Some very refined playing of great style in works by Debussy,Beethoven and Liszt.
A very well oiled technique ,that I mean as a great compliment and it is something that one often notices in Hungarian born pianists.
I am thinking of course of Geza Anda, who had a very clean and clear sound capable of many colours but always very incisive.
His performances of Schumann Davidsbundler,Chopin Studies ,Beethoven op 110 or the Brahms B flat Concerto are some of the finest on record.
He was a disciple of Ernst von Dohnanyi.
It is then no coincidence that Keishi Suzuki is preparing for his doctorate on Dohnanyi and it is obviously this influence that has very much shaped his musical taste for sound.
It was obvious from the first of two Preludes by Debussy that opened the programme
”Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest” was played with a clarity that is very rare to hear in this particular prelude.The pedal at a minimum but just the right amount to create the atmosphere of the slow rising of the west wind building to a tumultuous climax showing off all his remarkable command of the keyboard.
General Lavine was truly” eccentic” and played with a great sense of style that really brought the title to life.
It is interesting to note that Debussy gave titles to the preludes at the end of each prelude.
It is the music that talks and suggests the title.
The mighty Sonata in D op 10 n.3 by Beethoven was given an incisive performance in which Beethoven’s precise indications were scrupulously noted.
A rhythmic drive that did not exclude the many surprises that Beethoven has in store in the first movement.
Great attention to the bass especially in the development section gave a weight and importance to the arresting chord before the reappearance of the first theme.
The beautiful second subject was played with a lyricism that did not interfere with the continual drive that is starting to be so characteristic of Beethoven from this early sonata from op 10 onwards.
The mighty Largo e mesto that followed had a perfect sense of both weight and balance that allowed the melodic line to sing out in a most subtle way with the sudden outbursts played with a rarely heard precision and clarity.
Beethoven’s very particular pedal effects over a long held note were beautifully managed and the lead up to the climax was quite overwhelming in its intensity that made the final notes disappearing into thin air so extraordinary.
The Trio section of the Menuetto -Allegro that followed was played with a quite infectious sense of bucolic fun all the more so for his scrupulous attention to Beethoven’s legato and staccato markings.
The Rondo too was remarkable for his absolute attention to the rests which are every bit as important as the actual notes especially in this surprising movement.
The disappearance of the final notes in a haze of chromatic scales and arpreggios was even more remarkable for his ability to maintain the tempo to the very end with some very subtle colouring and balance between the hands.
The second half of the programme was dedicated to Liszt.Some beautifully poetic playing in the rarely heard Faribolo Pasteur S 236 n.1 and the Schubert /Liszt “Der Muller und der Bach.”
The Hungarian Rhapsodies n.12 and 13 were played with superb virtuosity and sense of style.
The climax of the 12th Rhapsody was played with all the passionate involvement that these bravura showpieces demand and the repeated notes in the 13th played in true virtuoso style.
Widmung by Schumann/Liszt was the beautiful encore offered to a very enthusiastic audience.
Wonderfully shaped with a subtle clarity leading to a sumptuous climax before dying away to a murmur .It showed of all the artistic qualities of this remarkable young pianist
It was under the banner of War and Conflict that H.E .The Hungarian Ambassador presented the programme with the RPO at Cadogan Hall last night.
Three Hungarian composers Kodaly,Liszt and Bartok to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the end first world war – the war to end all wars!
Who better to be at the helm with the Liszt First Piano Concerto than Mariam Batsashvili The young winner a few years ago of the Liszt Competition in Utrecht and fast making a name for herself after a London debut a few years ago that seemed to go un noticed.
It was very moving to see the spontaneous standing ovation given to Dmitri Alexeev at the end of his recital for the Chopin Society in the Westminster Hall in London.
In their series of past top prize winners of the Leeds International Piano Competition it was the turn of Dmitri Alexeev who had won first prize in 1975.
Mitsuko Uchida and Andras Schiff were second and third.
He has gone on to a worldwide career.
He played for us in Teatro Ghione in Rome some memorable recitals in 1996 and 2003 always represented by Donatella Brizio his adorable old style agent in Milan who is much missed
He was a favourite soloist for the artistic director of the Radio Symphony Orchestra in Rome,Lanza Tomassi.
