The Miracle that is Martha Argerich

The miracle that is Martha Argerich
Martha Argerich with Yuri Temirkanov and the St Petersburg Philharmonic at the Royal Festival Hall today.Prokofiev Concerto n.3,Khachaturian Spartacus,Shostakovich Symphony n.5.Thursday at S.Carlo in Naples.
Some years ago Shura Cherkassky used to play regularly in my theatre in Rome . On his triumphant return to Paris there was a double page article in Le Monde de la Musique under the title:”The Man I Love” signed Martha Argerich It was the same love that was felt in a sold out Festival Hall yesterday. Love for her by an adoring public but also her undying love for the piano. So unusual these days when many artists appearing before the public with their ungrateful percussive tone and lack of communication seem to almost hate it . It was most evident in a ravishing performance of Schumann`s Widmung. Astonishingly a new addition to her repertoire.(How I would love to hear her play the much neglected Blumenstuck)
The whispered opening allowing her to give a passionate and tumultuous final outpouring before disappearing as it had started in a few heartrending phrases. Every note pregnant with meaning,with a subtle rubato and astonishing sense of colour reminiscent of that great lieder singer Elisabeth Schwarzkopf . Totally seducing not only the audience but also the superb musicians of this magnificent orchestra.
This as a thank you for the ovation she received after a truly astonishing performance of the Prokofiev Concert. A young womans performance all the more astonishing when you realise that she has recently celebrated her 75th birthday at the Wigmore Hall with her lifelong friend Alberto Portugheis.
The same liquid sound and flexibility allied to a musicianly sense of line where every note speaks that was also so memorable a few months ago in the Albert Hall in a duet encore with her childhood friend Daniel Barenboim after a memorable performance if Liszt n.1.
In the dress rehearsal that aristocrat of conductors that is Temirkanov asked Martha afterwards how she would prefer some passages and what tempos she would like. With great humility and simplicity she said she did not know but what did he think. He suggested a slightly slower tempo in the coda of the last movement and asked whether she would like a long or short final note to the second movement. Of course she could not know she lived for the moment ,listening intently to every sound and adapting and adjusting with her great musicianship guiding her in her voyage of discovery. Just as Cherkassky and the legendary musicians of the past have done. Yet another title in Le Monde de la Musique about Cherkassky with the title “I listen,I feel,I transmit ” just as Martha was doing before our very eyes.
Transcendental feats of virtuosity with a rhythmic impetus that the orchestra had a hard job to beat.Such clarity in those bare opening scales but with an energy that was totally mesmerising.Some wonderful colours matching perfectly the superb wind players .In fact the final flute scale in the very atmospheric orchestral encore was exactly matched by Martha in the concerto.
The end of the second movement with such perfect timing it brought a wry smile from Temirkanov.The speed allied to the rock steady rhythm and intricate detail of the last movement coda was breathtaking and took the conductor and maybe also Martha totally by surprise.
The concert had started with the theme of the television programme The Ondine Line and this Spartacus by Khachaturian showed off the sumptuous strings of this magnificent orchestra.Never slipping into the vulgar but under Temirkanov we were assured of a refined nobility in the great Russian tradition.
The same was true with the great opening statement of Shostakovich `s Fifth Symphony .The scherzo played straight and all the more effective for that.The long poignant murmurings of the slow movement where the long lines were tightly held together.The last movement was the great moment for the brass to bring this monumental work to a shattering ending. If only there was a magic carpet to carry me off to hear it all again .Instead of having to consult the BA timetable to Naples!

