A city in love – Cremona Music Festival Parts 1,2 and 3 the day of reckoning

A city in love – Cremona Music Festival Part 1,2 and 3

Ivan Krpan admiring the inlaid Stradivarius in the Violin museum
Arriving late in Cremona last night I was immediately struck by the presence of Stradivarius in every shop window and on every street corner .
The next morning in the light of day I was equally surprised to see pianos in many of the colonades in the centre with signs asking to be played!
A short bus ride away and in the exhibition centre there is Cremona Music a three day festival of exhibitions and concerts.
I had been invited by that amazingly versatile young musician Roberto Prosseda who after organising the Festival in Barga this summer had since toured India with his wife with whom he not only shares their three children but also artistically they share their music together.
He has found time to coordinate this festival in Cremona that is seething with energy and talent that I was able to admire on the first day of this incredible journey.
I could admire all the instruments of every type on show and the people that make them ready to help the hundreds of people from all parts of the world that had flocked to play,hear and learn about all these instruments.
There was the managing director of Music Lane in Bangalore who had come to acquire instruments to introduce to the people in his country.
This is his second year and he was sure there would be a market for accordians !
There were many young oriental people choosing wood to make instruments with and in the Piano Experience a series of small concert halls each one housing a Yamaha.Bosendorfer,Steinway,Fazioli and a beautiful Steingraeber,unknown to me even though established in 1852, with a mechanism that can make the keys shallower(Mozart) to resemble the touch of a period instrument.

Andrea Bressan with Igor Roma
My first stop though today was in the Sala Monteverdi for a superb concert by Andrea Bressan ,one of the finest of all bassoonists, with a remarkable Igor Roma on a Steinway piano.A perfect partnership that had Igor Roma abandoning the music and playing from “heart” the final pieces by Egberto Gismondi in a give and take between instruments that was nothing short of miraculous.

Jed Distler
Jed Distler too in the Sala Cristofori had played so beautifully his own works and arrangements of Thelonius Monk in a series of pieces that seemed to have endless possibilities of colour and subtle shading.
Maurizio Baglini had a full house in the Guarneri del Gesu hall where a very grand Fazioli 308 took centre stage.
Roberto Prosseda had introduced his friend and colleague and explained that the Fazioli piano had the gift of being able to change its character with each different pianist that played on it.
And it was indeed an earth shattering performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition that took centre stage today. The little Arabesque by Schumann that opened the concert was played in a way that mirrored perfectly the “Pictures” that were to follow.

Paolo Fazioli Maurizio Baglini and Eliane Reyes
Paolo Fazioli looking on proudly to see his piano roaring like a lion and whispering like an angel in Maurizio’s hands.
It was a joy after such an overwhelming performance to go into the Zelioli Lanzini Hall and hear Bach played so simply and beautifully by Massimo Mercelli on the flute with Ramin Bahrami on the beautiful Steingraeber concert grand.

Ramin Bahrami Massimo Mercelli Riccardo Risaliti
It was on this same piano that a few hours earlier the 18 year old winner of the Marco Bramanti National Piano competition. Edoardo Mossali had astonished us with his superbly assured performances of Chopin Studies op 10 and the Brahms Paganini Variations Book 2.
Introduced by an ever more genial Riccardo Risaliti.In the presence of the Bramanti family who had dedicated themselves to founding a competition in Marco’s name who had been killed in a car accident at the age of only 23.in 1985.Music was his passion and so what better way to remember him that to found a Piano Competition in his name.Music can give passion and sensitivity to the young and it is to them that the competition in Forte dei Marmi is directed.

The concert hall constructed with the same wood of the violin
The family are convinced that music has the means to bring love and sensibility into young people’s lives.
What better memorial could there be?
A sumptuous Gala dinner after a quick tour of the Stradivarius museum and look at the amazing concert hall where all the instruments are regularly played.
Around my table congregated Richard Stoltzman ,Konstatin Sherbakov,Inna Faliks,Roland Pontinen,Ivan Krpan ,Ramin Bahrami and of course our host Roberto Prosseda ………so who knows what lies ahead in the next two days!
Today the presentation of Valentina Lo Surdo’s book the “Art of Success “….this is the place to be !

Richard and Mika Stolzman in conversation with Ramin Bahrami

our host Roberto Prosseda with 2017 Busoni winner Ivan Krpan who plays for the Keyboard Charitable Trust on Sunday morning
PART 2

Jed Distler Risto-Matti Marin Roland Poentinen
Cremona Festival day 2 starting well…..
Fantastic playing from Risto- Matti Marin who unlocked pandoras box of the Steingraeber Concert Grand and showered us with glistening jewels.
A very interesting juxtaposition of Wagner Tristan and Isolde in the transcriptions of Ernest Schelling and Franz Liszt.
Sumptuous sounds and colours that only a real musician could have discovered.
From glistening pianissimi to red hot passion in the span of only a few minutes was pure magic.

Risto – Matti Marin
The Schelling transcription was very interesting and deserves to be heard more often but it was the Liszt that had distilled the essential essence of Wagner that created the real magical atmosphere where Schelling had been slightly more literal and in the end did not have the perfect shape of the Liszt transcription.
The “Leaves of Grass “ were a series of 12 Preludes after Walt Whitman written by the Canadian composer Matthew Whittall in 2009.Three of these (6/8/9) were played with an amazing range of sound .
The beautiful verses so poetically conveyed in sound.
Here was a full orchestra and the repetative motiv in “Thou orb aloft full- dazzling” was like a beam of light with Steve Reich type insistence but with great bass notes added that gave such meaning to the urgent relentless chime of bells.
A quite transcendental display of technical control and musicianship.
The “Rigoletto”paraphrase was played with ravishing subtle virtuosity .It was wonderful to see the way he caressed the keys in a superlative display of musicianship where the melody sang out with the most extraordinary weaving of magical notes all around.
A quite remarkable display of how a complete technical control of sound and colour can allow an undemonstrative musician to hold the audience captivated in such a well worn work.
An encore of the Romance in D flat by Sibelius revealed all the wonderful secrets of this very fine piano that until today had been concealed.

