Making Hay whilst the sun shines …Tyler Hay plays Kalkbrenner


In my day it was Raymond Lewenthal that lit the way for a revival of the Golden Age of Piano Playing …….today the light is shining brightly for Tyler Hay and Mark Viner.


“On a foggy London night in January 1968,a tall Mephistophelian figure in top-hat and ground- length cape ,looking like a legendary personage out of the romantic past,stepped out of a limousine belonging to one of the peers of the realm,and swept through the stage door past the crowds gathered around it.Out in front of the Hall ,queues of people hoping to get tickets for the evening’s concert,were stretched around the block into Wimpole Street.””The Unique Lewenthal ” read the headlines of one of the reviews next morning of the first of his three all-Liszt recitals in London.

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It is interesting to read his obituary in the New York Times:

Raymond Lewenthal, a colourful and imaginative explorer of forgotten Romantic piano repertory, died of a heart attack Monday night. He was 62 years old and lived in Hudson, N.Y.Mr. Lewenthal is especially remembered for helping to revive the difficult and arcane piano music of Charles-Valentin Alkan, but his restorative efforts were also devoted to other 19th-century composers – Busoni, Reinecke, Field, Henselt, Scharwenka, Thalberg and Anton Rubinstein. The pianist was known for his strong technique and grand manner – crowd-pleasing qualities he applied often to his public performances of Liszt. Harold C. Schonberg of The New York Times, wrote of a 1976 performance of Alkan’s ”Funeral March for a Parrot” that when Mr. Lewenthal, ”cadaverous, tall and saturnine, came out wearing black and a black silk topper decorated with a mourning band, and led a procession of four singers and four desperately squealing oboists . . . that was the Romantic revival.” A critic for The Times of London considered Mr. Lewenthal’s Liszt performances ”in the big Romantic manner such as we now associate with a vanished age.”Mr. Lewenthal was born in San Antonio of Russian-French parentage and grew up in Hollywood where he was a child actor in films until the age of 15. His piano education was both bicoastal and international, including stops in New York and Paris under teachers like Alfred Cortot, Lydia Cherkassky, Olga Samaroff and Guido Agosti. His career was interrupted and nearly ended in 1953 when he was assaulted in Central Park and suffered broken arms and hands. He stopped playing, traveled to Europe, studied there for three years and subsequently went to South America where he lived, often hand-to-mouth, for seven years. In 1964, he returned to the United States and resumed his career.Mr. Lewenthal’s last major appearances were his concerts – five in five days – with the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center in 1982. He was troubled by heart problems in later years and devoted much of his time to finishing and seeking a publisher for a large biography of his hero, Alkan. It is said to have occupied him for 25 years, and remains unpublished.

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All this to introduce  the two extraordinary figures  of Mark Viner and Tyler Hay who have appeared recently on the concert scene with the same curiosity for a bygone age.

“The Golden Age of the Piano Virtuosi”was a programme late at night on the radio in which the newly discovered piano rolls of the great virtuosi of the past were shared with an enthusiastic audience of which I was one in a late night programme on the BBC introduced by Deryck Cooke .They had been found in the Brentford Piano Museum created by a charmingly eccentric personality, Frank Holland .His unique collection of player pianos and such like( he was an engineer and not a musician at all) were housed in a derelict church overlooking the Thames.We listened unbelievingly to feats of virtuosity from pianists we had only read about.Moritz Rosenthal,Leopold Godowsky,Mischa Levitzki.The seed was sown for me .

My old piano professor Sidney Harrison was chairman of the Museum and we would make regular visits to see Frank and his instruments.We even played some pieces in a benefit concert for sixteen hands on eight pianos.Irene Kohler,Eric Harrison,Sidney Harrison,Graham Johnson,Linn Hendry,Katherine Still and me all took part as we marvelled at this  Alladin’s cave.

I even wrote to Cziffra and had a long correspondence with him about his piano transcriptions.I sought out the Chopin Studies by Godowsky in the Library at Senate House. Then out of nowhere appeard this romantic figure of Raymond Lewenthal who took London by storm with his performances of Liszt and Alkan.

I remember in particular his performance of the Hexameron.Princess Belgiojoso conceived the piece in 1837 and persuaded Franz Liszt to assemble a set of variations of the march along with five of his pianist-friends. Liszt composed the introduction, second variation, connecting sections and finale, and integrated the piece into an artistic unity. Five well-known composer-performers each contributed one variation:  Chopin,Czerny,Herz,Pixis and Thalberg.

Princess Belgiojoso commissioned Hexaméron for a benefit concert for the poor on 31 March 1837 at the princess’s salon in Paris. The musicians did not complete the piece on time, but the concert was held as scheduled. The concert’s highlight was a piano “duel” between Thalberg and Liszt for the title of “greatest pianist in the world.” Princess Belgiojoso announced her diplomatic judgment: “Thalberg is the first pianist in the world–Liszt is unique.”

This winter I ventured to Naples to visit the tomb of Thalberg who had amassed vast wealth from his piano tours in America  and elsewhere and had practically taken over a large part of Naples in his retirement.

 It is a fascinating world of a bygone age and it is Mark Viner with  already seven CD’s of Alkan,Thalberg,Chaminade together with Tyler Hay who are bringing this world back to life.

