Alexandre Kantorow takes the Philharmonie de Paris by storm

Sensational is the only word to describe Kantorow streamed live from the Philharmonie de Paris.Wondrous playing of such ravishing beauty and passionate drive.
Brahms Ballades reminded me of Michelangeli’s magic that he brought to the Festival Hall on one of his rare visits to London.
But then a Rachmaninov first sonata that I never thought of as a great work until today.
An unbelievably majestic Bach Chaconne played as only a great musician could understand the line as carved out by Brahms for the left hand alone.The final bars played with sumptuous rich sound where the big bass notes were only allowed to illuminate the final great chaconne .
Ending not in triumph but almost in anger as he glared at the last chord as if to say: ‘if looks could kill I would gladly die having discovered such a masterpiece of creation.’


Not since Zimerman have I heard such richness,purity and meaning from the piano and he was mentored by Artur Rubinstein.Those who heard Rubinstein live will forever search for that sound that was his alone.
Today I have found it.


Wonderful cinematic unobtrusive camera work just added to the atmosphere.
Available on the Philharmonie de Paris web site thanks to Medici and on line still.

https://live.philharmoniedeparis.fr/concert/1121222/?fbclid=IwAR3VCdxDHhFRFN9eLoeUXaZ6dYnZ-FpLxsjXzxlT57DjoDt-oB-iXArcs30

What great temperament in the Brahms Ballades of such sumptuous beauty .The passionate outburst of the third,contrasting steely precision with sounds of pure magic.A plain chant that seemed to appear from nowhere was interrupted by a magic bell pealing.The fourth I will never forget as he revealed such unearthly sounds from a beautifully mellifluous melodic line miraculously accompanied by detached notes of featherlight delicacy.A deeply moving melodic line in the tenor register answered by the angels above with a deep rumbling bass of almost unbearable intensity and beauty.I was reminded of Michelangeli’s legendary performance in London years ago.

I would never have thought that the Rachmaninov first sonata could have such overwhelming drama with an opening of such ominous foreboding that gave way to wondrous luminous sounds.Notes that seemed to spin out of his hands like a golden web of subtle brilliance and just added kaleidoscopic colour to such a clarity of line.There was a seductive beauty to the sound with a wondrous sense of balance that never excluded dramatic power and passion.The ending was of never to be forgotten beauty.The Lento was full of languishing,haunting nostalgia with his sumptuous sense of sound and cadenzas that poured from his fingers like wafts of magic colours.The Allegro molto had a demonic rhythmic drive but in its midst a crystalline voice sang out.We are in the hands of a master musician who listens so carefully to every sound as he shapes the notes with such loving care and excitement.The final majestic chords were played with a sense of total abandonment that was truly breathtaking.

Bach’s mighty Chaconne was played with such personality with a passion and rhythmic drive from within the notes themselves.Brahms decides they should be played with the left hand alone to give the same sense of miraculous virtuosity and triumph through a world of emotions,as Bach demands of a solo violinist.Infact the last chords were played with a sense of relief and disbelief instead of Busoni’s triumph and glory.

Listening to this recital one is prompted to ask but where does he come from and who were the influences in his youthful formation:

Alexandre Kantorow (born 20 May 1997) is a French pianist.[Described by Gramophone as a “fire-breathing virtuoso with a poetic charm”[2] and by Fanfare as “Liszt reincarnated”,he won the first prize, gold medal, and Grand Prix at the 16th International Tchaikovsky Competition in 2019.With this win, Kantorow became the first French winner in the history of the competition.

Kantorow was born in Clermont-Ferrand to a family of musicians; his father is the violinist and conductor Jean-Jacques Kantorow and his mother is also a violinist.[He began to study piano at the age of five at the conservatory of Pontoise. At the age of 11, Kantorow began studies with Pierre-Alain Volondat, who was the winner of the 1983 Queen Elisabeth Competition in Belgium, and continued training with Igor Lazko at the Schola Cantorum de Paris, as well as with Frank Braley and Haruko Ueda. When he was 16 years old, Kantorow was invited to play at the La Folle Journée festival in Nantes and has since appeared at such festivals as the Festival de La Roque-d’Anthéron, the Festival Chopin à Paris, and the Festival Piano aux Jacobins.At the age of 17, he performed at the Philharmonie de Paris with the Pasdeloup Orchestra at its inaugural season to an audience of about 2,500.He has since appeared at major concert halls including the Konzerthaus Berlin, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the BOZAR in Brussels, and the auditorium in the Louis Vuitton Foundation. Kantorow currently studies with Rena Shereshevskaya, who was also the teacher of Lucas Debargue, at the École Normale de Musique de Paris.