It would be hard to ever forget his memorable performance of Rachmaninov 3rd Piano Concerto with them.
Listening some time ago to a radio interview he explained that he had decided after years of travelling the world playing with the greatest orchestras and conductors that he would dedicate himself to travelling and playing less in order to help talented young musicians- the next generation.
Infact he is one of the most sought after and renowned teachers at the Royal College of Music in London .
It was at this rare appearance in London where many of the finest young pianists came to applaud and thank their dedicated mentor.
It was a display of piano playing that London is all too rarely used to hearing.
It had a sense of weight and commitment that allowed the piano to sing in a way that we are not used to hearing these days.
A cantabile sound of such richness that it would have carried with the same intensity to the back of the largest halls as it would appear to the nearest .
With actors it would be the use of the diaphram to allow the voice to be modulated and projected.
A tender “I love you” would be appreciated by the public in the front row as it would in the last.These days actors rely on artificial means of amplification and only the greatest of stage actors seem to know what a diaphram is and its importance.
Richter described with great admiration the magical sound of Rubinstein as “the good old professional cantabile.”The Russian school was more preoccupied with the sounds from pianissimo to mezzo piano.
Richter and Gilels were the magicians that could conjure up both.
Richter was of course unique in his own magic world of pure genius.
Gilels was much less “Russian” in his approach to sound and it was Rubinstein who on hearing a young red headed boy play in the class of a teacher in Russia had exclaimed that if he ever came to the west he would pack up his bags immediately!
And it was of Gilels that I was reminded today.
The total commitment combined to a sound world in which anything was possible.
Like a beautiful cocoon that has he created in which the musical intelligence of Alexeev could operate with a freedom and sense of direction without ever the possibility of seeming indulgent or in bad taste.
There was never a doubt of his musical intentions in a long programme of Scriabin and Chopin.
I believe he has embarked on recording all the works of Scriabin which include many of the smaller works rarely performed in the west.
It was a revelation to hear the little waltz op 38 with its charming “tinkerbell” type call to order .
Together with the Mazukas played with the same charm and colour that he later reserved for the much better known ones of Chopin.
What was truly a revelation was the Vers la Flamme op 72 following on from superb performances of the two better known poems op.69 .
Vers la Flamme I had heard recently from a very fine french pianist at the Wigmore Hall A very clean and clear performance in which the two note motif was hammered out incessantly.
In Alexeevs hands we heard the gurgling of murky waters in which the motif was revealed.As the water got hotter and hotter so the motif became more urgent until a boiling point of such overwhelming intensity was reached and there was a gasp from an audience totally mesmerised and involved as Alexeev was.
Throwing himself at the desperate trills in the end it was a harrowing and unforgettable experience for us all.
The Fantasie too received a very involved performance.
A work which is played a lot these days as it is has become a showpiece for advanced students and is the more accessible early Scriabin.
Here was a lesson of how to blend together all the many strands of knotty twine that Scriabin weaves but at the same time to follow the direction of each with an almost Wagnerian subtlety.
A very powerful reading of great passion when needed but also of such sumptuous sounds.
Interesting to see that Alexeev has no worries about dividing the hands at the beginning of the Polonaise- Fantasie by Chopin .More preoccupied about the actual sounds than the way they are produced.
It was an opening of pure magic where the opening fanfares seemed to reverberate throught the piano as I am sure Chopin intended.
The return of the fanfare too in which time seemed to stand still such was his aristocratic understanding throughout of Chopins world.
The wonderful sculptured cantabile of the yearning almost mazuka type nostagic motif and the build up to the end was extraordinary.
Without any hardness but through a subtle use of the pedal and sense of balance he brought the final few bars to a truly triumphal ending.
The Rondo op 1 rarely heard since the passing of Magaloff.
It is a charming early work and was played with just the charm and style of the great pianists of the past.
No jeux perle though but cascades of notes and a subtle use of the pedals that made the return of the rondo theme seem like an old friend returning with a simplicty and clarity that contrased with the showpiece that Chopin had obviously written for his early appearances in the salons of Paris and Warsaw.
The four Mazukas were treated as a whole with the op 30 n.3 leading into the op 63.n.2.
A wonderful sense of rubato never sentimental but with great inner profound meaning
.The Polonaise op 53 brought the house down as it always did for Rubinstein.