Elisabeth Leonskaja at the Wigmore Hall

Elisabeta Leonskaja at the Wigmore Hall
The rock that is Leonskaja was immediately apparent just glancing at the programme. Three great monuments:Beethoven op 109,Brahms op 116 and Schubert Sonata in D D.850. It was immediately apparent that we were in the presence of a Master.
Much like Nikolaeva that I had heard by reputation and in fact invited her to my theatre in Italy many times knowing that my old teacher Guido Agosti had heard her in Moscow and invited her to play in Rome for the first time.
She too was a master musician just the same as now Elisabeth Leonskaja.
Such noble generous sound played with a simplicity and such unassuming stage presence. In fact she seemed quite embarrassed that she should be applauded. Were we not all here to share in the feast of music? Just as Richter did not want to be seen on stage as he considered himself as only a medium through which the music was revealed. Leonskaja her arms outstretched that allowed the music just to pour out. And what music!
Could the opening of op 116 ever have sounded so grand and passionate .
Enormous sonority on the piano but never a hard or percussive sound.
I have heard this same piano two or three times this week but this was a full orchestra as rarely heard.
The Brahms with a passion of someone seemingly discovering the piece for the first time. And so it continued each piece a revelation.
From the ghostly sounds of the fifth intermezzo in E minor to the subtle rubato of the sixth .
The Capriccio of the last of the Fantasies played with the same passion as of the first as if by someone possessed . Drawing the cycle to an astonishing end as it had begun.
Never have I been so totally mesmerised by these Fantasies by Brahms as in this performance with Leonskaja’s total identification pf this almost orchestral sound world. In her hands this evening she convinced me of what a masterpiece this work can be.
Beethoven op 109 played with a simplicity and nobility.
Always the sounds anchored to the bass which gave her an enormous but most natural dynamic range.
The seemingly inevitability of what was unfolding in her hands was totally absorbing resolving so many interpretative problems in such a simple and noble way.
The second movement ,Prestissimo,breaking the spell of the serene opening movement with an almost obsessive rhythmic propulsion that broke the spell of the opening and prepared the way for Beethoven’s sublime final movement of theme and variations.
In this last movement there was never less than a noble generous cantabile that led to the famous final long trill in which the theme was heard disintegrating before our very eyes . The final reinstatement of the theme played with such dignity and in an unsentimental way it reminded me of an inscription on a tomb stone in a centuries old churchyard in Devon:”A life’s work nobly done” …this for me summed up the performance of such total overwhelmingly moving simplicity.
The Schubert D major opened with a great Beethovenian flourish to finishing forty minutes later with the most simple music box like finale in which the final statement was like a melancholy nostalgic fragmented memory.
The total difference of sound in the last movement was in itself remarkable .
The sense of balance that allowed her to play this little theme in such a simple almost music box way was such a contrast to the preceding movements.
The different lines in the slow movement showed an extraordinary sense of orchestral colour with the right hand cantilena accompanying so poignantly the melodic line in the left.
A scherzo again adding such a violent contrast to the long drawn out slow movement.
A single encore from an ecstatic full house elicited a full blooded performance of the famous Sonneto del Petrarca by Liszt .Full of wildly different colours but played with a nobility and directness that had been the hallmark of this great artist’s recital ..

A Nightingale in Smith Square

A Nightingale in Smith Square
Not Berkeley Square but Smith Square tonight ,the magnificent sounds were all there though in Rachmaninov`s Third Piano Concerto with Piers Lane and the YMSO under Scott Wilson.
Loved his socks ……but above all loved his playing …….this man loves the piano as Shura did and his Nightingale that sings in Berkeley Square that stopped me in my track on listening to Radio 3 (as did Grynuk with the Vocalise) …………magic that travels over the air into my Italian garden and stops me in my tracks is magic indeed.
Leaving the comment about the socks there was some wonderfully assured playing not only from Piers but also from the leadership these very fine young players were fortunate to experience from the young conductor Scott Wilson .
Piers playing the small cadenza – oh how we are fed up of hearing the large cadenza that in my day was never played .Beautifully shaped melodic lines,great feats of virtuosity when required but always with the music soaring above the very fine orchestral sounds.Passionate final melody wonderfully held together by this young conductor and Piers glancing up at all the key points but above all they were all listening to each other ……..a very rare “bird” indeed.