In 2019, Kantorow won the first prize, gold medal, and Grand Prix at the 16th International Tchaikovsky Competition, becoming the first French winner in the history of the competition. He was the only finalist in the competition to play the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 in G major, and also performed BrahmsPiano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major.

Happy to report Michael Morans equally enthusiastic review of a musical genius

Saturday, August 3 CHOPIN’S MANOR 8:00 PM

Piano Recital ALEXANDRE KANTOROW 

Winner of the XVI International Tchaikovsky Competition, Moscow 2019

Alexandre Kantarow


This recital was without doubt one of the truly great piano recitals at Duszniki Zdroj, if not the greatest. I believe it was his first public concert after winning the competition. An authentic ‘Duszniki Moment’. This unassuming young man has all the nascent qualities of a great artist in the process of maturing. He is only 22 and in possession of a gift and talent bordering on genius.

Sergei Rachmaninov (1873–1943)

Piano Sonata No. 1 in D Minor Op. 28 (1907)

Allegro moderato

Lento

Allegro molto

Rachmaninoff wrote to his friend Nikita Morozov on 8 May 1907: 

‘The Sonata is without any doubt wild and endlessly long. I think about 45 minutes. I was drawn into such dimensions by a programme or rather by some leading idea. It is three contrasting characters from a work of world literature. Of course, no programme will be given to the public, although I am beginning to think that if I were to reveal the programme, the Sonata would become much more comprehensible. No one will ever play this composition because of its difficulty and length but also, and maybe more importantly, because of its dubious musical merit. At some point I thought to re-work this Sonata into a symphony, but that proved to be impossible due to the purely pianistic nature of writing’. 

It is said that Rachmaninoff withdrew this reference to literature and certainly the music contains other associations.

The ‘literature’ he referred to is Goethe’s Faust (possibly with elements of Lord Byron’s Manfred) and there is convincing evidence to believe that this plan to write a sonata around Faust, Gretchen and Mephistopheles was never entirely abandoned. of course there are other musical elements present as it is not programme music. The pianist Konstantin Igumnov, who gave its premiere performance in Moscow, Leipzig and Berlin, visited Rachmaninoff in November 1908 after the Leipzig recital, the composer told him that ‘when composing it, he had in mind Goethe’s “Faust” and that the 1st movement related to Faust, the 2nd one to Gretchen and the 3rd was the flight to the Brocken and Mephistopheles.’

Faust in the opening monologue of the play:

In me there are two souls, alas, and their 

Division tears my life in two. 

One loves the world, it clutches her, it binds 

Itself to her, clinging with furious lust; 

The other longs to soar beyond the dust 

Into the realm of high ancestral minds. 

A man whose soul is rent between the hedonistic pleasures of the earth and spiritual aspirations – Sacrum et Profanum. Exploring this all to human dichotomy, Rachmaninoff builds almost unbearable tension. 

In the Allegro moderato as Faust wrestles with his soul and temptations. Kantorow constructed and extraordinary edifice of unique sound, each note of each the massive chord weighted perfectly against the others to create a richness of great magnificence and splendour, rather like an organ His tone is liquid gold and even in passages of immense dynamic power he did not break the sound ceiling of the instrument. There was superb delicacy here. The delineation of eloquent melody and the dense polyphony of Rachmaninoff’s writing was miraculously transparent.

The Lento second movement could well be interpreted as a lyrical poem expressing the love of Gretchen for Faust. Kantorow was so poetic here yet managing the dense polyphony once again with great artistry, tenderness and delicacy. His melodic understanding was paramount. The legato cantabile tone was sublime, the execution carrying with it an uncanny feeling of lyrical improvisation. A fervent and impassioned love song…

The wildness of the immense final movement Allegro molto with its references to a terrifying Dies Irae and death can well associate this massive declamation to Mephistopheles and insidious and destructive evil. Kantorow built a Chartres Cathedral of sound here with immense structural walls embroidered with the most delicate of decoration relieved by moments of refined reflection. Are we exploring the darker significance of Walpurgis Night?  Kantarow extracted and expressed a diabolism seldom encountered in any piano recital. All my remarks are assuming his towering technical ability and nervous pianistic concentration of a remarkable kind. Overwhelming.

Walpurgisnacht Kreling: Goethe’s Faust. X. Walpurgisnacht, 1874 – 77

Gabriel Fauré  (1845–1924)

Nocturne in D-flat major Op. 63 (1894) 

Known for his songs and solo piano works, Fauré wrote this beautiful and profound piece after a long dry spell of some eight years where he had not written a keyboard composition. Alfred Cortot considered it a masterpiece. Kantarow gave us a poetic and sensitive rendition of the work. The only reservation I had was programming it after the Rachmaninoff (from which I was still recovering!) and could not turn my full musical attention to the Fauré. Perhaps it should have preceded it as a gentle introduction to the recital….

