Jonathan Ferrucci had told me how good Carole Presland was in the Faure Quartet.
He did not tell me how good!
She illuminated the hall with her masterly playing on the crest of a musical wave.
A veritable tsunami.
and Victor Braojos Lopez and Jose Songel Sanchis in a scintillating account of Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story”
The amazing Signum Brass in William Mathias’ Summer Dances
Ugne Vagileviciute Marcus Dawe and Nathan Giorgetti in Vox Balenae by George Crumb Amazing sounds played with masques ….missing only the film Zoro
Bartok Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion with Yundy Wang Ben Smith Sam Walton Aidan Marsden
Caught in the lunchtime traffic we awaited her arrival knowing full well of the chaos in the centre of London in this holiday period.
Only ten minutes late she arrived looking ever more like a film star and greeted her friends and admirers that had gathered to hear her.
Without any more ado she sat at the piano …………..and it was pure magic.
She was completely lost in her own world. So totally transported by the music that she did not even notice the rather invasive lady in the first row trying to share a 360° video to her mother I presume in Russia!
From the very first note we were transported into a magic world of such ravishing sounds and such an overpowering sense of communication where each note of the little Arietta op 12 by Grieg was expressed with extraordinary beauty and musical sense.
It was as though the music was speaking directly to every single member of the audience.
The only other person who can do that is Martha Argerich, who with her seemingly anticonventional lifestyle and individual personality plays the piano or rather communicates via the piano her genuine uncontaminated vision of music and life which for her are one and the same.Following her heart and instinct rather than wearing her musicality like a badge.It is the innocence of a child but with the wisdom of someone who has weaved her way since childhood through the jungle of public performance and never conceded anything of her inner musical beliefs to the superficial world that surrounds her.
Anyone who knows Evie will know that this description fits her too like a glove.
She also has the ravishing good looks that Martha had at her age.Che non guasta ,as they say!
Needless to say that the three Rachmaninov preludes were played with such a sumptuous kaleidocope of sounds from the almost inaudible to the most passionate outbursts.
She made this little Yamaha piano sound like the most beautiful piano on earth such was her total concentration on the sounds that she was creating for us.
The E flat major op 23 n.6 drifted in like water on which floated the most romantic of melodies .The full sonorous melodic line of the D major n. 4 where the embellishments caressed the melody in a seemless stream of velvet sounds.The beautiful liquid cantabile of the G major op 32 n.5 where the delicacy of the left hand accompaniment only added to the golden sheen that she was able to bring to this most nostalgic of melodies.
Hardly suprising that her Rachmaninov is so definitive and idiomatic as she is the daughter of Boris Beresovsky and was born in 1991 the very year he won the Gold Medal at the Tchaikowsky competition in Moscow !
The Sonata n.2 op 36 by Rachmaninov burst out of this luxuriant “hors d’oevre” like a sudden call to arms.
What passion,what subtle unbearably beautiful sounds.But above all a transcendental control and command of the keyboard that allowed her to listen so attentively hardly glancing at her hands that were only the means of expressing what she was searching for.
This was undoubtedly one of the finest performances I have heard of this work .We all know the famous Carnegie Hall recording of Horowitz but this had the same powerful sense of immediacy and demonic changes that brought this work back into the piano repertoire.
But rarely can a performance by a “normal” pianist have been so powerful as today … with the exception maybe of only Van Cliburn!
Aided and abetted by her great friend Sasha Grynyuk the programme announced : Messiaen “Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jesus”.
What we were actually treated too was the most beautiful of the 20 regards:”Le Baiser de l’enfant Jesus.”
And what a kiss this was .
The most extraordinary sounds of these tingling grating
dissonant harmonies that in her hands were played so subtly that it was of a heartbreaking beauty that I have rarely experienced.
The music spoke so magically that the message from this true believer came across and touched every heart in the audience judging by the tears that were visible on many of their eyes.
Mesmerised by the sounds.
The almost chiselled embellishments accompanying the sumptuous final melodic outburst expressing sounds that I have never heard before.
It was quite overwhelmingly moving.
