Streamed live from Zagreb on the 13th November from the Croatian National Archive Hall.Playing a Pleyel of 1911 that Svetislav Stancic acquired in 1924. Stancic ,1895-1970 was pupil of Barth,Ansorge and Busoni in Berlin and became a leggendary Professor at the Zagreb Academy .The International Piano Competition held every 4 years since 1999 is named after him .One of his pupils is Vladmir Krpan,no relation to Ivan , who used to play regularly in Rome in Teatro Ghione.
I have heard Ivan quite a few times since his run away victory in the Busoni Competition at the age of 20 .He has since come under the wing of the Keyboard Trust who offer a career development prize to the Busoni winner and was invited by them to make his London debut in 2018.In 2019 he made his debut in Rome at the Sapienza University and only last January represented his native Croatia in a special concert in the Symphony Hall in Rome to celebrate their Presidency of the European Union.Still only 23 I was very pleased when he told me that his next performance in Zagreb was being streamed live.
He tells me that concerts with social distancing are still taking place and that he had heard a magnificent Maria Jose Pires substitutiong an indisposed Martha Argerich recently in a season that includes two recitals by Ivo Pogrelich who is something of a national hero in Croatia.(www.lisinski.hr/en/) Here are some things that I have written about him over the past three years :
A real thinking musician from a family of musicians.His programmes reflect his thoughts and intellect and had me running to the history books to find out more about the composer Blagoje Bersa and some of these lesser known works of Liszt.
Ivan writes as I knew he would :My idea was to unify the programme with Bach.I started with his original music and finished with Liszt’s interpretation of his music – the variations.Also,the idea of spirituality which is always part of Bach’s music was reflected in Liszt’s pieces Ave Maria and Miserere from his Harmonies.Apart from that ,I think that the Bach variations are very modern and futuristic music which is reflected in Lugubre gondola,the piece inspired by Wagner and Venice.And then it was interesting to me how the same inspiration of Venice for Bersa and Liszt can have have a totally different outcome in their music.Finally,The Schubert song also has the same barcarolle like atmosphere so that was also a link between Bersa and Schubert/Liszt.The opening of both are strikingly similar”
J.S.Bach Partita n.2 BWV 826 Sinfonia-Allemande-Courante-Sarabande-Rondeaux-Capriccio- B .Bersa Venetian Barcarolle op 58-Schubert/Liszt Der Muller und der Bach S 565-F.Liszt Ave Maria S 173/2 from Harmonies Poétiques e Religieuses- F.Liszt La lugubre gondola S.200/1-F.Liszt Miserere d’après Palestrina S.173/8- F.Liszt Variations on a theme of Bach Weinen,Klagen,Sorgen,Zagen S.180 and encores of Chopin Prelude op 28 n.13,Schumann Arabesque op 18 Bach/Busoni Ich ruf zu dir
The six partitas for keyboard form the last set of suites that Bach composed, and are the most technically demanding of the three sets that include the French and English suites.They were composed between 1725 and 1731.Although each of the Partitas was published separately under the name Clavier-Ubung (Keyboard Practice), they were subsequently collected into a single volume in 1731 with the same name, which Bach himself chose to label his Opus 1.
Some very fine playing in which Ivan chose to give us Bach’s notes with a simplicity and purity of tone.There was no attempt at imitating the change of register as is so often the case.Here Bach’s ‘knotty twine’ was allowed to speak for itself with noble phrasing and a rhythmic impetus that carried us from the opening noble Grave of the sinfonia through the mellifluous Andante to the buoyancy and clarity of voicing in the Allegro.The Allemande seemed to flow so naturally out of this seemless stream of sounds and was played with a deeply moving simplicity.Art that conceals art indeed.Respect,simplicity,integrity and a transcendental technical command are what Bach demands.
