Pavlovic at the Royal Albert Hall

Aleksandar Pavlović at the Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall
Nice to be back in the Elgar Room again where the Royal College of Music have been giving concerts since 1884!
Mr Barton played the Chopin third Ballade in that very first concert and it was indeed Chopin that struck gold today too.
Students or I should say young artists from the Royal College now have the opportunity to play to a sold out audience on Sunday mornings in what is billed as “Classical Coffee Morning “.
A full house today where obviously many had come for the coffee and cakes on offer in these very august settings together with an hour of music.
Little were they expecting to hear such impressive performances  such as we were treated to today.
I doubt anyone would have dared lift their cup whilst they were listening to the young Serbian graduate from the class of that very distinguished trainer of real musicians Norma Fisher

Royal College of Music
And it was indeed in the middle section of the Chopin Polonaise Fantasie that his aristocratic and mature understanding became truly enthralling.
Having seen Aleksandar recently in an archive film shown before the Rome International Piano Competition now in its 25th year .
A young boy of 12, winner of the Junior Section of this relatively unknown competition which Marcella Crudeli with her intrepid resilience and enthusiasm matched only by that of Carola Grindea combined with EPTA to give the stage not only to mature artists but also to those youngsters with major talent as we have seen today.
Having heard Aleksandar Pavlović in this very hall two years ago I was immediately struck by his great musicality and sensitivity but also felt it missed the architectural solidity and control that a mature artist must acquire.
Hats off to Norma Fisher for giving him the time to study under her expert guidance and mature into the artist that was before us today .
Norma Fisher herself ,as our mutual “piano daddy”Sidney Harrison had done for her as a school girl, has allowed the freedom for the talent to develop naturally but with great patience to point the direction and convince (not always easy with such talent) him to listen to himself and acquire his own musical taste and personality.

Ian Hobson at the Chopin Society
It is no coincidence that at the Chopin Society later this afternoon another of Sidney Harrisons students Ian Hobson is playing.
We were teenagers together studying in Chiswick ,as Norma before us, with the first man to give piano lessons on the television at a time when one looked into that brown box in the corner of a few privileged homes .
Ian Hobson from a talented youth from Coventry ,thanks to that same very careful training, has since gone on to win the Leeds International Piano Competition and create an important career in America as Professor,Pianist and Conductor.
Many of the public told me afterwards today of how they had noted my concentration on Pavolvic’s performances and I explained that it was so involving that I and I am sure many others present had found a cup of cold coffee untouched at the end of his astounding performance of the Scriabin Fantasie that finished this all too short programme.
Twice in this Elgar room but next time for a sure we will be applauding in the 6000 seat hall next door known as the Town Hall of London.
The Royal Albert Hall that thankfully no bomb or demolition squad has had in its sights. What better memorial could a loving wife leave her adored husband.
United forever in this unique space .
Not an easy task to present yourself at 11 am impeccably dressed in a dinner jacket and to sit down in front of a full hall and be confronted with a bright red Yamaha grand piano.
The piano donated to the Elgar Room by Markson Pianos was in fact used by Elton John on his Big Red Piano Tour.
Starting also with one of Beethoven’s most allusive openings to be played ” with innermost sensibility” .
Hats off to this young artist ,still only 24, that he could create the atmosphere immediately.
The hands caressing the keys and allowing the melody to evolve almost as a great lieder singer might have done.

Aleksandar Pavlovic
Some exquisite phrasing and very delicate use of the sustaining pedal gave a very liquid un percussive sound to this great song like opening.
Hinted at in the previous little sonata op 90 but now fully born in the first of the last five great sonatas where Beethoven could only imagine the celestial sounds he had in his head.
The Schumanesque type march that followed was played with great rhythmic control only very rarely did Pavlovic’s youthful temperament disturb the unyielding flow that Beethoven demands.
“Slow and longingly” Beethoven asks for in the third movement and this young artist certainly treated us to that today with such a beautifully modulated melodic line leading to the last movement played with great deliberation as Beethoven asks and here Pavlovic’s great temperament finally caught fire.
Great control in this very difficult movement with the typical Beethovenian outbursts played with such full rich orchestral sound.