These works were written by virtuoso pianists for their own performances.To astonish,ravish and seduce.Their model was of course Paganini.But they are works that need a transcendental technique together with a sense of style colour and the stamina to sustain the truly diabolical demands that are required to bring these works back to life.Both Tyler Hay and Mark Viner have these qualities in abundance thanks to their early training with Tessa Nicholson at the Purcell School  and later with Niel Immelman at the Royal College.

I have written many times about their performances but am glad now in this time of confinement to receive Tyler’s latest CD of an almost completely forgotten piano virtuoso.A contemporary of Chopin and Liszt of whom Chopin wrote on his arrival in Paris:”Herz,Liszt and Hiller are all zeros next to Kalkbrenner”He dedicated his Concerto op 11 to him and wanted lessons but the arrogant Kalkbrenner would not teach him for less than three years!

So it is with great trepidation that I await to discover who is Kalkbrenner from the  hands of Tyler Hay.

This is what I wrote in my appraisal a few months ago “Kitten on the Keys” when Tyler played the’ Variations Brillantes sur une Mazourka de Chopin’  op 120 at St James’s Piccadilly:

“The Kalkbrenner Variations based on the B flat mazurka of Chopin I had heard from Tyler on a period instrument that lacked the luminosity and grandeur that today we were treated to on a fine modern day Fazioli concert grand.The sheer beauty of the cantabile and the delicious fiortiori that cascaded like drops of water around the sumptuous melodic line was something to marvel at indeed.He made the piano sound like a truly‘Grand’ piano with such a wonderfully warm and rich sonority from which emerged the Chopin mazurka as never before.The different variations of transcendental difficulty were played with a charm and ease that was quite ravishing.”
There is even more to marvel at on the CD that prefaces the variations with a breathtaking performance of the ’25 Grande Etudes de Style et de Perfectionnement op 120.’
Even more astonishing is the fact that all this was accomplished in one day at Jaques Samuel Pianos in London on the 19th April 2019.I have heard Hamelin,Perahia(Chopin 24 studies),Aimard and Volodos perform similar feats but doubt if that could have been achieved in just one day.
This is quite extraordinary playing by any standard.
And a sumptuous Bechstein piano, the preferred piano of many past masters, that has all the range of sound in the hands of this true master.
His total  technical mastery allied to a sense of style that immediately makes one unaware that these studies are like the Gradus ad Parnassum that we all know from our struggles in early piano lessons.A pupil of Scaramuzza tells me that he used to play much Kalkbrenner in his lessons and indeed these pieces  belong to the great Neapolitan school of piano playing which via Scaramuzza was exported to Argentina.
These 25 studies show all the extraordinary qualities that had Chopin writing to his friend Titus Woyciechowski:”Kalkbrenner’s fascinating touch,the quietness and equality of his playing are indescribable,every note proclaims the master.He is truly a giant,who dwarfs all other artists”
Well that could easily sum up what I heard on this CD today.If it slightly misses the absolute perfection of a Rosenthal or Godowsky I doubt that any pianist could match this today ….with the exception of course of his close colleague Mark Viner!(Just listen to his Alkan studies and the Grand Sonata op 33).
This is born out of a passion for a lost age and the desire to throw themselves into the fray on an absolute mission with burning commitment and mastery.
Not only were there amazing octaves from the very first study or the repeated notes alla Beethoven of the 22nd.There was also the amazing dexterity of the 25th , Bachian with its knotty twine that never gets twisted in Tylers hands.Not like “Grave pour Mmme Langois” that  Kalkbrenner writes in the score where presumably Mmme Langois’s fingers got a little stiff!
The 15th that even Tyler admits is one of the most arduous is thrown off with a great sense of style.The precision of the trills shaped so magically in the 20th and the  tempestuous octaves of the 17th or the swirling arpeggios in a perpetuum mobile of the 8th.
Not only technical feats but also musical treats as well.
The beautiful cantabile and legato playing with  superb sense of balance in the 4th is as touching as anything that Mendelssohn could have written.Or the “Schumanneque ” 21st as  passionate  as any of the Novelettes.The almost Waldteufelian melodic line of the 24th was matched with the “painfully” expressive 16th of almost Bach- Siloti proportions. The beautiful Intermezzo at half time in the 11th played with a heartrending simplicity but where Kalkbrenner manages to slip in a glissando in sixths so as not to allow for  any unwelcomed complacency.
An amazing CD that will take your breath away as you enjoy the sheer musical joy and the ease with which the music is allowed to reach deep down inside you where others rarely reach.
I know Mark Viner has  a Blumenfeld CD lined up and wonder what Tyler has up his sleeve as they take us on their magic tour to a past age of giants.
Hats off indeed as Schumann would have said!
Maybe Kalkbrenner was right when he suggested that Chopin should study with him for three years to acquire a true technique!He was after all Chopin’s favourite pianist that he dedicated his Concerto in E minor op 11 to.
Such were the thoughts that passed through my mind as I was seduced and ravished by this young man’s performance as I had been years ago by Bolet and Cherkassky.The precision of the repeated notes in an explosion of fireworks that brought us to the conclusion was quite breathtaking.

