IVAN DONCHEV – In search of Liszt

IVAN DONCHEV – In search of Liszt
gran coda Erard n.53283 of 1879
Extraordinary performance by Ivan Donchev in Villa Mondragone,Frascati on a piano similar to Liszt`s famous Erard that was in Villa d`Este.
Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique in the transcription by Liszt.
Now in its 7°edition a concert series under the title of “The ‘sound’of Liszt at Villa d`Este” directed by Giancarlo Tammaro the actual owner of this precious Erard piano from 1879 that was found in a Religious Institute in Rome in 1991 and played in public again in 1992.
Although not the original Erard that Liszt played in a famous concert he gave in the Throne Room in Villa d`Este on 30th december 1879,it is very similar to the original Erard that Liszt mentions in a letter to Baronessa von Meyendorff in 1878:
“Thanks to the kindness of Maestro Carlo Ducci who has more than 200 pianos to hire between Florence and Rome I will have a superb Erard at the Villa d`Este and also a fine Kaps in case a “first class”pianist wants to play two pianos with me.”
The original piano was also found in a religious institute in Rome in 1991.They are still the owners having restored it and put on show in the Metropolitan Museum in New York and now resides in Vienna.

Ivan Donchev and Maestro Giancarlo Tammaro
Thanks to the generosity of Giancarlo Tammaro this very similar Erard is housed in the Congress Centre of Villa Mondragone and is on permanent loan to the University Roma 2 on the proviso that it is maintained for public concerts.
Although Liszt changed his abode in Rome many times his country home was always the Villa d`Este that he called his ” El Dorado”.
He would also have frequented the nearby Villa Mondragone ,so it was a happy coincidence that due to the unavailabilty of Villa d`Este this year the concert series has transferred to the equally splendid Mondragone in Frascati.
The hills around Rome abound with great villas that overlook the Eternal city and would have been frequented by nobility on their “grand tour” of Italy.
The splendid Villa Aldobrandini dominates the centre of Frascati and these other great villas surround each other and are now mostly congress centres or Hotels.

Liszt’s frock coat.
The generosity of M°Tamarro has no limits as he introduced the concert so learnedly and provided an illuminating highly researched programme.
He even had on a stand next to the piano the frock coat that Liszt wore according to a very old lady who had bequeathed it to him saying it had been in turn left to her and that it was used by Liszt when his own had become drenched in the rain.
A rain that was very much in evidence even today!

A page from the 34 page programme
A nice story that may or may not be authentic.
Liszt was somthing of a pop star idol in his day and even cigarette butts were conserved reverently by his adoring lady fans!
However nothing had prepared us for the superb performance that awaited us on this damp Sunday morning.

Ivan Donchev illuminating his performance from the keyboard before the complete performance
The Bulgarian pianist Ivan Donchev,a prodigy of Aldo Ciccolini had meticulously prepared the 1833 transcription that Liszt had made of Berlioz`s Symphonie Fantastique.
Liszt was a great friend and admirer of Berlioz and had even tried to persuade him not to fall for the Irish actress Harriet Smithson but eventually ended up as testimony at their wedding!She was the inspiration of this monumental work.Two years later became an alcoholic!
More importantly it is thanks to this transcription that Berlioz`s music especially in Germany became known.
As Ivan explained you can either just play the work as so many do these days with the invention of the I pad or you can really delve deeply and immerse yourself totally and in fact fall under the extraordinary spell of this masterpiece.
That was the reasoning that surprised even M°Tamarro when he closed the music stand and proceeded by memory to give us a fascinating spotlight journey through the various trasformations of Berlioz`s ” idee fixe.”
Of course he had absorbed so thoroughly the Symphonie and had come to love it (exactly as Janet Baker had reasoned recently in the moving film “in her own words” when she insisted on giving a world premier at Carnegie Hall without the score ,as she needed to possess it in order to transmit it!)
It was exactly this love and commitment that made the hour long journey so riveting.
So often these “antique” instruments can sound so weak in the vast concert halls of today (I am thinking of Andras Schiff recently with his valiently informed performances in the Festival Hall in London of the Brahms Concertos on a 1860 Bluthner……conducting from the keyboard as he very wittily exclaimed: “it is sometimes good not to have a policeman”)
Here today was the ideal location to be able to appreciate all the qualities that had so impressed Liszt.
curriculum of Ivan in the programme
It will be interesting too to be able to hear the same performance in the theatre of Villa Torlonia (Mussolinis residence in Rome recently restored )next Sunday morning 5th May on a modern Steinway concert grand.
A magnificent performance only hampered by the lack of the vast range of sounds to which our ears are accustomed.But there were also some very interesting things (as there had been with Schiff) which shed light on so many points of balance.
There was a luminosity of sound that in this musicians hands made the idee fixe so clear.
Of course there was a lack of that 6th gear in the more powerful moments as in the March to the Scaffold or in the powerful interruptions at the Ball.But the second movement did though have a wonderful sense of shape and style.
The Witches Sabbath was given a most powerful reading and the great chimes rang out with all the power of the great orchestra for which it was written.
An amazing tour de force.
A transcendental command and total control even in the most taxing episodes.
But also a great sense of style and balance allied to the sensitivity and poetry of a true artist.
Amazingly he still had the energy to offer two encores,much shorter as he pointed out,on the insistence of a very enthusiastic public.
Liszt Paganini study n.4 played with all the aristocratic charm and virtuosity of his mentor Ciccolini.
A second encore of Offenbach or Rossini took us back to the salons of yesteryear.
It brought this sumptuous feast to a close where time seemed to stand still on this Sunday morning in this great and nobile edifice in search of the Abbe` Liszt