Valentina Lo Surdo with Filippo Michelangeli
A rush to the other side of this vast pavillion to hear about the Art of Success from Valentina Lo Surdo.
Success is indeed assured with Valentina …..her book a wonder of very sensitive good sense advice gathered from the past 25 years of mixing with crazy but dedicated musicians.
How to distill but not destroy the very passion that drives musicians to sacrifice hours to their art.
But it is also a profession and needs to take its place in a consumer world .

Essential reading for all those that would like to enter the profession
What place?How to market what you are producing?Never talk badly of your colleagues and they will never talk badly of you!
Enlightened comments from Roberto Prosseda who is an example of how to manage ones talent to the benefit of all.
Immediately after in another hall Valentina was presenting the “Violins of Hope.”
A concert dedicated to Amnon Weinstein who was awarded the Cremona Music Award.
It is a harrowing story of jewish prisoners who had played in the concentration camps during the terrible Holocaust.
Since 1961 he has dedicated his life to restoring the instruments some of which were used to play whilst the prisoners were lining up to enter the gas chambers.
These same instruments are now being used in some of the most important theatres in the world.
He not only restores the instruments but also collects their story convinced that music is the only way to remember.

Amnon Weinstein receiving the Cremona Musica Award
”The Holocaust is a story of death,but aso of hope,because many people survived and the music was a part of that survival.When one knows the story behind the violins ,you become aware of how they carry within them the same hope.”
A short concert of mainly jewish traditional music that also included the Largo ma non tanto from Bach’s Concerto for two violins.
I managed to catch only a small part of the recital by Eliane Reyes in the Guarneri Room where Fazioli holds court.
Jeux d’eau by Ravel and L’isle joyeuse by Debussy showed how true Roberto Prosseda’s words were when he said the Fazioli had the possibility to completely change character with differing pianist.

Maurizio Baglini Eliane Reyes Paolo Fazioli Roland Poentinen
In fact it was a very delicate piano that we heard today.
It hardly seemed possible that it could be the same instrument that roared like a lion in Baglini’s Mussorgsky yesterday.
An exquisite performance of a little Waltz op posth by Chopin played as an encore made my dash from one venue to another so worthwhile.

Luca Ciammarughi with Roberto Prosseda
An all too brief appearance to hear the first few minutes of Luca Ciammarughi’s book on the Last Sonatas of Schubert was enough to make me want to buy it especially after reading his last fascinating book about pianists from Michelangeli to Argerich.
An interesting introduction from Roberto Prosseda who talked about the reasoning of Andras Schiff for adhering to the “heavenly “ length of Schuberts sonatas.

Konstantin Scherbakov programme
I wish I could have stayed but Konstantin Scherbakov was about to play in the Cristofori Room where Steinway held court.
A pianist I had not heard before but of course his reputation was well known to me.
His Tchaikowsky was extraordinarily expressive and noble.
His hands like Gilels seemed to belong to the keys and produce sounds of a purity with a total command but at once of a sensitivity and extraordinary clarity even in the most whispered of passages.
Wonderfully passionate playing in the climaxes but never a harsh sound due to his wonderful sense of balance.

Konstantin Scherbakov
A Chopin both noble and tender,rythmic and free with a great sense of architecture that gave great form to the F minor Fantasie.
A very refined third Ballade, the most gentle of the four great stories that Chopin was to share with us.
A sense of control and balance brought great authority to the climax.
An Andante spianato played with two hands was a surprise but what did it matter when the melodic line was then allowed to float on this magic wave of sound.The mazurka like middle section was played with a naive charm before the return of the Andante spianato.Taking us gently into the Grande Polonaise with a subtle use of the left hand pedal in the orchestral introduction and leading to a Polonaise of great virtuosity allied to a subtle flexibility of tempo but never loosing sight of the overall shape.ù
A quite extraordinary display of playing from a great artist.

Risto-Matti Marin              Konstantin Scherbakov
It was no coincidence I think that I found both Risto-Matti Marin and Konstatin Sherbakov in animated conversation in the exhibition hall as I was on my way to catch only a too short a time unfortunately of Richard Stoltzman’s clarinet masterclass.

Richard Stoltzman masterclass
An animated discussion on Best Practices and Innovation in Live Music Organisation brought together a prestigious group of organisers and musicians coordinated by Roberto Prosseda.
Carmelo Di Gennaro, coordinatore artistico Stresa Festival, già direttore artistico Teatro Real di Madrid- Carlo Hruby, presidente dell’Associazione “Musica con le Ali”- Jan Latham-Koenig, direttore d’orchestra, direttore musicale del Novaya Opera Theater di Mosca- Christopher Axworthy, direttore artistico del Keyboard Charitable Trust di Londra standing in for the indisposed  founder John Leech – Gyorgy Rath, direttore d’orchestra, direttore principale della Philharmonique de Nice- Frederik Styns, sovrintendente della Flanders Symphony Orchestra- Juljen Toepoel, direttore artistico del Parkstad Limburg Theaters . A lively exchange of ideas that lasted over two hours and was stimulating and useful. ……………

Symposium:Best Practices and Innovations in live Music Organisation

Paolo Fazioli playing one of his pianos- he had infact studied with Sergio Cafaro’s wife  Mimi Martinelli
PART 3 – The final day THE DAY OF RECKONING
Cremona Musica last day
An unexpectedly lovely supper with Clare Pakenham the renowned writer and long time friend of the Keyboard Charitable Trust.

