Bertrand Chamayou at the Wigmore Hall

The remarkable London debut of Bertrand Chamayou
Best kept secret in London tonight
Bertrand Chamayou at the Wigmore Hall
I was very interested to see the name of a pianist who had arrived in Rome last year to play the Saint Saens 2nd Piano Concerto.
Who was he?
Where did he come from ?
He played a very crisp, clear concerto obviously a young pianist from the so called french school – I was thinking Pierre Sancan or Yvonne Loriot like Pierre Laurent Aimard.
So it came as a pleasant surprise to see his name at last in London with an extraordinary programme of the complete Transcendental Studies of Liszt together with arrangements by Liszt of Chopin,Schumann and Wagner.
Presented by the renowned agents Harrison and Parrott there was actually no mention on his biography of where or with whom he had studied but quite rightly his future engagements with some of the worlds greatest orchestras and appearances in many important Festivals.
It was on his CD of the complete works of Ravel that the secret was revealed and he is in fact from the school of Vlado Perlemuter having studied with Jean-Francois Heisser at the Paris Conservatoire.
Heisser,Moura Lympany had told me about some years ago and last year he gave a recital dedicated to Perlemuter in Padua where together with Rome Perlemuter gave some of his last concerts.
Early studies at the Toulouse Conservatoire with Claudine Willoth and he would every summer frequent the Ravel Academy directed by Heisser in Saint- Jean -de- Luz.
It was in many ways a remarkable London debut not as well attended as one would have thought but that I am sure will change now that he has presented his quite exceptional visiting card.
Starting with the Six Polish Songs op 74 by Chopin arranged by Liszt.
The Maiden’s Wish (n.1) and The Enchantress (n.5) are well known from the recordings of Rachmaninov and Rosenthal but the others I think this is the first time I have heard them played together in recital.
The Maiden’s Wish(n.1) immediately established his credentials as a pianist of extraordinary subtle virtuosity as well as having very fine musical taste. The filigree work in the variations played with a jeux perle that was of another era .
Similar to the Soiree de Vienne that Horowitz could beguile us with in his final performances.
The Enchantress(n.5) was just played so simply too and with such a beautiful liquid cantabile that seemed to dissolve into thin air at the end.
Spring (n.2) was allowed to unfold so naturally with a great sense of style and very subtle rubato.
The infectious mazuka rhythm of the Ring (n.3)leading without a break into n.4 the rousing Drinking Song with its great stamping rhythms superbly marked and a glissando that slid so easily from this pianists hands.
The Wigmore audience at this point had lost count in a work that is almost never performed as a complete set.
So after the extremely dramatic and technically brilliant , Alkan like n.6 -The Bridegroom – After the most passionate outbursts the piece dissolves into a murmur and there was complete silence- we were still at n.5!
Looking slightly surprised after such a successful performance the pianist plunged into the better known Fruhlingsnacht and Widmung by Schumann jumping up at the end to signify that the Schumann group was over!
He need not have worried because the Wigmore Hall audience has been spoilt by Graham Johnson and his illustrious colleagues over the years in memorable performances of these songs in their original versions.
It was here that we were made aware of the fact that although these were quite remarkable performances, not only technically impeccable but also musically very assured, once the pianist got over forte the wonderful colours and the sumptuous piano sound seemed to vanish and the continual full but never hard sound became rather monotonous .
Whilst we could marvel at the amazing virtuosity on a par with that of Lazar Berman the sense of colour and overall architectural shape was blurred by a superhuman capacity to surmount the most extraordinarily difficult hurdles that Liszt puts in his way at the expense of what the human ear can receive.
It is a conjuring trick that only the greatest musicians can solve satisfactorily .It is all a question of balance and a finely tuned ear.
The long legato melody in Widmung was most beautifully shaped only to be lost in the funambular extrovert elaborations that Liszt wove around one of Schumann’s most sublime creations.
A very impressive performance of the rarely heard Transformation scene from Parsifal – Feierlicher Marsch zum heiligen Gral.
Impressive for the enormous sonorities helped by the use of the pedal that created an overwhelming impression.
Followed by a superb performance of the Liebestod from Tristan.
Liszt’s famous account of the final scene of Tristan played with a clarity where each of the elaborate strands was made so clear to follow with a subtle sense of colour leading to the seemingly tumultuous climax only to die away to nothing.
Missing the sumptuous rich sound of a really “grand” piano it was nevertheless in many ways the highlight of a remarkable recital.
I remember hearing all the Transcendental Studies in the hands of Lazar Berman at the Festival Hall many years ago and having the same sensation that the overpowering sonorities and superhuman stamina and technical accomplishment was too much for the human ear to absorb in a live performance.
The piano these days can take it the human ear cannot.
In the recording studio things can be toned down and the microphone adjusted where a live performance is very different.
The impression of forte or fortissimo should only be an impression and not taken quite so literally.
It was not only Lazar Berman ( known in the profession I believe as Lazarbeam because of his superhuman pianistic capacity).
I heard him many years later give an exquisite performance of all the Chopin Polonaises as was befitting a disciple of Goldenweiser.
Sokolov too I had heard exaggerate in the same way in Rome with the Schumann Humoresque only to hear the next season one of the most remarkable performances of the Hammerklavier.
And so it was today not wishing in any way to denigrate the amazing performance we heard today that I just found too much of a good thing.
Paysage and Ricordanza in particular were memorable.
As was the amazing performance of Feux Follets – only ever heard similar in public from the young russian pianist Dinara Klinton.
Mazeppa was just about held in control at breakneck speed an amazing feat indeed.
The octaves in the Eroica study were truly phenomenal and the technical precision in the F minor remarkable.
But for all these superhuman feats there was missing the sumptuous sound that the piano should be making and a level of sound that became in the end monotonous.
Whilst we were able to admire and be astonished we were not seduced and taken into the realm of the Golden era of the true Romantic tradition.
However I very much look forward to hearing again this remarkable young pianist in a different repertoire and look forward to listening to his complete Ravel so inspired by my old teacher Vlado Perlemuter.

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