The famous octaves were dispatched like the triumphant troups they are supposed to represent.
The melodic line always foremost in mind with a very subtle sense of balance that never allowed us to be outside the cocoon that he had created.
There was an aura created around the piano from the first note to the last where the magician Alexeev could cast his spell on us as he wished.
A spell that had the usual rather well behaved Chopin Society screaming for more.
The Noctune in C sharp minor op posth was the first of four encores and exemplified all that had so enraptured us.
Never since Rubinstein or Gilels have I heard the piano sing with such beauty and nobility.
Aristocratic one might say but never detached but totally committed from the first to the last note.
Following with another Mazurka by Scriabin and the E minor Waltz of Chopin .
The final D sharp Study by Scriabin had the usually rather well behaved audience on their feet to thank the Master that had given them so much this afternoon .
And so Hugh Mather’s amazing season just gets better and better.
With Hugh at the helm and Roger Nellist directing the video recording in the organ loft and Lara Melda at the piano not even the terrible weather could keep a capacity crowd from coming on a very cold and wet Tuesday afternoon.
We were indeed warmed by Lara Melda’s very simple beautiful playing of Chopin Four Ballades .
The Liszt Ballade n.2 acting as contrast between 1/2 and 3/4.
Simplicity is the hardest thing to acquire for a real interpreter and so it is with real admiration that I congratulated and thanked her at the end of the recital.
I have never had an opportunity to listen to Lara before and asked her if she was receiving guidance still .
Oh yes she modestly replied :with Alfred Brendel.
Of course it all fitted into place.
As students we used to buy the Turnabout recordings for 50 pence of a virtually unknown pianist to hear such illuminated , intelligent and simple performances of Beethoven and Liszt.
That pianist was of course the now legendary Alfred Brendel.
At Dartington in 1968 at the masterclasses of Perlemuter I well remember the young daughter of the critic Martin Cooper playing Valses Nobles by Ravel to this disciple of Ravel.
I was a first year student at the RAM but I have never forgotten that exceptionally he had nothing to say except to compliment her not only on her superb musicianship but also on her perfect French!
Imogen Cooper was also taken under the wing of Alfred Brendel and not only has gone on to a worldwide career but has found time to share her knowledge with others by forming the Imogen Cooper Trust of which Lara is the first scholarship holder
I read too that Lara graduated from the RCM with first class honours in 2016 where she studied with Ian Jones.
Already before entering the RCM she had won the BBC Young Musician 2010 Competition.
Only in her mid- twenties she already has an enviable curriculum of playing with some of the finest orchestras and in the finest venues.
It is this experience and supreme professionalism that shone through a recital that reminded me of the Matthay school as exemplified by Dame Myra Hess and even more of Dame Moura Lympany.
Moura Lympany I knew well and when she could no longer play or travel away from her home in Montecarlo I used to send her a video recording of our concerts in Rome and we would discuss the performances on the telephone.
On hearing Peter Frankl play the Liszt Sonata magnificently as only a true musician could, she even wrote to him personally to thank him.
He of course had not known that Dame Moura was present!
All this to say that Lara plays with that same beautiful simplicity that is so hard to achieve especially at such a young age and especially with Chopin and Liszt.
So often the red hot passion of youth in these romantic masterpieces can lead to exaggerations where the heart takes precedence over the mind.
Where the passion of the moment takes over from the absolute control that is necessary and is evident with the experience gained by more mature players.
Here were the four ballades played beautifully and simply.
There was delicacy, feeling and passion too but a control and sense of musical command that is unusual in someone so young.
This was also the hallmark of the young Imogen Cooper and why she received such praise from a mature master as Perlemuter.
The overall architecture and shape were so clear.
Some small blemishes were of no importance on a musical journey of this stature.
Technically she is not of the dynamic Russian school but like Moura and Myra she has a real technical command and can produce the sounds that she hears.
One of the rare occasions of a pianist that actually listens to herself whilst she is playing
Cherkassky often used to say after listening to the latest whizz kid “ but I don’t think they are listening to themselves.”
Mention should be made of the beautiful and intelligent performance of the Liszt Ballade n.2 in B minor.
A true masterpiece revealed in her intelligent hands with sumptuous sounds of delicacy and grandeur just as I remember Brendel all those years ago.
