Asagi Nakata at St Mary’s Teatime Classic Archive Series


Tuesday December 18th 2.0 pm repeated on 26 May for Teatime Classic Archive series

Asagi Nakata piano recital

Bach: Prelude and Fugue G minor BWV 861

Mozart: Sonata in D K 311

Szymanowski: Variations in B flat minor Op 3

Handel/Liszt: Sarabande and Chaconne from ‘Almira’ S 181

Liszt: Transcendental Etude no 8 ‘Wild Jagd’

Asagi Nakata was born in Japan 1995 and recently graduated from the Royal Academy of Music with Diploma, (DipRam) and have been awarded the “Francis Simms Prize” for her outstanding studentship and for her exceptionally high final recital mark of the year. She was generously supported by the Constance Bastard Memorial Scholarship from the Academy which enabled her to study with Professor Christopher Elton. She previously studied with a scholarship at the Junior Department of the Royal College with Professor Ian Jones, and with Professor Tatiana Sarkissova.She has won several competitions including the EPTA Belgian International, Franz Liszt Weimar (2009), the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe Junior (2010) and was runner up in the Windsor International Piano Competition in 2015. Other successes include First Prize in the Marlow International Concerto Competition (2007), Third Prize in the James Mottram International Competition (2008), and Fourth Prize in the Ettlingen International Competition (2010). Asagi was recently selected as one of fourteen semi-finalists in the International Franz Liszt Piano Competition which took place in October 2017.Asagi has performed at the Wigmore Hall, Cadogan Hall and St. James’s, Piccadilly, and is a regular soloist in the St. Paul’s Bedford Lunchtime Concert Series and the Emmanuel United Reform Church, Cambridge Lunchtime Concert Series. Performances abroad include Japan, Holland, Italy, Belgium, Prague, France, Germany in the presence of Alfred Brendel and Poland where she was invited as guest performer at the 64th Duszniki International Chopin piano festival. She has performed with the Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra of South Bohemia, Southbank Sinfonia and Finchley Chamber Orchestra.Asagi is grateful for the support from the Drake Calleja Trust, Talent Unlimited, and The Countess of Munster Musical Trust for their Derek Butler Award. She is also a Concordia Foundation Artist. In her spare time Asagi enjoys cooking and learning German. In recognition of her high achievements in music at the Royal Academy of Music, Asagi received the Greta Parkinson Prize, Vivian Langrish Prize, the Peter Latham gift and the Nancy Dickinson Award.