Bolero indeed !
As I have learnt from experience in Padua on Saturday night all the restaurants are full as are the squares and bars.
We were lucky to find a modest beer and wine bar in front of my hotel where we were given royal treatment and a sumptuous meal with wonderful wine was conjured up in an intimate atmosphere without music!
‘Bolero’ indeed.
Clare Pakenham,the sister in law of the late Harold Pinter had come to hear Ivan Krpan and to join her lifelong friends John and Noretta Leech,the founders of the keyboard trust who are helping Ivan at the start of his career,having won quite unexpectedly but very deservedly the 2017 Busoni competition.

Clare Pakenham and Bolero!
As Valentina Lo Surdo pointed out in her brief but ever stimulating presentation, Ivan Krpan although still only 22, is a very serious thinking artist who had pieced together a very serious programme for this morning’s concert in Cremona.
When asked if he would be happy to play on a Fazioli piano he exclaimed ” But I love Fazioli pianos!”
The last eight of Chopin`s 24 Preludes opened the recital.
As with Busoni`s own performance(that alas we only have a fragment of on piano rolls) each one isolated in a world where each prelude was a tone poem in its own right.
It was fascinating how he had dissected each one following scrupulously Chopin`s own indications but where the so called Chopin tradition had no place.

Valentina in her stimulating and thankfully short introduction
He is a thinking musician and takes you with him on a journey that makes you think afresh about much loved works that have in many ways been smothered by a tradition and style that we take for granted.
The C minor Prelude was played with great nobility and the layers of sound plastered like stones gradually sinking into the sand.
The little 23rd Prelude was less convincing as surely it is a companion to the last great D minor.
Played in a very deliberate unrelenting way with an authority and control that was of a mature Arrau.
A surprisingly excessive use of the sustaining pedal in the 17th prelude in A flat did not quite create the effect of a mist or tolling bell on which floats Chopins magical dream revisitation.
The great octave Prelude and the recitativo were played with a detached passion that made an exhilarating contrast to the chiselled beauty of the others.
His ‘Raindrop’ Prelude n.15 offered as an encore was every bit as monumental as Sokolov’s famous vision.

Krpan and Fazioli a partnership made in heaven
It was interesting to hear Brahms’ Schumann Variations op 9 where each was most beautifully played with attention to the most intricate indications of the young Brahms.
But I felt that on this occasion it did lack an overall architectural shape and underlying rhythmic direction where the sumptuous liquid sounds of Brahms were not for Ivan’s clarity of vision today.
I remember well Louis Lortie playing the Brahms F minor sonata op 5 in London and in Rome pointing to the Boesendorfer label after an equally masterly performance but with magnificent sonorous and voluptuous sound.
He then went on to play Chopin pointing to the Fazioli label saying that this though is the ideal piano for Chopin!
It was good to see Liszt`s ‘Benediction de Dieu dans la solitude’ rightly consigned to its place as the masterpiece it really is.

Ivan and Paolo- a winning combination
It was Arrau who played Liszt following his indications scrupulously and placing Liszt so rightly at the pinnacle of the romantic era.
It was the same seriousness and minute attention to detail that Ivan offered as the last work in his recital today.
A beautiful sense of balance and colour played with passionate involvement but also intelligent sensibility.
Maybe even here the individual episodes should be moulded into a whole which I am sure he would do in a bigger hall with more resonance.

Ivan with the distinguished authoress Clare Pakenham who had flown in from Menton especially to hear him
I remember being swept away by his superlative performance of the Dante Sonata last year in London and Rome.
The magnificent Fazioli pianos are ideally suited to the clarity and precision of Bach as we know from Angela Hewitt’s performances world wide.

An ovation for Ivan and Fazioli…not to mention J.S.B!
And it was today the last encore offered to very enthusiastic audience at this coffee concert when Ivan chose to play so superbly the Prelude from the First Partita in B flat by J.S. Bach.
There are no words necessary for all those that were present to see how Bach,Fazioli and Ivan are a partnership made in heaven!
But this was only the start of the adventure that Roberto Prosseda had in store for us on the last day.
Immediately following this recital Roland Poentinen was playing in the other prestigious hall -the Zelioli Lanzini Room -on a very fine Steingraeber concert grand.
It is the hall where I heard Risto-Matti Marin playing so magnificently the day before.

Roland Poentinen programme
Maestro Poentinen had been in the audience too as Rito Matti was today to hear his colleague conjuring up the same magic sounds in Debussy and Ravel and also in his own etude ergonomique,like Ravel,à la manière de Thomas Newman.
A kaleidoscope of subtle sounds which had immediately ignited this piano in the Debussy study and carried to the end with an encore of the most magical of Rachmaninov Preludes, that in G sharp minor.

Roland Poentinen
As Fazioli is the ideal piano for the clarity of Bach the Steingraeber is ideal for the more impressionistic repertoire.
And this is of course  the luxury that we were treated to.
So many great interpreters and pianos together in Cremona in a feast of music.
Exchanging ideas and ideals in the space of only three days in an atmosphere where the passion for music took precendence over any other considerations.
In the same hall just half an hour later I was interested to hear the Chinese pianist Jin Ju who I had heard such wonders from our never forgotten friend Constance Channon Douglass.