I have only heard Rubinstein playing ten of the “Visions Fugitives” by Prokofiev or “A prol do Bebe” by Villa Lobos who was able to make the music speak as Evie did with Messiaen today.
Joan Chisell said in her review about “The Prince of Pianists” that I love to quote:”Mr Rubinstein turned baubles into gems.”
I would not say that Messiaen was a bauble but up until today I had not realised how poignantly he could help us to experience his own mystical belief.
A little piece by Tchaikowsky “Au village” was full of old world charm and scintillating almost ‘jeux perle’ playing.
A truly magic fairground of a bygone age.
A little mazurka by Chopin played equisitely as an encore.
A wonderful sense of dance but such bewitching colours.
She shouted out to her old school friend from the Purcell School Alexander Ullman to ask if he knew what opus number it was.
It was of no importance what number it was ………..it was an absolute gem and that is all that counted today.
Such insistent applause brought her back to play the Rachmaninov Prelude in E flat again ….as Sasha said afterwards even more beautifully than before.
I go to a lot of concerts and listen to many remarkable pianists but this is one that will remain with me for a long time.
I had heard Jamie Bergin this winter in a programme of Beethoven,Chopin and Ravel and was instantly won over by his artistry and refined musical pedigree.
He has inherited this from his early formation with Murray McLachlan,Joan Havill,Karl- Heinz Kammerling and last but certainly not least Lars Vogt to whom he became assistant in Hanover.
His second major recital in London this year for the Kirckman Concert Society.The first,last January, was in St John’s Smith Square.And now due to a cancellation by an indisposed Ian Bostridge we were able to hear him again this time at the Wigmore Hall.
This was an artist in meditave mood on an Eldorado of a cloud in which the sumptuous sounds he shared with us was a private confession of subtle personal artistry.
An almost whispered succession of sounds played so stylishly we almost craved for him to make a nasty sound!
Such is his superlative sense of control and balance ,a technical prowess that knows no difficulties allied to an intimate knowledge of the scores as one would imagine from a student of Joan Havill.
To quote from his own words describing the programme that he had chosen at the last minute for this unexpected recital:
”op 109…full of fantasy conveying a wonderful sense of improvisation ….. the third movement opens with one of the most beautiful melodies I have ever heard and I sometimes find it difficult to stop playing!”
It is very rare that words can convey some of the meaning of music but I think Jamie got fairly near tonight.
The first movement of op 109 was played indeed in an improvisatory way with a flexibility of pulse and colour that was extremely personal.Some might say over romantic but here was a man in love and not afraid to share it with us.
The second movement as contrast could have been more decisive and rhythmic but much to my surprise that was to come with the innocent simple statement of the theme of the final variations.Some very subtle colouring in the following variations and a sublime sound in the slow almost waltz like statement of the theme.
The fast semiquavers were played with a sheen that allowed the melodic line to sing out as is rarely the case.
Some transcendental piano playing of course,ca va sans dire with this pianist.
The spell momentarily broken with the entry of the fugato that soon was allowed to dissolve so naturally into the sheen of magic sounds created from the trills on which the melodic line sang so beautifully.
The gradual dissolving in a cloud of mystical sounds led to the final statement of the theme all the more poignant for its total simplicity.
The seven fantasies op 116 by Brahms were :”like being taken on amazing emotional rollercoaster….some moments are absolutely heartbreaking.One can only wonder what Brahms went through to write such music”.
And so it was with a Brahms that was not Brahms but a truly emotional journey from an artist with a very delicate sound palette that could create the magic of deep melancholy of the meltingly beautiful lament of the second Intermezzo or the beautiful prominent left hand weaving its web in the third with the beautiful liquid cantabile melodic line floating on its surface or the pure magic of the fourth and the ghost like search of the fifth.The suave melodic line of the sixth with its melting cantabile in the middle section.The forward drive of the seventh with its sumptuous melodic middle section.
But here was a personal vision that experienced only the ecstasy of the Andante,Adagio or Andante con grazie e intimissimo sentimento of the Intermezzi .But the implied contrast of Presto agitato,Allegro passionato or Allegro agitato of the three capriccios was missing.
