Asagi Nakata at St Mary’s ‘On Wings of Song’

Asagi Nakata at St Mary’s

This beautiful photo was taken by Geoff Cox ,that tireless promoter of young musicians
The change of programme of Asagi Nakata had me searching for more information about these remarkable rarely performed works by Liszt.
She is obviously preparing for the competition in Utrecht in March of which and is one of the 14 selected from world wide auditions to take part.She and another pianist well known to Hugh Mather’s select public Andrew Yiangou will perform works selected by Leslie Howard to include works of Liszt that Leslie has ceaslessly championed over the past 50 years (His 100 CD set of the complete works of Liszt is even mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records).
I met Leslie Howard in the class of Guido Agosti in Siena where he was already revered by this great musician.Guido Agosti was from the school of Busoni and musicians would flock every summer to his studio at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena for inspiration and guidance.
Agosti’s performance of the B minor sonata in his class at the Chigiana will never be forgotten by those who were privileged to hear it.

The programme at St Mary’s

Bach ‘ Was Gott tut,das ist Wohlgetan’
The first extraordinary work by Liszt in programme was a set of variations S.180 on the Choral “Was Gott tut,das ist Wohlgetan” from Bach’s cantata: “Weinen,klagen,sorgen,zagen”BWV 12.
It was Asagi’s intelligent musicianship that shone through a performance of great power and weight.
I would almost say conviction as Liszt’s affermation of faith was declared in the final triumphant Choral ending.
Asagi Nakata’s very relaxed arm movements allowed her a kaleidoscopic sense of colour allied to a fluidity and natural musicianship that was very convincing indeed.A transcendental control of the keyboard allowed her to astonish us with her virtuosity but always allied to the musical values that she tirelessly searched for in these not easily accessable scores.
As Hugh Mather declared at the end of a journey of discovery,it was not only Asagi that was exhausted after the recital, but also her audience that had followed so attentively her exhilarating performances of almost unknown works.
For the second work the Grosses Konzertsolo S.176 I had to do some research as it was a work I have never heard in the concert hall before.
Of course who better than Leslie Howard to describe this work that appears on his recording for Hyperion:
“Liszt’s genius for beautiful titles deserted him only once—the Grosses Konzertsolo is a mere stab at a title for a long work which is not yet a sonata, but no longer a character piece. Forerunner of the B minor Sonata it certainly is, however, and the history of the composition shows that Liszt was much preoccupied with it.

Asagi’s expressive arm movements
The piece was written between 1849 and 1850, and dedicated to Adolf Henselt who professed himself unable to play it, even though Liszt had intended it as a competition piece for the Paris Conservatoire. The original is a simple one-movement Allegro, and the piece also exists in an unpublished version for piano and orchestra (not to be confused with the recently discovered ‘third’ concerto). Some time before the publication in 1851, Liszt expanded the work by adding a slow central section whose material he also worked into the later stages of the piece. Later still Liszt arranged the piece for two pianos under the title Concerto Pathétique and at the end of his life supervised his student Eduard Reuss in the production of a new version for piano and orchestra, to which Liszt added several new passages. In any case, this is an extremely interesting work in its own right, and is unaccountably neglected, especially by students who might well benefit from consulting this piece before tackling the Sonata!”
And it is thanks to Leslie Howard and the insistence on discovering new repertoire that we have to thank for allowing us to begin to appreciate the much misunderstood genius of Liszt.
The Liszt transcription of the Symphonies I remember from a remarkable hungarian pianist Adam Fellegi who used to play them every year in my series Euromusica at the Ghione Theatre in Rome.He even came one year with a recording of the chorus for the ninth Symphony that Liszt himself had found difficulty adapting to the inferior pianos of his time.
It was not until 1863 that Breitkopf & Härtel suggested to Liszt that he transcribe the complete set for a future publication.
For this work, Liszt recycled his previous transcriptions by simplifying passages, stating that “the more intimately acquainted one becomes with Beethoven, the more one clings to certain singularities and finds that even insignificant details are not without their value”. He would note down the names of the orchestral instruments for the pianist to imitate, he would also add pedal marks and fingerings for amateurs and sight readers.But when Liszt began work transcribing the ninth symphony, he expressed that “after a great deal of experimentation in various directions, I was unable to deny the utter impossibility of even a partially satisfactory and effective arrangement of the 4th movement. I hope you will not take it amiss if I dispense with this and regard my arrangements of the Beethoven symphonies as complete at the end of the 3rd movement of the Ninth.” (He had in fact completed a transcription of the Ninth Symphony for two pianos in 1850.)

Asagi presenting her unusual programme to Hugh Mather and his audience
Nevertheless, he made another attempt after an insistent letter from Breitkopf & Härtel, and stated “the range achieved by the pianoforte in recent years as a result of progress both in playing technique and in terms of mechanical improvements enables more and better things to be achieved than was previously possible. Through the immense development of its harmonic power the piano is trying increasingly to adopt all orchestral compositions. In the compass of its seven octaves it is able, with only a few exceptions, to reproduce all the characteristics, all the combination, all the forms of the deepest and most profound works of music. It was with this intention that I embark on the work which I now present to the world.”
The full set of transcriptions were however were finally published in 1865 and dedicated to Hans von Bulow.
Vladimir Horowitz, in a 1988 interview, stated “I deeply regret never having played Liszt’s arrangements of the Beethoven symphonies in public – these are the greatest works for the piano – tremendous works – every note of the symphonies is in the Liszt works.”
Liszt’s Beethoven Symphony transcriptions are little known outside serious musical circles, and were in relative obscurity for over 100 years after their publication. It remains a mystery why none of Liszt’s pupils performed or recorded these works.
The first recording of any of them was not until 1967, when Glenn Gould recorded the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies.
Idil Biret became the first pianist to record the complete cycle, between July 1985 and April 1986.
Subsequently, Cyprien Katsaris, Leslie Howard, Konstatin Scherbakov and Yury Martynov have also recorded all nine.
The last time I heard the First Symphony in this Liszt transcription was from the hands of another competitor for the last 2017 Utrecht competition.Alexander Ullman went on to take first prize.
Asagi too today gave a superlative performance full of colour and rhythmic energy.
Would she have prepared these works without the shadow of the Liszt Utrecht Competition looming ?
A competition that was founded in 1986 to celebrate 100 years since the death of Liszt.
Hats off to a competition that in the hands of its director Rob Hilberink and a jury that often comprises experts such as Leslie Howard,Idil Biret,Andrea Bonatta and Janina Fialkowska who can not only help promote but also inform the young musicians of tomorrow.
After these neglected works Asagi Nakata offered a Christmas present to her mentor Hugh Mather and dedicated friends.
A beautifully mellifluous performance,exquisitely played ,of Liszt’s well known transcription of Schubert’s “Auf dem Wasser zu Singen” (In fact the only work that had been on her original programme for today!)
All’s well that ends well indeed !
And 2020 bodes well for all those aspiring young musicians who are invited to this beautiful 12th century redundant church ringing to the sound of glorious music .

Hugh Mather with Asagi Nakata wishing her well for March as we all do


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