It was last April that I was able to hear Andrzej Wiercinski in the young pianist’s Mecca of St Mary’s Perivale in London.It gave me great pleasure to read my impressions before listening to the recital streamed from the remarkable 75th Duszniki International Chopin Festival in Poland .I had heard Federico Colli and Dmitri Alexeev both give superb performances- by coincidence on their birthdays.Arcadi Volodos’s concert that I was so looking forward to hearing again after Rome last february was not streamed.(I have included my impressions below from his performance in Rome last February)
So I was a little apprehensive to listen to a young pianist in such august company. I need not have been because he offered a recital of such refined good taste and clarity of both musical thought allied to a purity of sound.It reminded me of a study weekend by Rome University dedicated to the art of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli with the title “Every note a drop of crystal”.In fact it was this very clear crystal clean sound that reminded me more of the young Tamas Vasary and the Hungarian school of Dohnyani of Geza Anda or Andor Foldes.A clarity and intelligence allied to a sense of colour and architecture that in a way is the opposite of that other Hungarian school, that of Liszt which is all sturm und drang and fireworks when not seeking eternal grace!
After a long programme that included three of the greatest works for the piano:The Bach/Busoni Chaconne,Chopin 4th Ballade and 4th Scherzo it was in the second of three encores that the heavens truly opened with a sublime performance of the Prelude in B minor by Bach/Siloti.It was here that one held one’s breath as he barely touched the keys ,dusting them with the same beautiful movements as the sounds he was creating.A transcendental control of sound allied to such a refined subtle musicality that when the choral melody floated into view it was as if on some magic cloud where we could indeed catch a glimpse of the angels that we admire in the Italian Renaissance frescos of divine faith.
The other two encores were by Chopin,of course.
The Polonaise op 53 ‘Heroique’ that I remembered from his performance last April in London.Truly aristocratic playing of such clarity and intelligence.Shorn of all the rhetoric that some pianists seem to think belong to the so called Chopin tradition but at the same time played with a wondrous sense of colour and style.After the amazing precision of the military who enter on his left (slightly too fast for my taste but nevertheless astonishing) dissolving into the most mellifluous and sensually shaped melodic line with a flexibility of subtle contrapuntal colours that shone like a prism in this pianist’s poetic hands.It led to the final triumphant declaration played with true passionate control.The last encore was of the young virtuoso Chopin who would astonish the salons of the day with his refined artistry as we today were astonished and seduced by this young man who at 23 is the same age as the young Chopin when he composed these Variazioni Brillanti op 12
A young man who is obviously following in the footsteps of his compatriot Krystian Zimmerman as was wonderfully evident from the very first notes of the Bach/Busoni Chaconne or even more so in Chopin’s Fourth Ballade and Scherzo and the Four Mazurkas op 24.
From the first notes of the Chaconne there was a subtle sense of balance and the same crystal clear sound that mesmerised my generation when Michelangeli’s famous recording became available.It was always very difficult to hear Michelangeli live in London as he cancelled more concerts than he gave such was his striving for the pianistic and technical perfection that even he could only achieve on rare occasions.Andrzej was a much more classical approach than Federico Colli but both had the same forward impetus that is fundamental to its architectural shape.Federico taking slightly more risks and time in a performance of a real stylist .Andrzej on the other hand kept a stricter control and took less liberties .But both had a great sense of colour and majesty as befits one of the greatest works that Bach ever conceived.Busoni brought it to the piano but with the same grandeur and virtuosity that Bach had given to the solo violin.It is a true recreation rather than a trascription.Andrzej followed Busoni’s very precise indications to the letter from the ‘misurato’ octaves to the grandiose’ largamente marcatissimo con bravura’ climax of the first great cadenza dissolving to a ‘dolce espressivo’ and’ sostenuto’ of almost religious tranquility.The gentle almost distant murmur of the solo violin was enhanced by the magic appearance in the tenor voice ‘poco marcato e tenuto’. Leading to the first great climax in which all the organ stops are suddenly interrupted by the poignant stillness ‘quasi tromboni’ memorably played by Andrzej.The long pedal note that followed showed a masterly control as did the build up to the final triumphant appearance of the opening theme .Always played with a complete control of sound and a maturity way beyond his years.