Smoothed over very beautifully.But in order to appreciate true beauty we need comparison and contrast and it was this that was missing in this secret message of Jamie’s Brahms.
The three pieces that make up book one of Iberia were played with a great sense of colour .As Jamie relates :”The music has such a generosity of spirit and freedom …. I was inspired to play it when I heard Alicia de Larrocha’s iconic recording.”
It is considered one of the most challenging works for the piano: “There is really nothing in Isaac Albeniz’s Iberia that a good three-handed pianist could not master, given unlimited years of practice and permission to play at half tempo. But there are few pianists thus endowed.” Thus spoke a review in the New York Times of de Larrochas performance.
And the performer tonight too had a no fear of the great leaps of the “Fete dieu a Seville” or any of the transcendental demands of these three pieces.
“Evocacion” was full of the simmering atmosphere of Spain as was the irrsistible dance of “El Puerto”.The enormous dynamic range that Albeniz asks for from “ffff” to “ppppp” abound especially in “Fete dieu” which could have had more contrast so the startlingly beautiful ending would have come as more of a lugubrious journey into the infinite.
I well remember Rafael Orozco in these pieces many years ago with the blazing passion of a young and passionate spaniard
.He ran away with the Gold medal in Leeds and I remember Annie Fischer asking me what had become of him since.
He lived in Rome and came to see Alicia de Larrocha whenever she played for us.
He chose to die early with his partner.A life lived passionately until the last!
Jamie had a different vision of these pieces .Full of hidden lights and sounds, intoxicating perfumes and intimate seduction rather than the brazen spain of noise and bustle and the excitement of the corrida.
The Berceuse by Chopin op 57 :” soothing and peaceful with a hypnotic effect that seems as if everything is frozen in time “
It was infact just that with a beautiful bell like cantabile and played with a simplicity that allowed the variants to evolve so naturally.
It led to the final work, one of the most important works of the romantic piano repertoire :the fourth Ballade by Chopin op 52.
”There is so much tragedy and drama and the coda is known for being fiendishly difficult.”
It was the masterly build up to the coda that was so remarkable in a performance of great beauty always moving forward and never sentimental .The sustaining bass in the statement of the opening theme allowed such freedom but within the limits of the great architectural line.
The coda of course was played not only with fearless technical prowess but with great care over the musical line to the final cascading arpeggios and final chords.
A recital that was today the triumph of Eusebius with Florestan only allowed an occasional glimpse of the beautiful landscape that was being sculptured in the hands of this remarkable young musician.
It was wonderful to see a completely sold out Queen Elisabeth Hall for the concert by the Royal College of Music Symphony Orchestra.
Two major works on the programme: one for a virtuoso pianist and the other for a virtuoso orchestra.
Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto has long been a hurdle and great test for a pianist not only of technical prowess and stamina but also for a great romantic sense of passion and colour.
I remember John Lill playing it many years ago at the RCM with Sir Adrian Boult and the many articles that were written about this amazing young British hope to follow in the footsteps of John Ogdon.
There was even a film,”Shine” based on this momentous event even though some of the details were blurred for “ artistic” reasons.
John Lill like the young 22 year old Victor Maslov ,who played today,chose to play the “big” cadenza which was almost unheard of fifty years ago because of it’s extreme technical demands.
We need not have worried today because in the superb hands of this young Russian pianist who is currently studying with Dmitri Alexeev at the RCM we were treated to an exemplary performance.
I well remember one of the finest performances I have ever heard of this concerto was from his teacher some years ago in Rome where he was a favourite of the artistic director Lanza Tomassi of the Rome RAI orchestra.
Here today was a performance full of complete technical control but allied to a passion and sense of colour every bit as remarkable as his teacher.
I have heard Victor recently in recital in the Elgar Room of the Royal Albert Hall and blamed Elton John’s Red Piano for the lack of colour and rather monocrome sounds.
It was refreshing to note today that on this superb Steinway piano there were not only sumptuous sounds but a subtle range of colours where we could admire his artistry to the full.