She will choose her repertoire carefully as Imogen Cooper ,Paul Lewis and Alfred Brendel do to share their discovery of music with us.
The Realm of the Gods indeed !
The recital can be heard on BBC radio 3 on the 3rd December at 1 am live from the Wigmore Hall.
The next concert in Hugh Mathers series will be a day dedicated to Liszt on Saturday 24th November at 1.pm and onwards .
Her successor Peter Tuite had invited Boris Petrushansky to give a masterclass.
Petrushansky was a top prize winner in one of the first Leeds Piano Competitions and has since combined an International career with his teaching at the renowned Academy in Imola created by Franco Scala.
Many of the finest young pianists playing today have benefitted from his guidance.
It was a fascinating masterclass but just a pity that it was in russian with a rather intimidated student translator that slowed the whole process down.
Teaching on this level is one to one so a third party as in all intimate relationships can be one too many and create problems!
“Get Closer” Roberto Prosseda and Oleg Caetani at the Festival Hall
As always a fascinating journey of discovery with Roberto Prosseda with his appearance with the London Philharmonic introducing the pedal piano to London audiences.
The last time he was here was with the then unknown conductor Yannick Nezet Seguin with Mendelssohn’s 3rd piano concerto ( fragments of a third concerto never finished but assembled and completed by Marcello Bufalini).
Roberto went on to record it with Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra for Decca.
(The unknown Nezet Seguin has since become director of the Philadelphia Orhestra after Riccardo Muti!)
And this time he brings to London Gounod’s Concerto for Pedal Piano in E flat -1889.
He was shown the then unpublished score in 2010 by Gerard Conde who explained that Gounod had given the original manuscript to Lucie Palicot for whom his four works were written.
A student of the son of Alkan ,Elie Dalaborde It was her appearances in Paris at the Salle Pleyel in 1882 ,having also heard Alkan himself in 1875 , that inspired Gounod and he gave her sole rights to the concerto.
Unfortunately she retired from the concert stage in 1895 when she married for the second time and the manuscript disappeared.
A report from the musicologist Paul Landormy recalled :”I remember what a strange impression was produced by the sight of this graceful and dainty person perched on a huge case containg the lower strings of the pedal-board beneath a grand piano resting on it.What surprised us above all,pleasantly enough to be sure,was to see Mme Palicot wearing a short knee-length skirt ( entirely necessary but astonishing in those days),and her pretty legs darting most adroitly to reach the different pedals of the keyboard she had at her feet !”
Roberto Prosseda has recorded all four works by Gounod for Hyperion directed by Howard Shelley in his Romantic Piano Concerto Series.
He had commisioned from the Italian organ builder Claudio Pinchi an innovative system so that a pedal piano can be created from any two grand pianos.
Two Steinway D pianos one on top of the other with the Pinchi system that allows them to be transformed into a pedal piano.
The problem is that the pedal technique used for the organ cannot be applied since it requires a particular sensitivity of touch,as the pedals control a piano with hammers and strings.
So a more pianistic approach is required,using the weight of the leg and transferring the weight from one note to another in order to achieve a legato and enable a rich sonority and good control of dynamics.
The sustaining pedal is seldom used as both feet are often busy playing the pedal board.The hands are required to play differently than on a normal piano as the player’s balance and seating position are often altered by the constant movement of the legs!
No one was aware of all these difficulties listening to the superb performance of Gounod’s long lost concerto.
The outer movements were extremely rhythmically controlled in their question and answer between pianos and orchestra .
It was in the beautiful Adagio and in the Schumann encore – the fourth of the six Canonic studies for pedal piano – that one could appreciate to the full the supreme artistry and superb sense of style of Roberto Prosseda.
Infact I was witness backstage to the orchestral players coming one by one to congratulate Roberto especially for the beauty of his performance of the Schumann encore.
Praise indeed coming from his colleagues in the London Philharmonic.
It is very nice to see the success of the young pianist who studied in the Sergio Cafaro/Martinelli household a stone’s throw from our theatre in Rome(Teatro Ghione) and was reared by the Campus Musicale in his home town of Latina.
He often used to play in our theatre in Rome as ” try outs ” for his appearances in International Competitions .
