For whom the bells tolls….
Michele Campanella fifty years on stage Celebration concert at Rome University.
It must be well over forty years ago during my student days in Italy that I ventured up to the beautiful Amphitheatre in Fiesole (the town overlooking Florence )to hear a young pianist play Mussorgsky and Liszt .A recital that has remained in my memory ever since .
I would never have imagined that forty three years later I would be listening to that same pianist in the same Pictures at an Exhibition of all that time ago. I often wondered why this fantastically talented young pianist never reached the heights of his colleague Maurizio Pollini although I would occasionally see his name in prestigious Italian music venues. I did once hear him play a few years back for a series of lecture recitals on Liszt by Roman Vlad in which he played the musical examples. He is in fact in the process of recording many of Liszt’s major works on Liszt’s Bechstein that is housed in the Chigiana in Siena. It is the piano that inspired Barenboim to have a similar instrument single strung for his recent Schubert recitals in London and in Italy just last week .
It was Roberto Valli (that wonderful magician of the piano who looked after us with his magnificent Steinways for our complete Rachmaninov Concerto Series in Pesaro ed Ancona recently) ,who introduced it to him and it was Roberto today that was looking after Maestro Campanella on a very fine Yamaha Grand of which he is an official artist. I have always been interested to find out about the different schools of piano playing that abound and even went down to Naples in the 1980’s to listen to the great Vincenzo Vitale giving masterclasses at the Villa Pignatelli. (Scaramuzza too was from Naples before moving to Buenos Aires where he has taught some of the finest virtuosi of our age – Martha Argerich is his most famous one these days) .
Vincenzo Vitale that day spoke only of music but having heard his pupils play I was aware of the very particular discipline that his method involved . Laura di Fusco,Carlo Bruno,Bruno Canino and Michele Campanella are all examples of the Vitale school and are all highly professional pianists all with a very clean precise sound . The complete opposite of the so called Matthay Method as exemplified by the sheer beauty and liquidity of sound of Myra Hess or Moura Lympany . In fact it would seem that the complete independence of the fingers ( remember the old trick of balancing a coin on the back of the hand whilst playing scales) in the Vitale method was in contrast with the totally flexibility of Matthay as was obvious from the sound produced. And so it was today some wonderfully clean ,precise musicianly playing but sadly lacking the attention to the sound produced .
I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty of sound in the opening of the Papillons by Schumann but the moment we got to the left hand octaves in the third piece the sound became hard and inflexible as this rather rigid technique seemed to take over. As this very fine musicianly recital progressed it seemed as though his arms were not part of his body and the communication between his mind ,arms and fingers seemed to exclude the participation of his whole body. This of course led to some rather perplexing moments especially in the monumental performance of Mussorgsky.The sound produced in Bydlo and Baba Yaga was almost unbearable in its violence without resonance .
This too is exemplified in the playing of some remarkable Russian pianists such as Toradze and Matsueev or previously Lazar Berman( known sometimes as Laserbeam for obvious reasons ). Some wonderful beautiful cantabile sounds unfortunately mixed with the most hard ingratiating fortissimi .It is obviously a choice but one that does not appeal to my taste where music for me must talk and there must be a comprehensible language and a love for the variety of sounds produced . Some people in the audience recognised me from the concerts in my theatre and they too exclaimed how wonderfully Shura Cherkassky had played years ago at the Ghione Theatre , a little Scherzo by Mendelssohn offered tonight as an encore together with a charming Schubert Moment Musicaux . But Shura loved the piano I exclaimed spontaneously after having my ears ringing from the Great Gate that we had just heard constructed obviously by the military forces.
It was however a very successful and moving celebration for a notable career spanning fifty years This great artist got a well deserved standing ovation ……………I will just remain with the wonderful memories of forty years ago.