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St Mary’s The Virtual Concert Hall n.2- Michael Foyle and Maksim Stsura a duo made in heaven

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St Mary’s Virtual Concert n.2
Hugh Mather introduced me to an amazing duo with the second in his new imposed series of virtual concerts.After the solo recital by Konstantin Lapshin
Two artists with an astonishing curriculum  who simply said to Hugh when he asked if they could stand in at the last minute for a Corona stricken Trio:
‘Choose any or all  of the ten Beethoven Sonatas we play them all ……..without the score’
………and magnificently judging by these three .
Michael Foyle and Maksim Štšura.
I listened by chance to this concert and here are just one or two general remarks about an evening of true chamber music from a duo that played as one.
No greater compliment could there be !
The programme opened with the  early A major Sonata op 12 n 2  where the Allegro vivace was played  with great buoyancy answered by the beautiful shape and flowing lines of the Andante.The piano sang beautifully and was answered by the subtle mellow tone of the violin.There was a wonderful flexibility that gave such poignant meaning to this early sonata.The Allegro piacevole was almost Schubertian in its seemless lyricism.
It was infact  a wonderful preparation for the outpouring of melody in the “Spring”  Sonata   op 24.The repeats were not played but there was a glorious return to the main melody after a development where the violin and piano weaved in and out as the duo looked so intently at each other instead of the score.The coda was of quite voluptuous beauty.
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The Adagio molto espressivo opening  one could not imagine being played more beautifully, that is,  except for when the violin entered  with its touchingly whispered tone.The subtle modulations were very moving with a give and take between the violin and piano that was quite extraordinary. A playful scherzo which could have been  a little steadier (the first movement of op 12 suffered from this too) but was a great contrast to the beautifully sung Allegro ma non troppo.
It was the great G major Sonata op 96, the last of Beethoven’s ten, that was so rewarding.A rock steady tempo  with such lyricism .The Adagio espressivo was a heartrending personal statement from both players.The Scherzo too was played with great rhythmic impetus with a beautiful lyrical trio passing from one player to the other in a quite absorbing musical conversation.The last movement had such poignant moments in the langsam central section before the final Allegro and an explosion of great rhythmic impulse and commitment .
Dr Hugh Mather presenting this extraordinary duo to the ‘virtual world’audience
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Wednesday March 18th 2020 7.30 pm

Michael Foyle (violin) Maksim Stsura (piano)

Beethoven: Violin sonata no 2 in A Op 12 no 2

Beethoven: Violin sonata no 5 in F Op 24 ‘Spring’,

Beethoven: Violin sonata in G Op 96

Michael Foyle launched his career by winning The Netherlands Violin Competition in 2016. His London debut followed with a recital at the Wigmore Hall and since then he has performed recitals in the UK’s most prestigious venues, including Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room, Buckingham Palace, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Bridgewater Hall and Usher Hall, regularly being broadcast on BBC Radio 3. In 2018-19 he released his debut CDs, ‘The Great War Centenary – Debussy, Janacek and Respighi Sonatas’ on Challenge Records and ‘Lutoslawski and Penderecki: Complete Violin and Piano Works’ on Delphian Records, both to critical acclaim. He now pursues a busy solo career, recently performing concertos with the English Chamber Orchestra, the Polish Baltic Philharmonic, Youth Symphony Orchestra of Russia in Great Hall of Moscow Conservatory, and a return to the Rotterdam Philharmonic. He has given over 200 recitals with duo pianist Maksim Stsura, and performed premieres of solo and chamber works by over 30 living composers, and performed as Guest-Concertmaster with orchestras such as BBC Symphony and The Halle. Michael became Professor at the Royal Academy of Music in London in 2016, the youngest violinist appointed in the institution’s 200-year history. Michael was born in Scotland in 1991 and, as a teenager, won the BBC Young Musician of the Year Tabor Award and led the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London with Maureen Smith (where he received the Roth Prize for the highest graduating violinist) and then at the Vienna Konservatorium with Pavel Vernikov. He won the Royal Overseas League String Competition, the Salieri-Zinetti International Chamber Music Competition and Beethoven Society of Europe Competition, and was selected for the Park Lane Group, City Music Foundation, Kirckman Concert Society, Making Music Young Concert Artists and Live Music Now.

Pianist Maksim Stsura won First Prizes at the 7th Estonian Piano Competition (2008), the Steinway-Klavierspiel-Wettbewerb in Germany (2004), the International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in Estonia (2000) and the Intercollegiate Beethoven Piano Competition (2013). He has appeared as soloist with orchestras such as the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra, Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and the Saint Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra. As a chamber musician, Maksim is in great demand, collaborating with Jakobstad Sinfonietta (Finland), Mediterranean Chamber Brass (Spain), Florin Ensemble (UK) and Wiener Kammersymphonie (Austria), among many others. In 2014 he started his Doctoral course at the Royal College of Music, working towards his DMus. Maksim’s research has been generously supported by a Neville Wathen Award, Leverhulme Postgraduate Studentship and Mr Nigel Woolner MBE. His research titled ‘Piano Transcription of a 21st-century Orchestral Score – Freedoms and Limitations’ focuses on works by Mark-Anthony Turnage and James Dillon.Since 2012 Maksim has been the pianist in the award-winning Foyle-Stsura Duo, having performed extensively in the UK and internationally in venues including the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Bridgewater Hall in Manchester and the Wigmore Hall. He has played live on BBC Radio 3, NPO Radio 4 and Estonian Klassikaraadio and recorded for Delphian Records and Challenge Classics.