I well remember the joy of Fou Ts’ong on hearing that Roberto would be playing in his Masterclasses.
He also went on to study with Fou Ts’ong and William Grant Nabore at the International Piano Academy in Como created and run by William Nabore a former disciple of Carlo Zecchi (Martha Argerich is honorary President).
For some years he was artistic director of the Pontine Festival together with Fabrizio von Arx continuing their great tradition by bringing Elisso Virsaladze,Charles Rosen and many others to the summer festival in Sermoneta in the grounds of the Caetani Castle.
A festival started in the 60’ by Menuhin/Szigeti and Alberto Lysy.
Not a week goes by without hearing another remarkable young pianist in the series of Tuesday afternoon piano recitals at St Mary’s in Perivale.
And Hugh Mather has struck gold again today with a young pianist from Hong Kong: Rachel Cheung.
Looking at her biography it was reassuring to see that her early training she had received from a fellow student of mine at the Royal Academy in London.
Eleanor Wong studied with Frederick Jackson a remarkable musician who died conducting the Verdi Requiem in the Dukes Hall of the RAM .His final words were to carry on as they carried him off in an ambulance.
Eleanor had won all the major prizes and also carried off silver medal at the Vercelli competition in Italy.
She used to knock on my door where I was practicing every evening to play through her programmes to this young first year student.
Of course I was very impressed but not nearly as impressed as seeing her forty years later on the jury of the Leeds International Piano Competition.
Great reports were coming from Hong Kong of this superb trainer of young pianists as we were to hear today from Rachel Cheung.
It was nice to see also that after graduating from Hong Kong Academy with First Class Honours Rachel had gone on to complete her studies with the legendary hungarian pianist Peter Frankl at Yale University in America.
One of the youngest competitiors in the Leeds Competition in 2009 at the age of 17.
She was awarded fifth prize the year that Gulyak Sofya was awarded the Gold medal.
She went on to win prizes in many other major competitions and recently conducted from the keyboard Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris at the Play-Direct Academy led by Stephen Kovacevich.
It was hardly surprising that St Mary’s was packed to the rafters for the beautiful programme of Franck,Schumann and Liszt presented by this remarkable young musician.
Still only 26 she played with the authority and control of a master.
Starting with the hauntingly beautiful transcription by Harold Bauer of Cesar Franck Prelude,Fugue and Variation op 18 for organ.
It was clear from the beautiful liquid tone and the way that she moved so naturally at the piano that we were in the presence of a true musician and poet of the piano.
So often the works of Franck for solo piano and piano transcriptions from the organ can sound so thick and heavy and these days rather outdated.
Rachel managed to convey with an almost whispered appearance of the recurring melody a feeling that this was the only possible medium for this piece.
Even the Fugue was played with the same delicate tone colour and the reappearance of the melody at the end was quite magical.
She looked exactly as I remember Eleanor did at the piano all those years ago.
A beautiful natural way of almost conjuring the sounds out of the keyboard.
The main work on the programme was the Fantasy in C Major by Schumann.
Charmingly presented to the public explaining that it was an outpouring of love for his beloved Clara and there are many references to her throughout the work .
Not least the quote from Beethoven :To the distant beloved – An die ferne geliebte at the end of the first movement.
It is dedicated to Liszt who in turn dedicated his B minor Sonata to Schumann.
The two pinnacles of the Romantic piano repertoire.
And it was to Liszt that Rachel turned to close the programme ;the Mephisto Waltz n.1.
I well remember Peter Frankl giving a masterclass in Oxford on the Schumann Fantasy and explaining the difficulty of keeping the structure of the first movement in mind amidst the continual fluctuations of tempo that Schumann asks for.
It was exactly this that marked Rachel’s performance as very special today.
All the passionate outpouring of love for Clara was there together with the extreme tenderness and subtle sense of colour and exquisite phrasing.
All this held tightly together to the final magical quote from Beethoven.
Ever more in diminuendo to the bell like final chords and the three final bass chords almost disappearing into the infinite.A remarkable control of sound completely mesmerised the audience.
The march of the second movement was played with great rhythmic impetus but I felt the dotted rhythms of Schumann could have been less clipped and more melodically shaped.
The middle section was beautifully shaped though.
Hampered I fear by a small hand but she managed to conquer the infamous difficulties of the coda magnificently.
