Thalberg goes to the Opera with Mark Viner

Remarkable new recording from Mark Viner. Reading the record sleeve that this remarkable young artist was trained in England says something for the enormous change in musical education in the UK . Once one always looked to the USA or the Eastern countries for serious early training but thanks to the Purcell School and similar places – Menuhin,Cheethams etc the magnificent results are now coming to fruition. I well remember the apparition of Raymond Lewenthal all those years ago with his remarkable series of Liszt/Alkan recitals that had a vast public queuing all night for return tickets at the Wigmore Hall. A public that had only read in history books about all the remarkable pianists of which Liszt of course was the figurehead. As on the apparition of Sigismond Thalberg in Paris and the famous duel between he and Liszt in the salon of the Princess Belgiojoso. “Thalberg is the first pianist in the world ;……..Liszt is unique”
But it is only now that we have a young british born virtuoso to guide us through this fascinating repertoire and make it relive again. Not only virtuoso performances but also scholarly information much along the lines that Graham Johnson has led us to expect with his wonderfully complete survey of Schubert Songs not only in numerous volumes but also even more numerous CD’s .Let us also not forget the marathon recordings of all Liszt’s works by Leslie Howard awarded a well deserved Guinness!
But what a revelation these Opera Fantasies are .
As Mark says,in his all too short but fascinating sleeve notes, the revolutionary way of splitting the melodic line between the hands whilst all sorts of amazingly intricate jiggery- pokery is going on all around.Indeed as he says it makes one almost believe that there are many more hands on the keyboard .
Only recently in Horowitz have we marvelled at this pianistic trickery and funambulistic piano magic.
Beautiful sounds from this recording made in a Church in the Netherlands. Hope it was an unconsecrated church for here indeed is the devil in disguise.
Mark Viner does not have the astonishing ,unique, diabolic technique of Horowitz but what he does have is an astonishingly,intelligent,musicianly approach that does not miss anything of the ravishing beauty and sheer virtuosity needed to bring these neglected scores to life.
It is indeed thanks to his early training from Tessa Nicholson and followed by one of Cyril Smiths star students, at the Royal College , Neil Immelman that we now have a complete ,intelligent advocate . The devils advocate you might say! It is very interesting that at the age of 59 Thalberg retired to cure his vineyard in Posilippo – Naples having been an immensely successful pianist- composer amassing a vast fortune in one of the most illustrious careers the world has ever seen.Only now perhaps rivaled by Lang Lang ! At only 25 I think we can and should expect much more from this astonishing young musician.

ARCARDI VOLODOS at The Barbican,London

When I first heard Arcadi Volodos in Rome some years ago ,the phrase that greeted Horowitz’s Paris debut came to mind “the greatest pianist alive or dead”.
Starting his recital at the Barbican tonight the Theme and Variations in D minor by Brahms ,I was reminded of Gilels for the sheer beauty of sound and musical intelligence that left no doubt that we were in the presence of a real master.
Then as he proceeded with the Eight pieces op 76 one marvelled at the control, the amazing half lights and colours but thought is this Brahms or Scriabin ? Inner melodies so subtley introduced in the half light atmosphere created,but one was left with the question of what happened to the classical ,instrumentally inspired Brahms.
And so it was with the Schubert Bflat Sonata. Such sounds ,control and perfection can have rarely been heard . But surely behind the notes of this, Schuberts last sonata there is in this seeming simplicity the utmost melancholy,grief,nostalgia and many other things not reachable with words,that seemed to be glossed over in this sumptuous, remarkable playing of such beauty. A real Russian paradox that does not seem to allow energy,uglyness and general masculinity into its world of whispered half lights.
Only Gilels and Ashkenazy have conquered this paradox with the results that have passed into history.
Standing ovation,of course,and four encores.
A Schubert minuet that sounded like the most wonderful Bach Choral Prelude and then suddenly a piece by Mompou with such charm and colour that led into a transcription of Malaguena of Horowitz proportions that made one thank God that they had been present to hear what surely must have been heard in Paris almost a century ago much to the consternation of his rival Artur Rubinstein.
An intermezzo in E flat minor op 118 by Brahms brought us down to earth after our glimpse of a paradise lost.

Miracles in Rome

Miraculous performance in Rome tonight of the Ebene Quartet with Mitsuko Uchida. Five magnificent musicians playing as one . This young french Quartet looking hard at each other rather than the score which they had obviously fully digested .The cellist in particular in sublime sintonia with the viola .The first violin providing the impetus with subtelty and passion. A revolutionary sounding Haydn op 20 n.2 followed by a sublime rendering of the Ravel Quartet. Of course joined after the interval by Mitsuko Uchida we were treated to an exemplary reading of the Schumann Quintet. If in her effort to be an integral part of this magnificent music making,she was almost too retiscent, it may well be that we have become too used to this old war horse being played by a soloist with the addition of a string quartet. The shortest of encores, one of the little pieces op 19 n.2 by Schoenberg .The same she had played this summer at the Proms after a massive performance of Schoenbergs Piano Concerto this summer. What music ! What a breath of fresh air was breathed tonight …… A real miracle I would say. P.S. It was not for nothing that Rosalyn Tureck voted for her in the Leeds Competition all those years ago. She came in second with Andras Schiff – Dmitri Alexeev won.
Radu Lupu who plays in Rome tonight (K467)won first prize by a hairs breath( Curzon did not vote him into the final round!!!!)in the previous one. Murray Perahia the one before. Small world but great talent will always out. Thank God!