INTERVAL

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)   

Piano Sonata in A major Op. 2 No. 2 (1794–1795)

We then heard the seldom performed youthful but harmonically new and exploratory Beethoven Piano Sonata in A major (1770–1827) Op. 2 No. 2 (1794–1795). I heard this difficult work performed in recital in Duszniki last year by RÈMI GENIET. This was also a fine performance that indicated he understood the classical style of the work (dedicated to Haydn) and the harmonic originality of Beethoven’s modulations. He experimented a great deal with articulation and tempo in the manner of improvisation. The staccato he introduced in the left hand in the Largo appasionato however, tended to reduce the lyricism of the passion for me. His golden tone and refined touch and articulation were often evident. However a little more delightful Viennese charm in the Rondo (the lightweight charm he brought to the Scherzo in fact) would have been appropriate in this Haydnesque movement. I was hoping for the deeper classically disciplined expressiveness that comes with time. I know as a young man I hated to be told that by older musicians but it is true except in the rarest of cases where musical maturity emerges fully formed in youth. Yehudi Menuhin springs to mind.

During my researches before writing this review, I came across the most inspirational, humorous and insightful lecture on this sonata (in fact all the sonatas of Beethoven) given by Sir AndràsSchiff in 2006. His original conclusion is that Beethoven intended that the three sonatas of Op. 2 make up a type of  ‘Trio under Op.2’ –  No. 1 being ‘dramatic’, No. 2 being ‘lyrical and tender’, and No.3 ‘a brilliant concert piece full of humour’. Schiff nearly always thinks of the piano in orchestral terms, especially the Beethoven sonatas. Not imitating orchestral instruments but associating with them in his mind. Kantarow seemed to do much the same but far less conventionally and with much more variety than the warmly classically inclined Sir Andràs Schiff.


Allegro vivace

Largo appasionato

Scherzo.

Allegretto Rondo Grazioso

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)

The Firebird K 10 (1910)


This work is most familiar from the orchestral version. The piano reduction Stravinsky made is rarely performed. The work almost defies translation from the orchestral version.

The ballet is a mixture the stories of the Firebird and Kashcheithe Immortal, two of Russia’s most well-known legendary stories or fairy tales. Prince Ivan comes into an enchanted garden and captures the Firebird. The bird wants to be released and promises Ivan it will assist him in the realization of his desires.

Ivan falls in love with one of the thirteen princesses he meets. She informs him that he is in the realm of Kashchei the Immortal, a powerful wizard who captures and imprisons passing travelers making them slaves. Ignoring her warning, Ivan approaches Kashchei to request her hand in marriage. Kashchei orders his magic creatures to attack the prince and tries to turn Ivan to stone. The Firebird comes to Ivan’s aid, enticing the creatures into a dance and then putting them to sleep. The bird bewitches Kashchei in the same manner.


Kantorow was possessed of some sort of force of nature as he embarked on the Danse infernale of this piece. The screech at the beginning as the bird precipitously attacks was deeply disturbing. Then the ‘infernal’ dance rhythms with their relentless intensity begin to wear the attackers down. This movement is of immense pianistic difficulty with leaps at fortissimo and huge glissandi. One could easily visualise the bird in its various tempestuous rhythmic transformations during this demented attacking dance. 

The creatures then fall asleep as depicted in the Berceuse. Kantarow created and hallucinogenic, hypnotic atmosphere during this sleeping, poetic dream – a magical word beyond. The triumphal wedding celebrations of the Finale developed in overwhelming dynamic joy and the clamorous ringing of orthodox bells flooded us with Russian emotional storms – magnificent, almost possessed yet under control and unprecedented in my experience of the sound capabilities of the piano.

The encores were Tchaikovsky’s Méditation Op. 72 No 5 which Kantarow played with ardent depth and glowing cantabile which developed into deep expressive, passionate rhapsodic feeling. 

He then spoke to the audience: ‘I am feeling rather tired so I will only play Liszt Chasse-neige as an encore.’ We did smile and some laughed with pleasure at such an understatement. 

It was the greatest performance of this work I have ever heard – the icy flurries of wind- driven snow in the left hand are indescribable in the lightness of their electrical virtuosity. The control and gradual culmination and augmentation of pent up cataclysmic energy towards the conclusion was beyond ordinary mortal comprehension. I have never heard such a terrifying sound from the piano – a force of Nature unleashed.

J.M.W.Turner Valle d’Aosta Snowstorm, Avalanche….


This was surely one of the great recitals that is of the most value at Duszniki. The first exposure to the birth of a great and immensely gifted musical talent is priceless. It will be fascinating to see how Kantarow develops. We already have the extraordinary precedents of Daniil Trifonov, Seong-Jin Cho and Igor Levit.

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