The last movement was magically played managing to play with great feeling but always keeping the great melodic line in view architecturally.The melodic line in the bass in the coda was sublime and her control of sound remarkable.
The minutes of silence that greeted the final chords was evidence enough of the magic she had created this afternoon.
This was obviously the Eusebius side of Rachels’ character.
Now with the Mephisto Waltz n.1 we were treated to Floristan and a truly fearless performance of this virtuoso showpiece.
There was though a virtuosism of great subtlety with infinite shades of colour in the most transcendental scale passages.
A middle section of heartrending sentiment and a coda in which she threw herself completely at the infamous octave leaps that the virtuoso Liszt had conjured up.
The birdcalls at the end were played with a clarity and precision before throwing herself at the double octave ending.
One can understand why she won the Audience Award at the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.
In fact it was by popular demand that she played Widmung by Schumann in the Liszt transcription where the two composers were at last consoled in a performance at once delicate,passionate and virtuosistic.
But above all it was the the poetic intelligence and complete command of the keyboard that kept us spellbound for this short recital in Hugh Mather’s remarkable series.
An immediate invitation for a return match was greeted with cheers from this very appreciative audience today.
On Wings of Song The Songmakers’ Almanac 40 years on
It was in 1976 under the enlightened management of William Lyne that the Wigmore Hall was relaunched.
He had persuaded Artur Rubinstein to give just one last concert in his long career in order to save the Wigmore Hall from the threat of demolition.
A concert on the 31st May 1976 when an almost blind Artur Rubinstein played for the very last time in public.
His final piece the B flat minor Scherzo by his beloved Chopin he abandoned as he could no longer see the great leaps involved.
He proceeded to play two studies op 10 n.4 and one we had never heard him play in public before op 25 n.2.
Both of which took our breath away.
It was a truly memorable recital that had included Schumann Carnaval,Beethoven op 31 n.3 Ravel Valses Nobles and Chopin Nocturne op 27 n.2 and Scherzo op 31.
An audience in delirium and Rubinstein with not the slightest sign of having played a recital that would have worn out much younger colleagues.
He turned to the audience and begged them not to allow the hall to be demolished.
He had started his career in 1912 in the Bechstein Hall and he was happy to finish it here in the newly named Wigmore Hall 54 years later.
He invited the audience to go backstage for this very last time.
He was being greeted by all when he could sense that there was someone very exceptional in front of him.
”I may be blind but not too blind to know when a beautiful lady is standing in front of me.”
Lauren Bacall was charmed of course as only Rubinstein knew how.
William Lyne not content with just Rubinstein devised in typical antipodean style a month of celebrations with concerts that included Elisabeth Schwarzkopf,Henryk Szeryng, Peter Pears with Julian Bream and Murray Perahia,Melos Ensemble,Parikian, Fleming,Roberts Trio and a concert in memory of David Munrow who was to have directed the Early Music Consort.
The Hall was reborn and has since under the enlightened antipodean Managements of William Lyne and now John Gilhooly become one of the most sought after and revered chamber music venues.
It has created its own audience who fill the hall night after night for artists such as Andras Schiff,Steven Isserlis,Angela Hewitt,Joshua Bell ,Graham Johnson etc etc .
Little could they have imagined that the hall was born on the wings of song.
For just down the road on the South Bank a young enthusiastic pianist was devising programmes for singers with themes under the name of the Songmakers’ Almanac.
It took a little while for William Lyne and Graham Johnson to find each other and to realise that the ideal place for this new adventure was infact in the reborn Wigmore Hall.
With the first steps on stage of Graham with his colleagues from the RAM :Felicity Lott,Anthony Rolf Johnson,Richard Jackson,Ann Murray it was love at first sight.
A love affair that has lasted over 40 years.
Visibly moved as Graham Johnson remembered all those who had been on this long journey of discovery with him but were no longer with us.
The voice of “Tony”Rolfe Johnson brought a tear to his eyes as it still brought to us a tingle of excitement with the sublime exchange between voice and piano of this singer whose life was cut short much too early.
Sharing with us so generously his memories of 40 years of the almanac which he had idealised for these great young singers who were just happy to have programmes devised for them rather than jotting down their pieces on the back of a brown envelope.