Emanuel Rimoldi at the Wigmore Hall- The Keyboard Charitable Trust Prizewinner’s Concert

Emanuel Rimoldi at the Wigmore Hall
Emanuel Rimoldi at the Wigmore Hall
Great celebrations for the Keyboard Charitable Trust Prizewinners Wigmore Hall recital.
Emanuel Rimoldi ,the young Italian/Romanian pianist, winner of the Top of the World International Piano Competition in Tromso in 2013 and in 2016 he took the first Grand Prize and the “Ivo Pogorelich” prize in the Manhattan International Competition which secured his New York debut at Carnegie/Weil Hall last summer.
And so there were great expectations from a very full Wigmore Hall which included some very distinguished musicians .
Presenting an impressive programme of three major works by Mozart, Schumann and Rachmaninov adding only Liszt’s rarely heard delicate paraphrase of Verdi’s Aida.
A very strong a decisive temperament reigned in the Mozart A minor Sonata K.310 .
The first movement Allegro Maestoso played almost with Beethoven in mind with a very tight rhythmic control.It was maybe a little too fast to allow the music to breath naturally but this was Emanuel’s vision and it was accomplished with great technical and musical skill.
The Andante Cantabile played with a beautiful sense of line and colour only interrupted by the central Beethovenian section which was evidently Emanuel’s vision.
A very strong sense of rhythm in the closing Presto where his almost whispered rhythmic impulse was very impressively maintained to bring the Sonata to a very rousing ending.
This was a  very accomplished opening to his debut recital in which his very strong personality wanted to share his vision of this almost Beethovenian Sonata of Mozart.
The wonderful opening melody in the Humoresque was beautifully shaped with a great sense of colour and real feeling for the fantasy world of Schumann.There were great feats of virtuosity in the faster passages which were often interrupted by the extreme beauty of the slower sections .
In fact a real Floristan and Eusebius in this very elusive much neglected masterpiece .
All admiration to Emanuel for reinstating it in his London debut recital.
The Verdi /Liszt Danza sacra e duetto finale from Aida showed off to the full his refined virtuosity and sense of colour.This was a performance in which the shaping of Verdi’s beautiful melodies was  of paramount  importance although never missing the extrovert personality of Liszt’s unjustly neglected paraphrase.
The ten Preludes of Rachmaninov op 23 were played with all the colour and virtuosity that one would expect from a student of Elisso Virsaladze at the Moscow Conservatory where he studied for five years having already received his Bachelor and Master’s degree from the Verdi Conservatory in Milan .
Ending with the beautiful tenth Prelude (largo) which he played with all the wonderful sense of colour and that this young Italian /Romanian pianist also regaled us with at the end of this long very important recital.
Responding to a very enthusiastic audience he played the “October” from the Seasons by Tchaikowsky which was suffused with melancholy yearning and with a beautiful sense of rubato allowing the music to speak so naturally .
A rarely heard nocturne by Chopin completed the programme.
In the green room afterwards many of his young illustrious colleagues- some of the finest young pianists in the land- came back to congratulate him and carry him of to festivities until the early hours .
It is very refreshing to see the solidarity and generosity of all these wonderful young musicians who are all beginning to make their mark in the music world .
Dinara Klinton,Luka Okros,Kausikan Rajeshkumar,Evelyne Berezovsky,Ilya Kondratiev ,Marcos Madrigal were just some of the few that came to support and congratulate their friend on his long journey to establishing an important career.