Even in the quietest of passages, as in the whispered return of the main theme in the first movement ,the sound carried to the farthest corners of the hall with the same intensity as in the front row.
It was interesting to note some unusual fingering too on both appearances of this melancolic melody.
The great cadenza blazed out showing his transcendental virtuosity to the full.But it was the sound from the piano that was so remarkable and unexpected from the dramatic rumbling beginning through the heroic transformation of the innocent little opening theme to the gradual dissolving arpeggios that herald the beautiful flute playing of Sarah Parkes- Bowen.
The very exposed filigree passage in the last movement was played with a clarity that shone above the orchestra and led to the final triumphant Tchaikowskian fanfare. Leading up to this the magnificently and heroically played left hand octaves pushing always forward with an excitement that knew no technical limits.
A general request from public and orchestra for more was happily greeted with an old warhorse rarely heard in the concert hall these days.A truly sumptuous “old style” performance of Malguena by Lecuona played by a pianist who had won the battle and could now relax and really show us what he could do.
I have heard Victor many times but I have never heard him play like that before …. he is obviously headed for the heights and hats off to all those at the RCM who have been helping him so successfully along the difficult path to the important career that awaits.
The second half was dedicated to a single work :”The Planet Suite” op 32 by Gustav Holst (who used to teach just down the road from the RCM at St Paul’s School).
A showpiece for large orchestra including six horns,six timpani,chorus and organ .Superbly conducted by Andrew Gourlay with beautifully expressive hand movements reminiscent of Giulini or Maazel.
How could this orchestra not respond!
And they certainly did!
From the menacing Mars,Bringer of War and the truly sumptuous Jupiter,the Bringer of Jollity where the full orchestra with timpani and brass at the fore were overtaken by the truly sumptuous string sound from the full orchestra.
Who could forget the beautiful horn solo of Joel Ashford in Venus,the Bringer of Peace and the solo cello of Silvestrs Kalnins.The beautiful solo violin of Maren Bosma and the transcendental performance by the duo timpanists Sam Howes and Max Heaton.
It was the participation of the whole orchestra that was particularly noticeable, from Philip Nelson’s bass to Bethan Griffiths and Imogen Ridge on the harps, where each individual member played with that youthful passion and “joie de vivre” that kept us riveted to our seats.
The beautiful sounds of the choir singing off stage in Neptune,the Mystic was a truly magical way to end.
It is such a long time since I have seen the name of John Ireland on a concert programme that it was very refreshing to see Tom Hick’s lunchtime programme almost totally dedicated to this composer that his pupil Benjamin Britten described as having “ a strong personality but weak character.”
I was just a child with my first piano lessons when confronted with a charming little piece called “April.”
It was as a teenager with advanced studies with Sidney Harrison that one day he pulled out his store of music in the garage of his beautiful riverside house in Chiswick the music to Sea Fever.A song setting of the poem of John Masefield.The object of the lesson was to make the music speak on the piano with the same inflections that a singer might have used.
A great lesson indeed and one that I have never forgotten and is inextricably linked to Ireland.
The two works presented today and that are on his new CD supported by the John Ireland Trust were both inspired by his love for the Channel Islands .
”Island Spell” was written in Jersey in 1912 and “Sarnia” (The Roman name for Guernsey) was written on Guernsey in 1940 shortly before he was evacuated before it became occupied by the Germans.
Tom Hicks too is from Guernsey so who better to understand the very personal musical style of Ireland known by many as the “English Impressionist.”
Tom immediately showed his musical credentials in “Island Spell” with the washes of sound and a magical sense of colour from hands that seemed only to hover above the keys.
A deep rumbling reminiscent of Debussy’s Cathedral Engloutie with magical sounds disappearing on high with a delicacy and sensitivity that seemed to bely his rather unmoving body involvement.
I was told by a viola playing friend from Guernsey that children receive free lesson on instruments in the schools there so it was hardly surprising that as a child and after early lessons with Mervyn Grand he was accepted at Chetham’s School of Music where he studied with that superb trainer of so many talented young musicians: Murray McLachlan.