Geoffrey Parsons was not immediately convinced.
Singers sing and accompanists follow !
He soon changed his tune and became an invaluable part of the Almanac as did the veteran Gerald Moore.
Officially retired in 1967 to tend his rose garden rather than darting from one continent to another.Gerald Moore took the Almanac audience by surprise one evening by joining Graham at the piano for a Schubertiade.
What greater endorsement could there be than that for a young man who had been seduced by song at the age of 21 playing with Felicity Lott in the class of Flora Nielson.
Graham and I had been contemporaries at the Royal Academy.
He had come on an Associated Board Scholarship from South Africa to study with Harry Isaacs .
I with Sidney Harrison but we shared chamber music coaching together with John Streets.
I well remember him telling Graham that he did not have to play every note as if someone was sticking a knife into him!
But Graham was already ultra sensitive to beautiful sound and he would also regularly quote the great poets to us in the student canteen much to our bewilderment.
Graham took part in the BBC Cello Competition directed at Dartington by Eleonor Warren.
He partnered Jonathan Williams a very fine cellist and the son of one of the Trimble sisters who had a well known piano duo at the time.
But when he struck up the Rococo Variations by Tchaikowsky it was the sheer beauty of the sound of Grahams’ orchestra that has remained with me all these years.
As Graham told us he was preparing the usual Concerto and Sonatas of a solo pianist ………………..that is until at the age of 21 he fell madly in love ………..with song.
Thanks to that great singing teacher Flora Nielson.
A lover he has never betrayed in fact it has become stronger as he delved deeper and came into contact in those early days with musicians of the calibre of Schwarzkopf,De Los Angeles,Pierre Bernac,Peter Pears,Gerald Moore,Walter Legge ,Hugh Cuenod etc etc.
He even helped Benjamin Britten write down his opera Death in Venice when he became physically too frail to write down the marvels that were still in his heart and mind.
This is just a small part of the fascinating journey that Graham shared with us on a Saturday morning here on his beloved stage.
Pointing to the spot where an already invalid Peter Pears had participated at an Almanac dedicated to him and had stated :
”The Wigmore hall is the place where singers can sing better than they ever thought possible”
How many programmes had been meticulously prepared and in preparing them how deeper his love had become.
His CD recording of the complete Schubert Songs has become a classic and his volume that accompanies it a reference for all that wish to know every detail of Schuberts heart and mind.
It was a story that Graham shared in is inimitable way.
With elegance,wit and above all intelligence in which his passionate involvement rang out so strongly.
A few years ago after one of his many recitals he was honoured with the Gold Medal of the Wigmore Hall.
He was presented too with a carriage clock.
Graham in thanking John Gilhooly immediately quipped “but I have no intention of retiring!”
I introduced him via internet to Dame Fanny Waterman.
I had been listening in Italy over the radio to a recital transmitted from the Wigmore Hall.
Mesmerised by the beauty of Graham’s playing in writing to Dame Fanny with birthday greetings I mentioned that I had just been overwhelmed by the concert.
”But I was listening too in Leeds and he is the greatest accompanist alive .“
Fanny has chosen artists of the calibre of Murray Perahia and Radu Lupu to win her competition and is rarely wrong when it comes to playing the piano.
They have since become friends and mutual admirers.
I am involved too with helping to monitor and point in the right direction extraordinarily talented young pianists on the verge of important careers in music.And I often say to these Lions of the Keyboard if you want to learn how to make the piano sing listen to Graham Johnson.
Ever generous he came to one of the Keyboard Trusts’ Prize Winners Wigmore debut of a magnificent Russian pianist who had sought from Graham to find his secret of true legato hidden in that black box of hammers and strings.
A wonderful illuminating morning that I just hope will be recorded for posterity or at least published as an important document of someone who has changed the face of music appreciation.
Not content with all that he does he has just finished an important book on Poulenc which is about to be published in the UK.
The Green Room crowded by his friends and admirers after an hour and a half cut short only because time ran out.
“Am I too loud” his mentor Gerald Moore would ask.
No No dear Graham but much much “more” please.
The good news is that at the invitation of John Gilhooly,Graham has devised a new Songmakers’ Almanac series that begins on the 24th January 2019.
The Wigmore and Graham Johnson are indeed floating once again on Wings of Song.