With Canan Maxton of Talent Unlimited
This in turn lead to an extraordinary performance of Chopin’s Polonaise Fantasie.
So often played with more Fantasie than Polonaise and as the opening great expanse of sounds unravelled out of the majestic opening chords I thought we were in for another of those interpretations from the so called Chopin specialist.
Those that specialise in playing with great feeling but rarely in time.
However in this late work of Chopin one was aware of a very serious musical mind much like that of a Perahia or Zimerman where there can be flexibility and passion combined with great control and sense of architectural shape.
Yes the roots in the ground and the branches free to move naturally in the wind as Chopin would describe his so called rubato to his aristocratic but rather poor lady students that he was forced to teach to survive.
Unfortunately the tradition from these second rate amateur pianists has been passed down as the authentic Chopin.
Nothing could be further from the truth as Artur Rubinstein and many after him have since shown us.
The build up to the final outburst was very well judged and kept excitingly under control.
Never have I heard the Scriabin Fantasie played with such a clear sense of line and direction.
A very passionately felt performance in which control, musicianship and sense of balance gave a commanding vision to this often fragmented piece that comes between the 3rd and 4th sonatas.
In a single movement it is a challenge for the performer to bring all the various strands and contrasting episodes together making the final passionate explosion so inevitably right.
It brought this short hour long programme to a sumptuous romantic finish .
Despite insistent applause no encore was possible after such a trascendental exhibition of such mastery.

The Camerata in Love

Camerata in Love
Stoller Hall Manchester
Rebecca Bottone,Ilya Kondratiev,Caroline Pether,Hannah Roberts. …..and an unexpected visit from Callum Mclachlan.
Now in its second year the inspired and inspiring collaboration between the Keyboard Charitable Trust and the Manchester Camerata opened its second year last night in the magnificent new Stoller Hall that is a great and much needed addition to Chethams Music School.
This remarkable school that like the Purcell and Menuhin schools further south have been responsible for the early training of so many talented young children .
A training sadly lacking for so many years in England that allowed too often in the past, an unfair advantage from young early trained musicians from the Eastern countries. This is now no longer the case and it is no coincidence that there has been an explosion of english trained talent on the International Music scene in the past few years.
One of three orchestras in this enlightened (literally) city.
The Camerata is the only one to maintain the cities name according to Geoffrey Shindler,their honorary chairman who was so proud to inform me.
The Halle created by Sir John Barbirolli whose statue stands outside the relatively new Bridgewater Hall that it shares with the BBC Philharmonic.
Manchester an industrial city that had been treated so cruelly in the second world war and even recently suffered a devastating bomb attack from terrorists right in its very heart only a stones throw from the Cathedral and Chethams.
The brave and resilient Mancunians with that noble working spirit of the north have come back stronger and more determined than ever.
A city full of new concert halls,theatres,art galleries and astonishing commercial centres incorporating the old with the new.
Last year the Keyboard Trust collaborated with the Manchester Camerata in three different venues with three young stars from the KCT stable . The Whitworth award winning Art gallery with Alexander Ullman the only British pianist ever to have won both Liszt International Competitions in Budapest and Utrecht
Home a cultural centre that has grown out of the old leather foundry with Emanuel Rimoldi,winner of Tromso Top of the World International Competition .
Manchester Cathedral,devastated in the war and brought back to life as a symbol of this brave City with Iyad I. Sughayer,recent winner of the Trinity Laban Gold Medal. It was an inspired choice of programme with Haydn`s Last Words on the Cross and Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time. Geoffrey Shindler and many in the vast audience were deeply moved and had tears in their eyes.

Geoffrey Shindler with Ilya Kondratiev
It cemented a relationship that was the brain child of Geoffrey Shindler passionately believing in “The Next Generation “and sponsoring it from his own pocket too.
But then the hardy folk from the “North” have never been afraid to bare their souls with actions rather than words.
And so the new season with Ilya Kondratiev , Chapell Gold Medal Winner at the Royal College of Music and a top prize winner too in the Budapest Liszt Competition,joined two of the magnificent players from the Camerata to form a piano trio in a concert dedicated to Valentine`s day under the charming title “Camerata in Love” .
The idea of bassoonist and now enlightened Head of Artistic Development and Programming,James Thomas.

