Luke Jones at Steinway Hall London for the Keyboard Charitable Trust
I have heard Luke Jones many times since Carlo Grante used to send me recordings of a remarkable young boy who had come to study with him in Campobasso in the mid-south of Italy.
From an early age he was taught at Chethams by the Head of Keyboard Murray McLachlan.
A strange twist of fate that whilst Luke was playing for the KCT in London Iyad Sughayer was playing for them in Steinway Hall in New York.
He too had studied from an early age with Murray McLachlan and like Luke had gone on to study at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.
Even more curious was that the daughter of the founder Caroline von Reitzenstein was celebrating Iyad Sughayer’s birthday as her father was celebrating mine in London.
In London Angela Ransley and Sasha Grynyuk had prepared a special Happy Birthday duet which incorporated Chopin,Debussy,Art Tatum and much else besides.
It followed their recent success in Angela Ransley’s ‘Echoes of Dead Voices ‘ at Foyles Performing Space
As Iyad was celebrating in New York after his ‘beautiful’ recital at Steinway Hall in New York
Whilst we were celebrating the equally beautiful recital of Luke Jones in London
An evening of extraordinary piano playing from this now 24 year Welsh pianist from Wrexham.Perfecting his studies with that renowned pianist and pedagogue Dina Parakhina.
After a recital of absolute authority and total command of the keyboard she confided to me that in her opinion here was the next contender to the Tchaikowsky Gold Medal in Moscow.
I think there can be little doubt amongst those present in Steinway Hall that here was the infallible authority of a John Lill or a Peter Donohoe combined to the poetry of a Barry Douglas that had won them all the coveted Gold Medal in Moscow.
Not quite the sumptuous romantic sounds of a Van Cliburn………….but his performance of Mompou revealed colours and atmospheres of the most sensitive of stylists.
It was ‘The Landscapes’ by Mompou that opened Luke’s very original programme.
Full of intoxicating colours and hazy sounds realised with a seemingly infallible touch – the wrist held noticeably low and the fingers pointing at the keys as a pointilesse painter might have pointed his brush at a canvas.
It is hardly surprising that the French critic Emile Vuillermoz proclaimed Mompou “the only disciple and successor” to Claude Debussy. Mompou himself often performed his own compositions, but only at private soirees, never in public.
Mompou had heard Fauré perform in Barcelona when he was nine years old, and his music and performing style had made a powerful and lasting impression on him. He had a letter of introduction to Fauré from Enrique Granados, but it never reached its intended recipient.
He entered the Conservatoire (with another Spaniard, José Iturbi), but studied with Isidor Philipp ,head of the piano department. His extreme shyness, introspection and self-effacement meant that he could not pursue a solo career, but chose to devote himself to composition instead.
British pianist Martin Jones has recorded the complete piano works of Mompou for Nimbus, including those unpublished in Mompou’s lifetime, many of which were discovered when his apartment was cleared out in 2008.
Just last week Giancarlo Simonacci played for Roma 3 University the 28 pages of piano music of Mompou together with 28 pictures by Mirò.
I remember Guido Agosti looking aghast when Jack Krichaf dared bring a piece by Mompou to his masterclass in Siena!
How times have changed when here was a strapping young welsh man conjuring magic colours out of the air with the delicacy and icedrop precision of a Michelangeli.
The three pieces make up this suite written between 1942 and 1960 ( Mompou died in 1987 aged 94.)
In 1957, aged 64, he married the pianist Carmen Bravo (1923– 2007) She was 30 years his junior. It was the first marriage for both of them and they had no children.After her death in 2007 about 80 unpublished and hitherto unknown works were discovered in Mompou’s files at his home.
A fascinatimg discovery of almost unknown miniatures that when played with the intelligence, style and kaleidoscope of colours as tonight one can well understand the advocacy of an artist of the stature of Alicia de Larrocha programming his music long before Volodos or Trifonov.
It was fascinating to hear another rarely played piece immediately after with the Sonata n.9 op 30 by Medtner.
Here Luke’s absolute control and extraordinary sense of line was a very persuasive advocate for a Sonata that even Leslie Howard in his interval speech had to admit that it must be at least 20 years since he had heard this work.
It is thanks to Dina Parakhina that her students regularly play all the sonatas of Medtner.
I remember hearing Edna Iles his devoted pupil playing Medtner after a performance of the Liszt Sonata in the Festival Hall.
A younger contemporary of Sergei Rachmaninov and Alexander Scriabin, he wrote a substantial number of compositions, all of which include the piano. His works include fourteen piano sonatas, three violin sonatas, three piano concerti, a piano quintet, two works for two pianos, many shorter piano pieces, a few shorter works for violin and piano, and 108 songs including two substantial works for vocalise. His 38 Skazki (generally known as “Fairy Tales” in English but more correctly translated as “Tales”) for piano solo contain some of his most original music.
I have often described Medtner to people that ask me about him as Rachmaninov without the tunes!
As unjust as Agosti’s opinion of Mompou I am ashamed to say!
Esteemed in England, he and his wife settled in London in 1936, modestly teaching, playing and composing to a strict daily routine.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, Medtner’s income from German publishers disappeared, and during this hardship ill-health became an increasing problem.
His devoted pupil Edna Iles gave him shelter in Warwickshire where he completed his Third Piano Concerto, first performed in 1944.
Medtner died at his home, 69 Wentworth Road, Golders Green, London in 1951, and is buried alongside his brother Emil in Hendon Cemetery.
It is curious to note that the one-movement Ninth Sonata in A minor, Op. 30, was published without a title but was known as the “War Sonata” among Medtner’s friends; a footnote “during the war 1914-1917” appeared in the 1959 Collected Edition.
The Sonata n.8 by Prokofiev which filled the second half of this fascinating programme is the last of the trilogy of “War Sonatas” – written during the second world war.
It is a monumental work which received its first performance from Emil Gilels in 1944.
Here was a meticulous attention to detail and the crystal clear clarity,sense of line and rhythmic impetus made up for any slight imperfections in this marathon work.Such was his architectural vision and sense of colour that any other considerations were swept away by his sheer conviction and total command of the keyboard.
Having heard Gilels many times I miss here and in the Medtner the sumptuous sound of a really grand piano that was so much part of the great russian school where the bass sustains the upper registers in an overall cocoon of voluptuous sounds.
But the extraordinary clarity and precision of Luke today made for a very persuasive case indeed.
In the newly renovated Steinway Hall this magnificent concert grand needed more space to breathe as its infinite possibilities are stifled by the distance the sound has to travel.
After all the art of a great actor is to use his diaphram to allow his voice to fly into the most distant crevaces long before the invention of acoustically assisted sound.
The Venetians of course knew the secret as I was told on a tour by the technicians of La Fenice before it was burnt to the ground.
Under the orchestral pit there are one and a half meters of glass.
The Venetians knew full well the value and quality of their glass !
It was infact a truly magical performance by Luke in Manchester of Brahms Paganini Variations that had me wishing for more space to allow the sounds to go on their journey unimpeded.
A Prelude in G from book 2 of the Well Tempered Klavier was like a lemon sorbet after a sumptuous meal.
What a treat to see a very talented young boy maturing into a great artist respected and groomed by his renowned mentor to aim for the stars.