He won many prestigious prizes on the way to taking the Gold Medal and the Peter Frankl Piano Prize at the Royal Northern College of Music.
Since 2015 he has been studying in America with Boris Berman at Yale and James Giles at the Northwestern Bienen School of Music.
With many concerto engagements to his name and two complete cycles of Rachmaninov’s Concertos it was to his enormous credit that he chose to dedicate his London recital today to his homeland where he was headed straight after the concert.
The final piece on the programme today was one of Ireland’s large scale pieces for piano. “Sarnia.”
In three movements the middle of which was inspired by some verses of Victor Hugo who also had come under the spell of the island.
A transcendental technique allowed him to throw off the many technical challenges with ease and allow the folk idioms and rather pastoral atmosphere to sing out unimpeded.The beautiful long lines in the last Song of Springtides were sustained by lush harmonies that were never allowed to overpower the overall architectural shape.
Six of the 12 seasons by Tchaikowsky were played with the utmost clarity and a real sense of finger legato that allowed the nostalgic melodies and Gopak type dance rhythms to create just the relief from Ireland’s rather personal view of his beloved islands.
I have heard Vitaly Pisarenko many times as you can see from the various things I have written in the past.But each time one listens to a real artist it is a voyage of discovery.
I remember Rubinstein,Arrau or Curzon distilling their once vast repertoire to the works with which they had become irretrievably attached in a life time of music making.
I listen regularly on streaming to Dr Hugh Mather’s series of superb young musicians but there is nothing like a live performance where true artists are concerned.
It was this very magic that was in the air from the very first notes of the 12 German Dances D 790 by Schubert.
So often in lesser hands these works can sound rather dry and uninspired but not today!
From the very first notes there was a subtle Viennese charm and lilt to the dances with some astonishing changes of colour and character.
Every dance like the Mazurkas of Chopin were miniature tone poems full of subtle poetry, mystery and where necessary an irresistible “joie de vivre.”
An audience totally mesmerised by the sheer beauty of a piano that they had heard many times under many different hands.
But the colours and gloss to the sound today were quite unique and showed an amazing control and an ultrasensitive ear to balance.
The G flat impromptu drifted in without a pause on a wave of glorious sound.The cantabile of this most beautiful of all Schubert’s Impromptus was something to cherish with the continual outpouring of sounds of pure gold.
So beautifully shaped every note could have had a different word like the sublime lieder of this master of song.
The fourth Impromptu too floated in with glistening liquid arpeggios commenting on the subdued melodic line.His superb sense of legato allowed us to overhear so perfectly the whispered sounds of the delicately shaped long lines.
The two Polonaises op 26 by Chopin were played with a magical cantabile and a flexible beat
that was sometimes almost too free.
But it was a Chopin bathed in such a sumptuous sound from which all the wondrous invention of a Chopin in exile from his homeland was allowed to flow so naturally.The mysterious opening of the E flat minor Polonaise immediately captured the attention and the mazurka middle section played with a complete change of colour and an almost orchestral non legato contrasting so poignantly with the mysterious liquid sounds that enveloped it and brought this extraordinary work to its melting conclusion.
The Third Ballade op 47 brought the first half of this full length recital to a fitting end.
It is the most pastoral and serene of the four ballades and is a new addition to Vitaly’s repertoire.
It will eventually become even more simple but it was bathed in a sound world that created a wondrous cloud for the endless poetic invention of this most subtle of Chopin’s works.The continual forward movement allowed a clarity of melodic line that created a whole from the beginning to the last note.The gradual build up to the passionate final outpourings was quite masterly and had the audience cheering at the end of this exhilarating performance.
The second half began with a performance of Schumann’s Fantasiestucke op 12.
I have heard him play this work many times.
It brought tears a few years ago to Janina Fialkowka’s eyes.
It has been distilled after many performances to such a degree that each piece is so full of colour and character it reminds me of Rubinstein holding us in his magical hands in his final performances after a lifetime of living with this extraordinary work.