Jin Ju
Jin Ju is the wife of Stefano Fiuzzi of the Accademia Cristofori in Florence which houses many fine historic instruments.
It was where I found Rosalyn Tureck in 1991 just a few days before she took the world by storm again in Rome with a sensational performance of the Goldberg Variations.
Stefano and I shared Rosalyn for many years as she began so unexpectedly her Indian summer all over Italy when she was amazingly in her late 70’s.
I was glad to be able to whisper into Stefano’s ear after the Chopin Barcarolle and two nocturnes op 55 that Connie had been right when she told me what a great pianist he had married!
I do not know how she managed the clarity and subtle colours on this Steingraeber that had been so ungrateful to other pianists.

A recent review of Jin Ju
Maybe it was her clockwork precision that allowed her great intelligence and sense of style to dominate the rather muffled velvety sounds.Such beautiful things especially in the Barcarolle and such ecstasy in the E flat nocturne.
Of course always allied to an intelligence that allowed her to do the ritornello in the first movement of the B minor Sonata integrating it into the architecture of one of the very few works of this length by Chopin, who was essentially a ‘miniaturist’
The middle section of the Scherzo was so beautifully shaped and the outer sections glistened so clearly now the sun had come out.

Jin Ju programme
The immediate entry without a break into the slow movement was absolutely overwhelming as was the beauty of her cantabile and the shimmering sounds that she found in the Largo without ever loosing sight of the great architectural shape.
The first few octaves of the last movement was all I was allowed before running to the taxi but it was enough to see what a great musician she is listening so attently with a refined intelligence even in the most transcendentally difficult passages.
It brings great nobility to the works of the so called “miniaturist” Chopin just as Rubinstein had taught us.

Wonderful country and western in the open air pavillion
Unfortunately a problem with the closure of one of the airports in Milan meant I had the minutes counted and could only take in one more pianist Jin Ju, before being whisked off on the two hour journey to Milan..I had to miss Ingolf Wunder in the Steinway room and the award ceremony for Salvatore Accardo and much else too……………
Next year I will be back with the sounds of the missed Finale Presto non tanto ringing in my ears…..
……………..Agitato indeed who would not be!

Roberto Prosseda finding time to present every concert – here with Eliane Reyes whose mentor was Marth Argerich the undisputed Empress of the piano

The prestigious Zelioli Lanzini hall full to the rafters for the moving’Violins of Hope’ award to Amnon Weinstein

Cihat Askin Sevil Ulucan Weinstein Yevheniya Lysohor Yelda Ozgen Ozturk performing Bach Concerto for two violins in celebration for Amnon Weinstein ‘Violins of Hope’

The CD presented by Jed Distler someone who knows more about piano than even Piero Rattalino,Riccardi Risaliti and Bryce Morrison put together.He also makes the piano sound more beautiful than most! Che non guasta ,as they say here!

An unforgettable experience indeed

Cremona.The city of our dreams

Tyler Hay “Kitten on the Keys”

Tyler Hay “Kitten on the Keys”

Tyler missing only the moustache of Bolet
The similarity between Tyler Hay and Jorge Bolet does not stop only at their military bearing.It is also their transcendental playing of great clarity and beauty allied to a sensibility that belies their outward appearance.
Of course their early training gave them both the possibility to follow their own musical paths without limits.
Bolet with the school of David Stapleton and Tyler with that of Tessa Nicholson.
I do not think it a coincidence that Mark Viner ,who is fast making a great name for himself with his recordings of Thalberg,Alkan ,Chaminade and other virtuosi from a lost age, was also from the same school as is that other up and coming virtuoso Alim Beisembayev.

Today’s programme for the Park Lane Group
I heard Tyler a few months ago playing for the first time on a period instrument from the Cobbe collection at Hatchlands. https://www.facebook.com/notes/christopher-axworthy/tyler-hay-at-hatchlands-for-the-cobbe-collection/10156554648092309/
And a few weeks later a homage to John Ogdon, playing works from his new CD of the inedited compositions of a genius who is only now gaining recognition as a composer with the 200 or more compositions still in manuscript housed in the Royal Northern College of Music archives.
It is quite remarkable the versatily and ease with which he not only dispatches the most transcendentally difficult scores but also the beauty and style he brings to those well trodden and much loved too.
In St James’s ,one of the most intimate and inviting of all London churches, Tyler was invited by the Park Lane Group to perform works by Beethoven,Kalkbrenner and Gershwin ending with an exhilarating and liberating performance of “Kitten on the Keys” by Zez Confrey .

St James’s Piccadilly
From the very first imposing chords of Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata op 13 it was quite clear that we were in presence of a great musical personality.The aristocratic use of the silences to make each chord so much more poignant added to a most delicate sense of balance.
I would have taken a little more time over the turns before the chromatic scale that takes us into the Allegro di molto e con brio.
Played with a clarity and unrelenting forward movement even if the duet between bass and treble could have been a little more pointed and relaxed,it was this forward almost Serkin type drive that was so convincing.
The famous Adagio cantabile was indeed played on “wings of song” with such a beautiful sense of balance with a wonderful sense of legato.
He managed to keep the rhythmic flow but with a flexibility and expressiveness that never became sentimental.
Infact the flow lasted right until the final notes without any ritardando or sugary rubato.
The Rondo was played with an almost Mozartian purity and simplicity.The contrasting episodes played with an ease and sense of melodic legato,the spiky staccato breaking the spell in true Beethovenian style.

