Bach: Italian Concerto in F BWV 971 —— Andante -Presto
Bach: French Suite No.5 in G BWV 816 Allemande-Courante-Sarabande-Gavotte-Bourée-Louvre-Gigue
Feinberg-Tchaikovsky: Scherzo from Symphony No.6
Myaskovsky: Sonata No.2 in f-sharp minor, Op.13
Liszt: Sonata in B minor, S.178
What better way to start a recital than with Bach and two of his best known and much loved works.The Italian Concerto and the Fifth French suite.They were played with a clarity and subtle sense of dynamics but also with a clarity and sense of line that was remarkable.You could almost envisage the soloist and tutti in the first movement of the Italian concert where his non legato touch was very telling.It contrasted so well with the long melodic lines of the Andante and the sheer exuberance of the Presto.In fact it was this song and dance element that was so evident in the beautiful Fifth French suite.Expressive but always in style with a sense of rhythmic propulsion that was quiet exhilarating.
It is some years ago that we used to be visited in Rome, for my Euromusica series,by the Russian pianist Vladimir Leyetchkiss,a student of Neuhaus .It was he who introduced me to the numerous piano transcriptions including this by Feinberg and many others, including his own of The Rite of Spring.Nikolaeva even gave me her own transcription of the Bach D minor Toccata and fugue .It was obviously a tradition of transcriptions that needed the phenomenal technical ease of the Russian school where sound,colour and virtuosity seem to flow with such ease from their early trained fingers!Horowitz /Mussorgsky or Rachmaninov/Mendelssohn are well known to us in the west but many others are not .Hats off to Luke for playing this famous but rarely heard transcription with a clarity and rhythmic impetus of such exemplary virtuosity.The more he plays it in public he will find more colour and flexibility,but his intelligence and superb technical ability allowed him to give a scintillating if rather overlong performance.Maybe some judicious pruning might make it an ideal encore?Certainly coming after two exemplary performances of masterpieces by Bach it was difficult to enter into the mood of a Tchaikowsky transcription!
Samuil Yevgenyevich Feinberg also Samuel was born 26 May 1890 in Odessa,like many other great pianists,and died in Moscow on 22 October 1962.He was the first pianist to perform the complete The Well-Tempered Clavier in concert in the USSR.He also composed three piano concertos, a dozen piano sonatas as well as fantasias and other works for the instrument.Tatyana Nikolaeva,a fellow student of Goldenweiser,said that each of his sonatas was a “poem of life”.Feinberg has been called “A musical heir to Scriabin”who heard the young pianist play his fourth Sonata and praised it highly. He was a life-long bachelor. He lived with his brother Leonid, who was a poet and painter. He died in 1962, aged 72.
It was indeed refreshing to hear a work rarely performed in concert, as Luke had said in his conversation with Stephen Dennison.Maybe not the pinnacle of the piano repertoire,that was to follow,but nevertheless one that has many points of interest and was indeed fascinating to hear alongside an undisputed masterpiece such as Liszt’s B minor Sonata.It was obvious that both works were composed by virtuosi and it was the exclamatory opening that caught our attention in what Luke described as his lockdown recital.All works,apart from Bach that he had prepared in the long months without public concerts.This sonata is very intricate,full of Prokofiev and Shostakovich influences.A continuous outpouring of great technical difficulty dissolving to sultry melodic contemplation.Even the Dies Irae was quoted over a mumbling brooding bass and later with a scintillating accompaniment of delicate arabesques.Was it not Liszt that was inspired by the Dies Irae in his Totentanz or Rachmaninov in his Paganini Rhapsody,both the greatest virtuosi of their age.In this Sonata there was also a fugato finale (as in the Liszt Sonata) that was beautifully articulated with great clarity before ending with the Dies Irae deep in the bass.A fascinating journey that Luke had reserved for us and played with the same intelligence and sense of architectural shape that was to distinguish his performance of Liszt that followed.
Among the finest of Miaskovsky’s compositions is the pessimistic yet powerful Sonata No. 2 in F Sharp Minor, composed in 1912 and revised in 1948. Like the third and fourth sonatas it bares the composer’s inner turbulence, and its structure displays impressive formal control. The slow but forceful introduction’s rich chords establish a harmonic ambience closely related to Scriabin’s sound-world. An air of anxiety enters with the first subject. appropriately marked “Allegro affanato”, and finds relief in the contrasting beauty of the second theme. Completing the exposition is a third idea, the “Dies Irae”,which along with fragments of the first and second subjects, plays an important role in the development section, where Miaskovsky shows an impressive mastery of contrapuntal and variation techniques. After a straightforward reprise there follows an insistent, ever-accelerating fugue, based on the first subject and the “Dies Irae”. The marking “Allegro disperato” eloquently describes the concluding
Nikolai Yakovlevich Miaskovsky was born on 20 April 1881 in Novogeorgiyevsk near Warsaw and discovered while still young that the symphony was the form in which he could best express himself. His work has been called a lifelong meditation on sonata form, perhaps arising from the need to create unity out of diversity and resolution out of conflict.He wrote twenty-seven symphonies, thirteen string quartets and nine published piano sonatas.He was a musician of unshakable integrity, an introvert who attempted all his life to reconcile his inner being with his outer circumstances.He was the most respected teacher of composition in the Soviet Union (he held this position from 1921 until the end of his life) and was known as “the musical conscience of Moscow”. With an honorary Doctor of Arts, People’s Artist (1946) and recipient of two Stalin Prizes, he was one of seven composers named in the infamous Decree on Music issued in 1948 by the central Committee of the Communist Party, denounced with Shostakovich, ‘ Prokofiev, Khachaturian, Shebalin, Popov and Muradeli for “formalist perversions” and “anti-democratic tendencies…alien to the Soviet people and their artistic tastes”.Already gravely ill and predisposed to reticence, Miaskovsky did not make a public confession of his “errors” but responded with his twenty-seventh symphony, a work of autumnal beauty that makes few concessions to socialist realism. Thoroughly embittered, he died in Moscow on 8 August 1950. Not long afterwards the symphony was premiered and declared the correct model for Soviet symphonism.