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Konstantin Lapshin in No Man’s Land – the remarkable new venture at St Mary’s Perivale with Hugh Mather A Man for All Seasons

Konstantin Lapshin at St Mary’s.

How fitting it was that the first concert in Dr Hugh Mather new  venture (or should I say adventure) of a virtual concert hall,should fall to a past student of Vanessa Latarche who was the star pupil of Eileen Rowe.For many generations Miss Rowe was a shining light for all aspiring young musicians in Ealing (Perivale).Hugh Mather together with Vanessa Latarche administer the Eileen Rowe Trust that she bequeathed  to help young musicians in Ealing

Hugh Mather,Roger Nellist  and their team are a shining light today for all the remarkable young musicians that have had their concerts cancelled.
Dr Hugh Mather is maintaining his remarkable series that will be streamed live (and available for a certain period afterwards too).A professional engagement that will continue to be the life blood for so many of the most talented young musicians in London and elsewhere.

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A Man For All Seasons ——- you are not alone ………musicians unite
Hugh Mather

describes how concerts at St Mary’s Perivale will continue as “Virtual Concerts” following today’s Government advice.

Concert details at

“Change of plan ! Please ignore my recent post. In the light of the government’s radical new plans, just announced, to combat Coronavirus, asking us all to avoid pubs and theatres, it would clearly be irresponsible to go against this guidance and hold concerts with an audience. So our Friday concerts at St Barnabas are cancelled indefinitely. However… the concerts at St Mary’s Perivale will continue as ‘Virtual Concerts’, with no audience but with livestreaming. The musicians will be paid in full for the moment, and we hope to have ways of donating to the Friends of St Mary’s Perivale established soon, so that we can continue this policy. We will keep ‘live’ music going in West London over the next few surreal weeks and months, and we may even increase their frequency, since everyone stuck at home will be going crazy with boredom. How about daily piano recitals streamed from Perivale ?? I hope you will all support us. The link is . There are about 8 recent concerts to enjoy, and Konstantin Lapshin’s recital will be broadcast in  live streaming. And if you enjoy this new source of live classical music, tell your friends and spread the word.”

I have had the best seat in the house for some time and I intend to keep it.
I am sure he will have the worldwide following that such a couragious and generous pioneer deserves.
Of course all in the name of the outstanding talents that he presents week after week in his beautiful redundant church in the middle of Ealing Golf Course just 20 minutes from the centre of London.Or at the click of a switch from anywhere in the world

Konstantin Lapshin (piano)

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Rachmaninov: Études-tableaux Op 39 nos 4-9
Liszt: Sonata in B minor S178

London-based Russian pianist Konstantin Lapshin is an accomplished musician with a unique artistic vision. A prize-winner in numerous international competitions, Konstantin completed his Master of Music degree at the Royal College of Music in 2009 on a full scholarship studying with Vanessa Latarche. He then went on to take the Artist Diploma, in addition to being nominated as the Mills Williams Junior Fellow and receiving their gold medal. During his time at the RCM, Konstantin won the Chappell Gold Medal and the college’s highest prize for the most outstanding student (across all disciplines), the Queen Elisabeth Rose bowl. He subsequently played for HRH Prince Charles and in the same year was the nominated ‘Rising Star’ to play at Cadogan Hall, London. Before moving to London, Konstantin completed his studies in the Moscow State Conservatoire with Lev Naumov and Michail Voskresensky.Konstantin has been a major prize-winner in more than 15 International and National piano competitions such as the Schubert International Piano Competition in Dortmund, Maria Yudina International Piano Competition in St Petersburg, 1st Gnessin International Piano Competition in Moscow, Rachmaninov International Piano Competition, Moscow, Novosibirsk International Piano Competition, Haverhill Sinfonia Soloist Competition in the UK. Most recently he won 2 Prize in the Isidor Bajic International Piano Competition (Serbia), 1St Prize in the Mendelssohn Cup Competition in Taurisano (It.), 1st Prize and Public prize of the Schumann Prize International Competition in Lamporrecchio (It).He has given recitals and concerto appearances at various concert halls across Europe including the Wigmore Hall, Purcell Room at the Southbank Centre, Cadogan Hall, Steinway Hall, St Martin-in-the-Fields, Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, Fairfields Hall, the Salle Cortot in Paris. Konstantin has been performing extensively all over Russia. The most important venues have included: Great Hall of Moscow Conservatory, Small Hall of Moscow Conservatory, Rachmaninov Hall, Zerkalny Hall, Tchaikovsky Arts Centre, the Big Hall of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. Upcoming engagements include performances at the Fairfields Hall, Bath International Festival, Llandeilo Music Festival, St James’s Piccadilly, St.Martin’s in the Fields, Bath Piano Recitals Series, Rachmaninov Concert Hall in Moscow; concerts in Italy and Germany. Konstantin is supported by the Worshipful Company of Musicians and is a Concordia and Kirckman Society artist. He teaches at the Royal College of Music. He is also currently pursuing the doctoral degree at the Royal College with the support of the Musicians’ Company Studentship and Mr Hugh Lloyd

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Some magnificent playing for the first of the St Mary’s Virtual Concerts.

