The Thomas Harris International Piano Foundation Part 1&2

The Thomas Harris International Piano Foundation Final Concerts Part 1&2(+)
Alberto Portugheis gives masterclasses in many parts of the world and the concert at St James’s Piccadilly was with some of his students from the classes he has been holding this past week in Rye, East Sussex.

Prof AlbertoPortugheis with Mrs Judy Harris
Promoted by Mrs Harris in honour of her son who had played many times in this church and many other venues in London and elsewhere .
Last winter I was asked to judge the Thomas Harris Beethoven Concerto awards and so had the opportunity to hear Nicolas Absalom and Ángel Laguna Herrera before.
They are continuing their advanced studies with Alberto Portugheis thanks to the generosity of Mrs Harris.
Joined by Giancarlo Staffetti it was the first of two concerts to give the opportunity to these very gifted young musicians to play in London.

Angel Laguna Alberto Portugheis Nicolas Absalom
Ca va sans dire that there was impeccable musicianship having come under the inspired guidance of the renowned Alberto Portugheis.All of whose initiatives musical and humanitarian could fill a book many times over.
Indeed he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his dedication and crusade to bring peace to a world that has fallen into the hands of politicians!
However today he was wearing his musicians cap and it was this that we were privileged to enjoy today in the hands of these very gifted young pianists.

Nicolas Absalom
Nicolas Absalom whose Beethoven First concerto I remember so well,presented today the Sonata op 31 n.3 and showed the same clarity and rhythmic energy that had been such a hallmark of his concerto.
With all the freshness and youthful spririt he ignited the concert from the very first notes.
This sonata like it’s companion op 28 has a pastoral feel to it and a slightly slower tempo would have allowed the second subject more time to breath more naturally.
There is a great rhythmic drive to his playing and a clarity due to his very careful and sparse use of the sustaining pedal.
The opening chords that can sometimes sound so imposing and ponderous were here given a foreward movement leading to one of Beethoven’s most characterful and humorous series of questions and answers.
This great rhythmic drive was ideally suited to the scherzo that followed and his meticulous attention to detail was very telling.
The Menuetto could have been even more grazioso and slightly more leasurely as it was in the Trio which had all the charm and style that had so capitivated Saint Saens and who used it as the theme of his variations for two pianos.

Nicolas in performance on the Fazioli piano chosen by Prof Portugheis for this important venue
The last movement bubbled over with youthful energy and whilst not quite rising to the con fuoco that Beethoven asks for it had a terrific foreward drive and character.
The ending could have had slightly more weight and was rather thrown off as the other movements had been too giving the sense of having arrived rather abruptly after such a successful performance.
Ángel Laguna Herrera played Schubert with the transcription by Liszt of the Soirées de Vienne n.6 and the last of the four impromptus op 142.
I have heard Angel over the past two or three years and it is good to see how his playing has grown in maturity and authority.
He tells me he now has an important post at the Madrid Conservatory as piano Professor and accompanist to the violin class.
His performance of the last of Schubert’s Impromptus had a rhythmic drive added to his latin temperament that was superbly controlled.The tempo was particularly well maintained in the virtuosistic flourishes of the central section.
The Soirées de Vienne could have had more charm and less passion.
A very solid performance that lacked the subtle charm that Liszt’s filigree embellishments have woven in a magic spell around Schubert’s original.
Angel would do well to try Schubert on an instrument of the period to realise that Schubert’s seemingly rather thick chords on modern day instruments sound completely different.
On these historic intruments there is a much more velvety subdued and less percussive sound.
It was an interesting discovery that another young lion of the keyboard,Tyler Hay, made when he was invited to play recently at Hatchlands for the Keyboard Charitable Trust of which I am one of the three artistic directors.

Angel Laguna
Giancarlo Staffetti allowed Liszt’s beautiful melodies , in the Sonetto del Petrarca 104, to sing with a great sense of balance.
Some slightly uncertain harmonies and maybe a little too much pedal for this very resonant acoustic did not detract from his great sense of atmosphere and style.