A full house for today’s recital
The Kalkbrenner Variations based on the B flat mazurka of Chopin I had heard from Tyler on a period instrument that lacked the luminosity and grandeur that today we were treated to on a fine modern day Fazioli concert grand.
The sheer beauty of the cantabile and the delicious fiortiore that cascaded like drops of water around the sumptuous melodic line was something to marvel at indeed.
He made the piano sound like a truly‘Grand’ piano with such a wonderfully warm and rich sonority from which emerged the Chopin mazurka as never before.
The different variations of transcendental difficulty were played with a charm and ease that was quite ravishing.
Maybe Kalkbrenner was right when he suggested that Chopin should study with him for three years to acquire a true technique!
He was after all Chopin’s favourite pianist that he dedicated his Concerto in E minor op 11 to.
Such were the thoughts that passed through my mind as I was seduced and ravished by this young man’s performance as I had been years ago by Bolet and Cherkassky.
The precision of the repeated notes in an explosion of fireworks that brought us to the conclusion was quite breathtaking.
Well now the cat was let out of the bag and the sleezy opening trill and insinuating melody at the opening of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue had an unusually full hall hanging on to every one of the magical notes that Tyler was throwing in their direction.
From the sumptuous big band sounds to the most intimate it was a continuous kaleidoscope of jewels one after the other that held us all spellbound.
Such control and infectious sense of rhythm and the added bass notes at the end were of piano playing of another era.

Tyler obviously enjoying every minute as we were
An ovation from an audience that had not been expecting such wondrous fun.
It led to the cat well and truly being let out of the bag with a racy performance of Zez Confrey’s 1921 classic “Kitten on the Keys.”
I doubt Art Tatum himself could have matched this and the glissandi up and down the keyboard had the audience on their feet in spontaneous admiration for this remarkable young man

St James’s Piccadilly

Tommaso Carlini at St Mary’s

Tommaso Carlini at St Mary’s

Today’s programme
This is the third occasion that Tommaso Carlini has been invited to St Mary’s but the first time I have had a chance to hear him play.
He even played all the Liszt Transcendental Studies in Rome ….when I was in the UK!
A very interesting mainly virtuoso programme very well introduced to a public sadly diminished as the skies opened up today and Summer suddenly became Winter.
It was however the encore that showed off his best qualities, where beauty and range of sound combined with a sense of architecture were poetically portrayed in the first of Liszt’s Years of Pilgrimage in Swizerland – La Chappelle de Guillaume Tell (William Tell‘s Chapel) in C major – For this depiction of the Swiss struggle for liberation Liszt chooses a motto from Schiller as caption, “All for one – one for all.” A noble passage marked lento opens the piece, followed by the main melody of the freedom fighters. A horn call rouses the troops, echoes down the valleys, and mixes with the sound of the heroic struggle.
Some full rich sounds allied to a beautiful sense of shape and colour.
The recital had begun with a little known sonata by C.P.E Bach.
Three short movements played very clearly with some imitation from a telling use of the soft pedal .Very sparse use of the sustaining pedal meant there was very little actual colour or real weight or shape although there was scintillating passage work played with great elan like with a Scarlatti Sonata.

St Mary’s Perivale mecca for pianists
Thalberg’s Gran Caprice sur “La Sonnambula” op 47 is one of the finest of all of Thalberg’s vast output.Clara Schumann noted in her diary:”On Monday Thalberg visited us and played to the delightment beautiful on my piano. An even more accomplished mechanism than his does not exist, and many of his piano effects must ravish the connoisseurs. He does not fail a single note, his passages can be compared to rows of pearls, his octaves are the most beautiful ones I ever heard.
Mendelssohn’s student Horsley wrote of the meeting of his teacher and Thalberg:”We were a trio, and after dinner Mendelssohn asked Thalberg if he had written anything new, whereupon Thalberg sat down to the piano and played his Fantasia from the “Sonnambula” … At the close there are several runs of Chromatique Octaves, which at that time had not previously heard, and of which peculiar passages Thalberg was undoubtedly the inventor. Mendelssohn was much struck with the novel effect produced, and greatly admired its ingenuity … he told me to be with him the next afternoon at 2 o’clock. When I arrived at his study door I heard him playing to himself, and practising continually this passage which had so struck him the previous day. I waited for at least half an hour listening in wonderment to the facility with which he applied his own thoughts to the cleverness of Thalberg’s mechanism, and then went into the room. He laughed and said: ‘Listen to this, is it not almost like Thalberg?”
A fascinating world that Tommaso Carlini showed us today as he took us into the era of the great Parisian salons where Chopin,Liszt,Alkan and Thalberg were treated with much adulation from an aristocratic public looking for ravishment and excitement.
There was even a duel between Liszt and Thalberg where each tried to outshine the other in Princess Belgiojoso’s salon where she declared:” Thalberg is the greatest pianist but there is only one Liszt.”
Tommaso played with great authority, Bellini’s beautiful melody played with a great sense of balance and colour with cascading embellishments of great delicacy.Some really transcendental playing at the end played with great rhythmical urgency and sense of line.
This led very nicely to what the programme describes as a Nocturne on Bellini’s “I Puritani”.It is infact the most poetic piece in a work called “Hexameron” which was pieced together by Liszt with many of the great virtuosi of the day contributing each a variation.
Hexaméron, Morceau de concert S.392 is a collaborative composition for solo piano. It consists of six variations on a theme, along with an introduction, connecting interludes and a finale. The theme is the “March of the Puritans” from Vincenzo Bellini‘s opera I puritani.Princess Cristina Trivulzio Belgiojoso conceived the piece in 1837 and persuaded Franz Liszt to assemble a set of variations of the march along with five of his pianist-friends.
Liszt composed the introduction, second variation, connecting sections and finale, and integrated the piece into an artistic unity. Five well-known composer-performers each contributed one variation: Frédéric Chopin, Carl Czerny, Henri Herz, Johann Peter Pixis and Sigismond Thalberg.
Princess Belgiojoso commissioned Hexaméron–the title refers to the Biblical six days of creation–for a benefit concert for the poor on 31 March 1837 at the princess’s salon in Paris. The musicians did not complete the piece on time, but the concert was held as scheduled. The concert’s highlight was a piano “duel” between Thalberg and Liszt for the title of “greatest pianist in the world.” Princess Belgiojoso announced her diplomatic judgment: “Thalberg is the first pianist in the world–Liszt is unique.”
Beautifully played by Tommaso Carlini with a sonorous bass and a magical melodic line