Ivan Donchev receiving a book  from the hands of Maestro Tammaro about Villa Mondragone

Odette a celebration of Swan Lake

Odette a celebration of Swan Lake Jessica Duchen Fenella Humphreys Viv McLean streamed live from St Mary’s Perivale

Joan’s bellows
A beautiful soiree around the log fire in the.depths of the National Park of Circeo.
Even the cats were supremely happy.
Only sad note was when Hugh Mather said the stream was concluded and they were about to have a party to celebrate!
The log fire kept alight by Joan Booth`s bellows that she bequeathed to me when she past away eighteen months ago at the age of almost 105.
Jessica Duchen who was one of the wonderful trio tonight had gone to meet her to ask her opinion about her book “The Ghost Variations” in which her dear friends Jelly d`Aranyi and sister Adila, around whom the story revolves, had also lived in her village of Ewelme and whose god daughter Jane Camilloni was their great niece.
Joan at 102 stayed up all night to read the book for which she gave her blessing.
I suggested to Jessica that she might like to write a book about the great love story in over 300 letters between Vlado Perlemuter and Joan.
Written in beautiful french with the unmistakable turquoise ink of Vlado`s pen.
But it was not to be.
Such a shame because it was so touching to listen to Jessica Duchen`s beautiful story of Odette a celebration of Swan Lake.
Illuminated by some superb performances by Fenella Humphreys and Viv McLean.
From the frenzy of the Danse Macabre to the tear on sleeve of a violin and piano version of Liebestraum.

superb mixing of Viv McLean and Jessica Duchen
A wonderfully spacious Polonaise Fantasie and schmaltzy The Man I Love to the superb virtuosity of the last movement of the Tchaikowsky violin concerto.
Nothing like this has been seen on the TV for years and thank God for Hugh Mather and his superb team (just look at the beautifully artistic camera shots and the mixing of the images).
It is exactly what the BBC used to give us when there was only one chanel and you had to look via a magnifying glass into this wooden box for the few hours that it was available.
People used to tune in each week to see how my teacher Sidney Harrison was getting on with his pupil Peter Croser.
How times have changed not always for the better I must say.
I wonder if we should pay our TV license directly to Dr Mather in future!

Alexander Soares at St Mary’s

Alexander Soares at St Mary’s
After only a few notes listening in my garden in Italy I found myself sending a message to Roger Nellist who was director of streaming asking who was this remarkable young musician.
Alexander Soares winner of the Gold Medal of the Royal Overseas League in 2015 and promoted by the City Music Foundation.
First class honours degree from Clare College Cambridge followed by a Masters at the Guildhall under Ronan o`Hora.
Guidance from Richard Goode,Stephen Kovacevich,Stephen Hough and Steven Osborne.
Rave reviews “huge intensity” Daily Telegraph “diamond clarity and authority”.
What more can I add.
All this was immediately apparent from the opening bars of Bach`s 3rd English Suite BWV 808.
That Bach`s music is based on the song and the dance has never been more apparent than in today`s performance.
Eyes glued to the keyboard but almost dancing on the stool such was the ebulient infectuous rhythmic energy allied to extreme clarity and very telling subtle contrasts.
The ideal tempo was established from the very first note and was not allowed to waver for a second.
Not that it was mechanical,quite the contrary it had a masculine authority that made Bach`s genius even more poignant.
The great Sarabande was even more expressive with a lack of fussyness or hairpin phrasing.
The expression was in his magnificent use of ornamentation where Bach`s great lines could speak far more simply and eloquently
The Gavotte II was an example to be cherished of pure simple expression.
El Puerto from Iberia Bk 1 by Albeniz was very interestingly introduced by this young musician.
Can it ever have been given such a chacterful interpretation?
Almost caressing the keys with such a wonderful sense of colour.
The ending was pure magic.
As Hugh Mather pointed out to his wonderfully loyal public Gaspard de la Nuit by Ravel was written with the intent to create one of the most transcendentally difficult works for the piano.
Of course for our young pianist this was not even mentioned in his introduction to this suite based on rhe poems of Aloysius Bertrand.
The most remarkable technical feat was in Le Gibet where the relentless tolling of the bell never for a moment wavered even with the clouds of sound in the foreground.The plaintive central chant was played with a clarity and simplicity that was heartrending.
If Ondine floundered momentarily in murky waters at the beginning it was soon drowned and forgotten as his supreme musicianship and sense of line took over.
Scrupulously following Ravel`s meticulous indications in Scarbo which is no mean feat.
With all the trascendental difficulties it was his superb legato that was the most remarkable thing.
He plunged into the depths of Scarbo`s dark world and gradually emerged with masterly control and breathtaking relentlessness.
It may sound rather superficial to say that it was in the Chopin Mazurka in A minor op 17 offered as an encore that his true mastery was revealed.
It was the simplicity,noble flexibility and freedom of an artist that dares to climb up onto the tightrope and remain without ever falling off.
A beautiful final counterpoint took me so pleasantly by surprise in a piece I have heard in a million different sauces.
But then that is the secret of a great artist never to waver for a second from trasmitting the great musical line.
The secret that a chosen few are blessed with.
God bless him !

