The return of a legend Pletnev in Florence

Pletnev at the Pergola
I am jotting down some thoughts and it is only the interval!
One could already fill a book with ideas about the performances of Mozart K.282 and Beethoven op.110.
I had spent the morning with Elisso Virsaladze in Fiesole where she had implored two very fine pianists to just do what Beethoven asks- no more but certainly no less!
A japanese boy,a protégée of Martha Argerich in op.27n.2 and Elia Cecino,winner of the Premio Italia in op 31n.1.
“But why are you doing that if Beethoven does not ask for it?”
The same integrity and humility of the legendary pianist/musician Guido Agosti,my mentor and great friend who gave a lecture recital in my theatre on the very sonatas that Pletnev is offering today (both on video in the Ghione archives.Op 110 on CD in one of the very rare performances to be recorded of this great master who reigned in Siena for many years).
Pletnev today  offered a sort of improvisation on themes by Mozart and Beethoven but I think it was much more than that and will try to reason out the riddle.
Both Pletnev and Pogorelich have played in my theatre and so was not surprised to see Pogorelich backstage at a Wigmore recital by his colleague some years ago and if I may say with all respect “birds of a feather.”
I remember Pletnev declaring that to play in the Wigmore was “ playing unter ze water”
Tatyana Nikolaeva told us that her student was coming to play in our series too after her many recitals for us and we were delighted to take him out to dinner after a wonderful ‘Pictures’ and his own ‘Sleeping Beauty’
Pogorelich had played that season too: the 4 Scherzi and two Mozart Sonatas.
Fou Ts’ong had arrived a few days early for his recital and I asked him if he would like to hear Pogorelich.
I explained that like Cherkassky he was not always faithful to the score.
After the concert Ts’ong took me aside and said:
“…but Shura loves the piano …. this man hates it!”
The thing Pletnev and Pogorelich have in common was as Pablo Rossi immediately said today at the end of op 110…
“but what voicing!Modern day pianists do not do that any more.”
Thank God you might say …..but there is much more to be said about it than that.
Fanny Waterman used the word ‘mold’ but she meant that pianists do not seem to have a distinctive voice.
As Elisso too says, 90% of pianists today have nothing to say.They are too predictable.
In Pletnev’s case though I think on todays hearing:
“All song and no dance make for rather a dull boy!”
I am now continuing these thoughts and reflections long after the end of the concert.
I have reasoned with a whole group of magnificent musicians playing hookey from Elisso’s class over a glass or two in Florence Cathedral square.
They had flocked to hear a legendary pianist in a beautiful programme of Late Beethoven and Mozart.
I have come to the conclusion that without form,shape or some sort of structured order, held together by a rhythmic undercurrent, beautiful sounds on their own become predictable and in the end boring.
An encore of the Scarlatti Sonata in D minor summed up a whole recital and was cheered to the rafters by the same followers of ‘bel canto’ who live for the high wire momentary gratification of some rarified sounds.
But the art of the great interpreter is to make one feel that whilst obeying the composers wishes it should also sound like a spontaneous improvisation but with a rhythmic undercurrent that holds the work together and gives architectural shape to the works played and also to the recital as a whole.
One that keeps an audience on the edge of their seats waiting to see if they should fall off the high wire.
The great musician is he who lasts the course and arrives triumphantly to the finishing post with his humiltiy and integrity intact.
Having shared a unique musical experience with the audience that have created the atmosphere in which anything is possible.
The Amici dell Musica in Florence has for decades been in the dedicated hands of the Passigli family of publishers.
They are renowned for their high standards and absolute musical integrity where only the greatest music and interpreters are allowed to tred.
I brought Perlemuter,Tureck and Cherkassky to them from Rome but it was only Perlemuter and Tureck who were idolised and invited back year after year.
They are renowned for their programmes of the greatest string quartets,something that would be an absolute rarity in Rome or the south.
Serkin,Arrau,Fischer and Brendel were their Gods.
Artists that all others were measured by.
Today regular visitors are Murray Perahia,Andras Schiff,Angela Hewitt,Paul Lewis, Ian Bostridge, Les Arts Florissants,Jordi Savall the Emerson Quartet etc etc.
The same serious intent as the Wigmore Hall in London.
I was pleasantly surprised to see Pletnev in their season but I think a programme of Beethoven Op 110 & 111 plus two Mozart Sonatas was hard to resist!
The Scarlatti was full of rarified sounds.
Episodes in varying tempi that did not relate one to the other.
Scales that sounded like washes of colour from a different world arriving eventually to a bell like trill that unwound like tinkerbell!
It reminded me of the pianists we have heard on the old 78 rpm records of De Pachmann or the like.
Pletnev is no longer the spry young man of thirty years ago when he came to us.Life has lain heavily on him and he shuffles on and off and seems very unsure of his bearings on stage.
However once arrived at the piano he is still the master that had Sandor exclaiming as to why he should want to be a conductor when he could play the piano like the unique virtuoso he is.
He started the recital late and it made me wonder if it would be the same experience we had at Rome University a few years ago.
A five o clock recital in Rome and I was five minutes late too.
I found people still outside the hall and was surprised when they asked me if I was Pletnev as he had not yet arrived!
