remember one of the finest performances I have ever heard of this concerto was from his teacher some years ago in Rome where he was a favourite of the artistic director Lanza Tomassi of the Rome RAI orchestra.
Here today was a performance full of complete technical control but allied to a passion and sense of colour every bit as remarkable as his teacher.
I have heard Victor recently in recital in the Elgar Room of the Royal Albert Hall and blamed Elton John’s Red Piano for the lack of colour and rather monocrome sounds.
It was refreshing to note today that on this superb Steinway piano there were not only sumptuous sounds but a subtle range of colours where we could admire his artistry to the full.
Even in the quietest of passages, as in the whispered return of the main theme in the first movement ,the sound carried to the farthest corners of the hall with the same intensity as in the front row.
It was interesting to note some unusual fingering too on both appearances of this melancolic melody.
The great cadenza blazed out showing his transcendental virtuosity to the full.But it was the sound from the piano that was so remarkable and unexpected from the dramatic rumbling beginning through the heroic transformation of the innocent little opening theme to the gradual dissolving arpeggios that herald the beautiful flute playing of Sarah Parkes- Bowen.
The very exposed filigree passage in the last movement was played with a clarity that shone above the orchestra and led to the final triumphant Tchaikowskian fanfare. Leading up to this the magnificently and heroically played left hand octaves pushing always forward with an excitement that knew no technical limits.
A general request from public and orchestra for more was happily greeted with an old warhorse rarely heard in the concert hall these days.A truly sumptuous “old style” performance of Malguena by Lecuona played by a pianist who had won the battle and could now relax and really show us what he could do.
I have heard Victor many times but I have never heard him play like that before …. he is obviously headed for the heights and hats off to all those at the RCM who have been helping him so successfully along the difficult path to the important career that awaits.
The second half was dedicated to a single work :”The Planet Suite” op 32 by Gustav Holst (who used to teach just down the road from the RCM at St Paul’s School).
A showpiece for large orchestra including six horns,six timpani,chorus and organ .Superbly conducted by Andrew Gourlay with beautifully expressive hand movements reminiscent of Giulini or Maazel.
How could this orchestra not respond!
And they certainly did!
From the menacing Mars,Bringer of War and the truly sumptuous Jupiter,the Bringer of Jollity where the full orchestra with timpani and brass at the fore were overtaken by the truly sumptuous string sound from the full orchestra.
Who could forget the beautiful horn solo of Joel Ashford in Venus,the Bringer of Peace and the solo cello of Silvestrs Kalnins.The beautiful solo violin of Maren Bosma and the transcendental performance by the duo timpanists Sam Howes and Max Heaton.
It was the participation of the whole orchestra that was particularly noticeable, from Philip Nelson’s bass to Bethan Griffiths and Imogen Ridge on the harps, where each individual member played with that youthful passion and “joie de vivre” that kept us riveted to our seats.
The beautiful sounds of the choir singing off stage in Neptune,the Mystic was a truly magical way to end.
It is such a long time since I have seen the name of John Ireland on a concert programme that it was very refreshing to see Tom Hick’s lunchtime programme almost totally dedicated to this composer that his pupil Benjamin Britten described as having “ a strong personality but weak character.”
I was just a child with my first piano lessons when confronted with a charming little piece called “April.”
It was as a teenager with advanced studies with Sidney Harrison that one day he pulled out his store of music in the garage of his beautiful riverside house in Chiswick the music to Sea Fever.A song setting of the poem of John Masefield.The object of the lesson was to make the music speak on the piano with the same inflections that a singer might have used.
A great lesson indeed and one that I have never forgotten and is inextricably linked to Ireland.
The two works presented today and that are on his new CD supported by the John Ireland Trust were both inspired by his love for the Channel Islands .
”Island Spell” was written in Jersey in 1912 and “Sarnia” (The Roman name for Guernsey) was written on Guernsey in 1940 shortly before he was evacuated before it became occupied by the Germans.
Tom Hicks too is from Guernsey so who better to understand the very personal musical style of Ireland known by many as the “English Impressionist.”
Tom immediately showed his musical credentials in “Island Spell” with the washes of sound and a magical sense of colour from hands that seemed only to hover above the keys.
A deep rumbling reminiscent of Debussy’s Cathedral Engloutie with magical sounds disappearing on high with a delicacy and sensitivity that seemed to bely his rather unmoving body involvement.
I was told by a viola playing friend from Guernsey that children receive free lesson on instruments in the schools there so it was hardly surprising that as a child and after early lessons with Mervyn Grand he was accepted at Chetham’s School of Music where he studied with that superb trainer of so many talented young musicians: Murray McLachlan.
He won many prestigious prizes on the way to taking the Gold Medal and the Peter Frankl Piano Prize at the Royal Northern College of Music.
Since 2015 he has been studying in America with Boris Berman at Yale and James Giles at the Northwestern Bienen School of Music.
With many concerto engagements to his name and two complete cycles of Rachmaninov’s Concertos it was to his enormous credit that he chose to dedicate his London recital today to his homeland where he was headed straight after the concert.
The final piece on the programme today was one of Ireland’s large scale pieces for piano. “Sarnia.”
In three movements the middle of which was inspired by some verses of Victor Hugo who also had come under the spell of the island.
A transcendental technique allowed him to throw off the many technical challenges with ease and allow the folk idioms and rather pastoral atmosphere to sing out unimpeded.The beautiful long lines in the last Song of Springtides were sustained by lush harmonies that were never allowed to overpower the overall architectural shape.
Six of the 12 seasons by Tchaikowsky were played with the utmost clarity and a real sense of finger legato that allowed the nostalgic melodies and Gopak type dance rhythms to create just the relief from Ireland’s rather personal view of his beloved islands.