Mark Viner takes Italy by storm
The young British born virtuoso on tour in Italy for the Keyboard Charitable Trust .
Only half way through a tour that started in Viterbo last Saturday and has taken in Rome,Vicenza,Venice,Padua and will finish in Abano Terme on Monday.
He has already registered a remarkable success with all CD’s sold in the first concerts in Rome in the Ghione Theatre.
Reopening its doors once again to great music after its amazing record of historic performances from artists such as:Perlemuter,Agosti,Fischer,Cherkassky,Tureck,Sandor,Lympany,
De Larocha,Mannino,Foldes,Frankl,Kovacevich,Pletnev,Pogorelich,FouTs-ong,Alexeev,Katin Fialkowska, Hewitt,Howard and many young talents now making a name for themselves such as Prosedda,Cabassi,Baldocci,Ullman,Romanovsky,Gillham,Pisarenko,Rossi etc .
It is not just a coincidence that he has this month received rave reviews for his new recording of Alkan’s studies in the major keys .
Five stars in the Guardian with Gramophone and Sunday Times following suit.
I well remember over 50 years ago the excitement generated by the arrival of Raymond Lewenthal in London with queues around the Wigmore Hall after word had got around about his extraordinary performances of Liszt and Alkan.
It was just the same excitement that had ignited a teenage student at the Purcell school when an enlightened William Fong had given the exceptionally talented young pianists in his care the project of each one preparing a study from Chopin op 25 and Alkan op 35.
Mark a late starter when at the relatively late age if 11 he fell madly in love with the piano.
Self taught but already at the age of 12 he was accepted to the Purcell school for exceptionally talented children.
One of the three schools :Menuhin,Purcell and Chethams that specifically had been created on the lines of what had long been the norm in the eastern countries and USA.
Lucky from the age of 12 to 17 to be under the expert guidance of Tessa Nicholson who gave him the basis of the technique that is now astounding the public and critics alike. Another six years perfecting these early skills from Niel Immelman,star student in my day of that great English virtuoso Cyril Smith, sadly too often forgotten inspite of Guilgud’s wonderful portrayal in “Shine”.
Mark Viner was winner of the first international Alkan Zimmerman Competition in Athens in 2012 whilst still perfecting his studies at the Royal College of Music where he obtained his Masters in 2013 with the highest votes ever recorded.
Since then he has already been voted President of the Alkan Society in the UK and recently also to the chairmanship of the Liszt society of which Leslie Howard is President
With highly praised recordings of Liszt,Thalberg and Alkan already to his name he is now being helped by the Keyboard Charitable with tours in the USA and Italy all leading up to the Prizewinners debut recital at the Wigmore Hall in London on 2nd March.
Immersed in this period when the piano was just evolving and taking the world by storm in the fashionable salons in Paris and many Royal Courts throughout Europe including that of Queen Victoria in London.
There is the famous story of Liszt, feted like a pop star , playing to the Tsar Nicolas 1st in 1840 .
Arriving late and talking, Liszt stopped playing and sat motionless with his head bowed.
The Tsar enquired why the music had stopped.
To which Liszt replied coolly: “Music herself should be silent when Nicholas speaks”.
These stories abound in this Romantic period and many a legend has grown up since. One such legend has persisted and it is that of the mysterious figure of Charles-Valentin Alkan.
A recluse who in his rare performances in public both Chopin and Liszt would be present to hear what Liszt considered the most perfect technique -apart from his own of course.
Music so difficult that it was for a long time considered unplayable.
Legend has it that he died from the Talmud falling on him.
Thalberg too a virtuoso and rival of Liszt .
Stories of the famous duel between these two giants of the keyboard in the Salon of the Princess Belgiojoso in the spring of 1837.
People standing on their seats in the hope of discovering the secrets of Thalberg’s seemingly impossible performances that sounded like many more than two hands at one keyboard .
“Old Arpeggio”Sigismond Thalberg with the incomparable “Il penseroso “Franz Liszt . The Princess declaring at the end that Thalberg is the first pianist in the world but Liszt is unique!
Thalberg played, of course, at the court of Queen Victoria too and amassed a vast fortune before retiring to Naples where he founded the famous Neapolitan School of Piano Playing still very much present amongst the great pianists playing today ……….Martha Argerich for example direct from the Neapolitan school in Buenos Aires of Vincenzo Scaramuzza.