Bach’s music is universal and Bach on the piano is and must be completely different from the harpsichord ,organ or human voice.No superficial imitation is needed to allow Bach’s mathematical jigsaw puzzle to ring out with the same nobility and belief for which it was written.The forward movement in 3/2 of the Courante was the perfect foil for the very subtle voicing of the Sarabande.The clarity and buoyancy of the Rondeaux was joined to the gentle nobility of the final Capriccio.The rhythmic energy transmitted from the very first to the very last note was exhilarating and at the same time purifying.The scene was now set for the great Romantic sounds that this young man could conjure out of this old but still very vibrant Pleyel piano.
The programme continued with Blagoje Bersa’s Venetian Barcarolle op 58.A work that had me rushing to the history books to find out more about this completely unknown composer to me:
BLAGOJE BERSA (1873 – 1934) was a composer of symphonic music, operas and songs, as well as chamber and piano works, He was undoubtedly one of the central figures of Croatian musical life at the turn of the 20th century. Born in Dubrovnik into a family of passionate amateur musicians, Bersa learned to play the piano by participating in performances with members of his family. He received his primary education in Zadar, Vienna and Trieste, and from 1893 to 1896 he studied music in Zagreb with Ivan Zajc, the renowned Croatian opera composer. From 1896 to 1899 he studied piano in Vienna with Julius Epstein and composition with Robert Fuchs (who also taught Gustav Mahler and Jean Sibelius). In 1902, he was appointed conductor at the theatre of Graz, and from 1911 to 1918 he worked as artistic counsellor and arranger at the publishing house L. Doblinger. After the end of the First World War, Bersa returned permanently to Croatia and from 1922 he taught composition and instrumentation at the Music Academy in Zagreb—a position he held until his death in 1934.
Ivan writes :”Bersa was a Croatian composer who wrote a lot of piano miniatures like the one I played.My Professor Ruben Dalibaltayan recorded all of them a few years ago and you will find them on line” youtu.be/KbgHONiebLY
A beautifully lyrical piece with a nationalistic flavour full of tradition and nostalgia.Almost conjuring the equivalent feel of the Mazuka of Poland transferred to Croatia.A miniature tone poem of song,dance and passionate outbursts.It was played with mouthwatering colours and real romantic fervour .The final farewell played with heartrending feeling and barely whispered sounds of great fluidity.Dare I say a piece of great effect which had me wanting to hear more to understand if it was real or superficial sentiment.
“Der Müller und der Bach” -“The Miller and the Brook”: “Oh dear little brook, you mean so well – but do you know what love does to you?” The hopeless Miller turns to the Brook in his heartbreak. The Brook answers with comforting and poetic words of love conquering pain. Resigned and exhausted, the Miller submits himself to the Brook’s ‘cool rest’. From “Die Schone Mullerin” song cycle by Schubert .Liszt transcribed six of the twenty songs for piano and it was the 19th of the original cycle that Ivan played today.Following straight on without a break from the Bersa Barcarolle the magic continued.A beautiful melodic line in the tenor register transferring to the soprano with such sumptuous sounds and a magical sense of colour.You could see the involvement on Ivan’s face and certainly hear from his totally commited performance finding some extraordinary romantic sounds from within this old Pleyel.