The Nocturne in B major op 62 n.1 was played with a loving care for detail and a sumptuous delicacy, beautifully shaped with an aristocratic rubato of refined taste. The change to A flat was pure magic and the final pages were full of the same beauty as in the Barcarolle op 60 -The final chords were of a heartrending nostalgia of someone never wanting to say goodbye.
The Fourth Ballade opened on this magic cloud of sound and the slight emphasis on the final thumb notes prepared the way for the simplicity of the theme that follows where he seemed to caress the keys .This is obviously a young man in love with the sounds that he can coax out of this box of hammers and strings.His sense of legato too in the most intricate passages allowed the music to sing in a most natural way.The gradual build up to the final climax before the coda was masterly.The final five gentle chords were a prelude to the trancendentally difficult coda that was played with a wonderful sense of line.
The four mazukas op 24 were played with a flexibility and sense of rhythm that brought these gems to life as is rarely heard in the concert hall.Every detail that Chopin so carefully indicates was scrupulously noted – from the pedal at the end of op 24 n.3 to the indications of calando,mancando smorzando of the final bars of op 24 n.4.Played with a great feeling for style they were uplifting and heartrending, nostalgic even but never sentimental.
The Fourth Scherzo too was played like the great song that it is with its impish interruptions thrown off with fleeting lightness that contrasted with the beautifully shaped melodic line of the central section.The gradual build up to the final triumphant climax was masterly judged and brought the official part of the programme to an end .
— Thursday, 11 April 2019
Wonders will never cease it would appear in Poland.The 75th anniversary of the Duszniki International Chopin Festival that has been streamed so perfectly into my home for the past two days.Federico Colli’s beautiful recital and now Dmitri Alexeev.
It is thanks to Federico that I have stumbled upon this gem of a festival that will fulfill and delight the lack of live concerts in this strange new world that has been thrust upon us.Federico Colli and Dmitri Alexeev both won the Leeds International Competition with about 37 ears between them .2012 and 1975.Their birthdays are both this week and celebrated with concerts in Poland.
I have missed the first few recitals that have included Avdeeva and Nehring(they can still be heard on you tube I believe) and now that I know I will certainly not miss Volodos live on the 13th.
However I cannot imagine anything could have prepared me for the recital of Dmitri Alexeev.Playing of such authority,sumptuous beauty and supreme intelligence .He bears the weight of maturity like the truly great artist he is.A simplicity,directness and generosity that is seductive and overwhelming.He too was visibly moved when at the end of his recital the whole audience stood up to sing to him in Polish- I imagine a tradition of thanksgiving for great occasions such as this.
I have written about Alexeev last year when he played for the Chopin society in London.How could I forget the occasions when he came to play for us at the Ghione Theatre in Rome and the distinguished pianist and jury member Annarosa Taddei exclaiming that this was better than S. Cecilia or the Filarmonica!He was a favourite of Lanza Tommasi who directed the Rome Rai Orchestra and often invited Alexeev and many other great musicians such as Tortelier that were excluded for lack of space from Rome.His Rachmaninov 3rd Piano Concerto will never be forgotten for its almost animal partecipation,sumptuous beauty and astonishing virtuosity.He won the Leeds piano competition in 1975. 2nd and 3rd prizes were awarded to Mitsuko Uchida and Andras Schiff – no comment is necessary.Alexeev has chosen to dedicate a large part of his musical life to teaching in London where he holds a very special place at the Royal College of Music.I know some of the students who are starting to have important careers thanks to the care and mentoring of the Alexeev’s.They have a lot to answer for and we are all truly grateful to them- his wife is the distinguished pianist and teacher Tatiana Sarkissova.
The programme was made up of Schumann,Chopin and Scriabin and so was obviously a celebration of the true poets of the piano.