Beatrice Rana and Pappano

The fabulous Parco della Musica in Rome .Home to Pappano and his wonderful orchestra Having listened on the drive home ,to their new CD withBeatrice Rana in Prokofiev n 2 and the old war horse of Tchaikowsky .Has the opening theme ever sung out more expressively as in Pappanos magic hands.Fabulous piano playing from Beatrice at home where her teacher Benedetto Lupo resides at the Accademia di S Cecilia who now have their home here. Alla in the family real “hausmusik” all thanks to Prof Cagli being the right person in the right place at the right time.Hats off caro Bruno now enjoying a well deserved rest having bequeathed to Rome what many thought was impossibile. Now this morning on the BBC I learn that this very disc Has already entered the classica recording chart.This week at 21 and rising rapidly!

Alessandre Tharaud the Aristocrat of the Piano

The second time this month that I hear Alexandre Tharaud and what a joy it turns out to be to admire this aristocrat of the piano. As in St Johns in London ,here in Rome too the scores firmly in view on the piano stand . Whereas in London it was for the Goldberg Variations,here in Rome a mixed programme of Ravel,Grieg and Beethoven op 57. I am totally against solo pianists using the score(look at the difference it made to Curzon and most notably Richter)but if this is the only way we can have this remarkable artist,then so be it. I think it would add another dimention without the score , his playing is so reminiscent of my renowned Mentor Guido Agosti.The whole musical world flocked to his studio in Siena to hear the most refined,intelligent musicianly playing with such perfect and subtle balance between the hands that the colours combined with power ,energy and good taste made one relisten to the most hacknied pieces as if one were listening anew . And so it was with Tharauds” Appassionata”. A revelation as though one were listening to it for the first time.The slow movement in places very original with his simple,fresh musicianship to the fore. If the Ravel Sonatine and Miroirs missed the sumptuousness we are used to, it was more than compensated for by the musical precision and clarity of sound,most probably as Ravel intended it. The scarlatti sonata with the repeated notes ,so often heard as a study and here played as an encore was played at times almost as a frenzied dance.
To say that the other encore,Bach/Siloti ,was sublime with his complete command of colour,dynamic gradations ,combined with the sheer beauty of sound,would indeed be an understatement,for it was simply divine. We all used to flock to Agosti ,I suggest we all flock to this young man who reminds us ,in such a simple way,of values that are so often forgotten these days And now Beatrice Rana and Pappano ‘s new cd on the long drive home.Has the opening theme of that old war horse of Tchaikowsky ever sung out with such an expressive voice ……..already in the charts at 21 and rising rapidly to number one I am sure .Beatrice Rana perfezionata con Benedetto Lupo all.Accademia di S.Cecilia.All in the family so to speak. “Hausmusik” indeed ,and all thanks to Bruno Cagli who believed in and realised his dream.
What a fabulous place this is and now I have Menahem Pressler New Year DVD to enjoy infront of the log fire this evening .Playing with the score Presslers voice sings out as no other can………


Hecuba by Euripides the last role that Ileana played on the 2nd december 2005 struck down by an aneurism in the second performance that day ……….declaiming : ” an eye for an eye when will it ever end………….” She really believed it and it was at that moment that she was taken from us. Ghandi said “If the populations continue to take an eye for an eye ,in a short time this will be the land of the blind………..” This is our history This is our present This is the world we live in . Human nature does not change but our attitude and awareness can and should . It is only through Art,History,Culture and Communication that we can learn and improve ………….. Ileana was a great example of someone who gave without expecting anything in return……………a great example of simplicity and modesty . Let us not forget. She died in my arms declaring her love for me and thanking me for our life together(.Almost thirty years had passed since she was my pupil in Siena for Lydia Agostis class ” Da schoenberg ad Oggi” in which I was her assistant.) She said …no declaimed…….. that she was the happiest and most fulfilled person that she could imagine .She said it was like Manon Lescaut and made me promise no rhetoric.This is life were her last words taken from the play she loved playing so much by Pirandello:”La vita che ti diedi” infact it was the final line in every sense. Those around her in the hospital where she was taken have never forgotten.
L’ultimo ruolo di Ileana. Ecuba di Euripide. Durante la seconda replica quel giorno e’ stata stroncata da un aneurismo proprio nel momento quando dichiarava :” Un occhio per un occhio quando mai finira” Credeva davvero ed era in quel momento che si e’ accosciata per terra sul palcoscenico di suo amato Teatro – nostro figlio infatti.
Ghandi ha detto:”Se i popoli continuano nella practica di togliere occhio per occhio,in breve tempo avremo un mondo dei ciechi” Questa e’ anche la nostra storia. Questo e’ il nostro presente. Questo il mondo in cui viviamo.
Ileana era una grande esempio di una che dava senza aspettando niente in ritorno…un grande esempio di modestia e semplicita’. Non dimentichiamo E morta tra le mie braccia dichiarando suo amore per me e ringraziandome per la nostra lunga vita insieme.Quasi trent’anni infatti. Declamava che era la persona piu’ felice che poteva immaginare .
E come Manont Lescaut diceva .
Mi ha fatto promettere niente retorica .
La vita e’ questa era sua ultime parole prioprio come la dramma di Pirandello che amava recitare cosi tanto “La vita che ti diedi”
E‘cosi era
Quelli intorno all’ospedale dove abbiamo portato non dimenticheranno mai.