Raymond Wui-Man Yiu at St Mary’s

Raymond Wui-Man Yiu at St Mary’s
Raymond Wui-Man Yiu at St Mary`s Perivale
Another beautiful concert streamed across the world into my garden today.Haydn,Liszt,Chopin and Schumann played with great conviction.

But it was the little poem op 32 by Scriabin offered as a thank you to us listeners world wide that showed off his true delicate artistry and sense of colour to the full.
Blending in so beautifully with spring that is bursting out all over.
Some really impressive playing of great beauty and technical command.
But one had the sensation that the picture he was painting and the sounds we were listening to were not related and this could lead to some strangely disjointed playing where the architechtural line was not clear.

                                      Fitting in so well with nature in Italy
This was particularly noticeable in the opening of the rarely performed two movement sonata in C by Haydn Hob XVI 48.
The great operatic opening flourishes did not flow as naturally as they could from a great singer.The contrasting movement was played with great energy but maybe the faster notes could have had more time to find their natural voice.

                                        Raymond introducing his programme
Liszt`s great Variations on Bach`s”Weinen,Klagen,Sorgen,Zagen”was given a very interesting spoken introduction followed by a very fine performance with the sombre delicate Bach choral building up to a sumptuous Lisztian climax.
The two late nocturnes op 62 were played with a great sense of style and some ravishing sounds.More weight to the legato would have allowed for even more projection with the almost physical shaping of the melodic line like a great painter before his canvas.
The Schumann novelette op 21 n.8 was given a suitably passionate performance as an outpouring of Schumann`s love for Clara.
The dotted rhythm passages could have had slightly more weight as they probably would have been more cantabile on the pianos of the day (as Andras Schiff showed us in his illuminating performances of the Brahms concertos in London recently where both Raymond and I were present).

                                      Raymond with Hugh Mather
A great sense of rhythmic energy allowed Schumann`s most passionate outpourings to ride on a wave of sumptuous sounds.
Chapeau to all those in Perivale that could give a stage worldwide to this very fine young musician

The NationalPark of Circeo in Italy

Kochanovsky and Lupo- an evening of refined musicianship

Kochanovsky and Lupo an evening of refined music making
Spring is upon us in the Eternal City and it was only fitting that after a mammouth performance of Beethoven’s 9th with Kirill Petrenko we should have a programme of such refined music making from Kochanovsky and Lupo.
It was like a breath of fresh air blowing into this magnificent hall dedicated to the Patron Saint of Music Santa Cecilia.
A world premier by Ivan Fedele of his Lexikon 111, commisioned by the Accademia was followed by first performances for Rome of works by Taneev and Scriabin.
Ending with that showpiece for orchestra that is Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite.
What Stanislav Kochanovsky,the young conductor from St Petersburg lacked in animal excitement (so much the norm these days) he made up for with a refined music palette reminiscent of the great German conductors of the past like Eugene Jochum or Otto Klemperer.
None of the blaring brass or outlandish percussion but a great musical line that was immediately apparent in the magical sounds that he found in the suggestive new score, Lexikon 111, of this distinguished composer from Lecce in Puglia.
A sign of a great conductor is not how loudly he can get his band to play but quite the contrary, how quietly.
It was the extraordinary sound world of Ivan Fedele that found this magnificent orchestra under Kochanovsky listening to each other.
Pulsating with the music like a great plasma rising and falling ,wailing and whispering in a piece commisioned by the Accademia lasting barely 15 minutes.
This was a world premiere for a composer who has over a hundred works in his catalogue.

