Mihai Ritivoiu at St John’s Smith Square

Mihai Ritivoiu at St John’s London
A very interesting programme for the lunchtime concert in St John’s Smith Square.
Starting and ending with Couperin but also including one of Chopin’s last works the Polonaise Fantasie op 61 and very interestingly the second mazuka by Thomas Adés .
One of three mazukas written for the Chopin bicentenary and performed by Emanuel Ax in 2010 as a homage to Chopin.
Recently I heard many performances of the mazukas in the rounds of the Busoni competition in Bolzano.
The second as Mihai says in his programme notes where” the transparency and ornamentation also a reveal possible link to Couperin.”
The choice of Le Tic-Toc-Choc from the 18th order of harpsichord pieces by Couperin “as the lively perpetuum mobile could resemble the workings of a clock-like mechanism”.
Ravel ,of course, was obsessed with the intricacy and precision of clocks so it linked up beautifully with his Tombeau de Couperin that concluded this lunchtime recital.
So a very well thought out programme that gave us a survey of music from the 17th century to the present day.
And it was a sound world that was revealed from the very first notes.
The beauty of sound and consummate musicianship throughout the recital gave a wonderful feeling that we were experiencing a musical journey together,
“La Muse Platine” by Couperin that opened the recital was played with a sensitivity and sense of style where the ornaments only added to the expression without disturbing the beautifully shaped musical line.
There may have been a little too much pedal in Le Tic-Toc Choc where the almost mechanincal precision of Sokolov we have marvelled at for a long time.But this was a different view where the rhythmic energy and hypnotic sheens of sound led so well into the music box world of Thomas Adés that was to follow.
In the second Mazurka there were beautifully chiselled sounds but always with velvet gloves leading to the recognisable Mazurka rhythm with violent bass interjections.A rather impish ending and it was all over.
A whole world in a small jewel of sounds just as Chopin had achieved in his own Mazurkas probably the greatest works ever written in this genre.
And it was one of Chopin’s greatest works that was the centre piece of this fascinating recital.
The Polonaise Fantasie I have heard Mihai play over the past five years from the very first time he played it in the masterclass of Richard Goode at the Guildhall.
He subsequently obtained his Masters and Artist Diploma degrees with distinction in the class of that great pedagogue Joan Havill.
His playing has matured and has an assurance that was noticed when he won the Beethoven Competition a few years ago giving a remarkably fine performance of the Appassionata Sonata.
The Polonaise Fanatasy is a very difficult work to play without it seeming like a series of beautiful episodes stuck together in a rather casual manner.
But it is infact one of Chopin’s greatest works where his sense of fantasy is allied to a structure that has a power and direction of great originality.
Here Mihai’s subtle artistry and good taste were brought into evidence as was the sheen of sound where Chopin’s melodic invention was always sustained by the bass and supported by a wonderful sense of harmonic structure.
It allowed for a sumptuous sound and freedom where Chopin’s inspired fantasy could emerge so poetically.
The reappearance of the innocent little melody after the middle section was quite magical.
The gradual lead up to the final outburst was played with an aristocratic nobility and contril that was quite breathtaking.
The final diminuendo was quite ravishing and the final chord in which the bass was in evidence played with a sense of balance and control that only a very mature artist could have sustained.

St John’s Smith Square
Le Tombeau de Couperin by Ravel was written between 1914 and 1917 and each of the six movements is dedicated to friends who Ravel lost in the war.Here was the same sheen of sound that had pervaded the recital and carried us along on the crest of the beautiful wave of sound that Mihai created. The Prélude was played with great precision and clarity and a sense of propulsion where one could almost hear the clockwork mechanism at work.Followed by the melancholy of the fugue played with a luminosity of sound and ending so beautifully.
There was a delicately whispered lilt to the Forlane ,the gentlest of dances.
It contrasted so well with the rhythmic energy of the Rigaudon without ever loosing the sense of colour or style.The nostalgia of the middle section where the melody was allowed to sing over a wave of sumptuous sounds magically disappearing to a whisper before the rude reawakening of the Rigaudon.The Menuet was played with serene charm .
The ‘canopian’ chords were so peacefully portrayed on which the sublime melodic line of the Menuet was allowed to float.
The Toccata was a tour de force of brilliance and control from the innocent repeated notes to the great alternating octave chords of the ending.Even during the beautiful melodic interruptions there was always this constant forward movement that even in the most transcendentally difficult passages was masterly controlled.
One little encore was offered to a very insistent public.
The Chopin prelude op 28 n.4 played like the true poet of the piano that Mihai had revealed thoughout his recital.

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