Konstantin opening with seven of the Etudes – Tableaux op 39 n.4-9 by Rachmaninov.They showed of his superb control and technical prowess but with a sense of shape and colour that brought each study vividly to life.From the martial undertones of the fourth  and the ninth in which his control of balance and sound managed to bring the set to a tumultuous conclusion.The opening of the ninth played in a subdued manner  to allow the final  explosive  reappearance  to have its full impact  demonstrated  his great sense of architecture and musicianship.The famous fifth  study in E flat minor was played with all the passion and sumptuous sounds that he was to reserve also for parts of the Liszt Sonata later in the programme.Rising to an immense climax but with the melodic line always allowed to sing thanks to his great sense of balance and colour that he built up  always from the very sonorous bass.A meltingly nostalgic finale dissolved to a mere whisper.

It allowed the 6th study to enter with  terrifying ferocity.It was clear why this is known as the Red Riding Hood Study where the wolf gobbles Little Red Riding Hood whole at the end!The intricate chatterings in the treble played with astonishing clarity were answered with the enormous crescendos from the bass.Building up a gradual crescendo of great energetic force and superlative technical control.

It served merely as a grotesque prelude to the nightmare qualities of the seventh.The enormous technical difficulties dispatched with great fire and passionate involvement.The beautifully lyrical eighth study was allowed to flow so mellifluously before disappearing to a mere whisper for the imposing opening of the ninth.

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It was also very fitting that this new series of concerts should include one of the pinnacles of the Romantic piano repertoire.The Sonata in B minor by Liszt.

The Sonata published in 1854  was dedicated to Robert Schumann, in return for Schumann’s dedication of his Fantasie in C Major op 17 (published 1839) to Liszt. A copy arrived at Schumann’s house in May 1854, after he had entered Endenich sanatorium. Schumann’s wife  Clara, an accomplished concert pianist and composer in her own right, did not perform the Sonata; according to scholar  Alan Walker she found it “merely a blind noise”.

Well it can be in the wrong hands but this was not the case today.If Konstantin did slightly exaggerate the rubato in the opening motif it was done from a passionate involvement and  self identification with the great drama that Liszt unfolds.Some extraordinary feats of transcendental piano playing where again his great sense of architectural shape allowed him to take us on a journey in which the underlying rhythmic impetus was rarely lacking .He allowed himself some rhythmic freedom only  in the touching pianissimi chromatic scales that herald the return to the mysterious opening motif.He immediately returned to the original tempo in the fugato that he built up to a gloriously noble outburst of excitement.The so called “love theme”, a beautiful lyrical thematic trasformation of the original five repeated notes slowed down to create one of the most meltingly beautiful episodes of the remarkable work.It was ravishingly played, always with a forward movement that excluded and sentimentality but just added to the enormous contrast with the great passionate octaves that abound.The infamous octaves at the end were played with great authority and the gradual dissolving to the final B deep in the bass was pure magic that he was able to trasmit to my home thanks to the superb streaming at St Mary’s.

I wonder if he realised  as he played to Hugh alone that  the  world was  also listening with baited breath!

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The final note of the great B minor Sonata by Liszt
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Viva Beethoven and hats off to Aimard,Salonen and the Philharmonia.

A day dedicated to Beethoven in his 250th year.
A reconstruction of the 1808 concert that had been directed from the keyboard by Beethoven himself.
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Today it was even prefaced by a foyer pre- concert performance of the Choral Fantasy arranged for chamber ensemble by Gustav Holst’s Latvian grandfather Gustavus von Holst and  the fourth movement of the 9th Symphony in the two piano arrangement by Franz Liszt.
The man who should not have been here today brought a touch of magic to this amazing concert.
Aimard standing in at the last minute for Haefliger .
After a Pastoral Symphony,Ah Perfido Concert aria and Gloria from the Mass in C a truly magical account of the fourth piano concerto.
Amazingly without the score and of such luminosity and crystalline clarity but with such Beethovenian inputs of energy that up to now had been missing from an otherwise superb Philharmonia under Salonen.
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Playing also the secondary cadenza that does infact seem like an improvisation.
Having just heard his Hammerklavier the other day it is amazing not only to appreciate his superhuman intellectual capacity but a total identification with Beethoven that I was not expecting
I awaited for his Choral Fantasy with great expectation .Could it surpass Curzon that I had heard with Colin Davis in this very hall?
Stephen Fry flying from one box to another as he read reports of reviews of the day when Beethoven conducted and played his own works in concert in Vienna in 1808.
Chamber pots were not supplied!
Luckily today a long interval provided  the relief  needed before the call to arms with Beethoven 5.
And a Beethoven 5 that caught alight indeed from a now inspired Salonen.
Beethoven’s rather silly op 77 Fantasy was included as an improvisation that Beethoven is reported to have made.
It followed a beautiful performance of the Sanctus and Benedictus from the C major Mass op.86.
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But then the miracle occured with a Choral Fantasy of such sublime beauty coupled with the energy of a man possessed.
Aimard on this occasion could have been the great master himself.
“When music’s enchantment reigns,
And sacred words are spoken,
Beauty takes form;
Night and storms turn into light.”
Obviously the words were an inspiration in these uncertain times.
The Sunday Times tells us than men do not cry but this was one of those rare memorable occasions where this was an exception.
Everyone on their feet at the end.
Applause and sincere cheers that just proved that I was not the only one deeply moved.
Beauty conquers all!
Lets hope we remember that in the difficult days that lie ahead.
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The Last Recital….Luka Okros at St John’s Smith Square