Ivan Fedele recieving the applause at the end of the world premiere of Lexikon 111
A true revelation was a work by Taneev written in 1883/1884.
A Cantata for chorus and orchestra op 1 based on a poem by Aleksej Tolstoy (cousin of Leo Tolstoy): Giovanni di Damasco.
Taneev was a student of Tchaikowsky and Nicolai Rubinstein .
This work that is op 1 was performed in memory of Nicolai Rubinstein in 1884 after Taneev had written previously at least forty other works.
A fascinating discovery,I imagine that of today’s conductor where on reading his curriculum I learn that he has great interest in performing rarely heard works from the past.

Ciro Visco taking a bow for his magniicent S.Cecilia Chorus
It gave us a great opportunity to hear the chorus of S.Cecilia under their chorus master Ciro Visco.
Again it was the perfect balance and sense of line that allowed us to follow so clearly this unjustly neglected work.The chorus in particular was capable of almost whispered sounds but of perfect ensemble .The musical line passing from chorus to orchestra with such simple gestures from a conductor who was listening so attently and undemonstratively to the great achitectural line and drawing them all together in a sumptuous amalgam of sounds.

Benedetto Lupo
It was this same complicity that found the ideal foil with that great musician -Benedetto Lupo- in a performance of a concerto that I have only ever heard once before.
Scriabin’s F sharp minor concerto op 20 I heard years ago in my student days in a recording of Badura Skoda together with the equally unknown Rimsky Korsakov Concerto.
I had even queued up for a promenade concert performance by Mitsuko Uchida.
I thought it strange when she put the score on the piano and put her big no nonsense glasses on.
I realised too late that it was the Schoenberg concerto and not Scriabin!ù
It is a piece that needs to be heard many times such in the complexity of the score.
The piano is completely integrated into the orchestra and only rarely bursts into the great climaxes that we are used to with Rachmaninov or Tchaikowsky.I am glad to see that it was recorded and will look forward to listening many times to appreciate even more the very refined play between pianist and conductor.
It needs a great musician to bring this score to life as we heard tonight.

                   a monumental performance by Benedetto Lupo
Such refined sounds from the piano always ready to accompany with magical filigree embellishments.Great virtuosity too but always at the service of the musical line.
A great complicity between the conductor and pianist where the piano was always integrated into the lavish and subtle sounds created by the orchestra.
It was a curious coincidence that the only other performance I have seen programmed recently of this concerto was of Ian Fountain in London (the only British pianist to have won the Rubinstein-Tel Aviv Competition) A strange coincidence is that one of Benedetto’s prize students Umberto Jacopo Laureti is studying for doctorate at the Royal Academy in London with Ian Fountain.

with Michele dall’Ongaro,President of S.Cecilia
Another of Benedetto’s prize students has recently taken London by storm too.https://www.facebook.com/notes/christopher-axworthy/beatrice-rana-takes-london-by-storm/10156282660502309/
It is a sign of the great esteem with which his past and present students hold Benedetto Lupo that they flock to his annual performance in Rome to hear him.

Benedetto with Maestro Pietro Biondi who had performed the concerto of Stravinsky with Stravinsky directing at the Filarmonica Romana
Benedetto holds Masterclasses for piano at the Accademia and can count many very fine musicians that have benefitted from his dedicated mentoring and friendship.
It is just this simplicity that is so apparent in his playing and in that of his students.
They are listening attentively to the sounds they are making without any demonstrative effects that could detract from the real message of an interpreter.
In this he has much in common with that other great Italian pianist and teacher Guido Agosti who we all used to flock to hear in his studio in Siena during the summer months.
Sounds that will never be forgotten by many of the famous pianists still playing today.
It was the supreme simplicity and jewel like perfection in the encore he offered today.A short Albumblat – Prelude by the same composer intimately shared with an audience completely won over by his supreme undemonstrative musicianship.

two great musicians thanking each other for such music making together
It was the famous Firebird Suite by Stravinsky that closed this programme.Not the usual barnstorming performance we are use to but a refine distillation of the magic sounds of the young Stravinsky still under the spell of his forebears.
The magical sounds of the horn of Alessio Bernardi merited the ovation that he got from the public and his colleagues at the end of this first great success of Stravinsky in 1910.

Andrzej Wiercinski at St Mary’s Perivale and streamed worldwide

Andrzej Wiercinski at St Mary’s worldwide.

                           Andrzej Wiercinski at the Teatro Ghione Rome
Andrzej Wiercinski at St Mary`s as seen in the shadow of St Peters in Rome.
Glad to see that half term is over and that Dr Mather is back with his absorbing informed enthusiasm and innocent charm.
Missing Roger Nellist’s Richard Baker type introductions though!
As Hugh said at the end of a truly uplifting display of masterly playing here is the “complete pianist”For many years Krystian Zimerman and Murray Perahia have filled that slot and it is indeed refreshing to see a younger colleague at the foot of the hill that is the domain of the Gods.

