Bela Hartmann at St James’s

Some remarkable playing from this disciple of Elisso Virdsaladze.

Of Czech-German origin although now based in the UK his recital for Opus Musica series directed by Alberto Portugheis was a revelation of authority,intelligence and supreme sensitivity.

The small socially distanced audience were mesmerised by magisterial performances of Bach and Beethoven.

Never have I heard this Fazioli piano,that had been chosen some years ago by Alberto Portugheis, sound so sumptuous in the bass yet so luminous in the treble with a middle register that could only be compared to the finest of Bechstein pianos.

Throwing down the gauntlet from the very first work on the programme: The Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue by Bach.It was immediately played with assertive authority almost too aggressive until a miracle occurred with the beautiful modulation dissolving into the most subtly coloured arpeggios with very deep added bass notes that just seemed to open up endless possibilities of sound.

They were not ‘alla Busoni’ but so subtle one was hardly aware of this magician’s trick of finding the key that could make the whole piano glow with astonishing radiance.

The recitativos were so expressive and were answered by chords that were listening and entering into this musical conversation too.A feeling of great nostalgia in the coda coming to rest for a moment’s peace on a major chord full of hope.

It was out of this chord that the fugue subject emerged and was played with a delicacy and clarity that was quite formidable in its audacity and complete technical command.There was a jewel like perfection to the fugue as he brought this opening work to an eventual tumultuous end.

Beethoven’s song-cycle’ An die ferne Geliebte’ (‘To the Distant Beloved’) was completed in 1816 and dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz. The words of the six songs that form the work were by a young medical student, Alois Jeitteles, and were perhaps commissioned by the composer.

They express a mood of longing and resignation as reflected in Liszt’s feelings as he made the transcription in 1849. Bela pointed out before playing the the four he had chosen( from the cycle of six) of Liszt’s admiration for Beethoven and where his piano version tries only to make still clearer the essential unity of the cycle.Some have criticised Liszt but as Bela pointed out it is an effective guide and model for later composers and no greater compliment could Liszt have offered to the man he had built a monument to!

The beautiful cantabile was deeply moving as the radiant colours that Bela drew from the piano became ever more full of fervour.There was a luminosity of sound of such subtle magic and Beethoven’s eventual meanderings were played with an irresistible nonchalance.The melodic line appearing in the tenor register and taken over with glowing sounds by the treble.The final poetic declamations were played with a charm and rhythmic sense of forward movement.

It opened the door for the outpouring of song with which Beethoven’s Sonata op 101 opens.One voice answered another in a subdued conversation of magical sounds that led to almost unbearably serious chords that at once dissolved into jewels of mellifluous beauty.

The second movement was played with great rhythmic fervour but even here there were the magic pedal points of Beethoven with his sudden outbursts of dramatic contrasts brought to the fore.

The clarity and beauty of the parts in the middle section was a wonder of technical control-indeed that of a true poet- and the gradual build up to the repeat of the first section was indeed masterly.

Removing his spectacles for the poignant’ Adagio ,ma non troppo,con affetto’,it was evident of his devotion to this most sublime but all too short introduction to the final Presto/Allegro.

An astonishing sense of legato almost eliminated bar lines as the piano was allowed to sing in such a lovingly natural way.Beethoven’s dissonances were allowed to speak for themselves without any exaggerations as the magic of the opening Allegretto was recreated for a moment as in a dream before the final relentless forward motion of the last movement.

It was played with real Beethovenian fervour .The almost pastoral aspirations were allowed to bounce along like a breath of fresh air and the slight hesitations in the fugato were very telling indeed.Leading after some perfect meanderings to the glorious triumphant ending.

A small but very enthusiastic audience was rewarded with a Viennese waltz almost Schubertian with a touch of help from Godowsky.On further investigation it turned out to be Bela’s own transcription of a waltz by Brahms.

Barely an hour of live music but as Shakespeare said ‘If music be the food of love,play on’

Béla Hartmann studied with Elisso Virdsaladze and Vadim Suchanov in Munich, as well as the celebrated Cyprot pianist Nicolas Economou. He continued his studies with John Bingham at Trinty College of Musc , London, where he was the recipient of several college prizes, as well as winning an award from the Tillett Trust in 1996. Whilst at Trinity, he was selected to represent the college at the launch of the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe. He has given recitals at prestigious venues in several European cities, as well as the USA, where he appeared at the Carnegie Recital Hall, New York. In London he has played in venues such as thePurcell Room Wigmore Hall, St Martin-in-the-Fields, St James’ Piccadilly andSt John’s Smith Square. Béla Hartmann has performed widely for music societies in Wales, Scotland and England, and Germany (Gasteig, Munich), theCzech Republc (Estate Theatre, Prague) and Switzerland, and has given highly acclaimed concerto performances around the UK of concertos by Mozart, Beethoven, Dvorak, Brahms and ProKofIev. His playing has been broadcast onBBC Radio 3 as well as on German and Luxemburg radio. Béla Hartmann has given several masterclasses and teaches regularly at bothTrinty College of Music and the Royal College of Music Junior departments.

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