Liszt erected a statue to Thalberg which still stands in one of the main squares of Naples.
His tomb recently desecrated by some enlightened grave robbers who had obviously done their homework.
A direct descendant of his the Donna Ferrara Pignatelli di Strongoli was present at Mark’s Rome concert and was enormously enthusiastic as were the entire audience lucky to be present.
Not always the greatest music as with any composer but as Mark says he could make the piano sound sumptuous and the gorgeous sonorities could easily seduce the senses even today.
Like the great Bel Canto operas that need the unique artistry of a Callas or Sutherland to make them re live.
Today there are only a few who are passionate advocates of this music and Mark certainly joins the ranks of people like Raymond Lewenthal,Ronald Smith and Mark Andre Hamelin.
Starting his recitals with the Benediction et Serment- deux motifs de Benvenuto Cellini de Berloz S.396.
We were immediately aware of the wide range of sounds that were conjured out of the instrument .From the barely whispered opening motif to the enormous sonorities of the climax.
Always with a great sense of balance giving an almost orchestral effect to this rather sombre rarely performed work.
The three pieces by Alkan that make up his op 15 “Souvenirs – trois morceaux dans le genre pathetique ” showed off all the originality and breathtaking virtuosity of these little tone poems.
The heartrending opening almost Bellinian melody of “Aime -moi” that was to be hinted at at the end of the last piece “Morte” almost like the disintegration or nostalgic look over the shoulder at the end of Schubert’s great A major sonata .
It made one aware of the importance of playing the three pieces as a whole .
The extraordinarily delicate virtuosity in Alkan’s almost impossibly difficult depiction of the wind.”Le vent” the second piece of the Souvenirs where even here the sheer beauty of the left hand melodic line just barely hinted at was a true feat of virtuosity .
Not the passionate arpeggios of Thalberg or Liszt but a much more subtle virtuosity of a mind that is listening intently to every sound and has the capability to control each sound whether the left hand be in impossible tenths or the breathtaking velocity of the chromatic scales in the right hand.
The great Dies Irae of the last piece played or rather hinted at to the accompaniment of gong like sounds from deep in the heart of the instrument.
A critic in Vicenza asked me why this suite is not more often played until I showed her the score with a million fingerings written in the score by Mark with the same precision of a brain surgeon !
Quod erat demonstrandum!
The Fantasie sur des themes de l’opera Moise de G Rossini op 33 by Thalberg opened the second half of this fascinating journey into a past magical world.
A short but very learned introduction given by this expert was of a great help in understanding this almost unexplored world of the birth of the modern piano as we know it today.
Two of the the themes used were not by Rossini at all but in the “style of”, according to Mark who not only plays these pieces but goes into very detailed research of every aspect of the music in the archives and is fast becoming a world authority.
But when the famous theme does appear with such delicate and intricate embellishments played with an almost irresistible ,teasing sense of rubato with the same astonishing clarity of a great bel canto singer .
The build up of this seemingly innocent theme was quite exhilarating as it was surely meant to be in Thalberg’s own astonishing performances .
Sometimes reminiscent of course of the embellishments and the same technique that his rival Liszt uses in his surely undisputed masterpiece that is the “Reminiscences de Norma.”
Some truly amazing risks taken and handsomely won by this young man who is fast becoming the reincarnation of his great forebears.
A standing ovation and a rush to buy the three remarkable CD’s to take home and prolong the exultation that was generated live in the recital hall.
More than a mention should be made of his exemplary Chopin Nocturnes op 48 .
Played with a simple but very flexible aristocratic sense of rubato.
The great build up in the C minor nocturne played by a master architect who knows how the building is constructed.
A very telling almost nonchalant jeux perle in the central section of the F sharp minor nocturne suddenly made sense of this rather elusive partner.
A single encore only in Rome so far from a more than insistent public many of whom professional pianists and illustrious colleagues .
Luckily announced by the pianist himself and was by that other shadowy figure from the past Cecile Chaminade: “Meditation” op 76 n.6 and one of the pieces that will figure on a new CD of the works of this little known pianist composer and another for this more than inquisitive young virtuoso to champion.