I have heard Mihai many times over the last five or six years but never have I heard him blaze a trail as he did today with Rachmaninov.The Etude Tableau op 39 n.5 in E flat minor was taken by storm in an impassioned fearless performance that knew no limits.A technical command that allowed him the liberty to throw himself into the fray as Richter used to do with total abandon at the service of his magisterial vision.
It came at the end of a very beautiful but serious programme of two of the most important works of Chopin and Beethoven.
The 24 Preludes op 28 and the Sonata op 110.
I first heard Mihai many years ago in a masterclass with Richard Goode.He had just started his studies at the Guildhall with Joan Havill and I was immediately struck by his intelligence allied to a poetic sensibility in one of the most complex works of Chopin ,the Polonaise Fantasie op 61.
In fact I asked Ronan o ‘Hora,head of keyboard studies, who he was.
Ronan and I had both studied with Vlado Perlemuter who was guided in his youth by Alfred Cortot and so had that poetic sensibility that is so necessary for Chopin.
It is so easy to slip into the so called Chopin tradition of disregarding the composers intentions for what passes for nostalgic patriotism.
Mihai has had the fortune too to be guided by that great pedagogue Joan Havill whose knowledge of the scores is second to none.
I notice that he has been helped by Valentin Gheorghiu a great Romanian pianist whose recordings of Chopin were some of the first performances of Chopin that I had ever heard.
It was evident today from the very first notes of the Preludes that here was someone who had completely undertood the sound world of Chopin.
Fou Ts’ong used to called the 24 Preludes 24 problems, as each one poses a different challenge whilst architecturally being part of a whole.
As in Beethoven there are some very precise pedal markings that can seem at first sight exaggerated but in the hands of a true artist can reveal secrets that are of the very few.
The first prelude was played as if it had already begun offstage. Beautiful, full sonorous sound with some very telling phrasing in the final few bars.
There was a wonderful sense of balance in the second prelude that allowed the melody to sing with such noble nostalgia.
The trecherous left hand in the third prelude (like the right hand at the beginning of Ravel’s Ondine)needs a perfect instrument to bring it off to perfection but Mihai concentrating on the melodic line managed to shape it so beautifully.
The fifth Prelude wafted in like a magic wind separating two of Chopin’s most poetic utterences.
I would have trusted Chopin’s pedal marking at the end of number six (as Mihai had trusted Beethoven in the Sonata op 110) which would have allowed Chopin’s magical waltz to drift in seemingly unnoticed.
Great passionate involvement in the eighth without ever loosing sight of the line and the nobility of the ninth before the jeux perlé of the tenth thrown off with great nonchalance and delicacy.
The eleventh was played as a great song like the third Impromptu before the onslaught of the twelfth.The great Polonaise type rhythms played with enviable insistence.
The thirteenth floated in with a disarming simplicity on a magic wave that never faltered for a moment ending in a subtle question mark out of which the wind came blowing in on a sequence of overwelming sounds that disappeared to nothing with the disarmingly simple appearance of the so called ‘raindrop’prelude.
Played with a flexible simplicity and a middle section of subdued menace.
The great B flat minor prelude was thrown of with superb assurance and passionate involvement and was the ideal contrast between the
melifluous fifteenth in D flat and the seventeenth in A flat where a wonderful flowing tempo allowed an artistocratic sense of shape without any sentimentality.
The mist of A flat on which the melody returns was beautifully judged even if it might have been better to allow the music to flow more naturally.
The great declamation of the eighteenth was followed by the simple liquid cantabile that followed in one of the most transcendentally difficult of all the preludes.
The great C minor prelude (used by other composers, such as Busoni and Racmaninov, as the theme for their variations) was played with great nobility with full sumptuous sound that gradually melted away to a whisper.The final few bars played with an exquisite almost non legato and a crescendo that led unusually to a delicately positioned final chord exactly as Chopin had indicated.
A beautiful sense of balance in the following prelude that led to great virtuosity with the left hand octaves in the twenty second prelude.
The gentle flow of the penultimate was almost” au bord d’une source.”
The last great Prelude in D minor was played in a very measured way that allowed all of Chopin’s passionate outpourings ,with his yearning for his beloved homeland spread over the whole keyboard, to find their true place in a relentless surge to the last three mighty D’s.
An extraordinary performance from a true Chopin player.
The concert had begun with a performance of Beethoven’s penultimate sonata op 110.
As one would expect from a disciple of Joan Havill it was an exemplary performance in which all of Beethoven’s most precise indications had been totally absorbed and incorporated in a very fine performance.
It was in the Arioso that the Sonata suddenly became part of him and the fluidity and intelligence with which he interpreted Beethoven’s very precise indications led to a magic return of the fugue leading to the impassioned exultant final flourish.
Mihai Ritivoiu was born in Bucharest and began piano lessons at the age of 6. In 2012 he graduated with the highest honours from the National University of Music in Bucharest, the piano class of Professor Viniciu Moroianu, and is currently studying at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London, with Professor Joan Havill. He also participated in masterclasses with Dimitri Bashkirov, Dominique Merlet, Richard Goode and Emmanuel Ax, and benefited from the advice and guidance of Romanian pianist Valentin Gheorghiu.
Mihai won the Dinu Lipatti National Competition in Bucharest in 2010 and was a laureate of the George Enescu International Piano Competition in 2011. Following these achievements he was invited to record the Second Piano Concerto by Rachmaninoff for the Romanian Broadcasting Corporation, with the Romanian Radio Orchestra conducted by Gheorghe Costin.
He has since played as a soloist and chamber musician throughout Romania, England, France, Portugal, Switzerland and Italy, performing in such venues as the Romanian Athenaeum, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Wigmore Hall, Barbican Centre, West Road Concert Hall and the Ernest Ansermet Studio. His performances have been broadcast by Radio România Muzical, Radio Suisse Romande – Espace 2 and has appeared on BBC Radio 3’s ‘In Tune’.
Most recently, Mihai was awarded the Gold Medal in the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe Intercollegiate Competition, and his future engagements include recitals at St. Martin-in-the-Fields and Steinway Hall, as well as concerto performances with the Bucharest Philharmonic Orchestra and the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra.
Mihai’s studies at the Guildhall School are generously supported by Noswad Charity. He is also grateful for having received awards from the Liliana and Peter Ilica Foundation for the Endowment of the Arts and the Erbiceanu Cultural Foundation, for being the best ranked Romanian competitor in the 2011 Enescu Competition, and, in 2013, being offered a grant by the Ratiu Family Charitable Foundation.