After a forty minute wait La Sapienza decided to cancel the concert.
It would appear that Mr Pletnev had gone sightseeing not realising that Saturday afternoon there was a protest march that had blocked the ‘Infernal City’ and made a visitors life a misery!
The Teatro Della Pergola was once the Opera House of Florence and who knows if Pletnev was aware of that as he proceded to play Mozart’s E Flat Sonata K:282 as if all the world is a stage.
(The theatre is renowned these days as the most important stage for drama in Italy.I first saw my future wife,Ileana Ghione, there in 1978 in Private Lives by Noel Coward and we last performed John Gabriel Borkman there 20 years later when Rosalyn Tureck had become the absolute ‘Diva’ of Florence).
Pletnev’s performance today was deliciously free and of such subtle multi- coloured shading with all the characters and drama present of an Opera by Mozart.
It may have seemed rather exaggerated in these days of such purity and almost fear to touch the great scores.But it is ignorance of the style and it was Horowitz who lay the same operatic scenario in front of us …his very last concerto recording was of Mozart K 488 with that most elegant and eclectic of conductors: Carlo Maria Giulini.
It may have seemed ‘over the top’ but his slight delays and sudden changing of colours were riveting.
The magical colours in the Menuetto 2 contrasted so well with the return of the Menuetto 1 played very rhythmically.
The Allegro was not rhythmically so clear and his jeux perlé with abrupt changes of tempo started to  became rather mannered and predictable and for that reason a little tiresome!
And from here on in this hallowed hall that has seen the greatest musicians of our time we were treated to old style performances between the “Devil and the Deep Blue Sea!”
I had started to make notes as an ‘aide memoire’ but after a while I just shut the book and tried to concentrate on the delicacies that we were being fed instead of being swept up in the current of great interpretations of master works.
A very wayward opening to op 110 where the tempo seemed to change by the second depending on what delicious sounds he was trying to titivate his senses with.The actual sublime opening melody was extremely beautiful after a trill that I have never heard thrown off with such deliberation.
Bass notes that suddenly sounded like an organ stop where the filigree figurations that Beethoven asks for were submerged in pedal.
It did have a certain aspect of being improvised though and the splitting of hands in the magical key change was very effective but by then the tempo had almost come to a halt! It was interesting to see him strike a single note from above like a great painter with his canvas but then the left hand phrasing in twos was completely submerged in pedal as the melody was reduced to a romantic song without words!
The second movement was very deliberately played ,the syncopations hardly recognisable as they were thrown off with a nonchalance that killed the very deliberate rhythmic urgency that Beethoven asks for.
The famous ‘bebung’ or repeated/vibrated notes in the Adagio were played with one finger and seemed to work well and the sublime melody that followed was barely audible but extremely beautiful.
His lack of rhyhmic impulse though left Beethoven’s ‘Sturm and Drang’ out of the equation completely.
What remained was his heart and soul.Even if his heart was sometimes on his sleeve it was a memorable moment to cherish.
The return of the fugue subject in inversion was almost unrecognisable due to his rhythmic distortion.
The mysterious reappearance of the subject after the great chords was as astonishing as it was surprising.
Some very bare isolated pizzicato octaves led to the gradual build up to the final great climax.It was rather thrown away on mists of sound from a different era.We are used to hearing such clarity and forward propulsion to the final break of tension.What we got was a sort of beautiful melody and accompaniment!
The second half began with the Sonata in C K. 330 “Parigina” by Mozart.It opened with a delicate left hand staccato that was very beautiful but then rapidly resorted to the same changes of tempo and exaggerations that had been the hallmark of the first part of the recital.
Op 111 Beethoven’s last great Sonata where the first movement is full of struggle to be resolved only in the sublime Arietta and variations.
The opening fanfare Beethoven asks to be played with one hand- Pletnev chose to play it with both! He reduced the struggle immediately to a sort of jeux perlé where Perlemuter had likened the fast semiquavers to water boiling over at 100% .
Perlemuter had studied with Schnabel who had been one of the first to respect the composers wishes.
His teacher Leschetizsky had told him that he was not a pianist but a musician.
What greater compliment could there be today!
But in that period pianists were entertainers and would have “their own” interpretations that were designed to titivate the senses and show off their technical and emotional prowess.They even spoke to the audience to let them know how they were doing!
And Pletnev today had decided to turn back the clock and reduced the great Artietta to melody and accompaniment.
Where the opening is so obviously a string quartet and the voices in the variations give such energy and meaning to one of Beethoven’s most poignant utterences.
The powerful arpeggios were reduced to arabesques like a Shultz- Evler Strauss transcription.
The etherial meanderings in the upper registers of the piano were in Pletnev’s hand like a fly buzzing around the piano instead of the most magical sounds that lead to the final statement of the theme amidst magical trills and mere fragments magically placed all over the keyboard.
These were just some of the reasons that in the end the recital was boring.
ùIt could have been controversial ,non intellectual,provocative even but I am sorry to say boring it should never have been.
He gave the impression of someone who was tired but if that is what the public accepts so be it.
I was just surprised to hear this in such a hallowed hall and very disappointed more than anything else….
I was expecting nothing and that is what I got!
So perhaps I was not disappointed …but for sure I certainly was not elated!
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