Rebecca Bottone with James Thomas
At the head of a young team of passionate music promoters in the name of the Camerata under their chief in command Bob Riley.
All with that warmth and intelligent common sense that is so much part of these extraordinary “down to earth” folk.
A programme made up of Romances for violin.and piano with Caroline Pether`s superb violin and the renowned cellist Hannah Roberts.
A Salut d`Amour ,of course,could not be missing and neither could Il Bacio sung by the daughter of Bonaventura Bottone the renowned coloratura soprano Rebecca Bottone.
All this only a prelude to the” sturm und drang” of Brahm`s passionate youthful masterwork the Trio in B major op.8.

Caroline Pether with Ilya Kondratiev
The beauty of the sound of Caroline Pethers violin filled the hall with all her subtle and intelligent artistry that she had already revealed in the final rehearsals that afternoon.
The Beethoven Romance n.2 in F op.50,too rarely heard these days and given a suitably warm and loving performance as was befitting an evening dedicated to love and lovers.

Caroline Pether with Ilya Kondratiev
A full orchestra provided by Ilya Kondratiev on a Steinway D on full stick.
Never overpowering the violin this fine musician was listening always attentively as the refined and sensitive driver of this Ferrari of all instruments.
Hannah Roberts followed with the Romance in A major by Faure .
A refined and passionate performance playing without the score that gave full reign to her complete participation .
I remember Perlemuter asking me to tell the public in Rome before he played some nocturnes by Faure of how the director of the Paris Conservatoire would pass the music down to him in the house they shared with the ink still wet to try out on their piano.
His music shows just that intimate love of Hausmusik that was so much part of all the performances this evening.
Little could we have expected the bomb shell that a little blond haired lady was about to treat us too.
Rebecca Bottone,figlia d`arte of the renowned Bonaventura Bottone and Jennifer Hakin treated us to three show stoppers indeed.
Vilja from Lehar’s Merry Widow sung with a subtle charm reciprocated by our young russian pianist in a duo of give and take that kept the Valentine audience spellbound.
“O mio babbino caro”from Gianni Schicchi did its trick as it had done in the many memorable performances I heard in my student days of Caballe.
Just as beautiful and sustained and quite as moving as I remember those performances.Backed by some beautiful sounds from the piano.
They launched into Arditi`s Il Bacio with all the energy and transcendental technique of the greatest coloratura sopranos for whom it was written.
An amazing performance in which Ilya and Rebecca tried to out do each other in funabular trickery.
An amazing high C showed just who won!
A standing ovation and time for an interval in what was really just the Hors d’oeuvre to our Valentine treat.
I well remember Michael Aspinall the well known – infamous one might almost say-“Gentleman Soprano” who performed it regularly in Rome with the Adelina Patti embellishments .
Sutherland and Caballe used to come and cheer his performances and recognised his absolute authority in the repertoire of the Golden Age of singing.
Having started as a joke at the British Council in Rome dressed as “Britannia” and impersonating to the letter Dame Clara Butt’s inimitable performances he found he could earn  enough money from his performances worldwide to help with his musicological studies in the archives of S.Carlo in Naples and elsewhere.
He appeared a few years ago dressed as Britannia at his old Grammar School in Manchester much to the amazement and amusement of his fellow old boys.
Now in his 80th year he is a much sought after singing teacher in Naples with many illustrious students of his singing in the Opera houses around the world.
Elgar’s sublime Salut d’Amour op 12 opened the second half in a trio version arranged by Hannah’s composer husband.
Elgars hymn to love with some intricate counterpoints with some suggestion of the violin and cello concertos.
 Elgar’s song to love so beautifully played by all three as the melody passed from one to another in a real amorous tete a tete .The intellectual refinement of the counterpoint was a little bit lost as the violin and cello soared into the perfect acoustic of this beautiful hall.