From the liquid sounds on which floats the melody as if from afar in “In the Evening”, to the great passionate outbursts via a continual question and answer of great romantic fervour in “Soaring”.
The supreme sense of balance in “Why.”.A great sense of nostalgic dance of times past in “Whims” and the endless stream of seemless sounds in “In the Night.”A magical transition to the melodic middle section so reminiscent of Kresileriana.
The simple story telling of “Fable” with the rhythmic comments so delicately played and the absolute clarity and total technical assurance of “Dreams Confusion” that seemed to disappear in a puff of smoke.
Making way for the grandiloquence of the “Endof the Song” and the energetic dance leading to the gradual disintigration and heartfelt farewell to this dear friend.
A remarkable tour de force of interpretation through a total mastery of the instrument and an absolute supreme sense of control and balance.
The concert ended with two rarely played works by Liszt.
The Ballade n.1 in D flat .Almost Schumannesque in its opening leading to amazing feats of transcendental piano playing but with subtlety and ravishing sounds embellishing the continuous melodic line.
The Hungarian Rhapsody n.13 in A minor with its call to arms dissolving into a typical hungarian folk melody full of colour and a beguiling sense of rubato.
This was piano playing of refined artistry of an almost forgotten age.
I doubt this piano has ever sounded so magnificent as from the hands of this true magician.
The standing ovation and cheers from this very discerning audience rang out for quite some time in the hope there might be even more.
Like all great feasts one should always leave wanting more …………….so be it …there will be many other occasions in a lifetime of superb music making ahead.
I have long admired Sasha’s playing and am pleased to see that now others can too in his festival of Chamber Music in this very fine church on the hill overlooking Portobello Road .
The first concert was dedicated to Brahms and Tchaikowsky.
It was very fitting that the first words of the Zwei Gesange op 91 should be “Bathed in the golden light of evening…….”
On this balmy night it was the throbbing passionate sounds of the cello that heralded the entry of Alexia Mankovskaya with her requited longing so beautifully expressed.
A voice that was passionately sustained by the piano of Sasha Grynyuk and the cello of Alexei Sarkissov.
Listening attently to each other but with the right abandon that only friends can risk together in their music making.
The piano lid fully open but never did it overpower his colleagues due to the sensitivity with which they were all listening to each other.
There was a gentle lilt from the piano in the second song that set this seal on this gentle Religious Lullaby:”Joseph,dear Joseph mine,help me to rock my lovely baby God will repay you……….Angels that are borne upon the wind – still the tree tops -my Child is asleep”…..such beautiful words enrshrined in the sublime music of Brahms.
The baby may have been asleep but he certainly would have woken up with the work that followed!
Tchaikowsky’s Piano Trio in A minor op 50 took centre stage.
A heroic perf0rmance full of passionate melodies and pyrotechnics in the only Trio that Tchaikowsky wrote maybe persuaded by the success of his second piano concerto op 44 where the slow movement is a communion between trio and orchestra.
He had certainly written in 1880 to his benefactress Nadezhda von Meck saying:”You ask why I have never written a trio.Forgive me,dear friend,I would do anything to give you pleasure ,but this is beyond me…..I simply cannot endure the combination of piano with violin or cello.”
The Trio was sent to his publishers on 11th february 1882!
It is a Trio that has become one of then most important in the repertoire.
It was given a virtuoso performance with three virtuosi in a continual question and answer from the opening Romantic declaration to the dissolving end of the first movement.
The theme and variations showing off every possible combination between the instruments.
From the pizzicato strings to the music box sounds of the piano.
Washes of sound from the virtuosistic runs on the piano answered by the romantic ruminations of the cello and violin in unison.
An intricate fugato and even a Mazurka variation with a short piano cadenza.
Superbly played by all three in a generous give and take of mutual anticpation that is the sign of true chamber music making.
An hour of music followed by a buffet was an ideal formula.
At last a programme with all the information that one could need to know the performers and understand the background to the works they are performing.
The next concert in the series with a piano recital by Evelyne Berezovsky on the 5th July.