Ronan O’Hora at the Wigmore Hall

Ronan O`Hora at the Wigmore Hall
The Wigmore Hall was completely sold out for the recital by Ronan O’Hora whom I have known and admired for quite some time as The Head of Keyboard Studies at the Guildhall .
Ex students Sasha Grynyuk ,Thibault Charrin and others were lucky to find standing room in a hall that I have rarely seen so full.
I remember introducing myself at Richard Goodes masterclass as a fellow student of Vlado Perlemuter.
Ronan was also a former full time student of Ryszard Bakst at the Royal Northern College of Music.
Mihai Ritivoiu was playing the Polonaise Fantasie by Chopin and was later to join the Keyboard Trust playing in their special presentation concerts at the Reform Club and Romanian Centre and has now embarked on an important career.
I heard him recently with orchestra at the Enescu Festival in Bucharest
I knew and much admired Ronan O’Hora’s administrative and organisational skills at the Guildhall and I was often to be found at Masterclasses of some of the greatest musicians invited by him to share their skills and experience with the students. Murray Perahia,Richard Goode,Aquiles delle Vigne are just a few that I have heard recently.
This,however, was the first time that I was able to hear him live in concert in a programme of Brahms,Beethoven and Schubert.
I was not over enthusiastic to hear the Waldstein and Wanderer Fantasy as they are two rather overplayed works but by the juxtaposition of the two Brahms Intermezzi op 118 n.2 and n.6 one could see that this was a real musicians concert.
Seeing so many well known musicians in the audience I began to realise that we were perhaps in for something special.
It was obviously not just the coffee or sherry that had brought people out on a very wintery Sunday morning!
I was not disappointed and as I said backstage afterwards what a joy to hear these masterworks played in a masterly way at last.
A beautifully played Intermezzo in A op 118.n.2 opened the programme which by coincidence was the same piece that had closed the recital of Jeremy Denk the evening before at the Guildhalls’ Milton Court .
Here it was played with such sumptuous sound ,a full string quartet not just melody and accompaniment . It had a richness and at the same time an intimacy that is very hard to create from the first note in a major London recital with Joan Havill and Bryce Morrison in the audience too!.

                                  Joan Havill with Bryce Morrison
Infact Mr Denk had played it as an encore.preferring to start his recital with Prokofiev.
Then came the really big surprise of Beethoven’s “Waldstein” Sonata.
Anyone who can create the same surprise that must have greeted Beethoven when the ink was still wet on the paper is a rare artist indeed.
The almost animal like energy of the pianissimo opening and the sudden outbursts without for a moment allowing the energy or tempo to sag were even for today’s audiences quite startling .
The energetic build up to the recapitulation was overwhelming as was the clarity and sense of line in the left hand before the coda.
The Introduction that replaced the original slow movement – later to appear separately as the Andante Favori- was just that.
A preparation for the magical opening of the Rondo.
All of Beethoven’s many indications not just played but really digested and interpreted and it gave such significance to the long held pedal notes that allow the bell like motif of the rondo to appear like magic.
Yes there was magic indeed .
How many fine pianists follow to the letter Beethoven’s revolutionary pedal markings but not many actually understand and try to recreate the effect that the composer intended.
The great virtuosistic outbursts were quite as startling in that they were not just notes but a swirling tempest of sound.
So often this work and the Wanderer are given to students to build up their technique as they are both full of scales and arpeggios and very often sound like it too!
Not today though and that was the real discovery that everything was in the context of the whole with all the details of Beethoven’s wishes meticulously noted and miraculously interpreted .
A sense of line and driving inner energy that kept this very discerning audience very much on their toes.

                                       Joan Havill with Ronan O’Hora
A cheeky bass note added in the last movement brought a wry smile on the face of Joan Havill one of the very finest trainers today of musician pianists – Paul Lewis and many others have a lot to thank her for.
There was obviously a reason that he added it as some people do in other works of Beethoven where the original instrument would not allow for certain patterns to be repeated in different keys.
It is a delicate question as is the of question of ornamentation in Mozart’s Keyboard works.
The main thing is that one is not aware of these interpretative problems from an artist if they can totally convince us and hold our attention.
The famous glissandi would have had all the pianists watching out but they were so much incorporated into the general interpretation they passed completely unnoticed.
For the record he did not split them between the hands but played them as Beethoven had intended on his much lighter pianos (Serkin used to surreptitiously lick his fingers before attempting them on our modern day pianos ).
The Prestissimo coda was played almost like the music box it is and the long pedals that Beethoven asks for wonderfully realised and lead to a most exhilarating end to a memorable musical journey.
The desolation of the Intermezzo in E flat minor has rarely been so poignant with the filigree ornamentation so delicately encompassing Brahms’ innermost feelings.
The Schubert Wanderer Fantasy was as fine as the Waldstein.
The richness of the sound and architectural cocoon in which Schuberts’ imagination was allowed to express itself, as only the greatest of all lieder composers can, gave a great sense of direction and energy to the whole.
The final Fugato eruption coming as a natural relief from all that had come before.
The beautiful “Wanderer” and the variants played like a true lieder singer would have sung them.
Every note simply played but poignant with meaning.
Abschied from Schumann’s Waldszenen was a magical way to thank his audience that had battled the elements to enjoy an hour of magic in this hallowed hall.
Coffee and Sherry were offered afterwards but many of the audience preferred to go backstage to hug the artist that had held us so spellbound on this cold Sunday morning.

with Bryce Morrison

with Thibaud Charin

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