Luka Okros at St John’s Smith Square.
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It was fitting that the last concert in London for the time being should be given over to such sublime music.
‘If music be the food of love on……’
And this young poet’s love of music as shown by the sumptuous sounds and undemonstrative love for the piano was indeed a fitting way to pull the curtain for a period of uncertainty that awaits.
 The streets deserted around Westminster and the Houses of Parliament as I made my way to hear Luka in his recital for the rush hour(sic) Bechstein Piano Series.
Just an hour of music on a wonderful sounding Bechstein piano in a series  divided up amongst four of the most outstanding pianists of their generation.
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Vadym Kholdenko,winner of the 2013 Van Cliburn Competition;Boris Giltberg,winner of the Queen Elisabeth Competition; Luka Okros ,winner of the Hong Kong ,Iturbi and Scottish Competitions;and in April  hopefully the final in the series with Federico Colli,winner of the Leeds 2012 Competition founded by Dame Fanny Waterman who on Sunday will celebrate her 100th birthday as she takes up the reigns again after a brief  enforced retirement!
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Luka I have heard many times and as a student of Norma Fisher at the Royal College his musical pedegree has never  been in doubt.
A stillness to the Adagio sostenuto of the so called Moonlight Sonata created a spell that lasted for the hour of music offered by the Bechstein Piano Series.
After the stillness and superb tonal control of the Adagio the Allegretto seemed a little breathless and could have been a little less serioso.The Presto agitato was played with great forward movement and if one or two details in the score were missing it was  little price to pay for the superb sense of balance that allowed the melodic line to sing so naturally without any force.
Throughout the entire recital it was notable how the melodic line was exposed rather than forcing its way to the forefront.
His superb sense of balance and obvious love of the sublime sounds that this piano could make in his hands created a magic for the few brave souls that had ventured out in these difficult times.
An audience that had no idea at the beginning of the recital  that they were assisting at the last public performance in London for the forseeable future!
The half moon shape around this most beautiful sounding instrument was also a poignant sign that we were in the presence of a true poet of the piano.
The single Brahms Intermezzo op 117 n.3 was played with such sumptuously rich sounds.Like the strings of the Philadelphia Orchestra under Ormandy!Pure velvet!
It was lovingly shaped with a heartbreaking sense of nostalgia and regret.Contrasting so well with the fleetingly evocative central section that led to an ending of movingly aristocratic sentiment.
The Schumann Fantasie op 17 was Schumann’s contribution to the Beethoven Monument in Bonn which was being organised by Franz Liszt.The Fantasie is dedicated to Liszt and is an outpouring of love for Schumann’s beloved future wife Clara.
It was lovingly shaped indeed and never over emphasised but given a natural voice that was so expressive.
The entry into the central section of the first movement, marked Im Legenden -Ton, was quite memorable.
The second movement was not always steady but he gave great shape to Schumann’s oft irritating dotted rhythms.
There was a radiant calm to the middle section and the trecherous  coda was magnificently played ,integrated as is so rarely heard  into the whole movement.
There was a magical link between the end of this movement and the Langsam getragen.
The outpouring of love for his adored Clara.
I remember Agosti writing in my score the two notes that signify Cla  ra .
There was a slight variant to the sublime melody that floats on a wave of sumptuous sounds but I think it may be Luka, so involved, that he allowed his fantasy full reign too.
It was indeed a match of true love.
His musicianship was allied to his great sense of style and colour.
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And it was no coincidence that the encore offered after a heartrending hommage to Clara by her husband should have been the ‘Poet Speaks'( from Kinderszenen op 15)
The first encore because by great demand he also played Rachmaninov’s Moment Musicaux op 16 n.4 in Eminor with glorious passion allied to rich voluptuous sounds.
Two little pieces followed full of washes of sound both passionate and delicate … sounded of Armenian flavour to me .
Luka corrected me afterwards as they were  Georgian.
Two beautiful pieces by Luka himself who I read in the programme is a composerv who has created an album of his own compositions.
One of his pieces was filmed and premiered by Het Concertgebouw’s Sessions.Scores of his works are published by Master Music Publications (whose title says it all ).
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Chiyan Wong at the Barnes Music Festival