From the very first notes of the Arabeske op 18 after the intial shock of his almost improvisatory opening it turned into total absorption with how this was plasmatised into an ever changing world of sounds that seemed to derive one from the other.The great fantasy, sense of colour and very subtle bass notes that were not always sincronised with the treble were like a great poet playing with sounds and inflections searching for the truth behind them that could transmit the real secret meaning.A world totaly understood by Alexeev, as I had remember years ago from his CD of the works of Schumann, but now with a liberty and understanding that comes with maturity and living with works for a lifetime.A very fine line that for those that cannot do less than climb onto the tightrope without fear of falling or worse- self indulgence!All or nothing indeed.As Cherkassky exclaimed in Le Monde de la Musique a few years ago when asked to describe what he does:”Je resens,je joue,je transmets”
Infact all through the recital there seemed to be so much time – all those who have heard Rubinstein will know what I mean- but then at a crucial moment a sudden change into fifth gear that is overwhelming.The coda ‘zum schluss’ of the Arabeske was as sublime as the ending of Schumann’s Dichterliebe where words are just not enough to express the deep inner feeling that only music can fulfill.
The opening of the Symphonic Studies had great weight from the bass which gave such depth and colour especially when the thumb of the right hand was slightly more prominant that the top notes.It led so naturally into the rhythmic bass of the first variation but still giving so much time to all the most detailed instructions that Schumann implores.The second variation was played with an aristocratic passion with seemingly endless time to find every secret hidden in the notes.The final C sharp played quite forcefully gave the strong link to the third study that floated in on this note like some wondrous butterfly.The usual strident chords of the third variation were given unusual shape and meaning and the slight rhythmic hesitation in the fourth was an unforgettable touch.Plunging into the fifth with great passion but never forgetting the melodic line in the tenor register with a duet slightly hinted at with the bass.A quite transcendental example of piano playing.The Sixth variation was played with great rhythmic impetus but with such subtle variety of sounds that gave an architectural shape to a piece that in lesser hands can sound quite monotonous and mechanical.This prepared the ground for the great Gothic Cathedral – to use Guido Agosti’s words- of the seventh variation.
But no, here Alexeev had chosen to insert the five optional posthumous studies that were played with delicacy and breathtaking beauty.The fifth of these that is perhaps the most magical and sounds like a music box was unusually brought to a great climax that provided the link back to the seventh variation before it had been so magically interrupted. The presto possible was thrown off with great lightness that contrasted so well with the chordal eighth.The beautiful ninth variation was a true belcanto duet with the left hand accompanying so magically and the melodic line allowed all the freedom to move as the branches of a tree in the breeze (to use Chopin’s own words) .The finale was played with great aplomb and the integration of part of the first edition changes was a very pleasant surprise.Again it was the total control of sound that never allowed for any hardness even the drop in tone before the final triumphant fanfare was truly masterly.
During the interval on line we had been treated to the programmes of some of the concerts of the past 75 years of the festival.
Two Chopin works from the first to almost the last .The Rondo op 1 was played with a clarity and an infectious mazuka rhythm and was played with the same irrisistible charm that the young Chopin must have used in the salons of the day.
From the very first bass note of the Barcarolle op 60 there was no doubt that we were in the presence of a true master.A Barcarolle like the great outpouring of song that makes it one of Chopin’s greatest works where the word percussive just does not exist.The change to A major created a magic where the melody seemed to float on a wave of sound.The ‘dolce sfogato’ – Perlemuter wrote in my score years ago :’this is heaven’.And indeed in Alexeev’s hands it was.All the time in the world for the ‘leggiero pianissimo’ that Ravel loved so much with even the final pedaling of Chopin incorporated into the final bar in this masterly performance.
Alexeev has been recording recently all the works of Scriabin and gave us a sample of Scriabin’s early almost Chopinesque style with four preludes op 22 .The slightly more virtuosistic style of the Valse op 38 through to the brooding troubled waters of the Poems op 69.This led to the insistent obsessive cry of Vers la flamme op 72.The continual repeated notes of the star in anguish were played with terrifying conviction.
After a waltz, I presume by Scriabin, the whole audience stood and sang in hommage and to thank this great artist for what he had shared so generously and unstintingly with them.Actually it was the Polish equivalent of Happy Birthday (Sto lat- may you live 100 years)
A Liszt arrangement of one of Chopin’s songs was thrown off with great elan -a Bachanal indeed .The final glissando had the audience this time cheering their hero and solicited the most beautiful of all Chopin Mazukas- op 63 n. 2 in F minor
Unforgettable …please listen at your leasure ………..below is the link.
Wonderful recital by Federico Colli streamed live from Poland.