It was in the encore of the famous A flat Polonaise op 53 that it became even more obvious that here is an heir apparent .
A pianist that infact holds the Zimerman scholarship.
Supreme musicianship that with his complete understanding of the music allowed such freedom of expression.
But not the usual expression of excess that many Polish pianists would have us believe is the way of playing Chopin.
This is the revolutionary Chopin of Rubinstein where all the sentimentality and sugary sensless rubatos that Chopin’s rich but hopelessly untalented aristocratic pupils would have us believe is the real Chopin style are cancelled once and for all.
In their place is a masculine musicianship full of sentiment,colour,shape and total command but absolutely no sentimentality or empty “jeux perle” virtuosity.
I missed the first Scarlatti …such is life in Rome!
I did,after all, have a morning performance of Waiting for Godot and an afternoon performance of famous Italian arias for our chinese tourists who are just longing to embrace the whole Italian Culture scene.
I did though hear a superlative account of the first Scherzo op 20.
Such clarity allied to a fantasy and shaping of phrases that can so often sound like exercises in lesser hands.
Aristocratic pauses worthy of an Arrau made his virtuosity even more breathtaking.
The C sharp minor Scherzo was played with a rhythmic energy but sometimes the octaves were slightly clipped at the ends of phrases and although very fine playing it did not have quite the authority of the previous Scherzo.
The Scriabin Fantasie op 28 was given a masterly performance with such control of sound in a work that can easily slip into the oppresive.
A great sense of control but above all sense of balance and shape were the hallmarks of a truly exemplary performance.
The 12th Hungarian Rhapsody was played with great style.
Although slightly clipped the ends of the opening phrases it had a sense of colour and overall “joie de vivre” that was every bit as irresistible as Rubinstein’s memorable performances.
I remember Freddie Jackson,that almost forgotten musician and teacher of so many fine musicians.He used to tell me how as students they used to stand on the seats to cheer Rubinstein so infectious was his sense of rhythm.
And so it was with Andrzej today.
The Corelli Variations op 42 by Rachmaninov showed off all the extraordinary qualities of this young musician.
Total control,exquisite sense of colour and phrasing but above all a temperament that could ignite the great virtuoso variations of Corelli’s seemingly innocent melody of La Folia.
Much more could be written about this young man, but I will leave that to more competant critics ,in a career that is obviously destined for great things.
I am not at all surprised to see that this 23 year old pianist just three days ago won the International Piano Competition Antoine de Saint Priest in France.
Here is what Philip Cassard wrote together with Pascal Nemirovski :
7 aprile alle ore 21:54 ·
Chers Amis, retenez bien ce nom, car le plus grand avenir lui est promis : ANDRZEJ WIERCINSKY
Ce pianiste polonais de 23 ans vient de remporter le 1er Prix du Concours International de Saint-Priest. Quel artiste ! Quel pianiste !
Je suis encore dans le souvenir de son incroyable épreuve finale, cet après-midi, avec la 12ème Rhapsodie de Liszt jouée avec une virtuosité étincelante, un chic, une maestria grisante; suivie d’une 7ème Sonate de Prokofiev comme j’en ai très rarement entendu : orchestrale, dramatique, hallucinée, constamment surprenante par la créativité de l’interprète et la sidérante réalisation instrumentale. Et hier, nous étions plusieurs, dans le jury, à être au bord des larmes en l’écoutant jouer les Variations Corelli de Rachmaninov : quelle classe, quelle noblesse, quelles inoubliables sonorités pour exprimer la mélancolie, la tendresse et les colères de cette œuvre souvent malmenée. Bravo Andrzej !
Q.E.D indeed.

                                 Andrzej with Dr Mather
Hats off to Hugh Mather and Roger Nellist for jumping the gun yet again!
Of course streaming is fine but I feel Dr Mather should now dedicate himself to providing the same refreshments of those lucky souls in Perivale to accompany his magnificent TV cameras into every corner of the world that choose to follow.

                                                     Castel S.Angelo Rome

                                                St.Peters Square Rome

Ilya Kondratiev streamed live to Paradise

Miracles in Perivale Ilya Kondratiev streamed live to Paradise

                  even the cat could enjoy the wondrous sounds from Perivale
It was nice to hear our presenter Roger Nellist thanking the numerous public for turning out in such wet weather!
Especially when I am sitting in the boiling hot sunshine in what must be one of the most beautiful places in Europe – The National Park of Circeo in Italy.
Streaming is the latest addition of Hugh Mather and Roger Nellist to their concert series in Perivale aiming to give a platform to some of the finest young musicians of the day.