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The etherial sounds of the Ravel Quartet filled this vast space with the Hill Quartet and some superb playing from this youthful formation from the Royal Academy.
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It prepared us for the sumptuous sounds that Chiyan Wong drew from this old but still noble Steinway.
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A Mozart Rondo in A minor startlingly free and very individual with teasing sounds and great rubati.
Some moments of sublime beauty mixed with others of rather extreme rubato that rather stopped the simple flow of this late jewel K 511 (1787).Mozart died only four years later in 1791.
Even the opening had some very original phrasing and staccati that took us by surprise.
It may though have been the very way that Mozart himself might have played it.
We are used these days to a simplicity and rhythmic constancy and so it came as a surprise the freedom that Chiyan allowed himself.
It had a mesmerising effect and the music spoke in a way that was rare and very touching.
Some truly exquisite sounds and wonderful sense of balance of which the only real disturbance were the occasional sudden changes of tempo in Chiyan’s effort to make every note speak.
It reminded me of the same changes of meter that Busoni allowed himself on the few piano rolls of his playing that have been handed down to us!
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A truly sumptuous Ondine by Ravel with a water nymph who must have been bathed in pink champagne!
Such was the beauty of the water that this little nymph could frolic in.
Played with a superb sense of balance.
Even the build up to the mighty climax was held back and judged so perfectly with an aristocratic poise and architectural shape that had me wanting to hear Le Gibet and Scarbo as well.
This was a prelude to the true drama that was enacted in the name of Liszt’s B minor sonata.
Not sure if it was Liszt or Chiyan’s sonata though.
Such was the freedom and self identification from the opening mysterious notes clouded in mist to the passionate outpourings that were enacted together with moments of sublime beauty.
The programme quotes the Liszt scholar Paul Merrick and the programme that he proposes for the Sonata based on other works by Liszt and Wagner.
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Although a highly romantic vision it does give a sort of road map to this monumental one movement Sonata ,considered by many to be the finest Sonata of the Romantic era:
“Shortly after the opening octaves comes a motif of five rapidly repeated notes,like the knocking at the door”- it was here very clearly defined and beautifully shaped with a very spiky last right hand note.It did very vividly give the impression as Merrick suggest  of ” a Satan/devil theme” and it does recur many times throughout as a sort of ‘leitmotiv.’
Including ,to quote PM the fugue,that entered in a very restrained way as it built up to the mighty entry of the left hand that I felt could have been even more sonorous and less spiky.
It is so obviously the entry of the full orchestra with the brass blaring.
Gilels was absolutely enthralling here  and I will never forget his complete explosion of sound at this point.
“The closing pages ( to quote always PM) when the devil is defeated” was beautifully played with great atmosphere and I rather like the fact that he did not attempt the hairpin crescendo on the last note of the ” five celestial chords” but let it drift into oblivion with a wonderfully sonorous final bass note ” the work’s final release with a single low B”.
Shortly after the opening there is “a blitz of octaves that leads to a majestic chordal passage  marked grandioso”.
It was a true grandioso from Chiyan played with such fervour and passion and such full sonorous sound that was quite overwhelming.
“This is the God theme which recurs another four times.Liszt then executes a masterstroke of thematic transformation by slowing down the five repeated notes and forming them into a beautiful lyrical passage- the Love theme.”
It was played with such beautiful delicacy and a superb sense of balance as it gradually led to the most intricate embellishments played with astonishing ease and great technical prowess.
A different lyrical passage occurs in the central section which PM identifies as the “Christ theme and the Redemption of Man.”
Some quite extraordinary playing where he just seemed to touch the notes and made them vibrate with such shape and colour as it led to the great build up of romantic fervour.Dissolving with truly magical pianissimi scales before the return to the opening mysterious bars and the fugato that entered almost on tiptoe!
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It was a very individual interpretation that held the audience spellbound as Chiyan recreated this mighty masterpiece before our very eyes.
A  remarkable command of the instrument both technically and musically with never a moment of doubt that this is exactly the statement he wanted to share with us.
Not sure if the purists would approve of such liberty but on the crest of this wave that carried us with him the mind did not come into the equation which  was of a total commitment and passionate involvement.
A man possessed by the spirit of Liszt.
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A history at St Mary’s that goes back to 1100

Mark Viner at St Mary’s

Mark Viner at St Mary’s.
Some beautiful things in the Schumann Fantasy played with his microscopic precision, untainted by tradition but played with great musical integrity and true unadorned love for this masterpiece.
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Schumann dedicated the Fantasy to Liszt and it was his humble offering to create funds for the statue dedicated to the master of Bonn:Ludwig van Beethoven .
But it was the moment that Mark Viner unleashed Liszt on an unsuspecting audience that sparks started to fly.
Scintillating piano playing of such colour and at times breathtaking excitement.
He ignited the piano as his idol Liszt must have done.
He also convinced us of his faith as he comuned with his maker in such an immediate and heartrending fashion.
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Seven CD’s already to his honour of the extraordinary unknown virtuosi of which Franz Liszt was the King.
Chaminade……….. and Blumenfeld on its way.
Hats off to this great english virtuoso who is taking us back in history like Raymond Lewenthal or Ronald Smith before him.Glorious times when the virtuoso pianist composer was idolised in the fashionable salons of the day like the pop stars of today.
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I have written many times about this quite unique musical figure and here are a few of my thoughts as his career blossoms as he shares his scholarship and extraordinary playing with an ever more growing public worldwide.
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Liszt at the Royal Academy in London
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Pascal Rogé at the Royal Academy