Marcos Madrigal at St Mary’s 5 star review

Marcos Madrigal at St Mary’s
“World class” exclaimed an exulted Hugh Mather at the end of the extraordinary recital by the Cuban pianist Marcos Madrigal today.
Playing in collaboration with the Keyboard Charitable Trust in the most remarkable series of great young pianists in London.
“on a cold day like this he has brought some Spanish sunshine into our lives” enthused a very excited Hugh,who has certainly seen some great young pianists in his time.
And much more besides, dear Hugh, as we were all witness today.
Right from the first note of the Chopin Nocturne in C Sharp minor op.posth,the penetrating luminosity of the sound gave us some indication that we were in the presence of a master. Perfect trills all with such clarity and allowed to sing thanks to this musicians wonderful sense of balance.
Musician…..magician yes – on the piano,and on this not easy Yamaha grand he was able to convince us that the sounds can live forever just like the human voice.
A juggling act indeed when one knows as soon as you play a note on a percussion instrument it begins to die away…unless you have found the secret of a Rubinstein,Zimerman,Perahia or a Curzon.
It is an art that conceals art and requires above all talent,but also dedication ,passion and work. Was it not Curzon,himself, who when asked his secret declared it was ninety per cent work and ten per cent talent. What talent though!
Following with another nocturne the almost” ballade” like one in C minor op 48 n.1 The wonderful cantabile sound but the subtle sense of colour and a rubato of such good taste one was not even aware of it. The music spoke as Chopin must have imagined it . The tumultuous middle section was kept under control with all the sense of line and shape paramount.No fireworks here as is often the case in lesser hands . The return of the melody above a shimmering accompaniment played with real passion and sentiment disappearing into the final expressive flourish so perfectly timed and with such poise .
Little did the audience expect the onslaught that followed with one of Prokofiev’s “War Sonatas” .The seventh in B flat op 83 He threw himself into the fray ” my kingdom for a horse indeed” …no blood on the keys but we certainly got the idea in this inspired performance. The second movement with its beautiful melody so sumptuously played with such ravishing sound a real magic trick indeed the violent passionate eruptions coming as even more of a contrast than expected. The last movement “Precipitato”.was just that . The insistent rhythmic pulse maintained with a tenacious magnetism ending in the most violently rhythmic onslaught that brought him a standing ovation . Rarely has that much heard sonata been heard in such a coherent full blooded but also passionate and tender performance I imagine since Richter’s premiere performance.
And so after the storm the sun came out in a selection of pieces by his compatriot Lecuona . Charmingly introduced by Marcos explaining the Cuban,Spanish,African influence and proceeding to charm and seduce us as only a true Cuban can. Was not Jorge Bolet the most seductive of pianists too . And so the colours the complicated syncopated rhythms all flowed from his fingertips seemingly so naturally . A Gitaneiras with such transcendental fingerwork -knotty twine indeed – but no knots here just pure simple sunshine thrown off with the ease of someone who lives in the country where manyana reigns . Malaguena ,of course was played to the manner born and from a beseeching public our charming magnificent pianist treated us to Goodbye Cuba . Arrivederci I think you mean dear Marcos as Hugh was reaching for his diary before this young man could get to the door.

The Genius of Trifonov

The genius that is Trifonov.
That Trifonov is a genius there can be no doubt .
Winning both Rubinstein and Tchaikowsky competitions is only incidental to his all consuming passion for music.
Not content at only twenty five to take the major concert halls worldwide by storm he has also written many works including his own piano concerto which can be heard on you tube.
Anyone that talks to him is immediately aware of his urgency and total commitment when speaking about music .
Genius sometimes is not easy to take and must be digested in small doses as one risks being totally overwhelmed.
Thus it was a pleasurable surprise to hear his very poetic, totally simple but original performance of Schumann`s Kinderscenen with which he opened his sold out recital at the Barbican today.
Traumerei may have been unusually slow but played with simplicity and loving care. Even the final chord of the Poet Speaks was absolutely perfect as were so many marvellous unforgettable moments in this much maligned miniature masterpiece .
As op 15 was an ideal foil for op 16  Kreisleriana that was separated by the Toccata op.7. Obviously he thought of the Toccata as a total contrast to the miniature fantasies that make up op.15 and 16.
And so it was just like a bull in the china shop a Toccata  that can be of such ravishing beauty was treated to a martellato like opening that should have been so legato and quiet. But a genius knows no bounds and Trifonov gave a totally committed performance which was almost totally contrary to what the composer so clearly indicates.
But this was no show off virtuoso performance but a man possessed and determined to share his vision with us.
So many wonderful things in Kreisleriana but so fragmented.
Whilst one admired the wonderful insights his flight of fancy was determined  to share with us, the lack of an overall sense of line and direction failed to hold my attention and in fact more than irritated me and left me bored and frustrated.
Genius has its price.
I hoped that we would have a less fragmented more readily coherent second half with Shostakovich and Stravinsky.
A hope immediately dashed by four such monumentally distorted Preludes and Fugues by Shostakovich that I can well imagine our beloved Nikolaeva (the inspiration and dedicatee)smiling as she turns in her grave even though I am sure she   would have fully admired what he was trying but not succeeding to do  .
I defy any one who could dance to this Danse Russe without breaking all their bones in this truly breathtaking account of Petrushka.
Even more irritated by Harriet Smiths translation of Petrushka`s Room,the second movement, in the almost inexistent programme note hidden  amongst a barrage of publicity .
Trifonovs total identification with this second movement  had led to the most successful and accessible interpretation of this work .
The opening of La Semaine Grasse was sheer ethereal magic but once again spoilt for us mortals in not being able to fully comprehend the madly driven performance  that followed that brought the house down.
I stayed only for one encore again very fragmented- maybe a piece of his own certainly under the influence if Medtner.
I could not take any more but would not have missed this glimpse of genius for the world even though hard going for us mortals