Dr Hugh Mather congratulating Tommaso Carlini
In fact it was in the more melodic Mazukas op 41 that followed that the 2nd in E minor and 4th in A flat sang so beautifully with great shape and style.
The first in C sharp minor and third in B minor needed more rhythmic drive for this the dance of Chopin’s longed for homeland.
The Vallée d’Obermann followed from the same book of Pilgrimage as William Tell.
A great romantic outpouring inspired by the novel of Senancour “Obermann”, which includes the crucial questions, “What do I want? Who am I? What do I ask of nature?”that preface the score of Liszt’s magnificent tone poem.
Beautifully played with some quite magical moments especially of the appearance of the melody high in the treble register.
Great drama in the first transcendental climax and after the pleading recitativo a gradual build up to the sumptuous climax and explosion of octaves.
The famous Hungarian Rhapsody 6 in D flat was played with all the scintillating virtuosity for which it has become the war horse of the great pianists of past and present.Repeated octaves at breakneck speed
fearlessly played by Tommaso with great panache and technical assurance brought the recital to a exciting conclusion.

instructions for use on the front door – nothing compared to the bathroom!

Dr Mathers faithful helper sorting out the programmes

The Triumph of Agrippina

THE TRIUMPH OF AGRIPPINA
Wonderful production ….superb singers with Joyce Di Donato as Agrippina …..directed from the harpsichord by new superstar Maxim Emelyanychev.
Superb stage direction by Barrie Kosky.
Real direction where the singers become real actors, the skeleton sets merely an insignificant detail.
Unforgettable the hilarious Feydeau type direction when a superb Lucy Crowe tries to hide her suitors one from the other whilst singing magnificently.
Joyce Di Donato is superb throughout but when she takes up her star studded mike and lets rip in a star turn worthy of Barbara Streisand she has a real show stopper on her hands.
But it was the counter tenors that really stole the show.We could only marvel at the Marilyn Horne type quality of voice allied to an agility and volume of sound from Franco Fagioli that had us cheering from the rafters.

The dress rehearsal of Agrippina Friday 20th September
The sound that the conductor created was like a great wave that swept everyone along on its crest.
Allowing his superb players all the freedom they needed from an Orchestra that was indeed “Enlightened,” as their magnificent captain steered them through high and low.
Sudden injections of energy after the calm of Handels beautiful score were like bolts of lightening where sparks were flying high.
What a discovery …….Handel opera is like a refined Rossini opera maybe sacrilege to say but thats how it seemed today!
My first encounter with baroque opera I remember years ago when a young student friend asked if he could put the baroque opera La Calisto on in a semi staged performance in my newly opened theatre in Rome.

The Ghione Theatre in Rome just off St Peter’s Square
I knew many of the orchestra and singers and was delighted to help out.
I let them rehearse right up until performance time thinking there would be a very poor audience.I got an urgent message from the box office that there were so many people the roads around the theatre were blocked.
Rinaldo Alessandrini has since gone on to worldwide recognition for his authentic performances on original instruments.
It is now 30 years later a quite established norm.

The cast list for the Dress Rehearsal Friday 20th September

Joyce Di Donato

super star conductor Maxim Emelyanychev

Mihai Ritivoiu at St John’s Smith Square

Mihai Ritivoiu at St John’s London
A very interesting programme for the lunchtime concert in St John’s Smith Square.
Starting and ending with Couperin but also including one of Chopin’s last works the Polonaise Fantasie op 61 and very interestingly the second mazuka by Thomas Adés .
One of three mazukas written for the Chopin bicentenary and performed by Emanuel Ax in 2010 as a homage to Chopin.
Recently I heard many performances of the mazukas in the rounds of the Busoni competition in Bolzano.
The second as Mihai says in his programme notes where” the transparency and ornamentation also a reveal possible link to Couperin.”
The choice of Le Tic-Toc-Choc from the 18th order of harpsichord pieces by Couperin “as the lively perpetuum mobile could resemble the workings of a clock-like mechanism”.
Ravel ,of course, was obsessed with the intricacy and precision of clocks so it linked up beautifully with his Tombeau de Couperin that concluded this lunchtime recital.
So a very well thought out programme that gave us a survey of music from the 17th century to the present day.
And it was a sound world that was revealed from the very first notes.
The beauty of sound and consummate musicianship throughout the recital gave a wonderful feeling that we were experiencing a musical journey together,
“La Muse Platine” by Couperin that opened the recital was played with a sensitivity and sense of style where the ornaments only added to the expression without disturbing the beautifully shaped musical line.
There may have been a little too much pedal in Le Tic-Toc Choc where the almost mechanincal precision of Sokolov we have marvelled at for a long time.But this was a different view where the rhythmic energy and hypnotic sheens of sound led so well into the music box world of Thomas Adés that was to follow.
In the second Mazurka there were beautifully chiselled sounds but always with velvet gloves leading to the recognisable Mazurka rhythm with violent bass interjections.A rather impish ending and it was all over.
A whole world in a small jewel of sounds just as Chopin had achieved in his own Mazurkas probably the greatest works ever written in this genre.
And it was one of Chopin’s greatest works that was the centre piece of this fascinating recital.
The Polonaise Fantasie I have heard Mihai play over the past five years from the very first time he played it in the masterclass of Richard Goode at the Guildhall.
He subsequently obtained his Masters and Artist Diploma degrees with distinction in the class of that great pedagogue Joan Havill.
His playing has matured and has an assurance that was noticed when he won the Beethoven Competition a few years ago giving a remarkably fine performance of the Appassionata Sonata.
The Polonaise Fanatasy is a very difficult work to play without it seeming like a series of beautiful episodes stuck together in a rather casual manner.
But it is infact one of Chopin’s greatest works where his sense of fantasy is allied to a structure that has a power and direction of great originality.
Here Mihai’s subtle artistry and good taste were brought into evidence as was the sheen of sound where Chopin’s melodic invention was always sustained by the bass and supported by a wonderful sense of harmonic structure.
It allowed for a sumptuous sound and freedom where Chopin’s inspired fantasy could emerge so poetically.
The reappearance of the innocent little melody after the middle section was quite magical.
The gradual lead up to the final outburst was played with an aristocratic nobility and contril that was quite breathtaking.
The final diminuendo was quite ravishing and the final chord in which the bass was in evidence played with a sense of balance and control that only a very mature artist could have sustained.