Giancarlo Staffetti
Chopin’s famous B flat minor Scherzo sang well but a more steady beat and rhythmic precision would have given more architectural shape to the whole.
Three fine pianists who gave some very professional performances that did their Professor proud and tomorrow we await another two at St Martin in the Fields with Bach and Beethoven.
In the meantime Alberto’s dearest friend Martha Argerich will be performing in London with another old friend from his youth in Argentina Daniel Barenboim.
Quite an interlude indeed.
PART 2 St Martin in the Fields with Natalie Molloy and Laura Mercedes Sanchez

St Martin in the Fields
Two performers for the second concert of the participants of the Alberto Portugheis Masterclasses in Rye in East Sussex for the Thomas Harris International Piano Foundation.
It was very refreshing to see the pianists from the previous concert in St James’s present to applaud their friends and colleagues.
Natalie Molloy is a graduate of the Trinity Laban Conservatoire and a student of Margaret Fingerhut and Philip Fowke.
Philip and I were at the Academy together in the class of Gordon Green.It was nice to see him celebrating afterwards in the rare mid day sun.He confided that it was the fortieth anniversary, to the day, of his Proms debut at the RAH with the Ireland Piano Concerto.

Philip Fowke celebrating in the rare summer sunshine
Philip has had a distinguished career as a soloist but is now also dedicated to sharing his knowledge and experience with the next generation.
Natalie opened the concert with the Bach Partita n. 1 in B flat.
The most mellifluous and pastoral of the six magnificent Partitas for keyboard.
An intelligent, serious performance that showed of her intellectual and musical skills.
A performance though that just missed the feeling of the song and the dance that is from where this music is born .
It was in the last movement, the Gigue ,where she was forced to cross hands and move more fluidly that brought the music to life with a sense of colour and shape that had been lacking in the other movements.
There was , though, also much to admire as in the beautiful repeat of the Sarabande where the hushed ornamentation was very discreet but for that reason  of great effect.
The shaping of the phrases and the” knotty twine” that Bach delights in should correspond more to her body movements to give more fluidity and sense of horizontal flow ( as opposed to her more vertical approach).

Laura Mercedes Sanchez and Natalie Molloy
This very assured performance, though, prepared us for the beautiful Beethoven Sonata op 90 with Laura Mercedes Sanchez.
This most Schubertian of all Beethoven Sonatas was played with great temperament and feeling.She moved so well and it gave a fluidity and sense of colour that Natalie’s more intellectual approach just missed.
Laura though could have done with Natalie’s control as she plunged into the first movement with such passion and drive.
Beethoven only asks for ‘f’ and to ‘play with liveliness and with feeling and expression throughout.”
Gradually she allowed the opening to dissolve, as Beethoven asks, and it led to some most beautiful playing with great attention to the precise detail that Beethoven asks for.
Always maintaining the forward drive and never allowing the tension to sag it gave great architectural shape to this most subtle of movements.
A subtlety only to be found again in the Sonata op 101 that immediately follows this and brings us into the realm of the Gods with the last five evolutionary statements that Beethoven sculptured under such adverse circumstances.

Alberto Portugheis and Mrs Harris applauding the students from their masterclasses
” Not too swiftly and conveyed in a singing manner “ is what Beethoven asks in the second movement that is a pure Schubertian outpouring of song.
Laura found exactly the right balance that allowed the melodic line to sing out unimpeded.The rhythmic outbursts with which the melodic line is interrupted were played with great rhythmic drive and technical assurance and the reappearance of the melody in the tenor register was quite magical.
One or two slight blemishes did not disturb the overall beauty of the performance and in any case were concealed in a very professional manner.
Hats off to all five students who displayed all the musical values that they have been privilged to enjoy in the past week of Masterclasses with Prof Alberto Portugheis.
All in honour of Thomas Harris whose Foundation created by his mother he is the Artistic Consultant

Nicolas Absalom Angel Laguna Laura Mercedes Sanchez Giancarlo Staffetti Natalie

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