The Ave Maria and Miserere d’après Palestrina are the 2nd and 8th works in Liszt’s cycle of ten pieces under the title ‘Harmonies Poétiques et Religieuses’.I quote from Ivan’s own learned words:Ave Maria is the second movement of Liszt’s cycle Harmonies Poétiques et Religieuses. It is his piano arrangement of an earlier work for choir and organ. In this music you can hear how deep Liszt understood every word of this Christian prayer and reflected that in his music. It is very interesting to observe how in this overall simplicity of the piece, piano is used to invoke the meaning and character of every word of the prayer which Liszt, in the manner of vocal music writing, puts in the piano score. All the different nuances of text’s meaning are present in the music. The sound and emotional quality of this piece is not only used to give an effect and atmosphere but also to convey deeper spiritual messages. I can give one example here regarding the use of una corda pedal. Through the piece Liszt insists on using una corda often writing sempre una corda. In fact, almost the whole piece is played using una corda pedal. There are only three instances where he writes tre corde and when you look at those you’ll see that it all has a deeper meaning: the first place is on the text Dominus tecum (The Lord is with thee), second on the text Jesus, and the third on the text Mater Dei (Mother of God). It is as if Liszt is highlighting the three most important places in the prayer using the full sound of the instrument only there. As you can see, those three places are the only ones where God’s name is invoked. It is truly fascinating to observe details like that and to come closer to the ideas Liszt had in mind while composing this music.” And Ivan brought all this and more with playing of extreme delicacy and almost obsessive pleading with the same notes even resounding isolated in the final moving moments.A totally convinced and convincing interpreter that make one reassess the generally held view of Liszt the showman of the sparkling brilliance of his earlier works.
Never more so than with the ‘ lugubre Gondola’ S 200/1 which followed the ‘Ave Maria’ without a break.Liszt was Richard Wagner’s guest in the Palazzo Vendramin on the Grand Canal in Venice in late 1882. Liszt may have had a premonition there of Wagner’s death which inspired the first version of the work.Wagner died in Venice on February 13, 1883, and the long funeral procession to Bayreuth began with the funeral gondola to Venice’s Santa Lucia railway station. Liszt was by now almost certainly considering the piece to be a Wagner memorial,The sheer desolation over a rumbling bass of a single motif – as in Scriabin later – building to a tumultuous passionate outpouring and insistence of almost unbearable tension that just evaporated into thin air .The contemplative ‘Miserere d’après Palestrina’ was noted down by Liszt as a work of Palestrina which he heard performed in the Sistine Chapel. However, Palestrina has absolutely nothing to do with the odd melody of the motet which Liszt has collected and elaborated with tremolo and arpeggio variations.After the solemn contemplation there is a sudden burst of effusive sounds over the whole keyboard played with total conviction.From here he plunged straight into the mighty ‘Weinen Klagen’ variations with which he ended the concert.
“This massive set of variations was written by Franz Liszt in 1862, a very difficult time in his life. Two of Liszt’s three children had died within three years of each other;this was written after the death of his daughter Blandine when he had resigned his position of Kapellmeister to the court of Weimar due to continued opposition to his music These variations, whose title roughly translates as ‘weeping, plaints, sorrows, fears,’ are based on a theme from a Bach cantata of the same name, and display throughout radically chromatic harmonies suggesting anguish and despair. A fierce introduction leads to the theme and 43 variations, followed by a chromatic development in the shape of a recitative, and then a group of freer, faster variations, culminating with the choral ‘Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan’ (which also ends Bach’s cantata) and a brief coda in which the two themes are juxtaposed.It was one of the last pieces that the ninety year old Perlemuter had on his music stand and it is indeed an extraordinary work.Played by Ivan with great control and a fearless technical prowess as he embarked on the left hand octaves and then the enormous waves of sound across the entire keyboard.To be greeted by the simplicity of the final choral played with a luminous sound that led to the final ecstatic declaration of faith with which it ends.
The simplicity of the Chopin prelude op 28 n.13 in F sharp major offered as an encore was played with the same luminosity of sound and an exquisite sense of balance leading to the mellifluous flowing Arabesque of Schumann.It was played with an aristocratic sense of line where the wondrous sounds that he found in the coda were a reminder of the magical ending that Schumann often gives to the piano at the end of his songs.Music can and does reach where words are just not enough.Insistent applause was rewarded with an parting declaration of faith with the Choral Prelude by Bach in Busoni’s transcription :”Ich ruf zu dir ” I call on You my Lord-Please I beg You hear my crying
A truly humbling experience .An intelligence and maturity way above his 23 years he is an artist destined to thrill and move a waiting world for many years to come.