A great success for a new collaboration between Rome University Roma 3 and the Keyboard Charitable Trust in London.
Jonathan Ferrucci had been invited by Valerio Vicari the artistic director of Roma 3 to perform in the Aula Magna.
I had spoken to Valerio Vicari about Jonathan Ferrucci and when he heard his CD from a live performance in the Wigmore Hall he not only wanted to include him in his prestigious series but he also wanted to listen live to much that was on the CD.
His programme also included a work new to his repertoire the Theme and Variations op 73 by Fauré.
The Theme and Variations op 73 by Fauré is a work that my old teacher Vlado Perlemuter used to play showing us what a masterpiece it can be when played with intelligence and nobility .Faurè can so easily slip into a rather romantic sentimentalism that has no place with a composer where everything is indicated with such precise detail.
Perlemuter had me tell the public in Rome that the nocturnes he was about to play had been passed down by Faure,with the ink still wet, to try out.
They lived in the same house in Paris and it is fascinating to see Perlemuter’s scores covered in fingerings in all different colours trying to find the perfect fingering for a cantabile with weight that is so much part of an organist’s technique where a sustaining pedal does not exist.
In fact it is the sustaining pedal that can be so damaging to the works of Fauré for piano. It was refreshing to see Jonathan’s scrupulous attention to detail.
The very precise attention to the rests in the left hand accompanying the nobility of the theme gave an almost orchestral feel to the whole and the sudden piano with pianissimo accompaniment was played with the utmost simplicity without any added ritardandi or excess of rubato.
It created the same nobility that I well remember from Perlemuter’s own performance.
Nobility without sentimentality.
I found the first variation a little slow with the theme singing so well in the bass with delicate filigree accompaniment in the treble.Looking at the score I see that Jonathan was absolutely right as Fauré states quite clearly the same tempo even giving a metronome marking.
Well composers are not always right look at Beethoven or Schumann !
I think here Fauré did not want the variation to be played in a virtuoso fashion so he indicated that it was the bass theme that was so important and not the continual semiquavers above!
It just feels as though it should move a little more to arrive at the next variation that is marked faster.It was played very clearly with superb organists’ sense of legato and staccato.Even the third variation is marked slightly faster and it was was played so beautifully with the staccato marcato interrupted by a very flexible expressive legato.
The fourth variation will always stay in my memory for how Perlemuter well into his 80’s would suddenly throw himself into the fray.
Jonathan too today.
Not quite the sumptuous sound that I remember from Perlemuter that was not possible on this rather bright Schimell Concert Grand.
So many beautiful things were revealed though in Jonathan’s sensitive hands.
The great sense of balance in the ‘eery’ sixth variation marked molto adagio, and scrupulous attention to the minute detail of the ninth.
The great sense of syncopated legato with staccato accompaniment in the tenth was technically quite extraordinary and the build up to the great climax was overwhelming.
It left us with one of Fauré’s most poignant statements in his last variation.
A heart rending question mark played with all the passionate involvement today that I remember from Perlemuter.
It is similar in many ways to Ravel Valses Nobles et Sentimentales in which the last epilogue seems to sum up all that has gone before in a great journey of a multitude of mixed feelings.
Fauré seems to have foreseen already in 1895 the extraordinary language of his last great Nocturne n.13 in B minor of 1921.
There was all the tragedy of the first world war between them.
It was a sign of a great artist who decided in the atmosphere created to allow Bach to enter almost unnoticed on the wave of C sharp.
The C sharp minor Prelude and Fugue Book 1 (a rare fugue in five voices one of only two in the 48)
This is a monumental performance that I had heard last summer in London and described above.
The sublime prelude and a fugue of such proportions that a whole world is revealed in only a few intense minutes.It is probably one of the finest performances of a fugue that I have heard (with apologies to Tureck,Nikolaeva,Richter and Angela Hewitt– who is infact an important mentor to Jonathan).
I remember Sydney Harrison who both Angela and I knew and loved so well in our student days,saying that his dream was for one of his pupils to play better than he could.Sydney was not one of the most modest of men but I think here we certainly get his meaning loud and clear.