Asia Jimenez and Alexander Ullman at St Barnabas

Asia Jimenez -AlexanderUllman in St Barnabas Ealing
Asia Jimenez and Alexander Ullman in recital together at St Barnabas in Ealing.
Some wonderful sounds from Asia Jimenez on her glorious Gagliano violin and with Alex Ullman on the wonderfully sounding Bosendorfer in the very fine acoustics of St Barnabas Church in Ealing led to a very fine lunchtime concert in Hugh Mathers notable series .
Debussy Sonata,one of his last works, played with all the subtle colour and shifting moods with the whispered sounds intertwining so beautifully in the hands of these two very fine artists . The Meditation was the original slow movement of the violin concert as Asia explained to the numerous public present and they played it together with the Melodie with all Tschaikowsky’s full blooded passionate melancholy , the wondrous sounds soaring into the vast space of this beautiful church.
The scherzo that completes this Souvenir d’un Cher was played with great virtuosity with perfect ensemble with her partner. The De Falla,of course ,was perfect for this beautiful young spanish violinist who graduated from the Conservatory in Barcelona and is now ,like Alex pursuing the Master’s degree at the Royal College in London .
Naturally she had a real understanding of these very atmospheric pieces, that make up the Suite Populaire ,together with all their youthful passion and virtuosity made for a very fine ending to this short but very enthusiastically received recital.

Alexander Ullman at the RCM

Alexander Ullman at the RCM
Magnificent Grieg Piano Concerto from Alexander Ullman and the RCM orchestra under Peter Stark as winner of this years concerto prize.
All the youthful flamboyant virtuosity allied to an innate,unfailing musicality that allowed this unjustly neglected masterpiece to soar and sing as it has not done since it was so lovingly restored to the repertory by Artur Rubinstein.
A young mans vision full of passion and heartfelt cantabile passages that penetrated the magnificent youthful orchestral sounds on the very fine new Steinway Concert Grand that he was privileged to inaugurate. Winner of the prestigious Liszt/ Bartok International Piano Competition in Budapest five years ago at the age of only 20.
Having studied with William Fong at the Purcell School he won a scholarship to study at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia with Leon Fleisher ( whose historic recording of the Grieg with Szell is a beacon for us all).Choosing on his return to the UK to perfect his studies at the Royal College of Music with Dmitri Alexeev and Ian Jones and selected to play for the prestigious YCAT and the Keyboard Charitable Trust concerts that help promote the very best young musicians .This young musician is fast making a name for himself as an unusually musical virtuoso.