Caroline Pether Ilya Kondratiev Hannah Roberts
The main work on the programme was still to come with Brahms passionate and youthful early Trio in B major op 8 .
Played with red hot passion in an exciting and stimulating performance with three players who had only played together for a the past three days .
The beautiful opening on the piano echoed hauntingly by the cello ,passionate and refined.
When the violin enters in unison with the cello and the melody soared with such intensity one could see the almost aching agony on the faces of these dedicated artists.
Barbirolli used to answer any criticism of Jacqueline Du Pre’s red hot performances with the comment that if you do not play with that passion when you are young what do you pare off in old age .
Alas with Jacqueline Du Pre we were never to know.
So cruelly taken from us at only 28.

In rehearsal Brahms Trio op 8
The Scherzo played with real rhythmic energy the piano answered so perfectly by the cello.
The Trio section sang in stark relief to the impish energy either side.
Some wonderful jeux perle playing from the piano gave an exquisite sheen to this movement.
The serenity of the slow movement was almost as a relief from the intensity of the outer movements .Choral like in its religious calm.
Hannah’s cello slipped in almost unnoticed on the last chord and lead to a tumultuous final movement full of the typical dance like energy that was to mark so many of Brahms’ final movements .The cascading final notes of the piano echoed by the passionate chords from the cello and piano brought an ovation from an audience overwhelmed by a really exhilarating performance.
Manchester the city where music abounds and in the Summer months becomes a mecca for the greatest musicans from around the globe.
The Chethams Summer Piano Festival devised by Murray McLachlan bring the greatest talents in a breathtakingly unique programme which last year included Peter Frankl,Dmitri Alexeev,Craig Shepherd,Leslie Howard ,Carlo Grante,Leon McCawley,Norika Ogawa,Dina Parakhina,Norma Fisher and many many more besides All the Beethoven Concertos played by a selection of these great artists.
Murray McLachlan an ex student of Norma Fisher at the Royal Northern College of Music where she has now transferred her London Masterclasses celebrating it’s 30th year and bringing even more illustrious music to this remarkable city.

Callum McLachlan
Murray McLachlan with his family of musicians too and we were delighted to be able to listen to his very talented eighteen year old son Callum play so beautifully Chopin op 35 and Beethoven op 7 in a pause between rehearsal and concert.
The Hills certainly are full of the Sound of Music which by coincidence is playing at the Palace Theatre and only goes to mirror a fraction of the exciting things that are happening in this remarkable city.
Enlightened indeed ….it is positively gleaming

Callum and Ilya after the concert

Hon.Chairman and acting Chairman enjoying the interval break

James Thomas and Emma Wigley the concerts officer and magnificent stage manager on this occasion