                             Roger Nellist presenting the concert today.
I am a regular visitor to Perivale when I am in London and one of the main reasons I always dislike leaving is that I will miss one of the stars that are shining so brightly every week.
Over 160 concerts a year.All professional engagements for young musicians at the start of their career.
I was particularly pleased to be able to hear Ilya Kondratiev today who had played so magnificently last January on his Italian tour for the Keyboard Trust.
A live radio broadcast had the RAI 3 producer with superlatives for the professional artistry of this young pianist in a recital that start at 11 pm and went on until after midnight.
Ilya will now be playing for the KCT in the USA in a concert tour that will take in the new Steinway Hall in New York.Philadelphia with the amazing Elizabeth Glendinning,former assistant to Eugene Ormandy and now in her 90th year still dedicated to helping young talent emerge. Sharing the platform with Dietlinde Maazel in the beautiful theatre on the estate that she shared with her late husband Lorin Maazel in Castleton ,Virgina.
Dietlinde Turban Maazel Wood is a renowned actress and singer who will join Ilya in a Masterclass on the songs of Schubert with Ilya performing the Liszt transcriptions.
Here is the previous tour of the KCT in the USA with Chloe Jiyeong Mun winner of Geneva and Busoni International Piano Competitions who also performed for Dr Hugh Mather in Perivale two years ago.

                                   in my garden in Italy today
I have written many times about Ilya but today I was very impressed as he played much of the programme like the great artist he is fast becoming.
Two Schubert Impromptus in particular were played with the colour and simplicity that many never achieve.
If there were one or two blemishes in the Dante Sonata it was a small price to pay for a daring performance that truly allowed us to live every second of this great drama.
He threw himself into the fray and if he sometimes slipped we took no notice as the spiritual energy was so convincing and truly swept us off our feet.
The Liszt transcription of Schubert’s “Gretchen am Spinnrade” was one of the most engaging that I have ever heard ….even from Ilya.

                                   even the cat had a smile toay

Mount Circeo …Ceres calling the boats onto her breast.The say it is the silouette of Mussolini who drained these malerial swamps in the 30’s by bringing down the workers from  the Venice area who were used to doing just that to such effect!
Ilya taking a bow in Perivale ……..transported to my backyard today

Umberto Jacopo Laureti in Rome

Umberto Jacopo Laureti at Rome 3 University

Today’s programme in the Aula Magna Roma Tre
A journey in “Italian Keyboard Music” was the title given to this remarkable recital by Umberto Jacopo Laureti.
It was in the Young Artists- Piano Solo Series for the Roma Tre University directed by Roberto Pujia ,President and Valerio Vicari ,Artistic Director.
Apart from the Toccata that I had heard Serkin play years ago in London all the other pieces were new to me.
Quite a voyage of discovery to hear the young Busoni op 33. Schumannesque type pieces (I am thinking of Kinderscenen) compared to the enormous almost abstract music of the later Toccata.
To hear Respighi too in Busonian transcription mode with the Frescobaldi Passacaglia and his own version for piano of the Antiche arie e danze P114 (better known in its occasionally performed orchestral version.)
As if that was not enough we even got an encore by great demand of Umberto’s own transcription of a famous song by the well known italian cabaret singer Mina.

Umberto introducing the programme
Quite an afternoon!
I was sorry to miss Alexander Romanovsky at the other university of Rome – La Sapienza- who was performing a Chopin programme including the Studies op 10 and 25.
I hope he will forgive me!
I was however very pleased to have heard some music new to me and meticulously prepared and introduced by a young musician from the remarkable school of Benedetto Lupo.
He had also studied with Ian Fountain (the only British pianist to have won the Rubinstein Competition in Tel Aviv ) obtaining his “Masters” at my old Alma Mater ,the Royal Academy in London.
Umberto is being helped by the Keyboard Charitable Trust in this formative period as Romanovsky was before he became the great established artist that the world knows today.
He will be performing for the KCT in the newly founded collaboration with the Festival in Grosseto of Gala Chistiakova and her husband Diego Benocci on the 26th May.
It was on S.Cecilia’s day 2017 that I last heard Umberto play in London in an impressive recital that included Schubert’s great C minor Sonata ……..but nothing had prepared me for the artistry and professionalism that I heard today almost two years on.

with the artistic director of Roma 3 Valerio Vicari
A new programme of some very complex ,rarely (if ever) performed music.
Unjustly neglected pieces from two key Italian composers of the 20 century.
Respighi we know from his often performed orchestral showpiece Trilogy “The Pines of Rome.”
Busoni is sometimes referred to as Mr Bach/Busoni but to more expert musicians his Fantasia Contrappuntistica, or his unfinished opera Doktor Faust are recognised masterpieces.
In fact Umberto is preparing his thesis at the Royal Academy in London for a doctorate on Busoni and from his very learned introductions it was obvious that we had expert guidance and introduction to Busoni’s world.

explaining about the Busoni Toccata having taken off his jacket before plunging into this very dense virtuosistic score
The concert opened with the six pieces that make up the “Macchiette mediovali” op 33 by Busoni.
Each piece only a few minutes long but full of differing character.
From the salon type charm of “Dama” to the robust sounds and rhythmic energy of “Cavaliere.” The great sense of colour and horn calls echoing one another of “Paggio.” The ostinato bass of “Guerriero”; the almost fugato texture of “Astrologo” or the great ceremonial opening of “Trovatore” on which the beautiful melodic line rides.
So reminiscent of the little tone poems that make up so many of the early works of Schumann (op 6/12/15 in particular)
Beautifully realised and played with such conviction and style.
Always ravishing sound from this Schimmel concert grand.
Some very subtle colouring and wonderfully robust but never hard tone in the louder passages.
Having heard such a fine performance one only wonders why these pieces are not played more often in concert.
Of course they need fine musicianship and sense of style and colour but above all the scrupulous preparation that we were witness to today.