A star is born …Mariam Batsashvili

A star is born…..Mariam Batsashvili at the Wigmore Hall.
There has certainly been a line up of great pianists this week with the winners of the Leeds,Santander competitions and Beatrice Rana`s magnificent Goldbergs for the BBC but what we heard this morning may be likened to the reverence with which the great pianists of the past spoke about the legendary Leopold Godowsky.
There was magic in the air from the very first note.
A phenomenal sense of balance that allowed the melodic line to sing with such purity allied to a complete immersion in the style together with a subtle sense of rhythmic energy.
The Concerto in D minor BWV.974 by Marcello in the transcription of J.S.Bach was played with just such subtle sense of rhythm and colour . The Adagio displayed her artistry to the full where the melodic line was allowed to whisper thanks to the amazing control of the left hand. But a sound of such beauty that it was projected even to the back of the hall. The infectious rhythm of the Presto with all its stylistic shading was indeed a very rare thing.
But even in the Liszt arrangement of Handel’s Sarabande and Chaconne from Almira S181 she displayed her wonderful sense of colour that she was able to transmit not only in the quiet melodic passages but also in the overwhelmingly full but never percussive fortissimo passages that abound in this very rarely heard Liszt transcription.
 Beethoven`s youthful “Rage over a lost penny” had all the “tongue in cheek ” humour allied to an amazing pianistic control as she threw herself into it at breakneck speed.
But even at this speed the music spoke with such subtle good taste and control that I would certainly not have thought it possible until hearing it today in Mariam’s golden hands.
 With all the half light “will`o the wisp “shading this was what virtuosity really means as Godowskys illustrious colleagues were well aware and were only too happy to bow to a superior being as many of the very fine pianists present today certainly were.
Leslie Howard the legendary Liszt authority was present and it was thanks to him and the Utrecht/Liszt Competition that we were able to witness the London debut of this twenty three year old future star .
Such subtle colours together with an infectious rhythmic pulse in the Allegro Barbaro by Bartok but completely different from the previous works such was her identification with this unique sound world.
 Enormous sonorities at the end of Liszt`s 13th Hungarian Rhapsody defied belief not only because of the sparrow type stature of this great artist but because of the enormous sound without the slightest hardness that she was able to produce. Such subtle rubato and aristocratic good taste in what can so often vulgarly demean these masterpieces .
  This led to the Tarantella from Venezia e Napoli where the delicate return of the melody was of such sublime beauty I just thank God that I was present today to witness it.
Her double octaves at the end were of “Horowitz”proportions.
After that an encore would have been unthinkable for lesser mortals but not for our “`gal “who treated us to the fourth Paganini study of such subtle charm and quiet virtuosity especially having only at the end ,on the way to the Green Room, noticed it was on a Yamaha grand.
Richard Goode at the Guildhall
An absorbing afternoon with Richard Goode at the Guildhall today introduced by another very fine musician Martin Roscoe . It was nice to be reminded by Martin of our student days in Dartington together sharing many a glass of Scrumpy whilst playing in the masterclasses there of Stephen Kovacevich.
Martin with a very distinguished career and part of that wonderful trio of great pianists from the North of England completed by Peter Donahue and Katherine Stott .Displaying a prodigious memory for it was almost fifty years ago that Katherine and I taught for Miss Rowe in Ealing and Martin and I passed our wonderful summers immersed in music in Dartington
Introducing Richard Goode Martin revealed that his masterly recording of the Beethoven Sonatas was in fact the inspiration for his own which is nearing completion.
Together with other old friends and fellow students of Gordon Green :Tessa Uys and Peter Bithell who were present hoping to be not only inspired but informed by one of the great musicians of our time.
The opening Beethoven Sonata op 27 n.1 very musically played failed to ignite the masterclass in spite of some very interesting comments from Richard Goode . It was the Mozart Sonata in D K.311 that followed , played in a very professionally proficient manner by a master pianist but the moment that Richard Goode tried to explain that every note must have a meaning and began to demonstrate in his inimitable way the musical language of Mozart that spoke so eloquently and immediately a magic was created where the teacher ,student and public were totally involved.
And so it continued with the Fourth Ballade by Chopin. Richard Goode now totally inspired managed to share his passion, sense of balance ,colour and musical intelligence with the excellent young pianist who immediately inspired by the passionate technical and musical demonstrations turned a very fine performance into something really totally on a different plane.
An afternoon of sheer magic..