The Funambulism of Louis Lortie in Rome

Louis Lortie in Rome …The Complete Chopin Studies
Not many pianists can approach all the Chopin studies in one sitting and so it was with some trepidation that I entered that hallowed S.Cecilia Hall and saw just a piano on its own.
Admittedly a Steinway D of Fabbrini so I knew we were in good hands.
Having heard Louis Lortie recently too in Saint- Saens fourth piano concerto in Turin and last year  in two truly monumental performances of Brahms F minor Sonata in London and Rome
I was sure we were in for a memorable occasion.
I well remember my wonder on discovering as a boy the recording of Alfred Cortot.
All the studies plus the Preludes op 28.
It had passed into history his public performances of this programme.
Each little tone poem full of glittering jewels and subtle poetry.
Vladimir Ashkenazy in my youth gave memorably poetic performances of the studies op 10 and 25 together with the Beethoven Sonatas op 31 in two recitals at the Festival Hall and was his visiting card in London together with Rachmaninoff Concerto n.3 and Prokofiev n.2.
We tend to forget what a poet he was at the keyboard now he is more often seen with a baton in his golden hands.
Stefan Askenase too gave a memorable performance of the complete studies as did Fou Ts’ong in London and for us on my request in Rome.
I will never forget Jan Smeterlin in op.10 n.2.One of the most transcendentally difficult studies in chromatic notes played with a beguiling charm and some unexpected but beautiful pointing of inner parts as befitted a disciple of Leopold Godowsky.
Godowsky ,the pianists pianist ,made notorious arrangements of all the studies sometimes combining two together,but always maintaining and sometimes augmenting their poetic content.
Artur Rubinstein stuck to those few where he felt he had something to say.”You have to love what you play” he is famously quoted as saying  and op 25 n.5 in E minor was truly memorable as was the excitement he generated at the end of op.10 n.4 in C sharp minor. We were all astonished when in his final recital at the Wigmore Hall he played so beautifully op 25 n.2 that we had never heard him play before.
He could not see out of the corners of his eyes and so abandoned his 2nd Scherzo a lifetime warhorse that alas he could not longer tame .
The study lies beautifully in the middle register of the piano and there was certainly nothing wrong with his magical fingers even in his 90’s
Richter ,of course,arrived late in life with his Yamaha piano and little light on the score and proceeded to astonish us with his choice of some of the most difficult studies.
Strange that Piero Rattalino in his learned programme notes “Chopin entre deux ages” had forgotten to mention what is generally recognised as the finest modern account of the studies on record.
That of Murray Perahia.
I doubt he would play them complete in concert but has preferred to play a few at a time nurturing them with all his masterly musicianship,control and delicacy.
Shura Cherkassky’s 1955 account so lauded by Rattalino but strangely disowned by Shura when he heard it had reappeared on the paper stall in Italy.
Like Arrau whose masterly account of op 25 he was not at all happy with.
These are indeed the pinnacle of the pianistic repertoire and each of these master pianists have had different peaks in view.
Today listening to Louis Lortie playing with astonishing precision and startling speed, whilst I could understand his wish to present the studies as an architectural whole I felt it was at the expense of the poetic content of each individual study.
Some of the studies in particular from op 10 whilst marvelling at the performance no real characterisation or sense of colour was possible.
Even the beautiful study in E major op 10 n.3 played with an admirable cantabile was somehow never allowed to flow simply and the accompaniment sounded strangely agitated.
Nothing to do with the tempo which has always been in discussion since Chopin changed Vivace ma non troppo to Lento ma non troppo.
This is to do with simplicity and getting away from the Chopin tradition which is the opposite of Chopin’s distinct wish for the roots to be always firmly planted whilst allowing the branches to sway naturally.This was surprisingly also in evidence in the Nocturne offered as an encore
The dramatic contrasts in the “Revolutionary”study were strangely missing too.
However there were many memorable things such as the sweep and passionate shaping of the final study op.25 n.12.
The beautiful simplicity of the sublime central section of op.25 n.5 in E minor.
The lack of sentimentality and sense of forward drive of the beautiful op 10 n.6.
Surely the melody is in the left hand in the double third study op 25 n.6 in G sharp minor.Not evident here although the treacherous double thirds were thrown off with admirable ease.
I well remember Perlemuters memorable performance of this one in particular when he played the op.25 set at his debut in Italy at the age of 81!
Agosti was unforgettable in his studio in Siena pointing out with such passion the left hand melody in the scintillating op.10 n.8 in F major .
It was just this that was missing in spite of an astonishingly accurate jeux perle in the right hand .
Some beautiful sounds in the Trois Nouvelles Etudes although the middle one -legato/staccato – was a rather too rumbustious bed fellow for these three most poetic studies written for the Methode des Methodes of Fetis and Moscheles.
After such a tour de force Louis Lortie still had the strength to offer an encore. Chopin’s most magical nocturne in D flat played with a haunting sense of colour that held the audience at last mesmerised by the true poet that is Louis Lortie.
Maybe it is time to leave these complete performances of studies, whether Liszt ,Chopin .Rachmaninov, as a visiting card for the latest “whizz kids” who have the energy and time to prove their laurels.
If they are photogenic the record industry will have a field day in marketing them!
Artists of the stature of Louis Lortie need no better proof of their mastery than the magisterial performances of the great master works such as Brahms F minor Sonata which are but of a chosen few.