St John’s Smith Square
Le Tombeau de Couperin by Ravel was written between 1914 and 1917 and each of the six movements is dedicated to friends who Ravel lost in the war.Here was the same sheen of sound that had pervaded the recital and carried us along on the crest of the beautiful wave of sound that Mihai created. The Prélude was played with great precision and clarity and a sense of propulsion where one could almost hear the clockwork mechanism at work.Followed by the melancholy of the fugue played with a luminosity of sound and ending so beautifully.
There was a delicately whispered lilt to the Forlane ,the gentlest of dances.
It contrasted so well with the rhythmic energy of the Rigaudon without ever loosing the sense of colour or style.The nostalgia of the middle section where the melody was allowed to sing over a wave of sumptuous sounds magically disappearing to a whisper before the rude reawakening of the Rigaudon.The Menuet was played with serene charm .
The ‘canopian’ chords were so peacefully portrayed on which the sublime melodic line of the Menuet was allowed to float.
The Toccata was a tour de force of brilliance and control from the innocent repeated notes to the great alternating octave chords of the ending.Even during the beautiful melodic interruptions there was always this constant forward movement that even in the most transcendentally difficult passages was masterly controlled.
One little encore was offered to a very insistent public.
The Chopin prelude op 28 n.4 played like the true poet of the piano that Mihai had revealed thoughout his recital.

Pablo Rossi takes London by storm

Pablo Rossi takes London by storm
It was in december 2005 that passing by the Steinway Hall in London on my way to the Wigmore Hall I saw an old friend Noretta Conci-Leech standing outside ,an elegant cigarette in hand.

The Ghione theatre in Rome a stone’s throw from St Peters Square
She greeted me with such warmth as she was one of the few in England that had learned from the Italian mass media coverage about my wife Ileana Ghione being struck down by a thunderbolt whilst playing Hecuba on stage in her own theatre in the centre of Rome.
I had met Noretta and John 35 years ago when they accompanied their adored Leslie Howard for his Rome debut in our theatre.
How many young musicians have benefitted from the help they have given to young pianists at the difficult start of their careers.
Noretta had been the assistant to Michelangeli for 15 years so she fully appreciated that it is experience of playing allied to great talent that is so important.

Noretta and John looking on so proudly at “their” little boy who had grown up and matured so wonderfully
She invited me in and a young sixteen year old Brazilian boy,whose parents had accompanied him to London,was playing for the newly founded Keyboard Charity Trust.
”Well why does he not come to play in Rome?”
……..and so he did.
Pablo Rossi was accompanied by Noretta and John who had also organised a distinguished group of Roman musician friends that could help advance his career.
Thirteen years on after a long period of study at Moscow Conservatory with Elisso Virsaladze followed by periods of study in Brussels and New York this young talented boy has turned into an artist of great stature.
We were able to celebrate his “coming of age”thanks to the Brazilian Ambassador and especially his great friends Joào Marcos Senise Paes Leme and his wife Vivian who have been inestimable help to him during his formative years here Europe.

Joào Marcos and Vivian Paes Leme
A concert grand in the magnificent Cunard Hall that is part of the Embassy, a stone’s throw from Trafalgar Square in Pall Mall .
Pablo Rossi was invited to celebrate with us some still little known works by Brazilian composers Heitor Villa-Lobos and Claudio Santoro together with much loved works by Chopin and Schumann.
Ending with the fireworks that ignite the Grand Fantasy on the Brazilian National Anthem by Louis Moreau Gottschalk.
”He played beautifully and he really has his own voice.Nothing vain or exhibitionist in his playing.It’s very sincere ,mature and imaginative and it was a pleasure to hear him again.Noretta and John must have been proud to hear him play so well!”
What more can one say except that he put into words so eloquently what we had all felt and appreciated .