In search of Moura…….poor Moura she hated the bust that shared a place of honour with Myra Hess at the Royal Academy where now sits a tv screen!
Both prize students of their beloved Tobias Matthay or Uncle Tobbs as he was known to them.Two great pianists,both women and Dames of the British Empire.
How Moura Lympany would have loved to hear the ever youthful looking Pascal Rogé talking about balance,sound and projection.Harmonically conscious and flexibility from this pianist that Julius Katchen had promoted in the last years of his short life.
I remember a seventeen year old  towselled haired blond youth making his debut at the Wigmore Hall with an ashen faced Julius Katchen applauding his star pupil.
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A recording by Decca followed as did a worldwide career.
Full concert performances from all three students today and only afterwards some very helpful comments from Pascal Rogé
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Some beautiful playing from Antonie Préat with an excellent orchestra in Julian Chen.The Ravel G major Concerto played with great assurance and extraordinary control.
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Gabrielè Sutkuté with an equally expert orchestra in Bocheng Wang in a very passionately persuasive performance of Grieg’s Piano Concerto.
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Wouter Valvekens gave a very sensitive account of Chopin’s Fantasie in F minor.
Rogé asking for more clarity and bell like resonance at the top of the piano.
Projection and sense of balance was his cry.
Purity of line like Mozart in the Ravel slow movement.
A crystal like clarity that can arrive to the first row of the audience as to the last.
All things that are characteristics of his own very refined playing.
Shared with us today with all the simplicity that is still so much part of the true Parisian irresistible charm
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Pilar Fernandez and Piers Lane

Aimard’s Hammerklavier and Concord Sonatas in London

How could one ignore anyone who programmes the Hammerklavier with the Concord Sonata tonight in London.
Alexander Lonquich has programmed the same two works that unfortunately may not be heard in Italy this season.
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A programme of giant intellectual significance and for the chosen few.
A Hammerklavier of great clarity with moments of immense input of energy.Some crystalline sounds etched into the fabric of the Adagio sostenuto made one realise just what he meant by Appassionato e con molto sentimento.
Played with the score more as an ‘aide memoire’ as he hardly glanced at it but threw himself in true Beethovenian fashion headlong into the fray.
The cadenza in the scherzo was breathtaking as it was breathless.And the sudden change of gear was quite riveting.
The fugue had all the struggle and energy that I remember from Serkin.Not quite so frenzied but with an enviable clarity and intellectual control that brought this immense work to its mighty conclusion.
The first movement was played with two hands but with the same element of daring that is inherent in this final call to arms after the fifth symphony.
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What to say of the Concord Sonata by Ives.
Hard to believe it was written in 1915 as Aimard took us a journey of extraordinary control and resilience.A burst of energy from first to last with an undercurrent that swept all before it.
A perpetuum mobile that was astonishing as were the extreme contrasts of pure calm with great cascading clusters of notes and even hints of Yanky doodle!
Everything bar the kitchen sink even though some elements from the there were discretely in evidence and placed on the stand by a page turner of true heroic stature.
A standing ovation ……follow that you might say…..impossible even for the genial musicianship of Aimard

The amazing Mr Fu at Steinway Hall

The amazing Mr Fu at Steinway Hall.
At only 24 hours notice George Xiaoyuan Fu gave an extraordinarily assured recital for the Keyboard Charitable Trust.
The opening two preludes by Messiaen revealed his immediate sense of identification with the expressive sound world of Messiaen.”Les sons impalpables du reve” were just that as he etched out with such imagination the icily expressive chords that are so much part of this magic world.

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A world he continued to explore with 7 of Debussy’s remarkable Etudes L.136 .They are amongst Debussy’s greatest late works: “Behind a pedagogic exterior, these 12 pieces explore abstract intervals, or – in the last five – the sonorities and timbres peculiar to the piano.”
It was exactly this that came across with such total control and obvious delight from cascading arpeggios,delicate thirds ,repeated notes and octaves all played not only with a technical mastery but with a music understanding that gave great shape to each one of these miniatures.His use of the pedal too gave great colour and shape without ever clouding the textures that Debussy had so intricately defined.

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Beethoven’s op 109 Sonata was given an exemplary performance.A beautiful sense of balance in the Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo gave us the texture of a string quartet and the variations that followed were played with great rhythmic drive and total technical command.It was prefaced by a work that he very eloquently and movingly described as one of the most beautiful pieces he knew.It was a highly charged performance of Oliver Knussen’s ode to his late wife: “Ophelia’s Last Dance op 24.”
His clarity,intellectual control and great sense of rhythmic drive were the same qualities that I had witnessed the day before from his mentor Pierre-Laurent Aimard.
Amazing to read that George after receiving a degree in economics from Harvard went on to study at Curtis Institute with Jonathan Biss and Meng – Chieh Liu.He completed his studies with Christopher Elton and Joanna MacGregor at the RAM where he is now a fellow

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Elena Vorotko, an artistic director of the KCT, in thanking George for standing in for an indisposed pianist unable to arrive from Vienna,very eloquently described how refreshing and what an eye opener it was to listen to the Beethoven after (and not before ) the Messiaen,Knussen and Debussy.
But as George had said in his introduction it is exactly the same soul just different ways in differing times of expressing it.
He can be heard again in Barnes on Tueday 17th in a recital that is announced as ” the audience is taken on a journey through a variety of musical eras and genres ,presented by one of the most outstanding young performers working in London ”
I can thorougly endorse that.

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