Umberto with early Busoni before rolling up his sleeves for the transcendental Toccata
There followed a grandiose transcription by Respighi of the Passacaglia P111 by Girolamo Frescobaldi.
A truly virtuoso transcription with some full rich sonorities very reminiscent of the great Busoni organ transcriptions that are much better known.
Listening though to Respighi’s own piano version of his orchestral suite “Antiche arie e danze” P114 one could perceive a certain repetitive formula to his approach to the piano.Very impressive as it was in the Passacaglia it did wane as we heard many of the “tricks of the trade” applied to his own work.
The Grandeur of the Balletto “Il Conte Orlando” again with great sonority and the very sensitive doubling of the melodic line in the middle register in “Villanella” that gave it such sense of depth.
The marked rhythmic character of the scherzando “Gagliardo” with musette type pedal effects especially in the trio section.
The beautiful legato melodic line with the staccato left hand gently accompanying of the “Italiana”.
The equally telling long lines of the traditional melody of the “Siciliana” with its great scale variants and the grandiloquence of the “Passacaglia” final sixth piece.
All perfectly performed with such a sense of overall line and conviction that was indeed remarkable for a piece learnt especially for this all Italian programme.

Shirt sleeves for Busoni’s transcendental Toccata
The final work was Busoni’s extraordinary Toccata BV287 that I had heard Serkin play together with the Berceuse many years ago in London.A programme that had included a mammouth work too by Reger together with Schumann Carnaval op 9 and Beethoven op 111.A memorable evening indeed for one of his all too rare visits to Europe.
The toccata is a very complex work in three parts Preludio,Fantasia and Chaconne requiring great physical drive and complete mastery of the keyboard.
All things that Umberto had in abundance as he launched himself in shirtsleeves into this final work.
Here was the great Busoni sonority that Respighi had tried to mirror but also with great dynamic contrasts and sense of colour .Some of Busoni’s very personal meanderings that Hindemith was to mirror later.
A voyage of discovery in the presence of a master of the keyboard who had dedicated himself to revealing the secrets of this still very little known repertoire.

Cristian Sandrin at St Mary’s with encore performance

Cristian Sandrin at St Mary’s with encore performance
Some superb sounds from this young Romanian pianist playing for the Keyboard Trust,invited by Hugh Mather into the mecca that he and his team have created in this beautiful little 12th century redundant church.
Redundant no longer thanks to this retired physician who dedicates his time to helping all the remarkable young musians that flock to London from all parts of the world.
I remember Cherkassky saying that although travelling the world continuously until well into his 80’s,London was always the indisputed capital for music and the only place to be.
Cristian is a natural musician where music pours out of him without any artefacts.
The same physical stature of an Ashkenazy he too looks as though he was born to play the piano.
All his physical movements only underlined the sounds that he was able to conjure out of the piano.
This well used but lovingly looked after Yamaha piano he exclaimed afterwards to Dr Mather how much he had enjoyed playing it.
It is not an easy piano but in the hands of a true musician we can be convinced, as he was, that in that moment it is the only instrument for him.
Richter used to say he did not want to choose a piano but he loved delving into any instrument and learning like a true Don Giovanni the secret path to seduction!
Cristian certainly did that with a sumptuous muticoloured performance of Ravel’s most elusive of scores that is “Miroirs”.

Cristian with Dr Mather
From the moths flitting around the piano to the bells resounding in the distance.
The great swishing of the ocean waves and the decided authority of the Jester.
It was all here in a multifaceted performance that kept us spellbound.
That is until the rude awakening of Ginastera`s much neglected Sonata n.1 op 22.
Bombastic,passionate,delicate and hypnotic it was all here but never resorting to the usual transatlantic metallic sounds that has been inflicted on it (like Prokofiev)for too long in lesser hands.
The C minor nocturne by Chopin op 48 n.1 offered as an encore showed a heart that beated as beautifully as his head reasoned like the born musician he demonstrated to us today.
The Mozart sonata in C K 330.
Played with such style and shape.
Sometimes lacking in that absolute clarity of articulation that can make even the fastest passages sing.
I was not always in agreement with his ornaments especially in the slow movement but then I had just heard Mitsuko Uchida play it in Perugia with a beauty and perfection that I never expect to hear or wish for again.
As she said ,she lives in the 20th century and for her a concert should remain only a beautiful memory.
It certainly was that today too.
Cristian has been invited back to Perivale in the renowned Tuesday afternoon series created by Dr Hugh, his wife Dr Felicity and Roger Nellist.
Tuesday 2nd April from 2 to 3.Timed so beautifully to avoid rush hour but it is also streamed on the St Mary`s website.
And so it was another recital only confirming even more resoundingly the first impression of his concert for the Keyboard Trust last month.