The Liszt Sonata in B minor was dedicated to Robert Schumann in return for Schumann’s dedication of his Fantasie op 17 to Liszt (it was Schumann’s contribution to Liszt’s effort to erect a statue to Beethoven in Bonn).A copy of the work arrived at Schumann’s house in May 1854, after he had entered Endenich sanatorium. Schumann’s wife Clara,an accomplished concert pianist and composer in her own right, did not perform the Sonata as she found it “merely a blind noise”.It was published by Breitkopf & Härtel in 1854 and first performed on January 27, 1857 in Berlin by Hans von Bulow.It was attacked by the distinguished critic Hanslik who said “anyone who has heard it and finds it beautiful is beyond help”.Brahms reputedly fell asleep when Liszt performed the work in 1853.It was also criticized by the pianist and composer Anton Rubinstein but drew enthusiasm from Wagner following a private performance of the piece by Karl Klindworth on April 5, 1855.Otto Gumprecht of the German newspaper Nationalzeitung referred to it as “an invitation to hissing and stomping”.It took a long time for the Sonata to become commonplace in concert repertoire, because of its technical difficulty and negative initial reception due to its status as “new” music. It is generally regarded now together with the Schumann Fantasie and Chopin Fourth Ballade to be one of the pinnacles of the Romantic repertoire
I remember André Tchaikowsky persuading his colleague Radu Lupu to spend more time at the keyboard rather than at the chess board and to learn what is one of the most musically complex works in the piano repertoire.( Radu also learnt a one off performance of André’s own concerto such was their esteem for each other).Richter played it in London and was not happy with his performance and refused to greet people in the green room afterwards.It is a work that requires a sense of orchestral colour but also of architectural shape.Being in one long movement it can so easily turn into a series of episodes some more rhetorical than others.Wagner had noted what a visionary Liszt was as he saw quite clearly a form in which themes were transformed and given new guises as the music unfolded with a programme rather than a set formula .That is why the Liszt sonata reveals not only the technical skill,colour and poetry but above the musical intelligence of an interpreter able to follow this transformation of themes with a sense of architectural shape that gives us an overall satisfying form.So it was remarkable to hear such intelligence in Luke’s performance playing with such commanding authority but also such tenderness and colour.Missing only the grand sweep and sense of abandon that can only come from playing it in public many times.Today was his first public performance and it showed a rare sensibility and intelligence – he now needs to dare and push himself to the limit as he shares that sense of magic that can only be created between performer and listener.A very evocative opening full of menace led to the great drama of the opening statements.Immediately we were made aware of the silences between these three great opening statements.Followed by a brilliance like rays of light leading to the tempestuous opening of the sonata.Gradually building up to the great octave statement dissolving so magically to the first passionate Grandioso.There was ravishing beauty in his sense of balance that allowed the ‘second subject’ to sing so beautifully ‘cantando espressivo’and there was a jeux perlé sensitivity in the arabesques that accompanied and led to the beautiful embellishments that suddenly explode into passionate outbursts of great virtuosity.After the massive rhetorical chords there was great stillness to the Andante sostenuto and quasi Adagio.I remember Richter playing this so slowly,as only he could,but I felt that Luke could have allowed himself more freedom and more sense of fantasy to contrast with the outer episodes that he played with such control and power.The end of this episode where the opening theme returns was played with aristocratic simplicity that made the eruption of the Allegro energico fugato even more surprising.It was refreshing to note in everything that Luke did that there seemed such a sparing use of the sustaining pedal that allowed for a clarity of line and detail that is often submerged and smudged.Of course the treacherous octaves at the end were played with such passionate conviction and musicianship that led so naturally to the final great climax.The gradual dissolving and the meditative ending just made one relieved that Liszt had abandoned his original thoughts of a triumphant March to the end much as Busoni had inflicted on poor Bach in the Goldberg Variations!
Originally from Wrexham in North Wales, Luke Jones started playing the piano at the age of 5 and made his debut recital at Oriel Wrecsam aged 10. Since then, he has performed in venues throughout Britain and across the globe. He has won prizes in competitions around Europe notably 2nd Prize and Mompou Prize at the prestigious Maria Canals International Piano Competition, 1st Prize at the Bromsgrove International Musicians Competition, 1st Prize in “Aci Bertoncelj” International Piano Competition, Slovenia and 1st Prize in “Section A” Chopin-Roma International Piano Competition, Italy. Luke was also awarded the RNCM Gold Medal, the college’s highest award for Performance. Furthermore, he has had broadcasts of his performances on BBC Wales Radio, S4C Television, Radio Vaticana and Telepace in Italy.He has performed with orchestras such as BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Manchester Camerata, Orchestra of the Swan and Jove Orquestra Nacional de Catalunya.
This concert is kindly supported by The Keyboard Charitable Trust. www.keyboardtrust.org The Keyboard Charitable Trust’s mission is to help young keyboard players reduce the element of chance in building a professional musical career. The Trust identifies the most talented young performers (aged 18-30) and assists their development by offering them opportunities to perform throughout the world.