An ovation with the Ambassador on his feet ….we tried not to look at Pablo’s
On a lighter note we then went on to discuss the pink sneakers that he chose to wear on this rather formal occasion!
Well no one is perfect!
H.E Ambassador in his brief introduction had explained his wish to further Brazilian music in the world and how much he appreciated the work that Pablo Rossi was doing in that direction.
Infact the first half of the recital was dedicated to little known works by Villa Lobos and Santoro.
A performance of the Prelude from Bachianas Brasileiras n.4 by Villa Lobos opened the programme .
We were immediately aware of his beautiful natural movements at the piano almost like a conductor or sculptor shaping the sounds with the same fluid natural physical movements as the magic that was emanating from this great Yamaha box of tricks.
Hands that seemed to caress the keys with a closing movement that seemed to possess the keys and allowed him to create a kaleidoscope of sounds that are never ugly or brittle.

H.E Ambassador in his brief address of greeting to the large distinguished audience
It was this ,of course that Noretta had noted all those years ago.
You can recognise a real pianist from the way he sits at the piano.
Dexterity and pianistic perfection can be taught with hours of work but real talent and the sense of belonging to the instrument is something that you are born with.
Pablo not only looked like the young Rubinstein but he had the same feeling of belonging infront of the keyboard!
Coming home indeed.
A Villa Lobos opening from the extremely lyrical to noble passion.
The next work was a suite of pieces by the same composer called Children’s Carnival (Carnaval das Crianças).
I have heard the Baby Suite (O prol do bébé) from the hands of Rubinstein and Nelson Freire but this was a complete novelty.

The programme at the Brazilian Embassy
It was indeed a discovery of a suite of eight pieces ,each one depicting a child’s vision and imagination of the Carnival world.
Here was an absolute control of rhythm whilst portraying so vividly the magic .It also had an unrelenting forward movement that gave a great architectural shape to the whole.
Full of charm in “Pierrette’s Morning” and a subtle use of the pedals in “Little Red Riding Hood’s Bell.”
The sheer beauty of “The Sufferings of the Little Ragpicker” and the fantastic world of the “Frolics of a Band of Children” that built to a great climax of transcendental playing spread over the whole keyboard and showed off his complete mastery of colour and characterisation.
The music was allowed to speak in such a direct way in a musical conversation that even a child could understand!

Pablo Rossi born to play the piano
It was in the Chopin 3rd Ballade that this way of caressing the keys was so noticeable.
A much loved work that here was full of sentiment and nobility with an extraordinary sense of line.
Each episode seemed to grow out of the previous in a succession of poetic outpourings culminating in the final climax played with a control that was truly masterly.
A “Fantasia Sul America” by Claudio Santoro was a moto perpetuo of great propulsion with a kaleidoscope of sounds in the middle section
Just the right piece as an interlude between the nobility of Chopin and the poetic depictions of Schumann in his Fantasiestucke op 12.
A very passionate “Aufschwung” after a beautiful opening “Des Abends.”.Full of subtle colouring.
Florestan and Eusebius living happily together in Pablo’s expressive hands.”Warum” was played with such simplicity and “Grillen” so beautifully characterised.

Charming final thank you to those that had helped him
Unrelenting fearlessness in “In der Nacht” with the swirling undercurrent of sounds played with great rhythmic impetus but always allowing space for the melodic line to speak so eloquently.
His story telling in “Fabel” was every bit as eloquent as I remember in the hands of Rubinstein.
A breathless “Traumes Wirren” so rightly entered the stage immediately and was played with a lightness and authority that are of few.
The grandeur of “Ende vom Lied” and the final disintegration of Schumann’s magic world was rudely interrupted by the rumbustous “Grand Fantasy on the Brazilian National Anthem” by Gottschalk .
The beating of the drums and the brass band playing with all the fun of the Circus so vividly depicted with quite breathtaking virtuosity.
It brought this remarkable recital to an end.
Well almost!
Pablo had not forgotten how much he owed Noretta and John Leech as he paid a moving tribute to them infront of his fellow countrymen.
Visibly moved he played the encore that Rubinstein often used to end his recitals with : “Polichinelle” from “O prol do Bébe” by Villa Lobos.
It brought the evening to a moving and scintillating end.

   Noretta Conci Leech                                                         Pablo Rossi                     Sarah Biggs(manager of the keyboard trust) John Leech

Elisabeth Leonskaya – The Oracle Speaks

Elisabeth Leonskaya- The oracle speaks
Elisabeth Leonskaya – Beethoven the Trilogy.
“Overwhelming”is the only word possible for what was shared with us at the end of the Wigmore Hall 250 weekend marathon.
An amazing depth of sound and directness of communication that I have only ever heard a similar orchestral sound from Tatyana Nikolaeva.
Magda Tagliaferro and Youra Gulla spring to mind not only because of their sex but also for the power and directness of the composers message “seemingly”impersonal that they transmitted.
It is in fact a great personal statement but devoid of any external contamination.
The words of André Boucourechliev sums it up so succinctly:
“she scaled the heights achieved only by the greatest not just of today,but of an entire epoch”
It was a privilege to be present and Beethoven`s last great statement on the piano sonata will linger for a long time in the mind and souls of a Wigmore audience who turned out in force for this late night treat.
Playing the opening of op 111 with both hands has no importance when they are in the hands of such a visionary as Leonskaya.
What was a revelation was that each was a gradual crescendo:mf,f and ff as Beethoven has been beseeching us  (it was pointed out to me by Stephen Kovacevich many years ago.He was a disciple of that other great lady Dame Myra Hess).
It was interesting the diminuendo from the chords to the trill in the opening three exclamations and that the flourish is just a reverberation of the chords and the crescendo to the trill is just relative to this.
Maestoso indeed.Grandioso!
It was quite an eye ..or more to the point…. ear opener.
Such food for thought in a true musical feast last night.
Still digesting………and ready to consult the score and relisten to Agosti’s lecture recital in the private DVD made in the theatre in Rome