Spring comes to Perivale
Spring has come to this beautiful little church immersed in the greenery of Ealing Golf Course.
It was a revelation to hear Schubert’s “big” A minor Sonata D.845 from the hands of a true musician.
I have never thought of this sonata as being Schubert’s “Pastoral” Sonata but such was the range of sounds and use of the pedal by Cristian Sandrin it all fitted so well into place.
As one was aware in his previous recital Cristian is a real musician but listening to this very long and difficult sonata this was a performance seen through the eyes not only of a true thinking musician but above all of a poet.
A beautiful haze was created by a subtle use of the pedals in the final of the first movement as the horns show us Schubert’s vision of pastures green.
The extreme delicacy of the Andante and a very telling subtle rubato was quite irresistible and reminiscent of so many of Schubert’s Lied.
The trio of the Scherzo was played with a great sense of colour and again the timeless mist of Schubert’s countryside.

programme of the 2nd April
The Rondo just drifting in and as in the G major sonata, Schubert’s sublime melodic invention was added to such moving effect contrasting with some truly transcendental passages played with great authority.
Thirty five minutes of sublime music where time stood still.
A great difference from another concert in the Barbican where a never ending performance of Schubert’s last sonata unfolded in a record 55 minutes with an audience clapping after every movement hoping that this was perhaps the end !

spring bursting out all over in this historic graveyard
The concert had opened with the Haydn Sonata in C Hob XVI:50.
It was Anton Rubinstein that said the pedal was the soul of the piano and it was never more evident than in the recital today.
The music box effect in the first movement was beautifully realised in the true syle of the day.
A very rhythmic performance of the Allegro but with some very subtle contrasts in dynamics passing almost unnoticed as the music was allowed to unfold so naturally.
The Adagio was allowed to unfold like the opening of a great opera.
So delicately phrased, Haydn’s great drama was allowed to unfold with such an affecting simplicity and wonderful sense of balance.
The playful interruptions of the final Allegro were played so spiritedly it shaped so perfectly the closing notes of this absolute jewel of a sonata.
The Chopin Nocturne op 48 n.1 I have spoken about in the previous recital but the beauty of sound seemed today to have reached even greater heights.
As had the poetry of the ending as is disappeared in a subtle mist of sound bringing to an end so movingly this true little tone poem.
Oiseaux Triste was the encore offered in place of his original idea of Paganini -Schumann that he preferred to keep for the next day in a piano festival in Germany.
A beautiful performance that brought this truly musical afternoon to a fitting end.

St Mary’s today
A full house but much more than was apparent to us present today.
The concert was streamed live worldwide to a far greater audience than could ever fit into this beautiful musical mecca just 20 minutes from the centre of London.
Our host of ceremonies Roger Nellist was taking the place of Dr Hugh Mather who was listening with his grandchildren on Cyprus.
He was having a well earned break, during the school half term ,from the hundreds of concerts that he and his colleague promote so generously each year.

Old schoolfriends united after 40 years on wings of song

Khatia Buniatishvili at the Barbican

“Canons” covered in flowers Khatia Buniatishvili at the Barbican
World record just under the 60 minutes for Schubert B flat.
Four looooong movements:Travesty,Betrayal,Gnomus-things that go bump in the night,Pastiche.
Luckily her audience had come to applaud an entertainer and so clapped after every movement hoping no doubt that she would go into fifth gear and give us what we really had come for!
Frenzied paraphrase on Liszt`s 2nd Rhapsody had the audience on their feet and a fleet of young men chasing her onto the stage with flowers.
This is just the adulation we are told that awaited Liszt from his aristocratic admirers.
A thankfully abbreviated version of Schubert G flat impromptu (as like the Andante( sic) sostenuto of the Sonata it was practically inaudible) brought this grotesque and vulgar exhibition to its triumphant end.
We all loved her …..me too….she is irresitible
“Je ne regret rien”…….but sorry I had to give my Sokolov ticket away tonight as I had to delay my return to Rome for family reasons.
One might be tempted to say ,looking at Miss Buniatishvili’s decollete’ tonight that I got the “booby” prize.
But I must say she looks the million dollars that
he `aint…..
………………..but he has that little extra that counts so they tell me!
Laughing all the way to the bank as my idol Liberace used to boast……..
………….and we are laughing with you darling Khatia just like Lang Lang ……
                                             We love you.