The Fourth Partita I had heard before in Padua(see above) and on that occasion I had found it a little too fast to allow space for the nobility and above all the sense of dance and song that is so much part of the music as Angela Hewitt has so rightly indicated.
Today nine months later (sic) he had found the ideal tempi ( except maybe for the Gigue that he kept miraculously under control even at breakneck speed!)
The opening had a nobility and sense of precision with superlative ornamentation that only added to the expression and were essential parts of the line and not as is so often the case added because one is supposed to!
The heartrending Sarabande was quite sublime as was the crystal clear Menuet that followed before the magnificent onslaught of the Gigue.
A remarkable performance I like to think in some way inspired by the Fauré that had preceeded it today.
Both Valerio and I had heard the CD of Jonathan’s Wigmore Hall Prize Winners concert two years ago.We had both been struck by the sublime beauty and rigorously authorative performance of Cesar Franck Prelude ,Choral and Fugue but I do not think either of us expected to be swept off our feet as we were today.
Jonathan too rising to the occasion in every sense when in moments of passionate involvement he rose from the seat just as Rubinstein used to do on many memorable occasions.
It was quite breathtaking at the climax of all that had gone before to suddenly have an electric shock injection of energy (of course Serkin was absolute master of this too).
It is not exhibitionism it is a question of being so involved that anything goes to get the maximum expression from this wooden box full of hammers and strings!
It is always inspirational and one can never tire of reading Alfred Cortot’s words (Perlemuter was a teenage pupil of his):
“the most expressive of his pianistic production,was to recall the musicians’ attention to the classical disposition of the Prelude and of the Fugue which had been almost forsaken by the composers of his generation after the brilliant realisations of Mendelssohn.
It only happened later that he thought to join the Prelude and Fugue by means of a Choral….a stroke of genius that humanises without taking away any of its innate dignity but gives it that emotive power……….The expressive beauty of the Prelude,from which,for two times ,rises a fervant and painful supplication overflowing from the heart of the man and from the inspiration of the musician.
The Choral an uninterrupted lament to the eternal imploration of a humanity going to the research of justice and consolation.
The Fugue which crowns the work and seems to emanate more from a psychic necessity than from a principle of musical composition.When ,after the ardour of the crescendo that leads to the paroxysm of a true cry of anguish,the sweet comforting theme of the choral contained in the fluid murmuring of the heavenly harps,appears again,everybody will feel a suggestive impression of repose,of recovered personal tranquility…..
The sonorous exaltation which mixes in a brilliant peroration the triumphant voices proclaiming the divine word to the bronze thrills of the exultant bells will appear as the repercussion of our own emotion.
This is the ideological feeling to which the interpretation should conform of this work of grave and noble expression of a Christian soul inspired by her own God”
Alfred Cortot(conference of 1933)
Cortot had a wonderful way of expressing the spritual content in music.
I remember Perlemuter writing in my score of the Chopin 4th Ballade at the return of the introduction” avec un sentiment de regret” that just illuminated the whole interpretation.
Jonathans’ performance was everything that Cortot outlines in his introduction to his edition.We were immediatley plunged into a magic world of tenderness and nobility – a fatal combination. Waves of sound engulfed us as we were mesmerised by the architectural control allied to extreme beauty of the performance.
There was magic in the air indeed.
After much imploring this young man of deceptively slight build swept us all away on a relentless wave of sounds in the Toccata by Ravel from Le Tombeau de Couperin .
A truly transcendental performance of enormous power,colour and tendresse.
I believe the entire performance of this work is included on his CD.
Ravel wrote it dedicating each movement to a friend who had not returned from the first world war.
In fact a whole generation wiped out…Ravel was lucky to escape as he was an ambulance driver during the war too.
Valerio Vicari was visibly moved today as we all were and he is looking forward to hearing the next pianist Yuanfan Yang from the remarkable roster of the Keyboard Trust in Teatro Torlonia on the 29th January.