Asagi brought a beautifully shaped programme to Perivale and I was very glad of the opportunity to listen to it in this repeat from the St Mary’s archive.Both the Szymanowski and the Handel/Liszt are rarities in any programme and here they were contrasted with the Bach G minor Prelude and Fugue from Book 1   and the little D major sonata K.311 by Mozart finishing with the 8th of the Transcendental studies of Liszt: Der  Wilde Jagd.It was a programme that showed of her crystalline clarity and simple unaffected musicianship.Allied to a tone palette that ranged from the most exquisite of pianissimi to the most sumptuous of fortissimi always with the velvety
rich sound of a truly Grand Piano.
Der Wilde Jagd showed off all these qualities to the full and was the final piece on the programme.
What better way to sum up all that had gone before.
This was a musicianly performance in which this little tone poem was given such shape and colour together with a technical control that gave such clarity to all that she did. From the savage opening of the hunt to the playful call of the horn and finally the sumptuous melodic outpouring of the central section.Played with real passion and such beauty of sound that contrasted so well with the final tempestuous outrage that was played quite fearlessly with superb control not only of speed and accuracy but also of absolute fidelity to Liszt’s very precise indications of fortissimo,pianissimo and staccato and marcato.
An encore after that would have defeated most pianists but Asagi still had a trump card up her sleeve with the study op 10.n.1 by Chopin.
These studies dedicated to Liszt can in the right hands be pure poetry.
And it was this that she gave us.
Not the usual barn storming opening study of the first more transcendental set of 12  but a full blooded musical account with some very delicate colours  and fleetingly articulated arpeggios that contrasted so well with the overall grandeur of the opening.The bass could have been even more pronounced as the arpeggios are only an accompaniment to the grandiose organ stops of the left hand.
Coming after such a long and varied programme it was indeed a tour de force from this deceptively delicate looking young pianist.
The programme had begun with a very beautifully shaped Prelude in G minor BWV 861 from the 1st book of the 48.A  flexibility that gave great shape to this most mellifluous of preludes before the absolute clarity of her playing in the fugue.The subject of this four part fugue always allowed to appear so clearly with the contrapuntal meanderings leaving it the front of  stage even in the final two majestic bars.
The little sonata in D K 311  by Mozart was played with such a joyous sparkle.The ornaments like jewels gleaming in the bright sunlight of this almost Scarlatti like opening movement.The Andante con espressione was allowed to sing with such touching simplicity and her great sense of balance allowed the melodic line to be shaped so sensitively and with such aristocratic good taste. The Rondeau was played with a great sense of ‘joie de vivre’ with very delicate dynamic contrasts with a charming question and answer between the hands.The cadenza gave just a momentary respite before the return of the rondo and the sparkling passage work and drive to the final  heroic chords.
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The cycle of twelve variations on Szymanowski’s own theme was composed during the years 1901-1903 and dedicated to his friend Artur Rubinstein.
It is in the late Romantic style, echoing the tradition of the nineteenth-century composers of piano music, above all  Schumann and  Liszt. The majority of the variations are of strikingly virtuoso character, emanating with the brilliance of great piano playing, and demonstrating young Szymanowski’s perfect intuition for the technical and timbral possibilities of the piano.
Rich harmony, strongly saturated with chromaticisms, indicates that the composer was by then standing at the edge of the major-minor tonal system, and only a step away from creating his own, new musical language.They were played with such subtle colouring.
The beautifully shaped theme  was followed by the variations each one characterised by such a superb sense of balance.From the sumptuous tenor register with filigree  accompaniment to  the very busy  variation almost in Rachmaninovian style passing via the sombre third to the lightweight octaves thrown off with such ease  The most original  variation-  Andantino quasi tempo di mazurka introduces a stylisation of a Polish folk dance and thus, in a sense, foreshadows the much later Mazurkas op 50 also dedicated to Rubinstein.
The final variation was played with great passion and technical assurance and brought this brilliant early work to an exciting conclusion.
The other unjustly neglected work that Asagi had included was the Handel/Liszt Sarabande and Chaconne from ‘Almira’ S 181.A set work  for the Liszt competition in Utrecht in which Asagi was one of the fourteen selected to take part.
Leslie Howard, the Chairman of the jury, has so eloquently described this work: ‘Almira was Handel’s first opera, and it received such scant attention that it is little short of amazing that Liszt should have taken it up, writing a sort of double set of variations on the two dances which occur near the beginning of the work (Chaconne then Sarabande in the opera). Curiously, it is the Sarabande which predominates, rather like a Bach-type chaconne, whereas the Chaconne proper is of the balletic variety and nothing to do with repeated bass lines. This almost amounts to an original work of Liszt’s (and Humphrey Searle so catalogued it) but Handel always remains part of the equation, even in the grandiose major key transformation of the Sarabande at the end.’
Asagi played it with sumptuous sound  and also with tender delicacy and great sense of colour.Her superb technical assurance  allowed Liszt’s grandiose rhetoric to be shaped with great musical meaning.Another work of Liszt that unjustly neglected has been brought to our notice via the inspiring and tireless work of Leslie Howard.Asagi’s superb performance had one longing to hear it programmed  more often side by side with the more noted works of the still not completely appreciated genius of the Romantic era that is Franz Liszt.

SIMON WATTERTON enchants at St Mary’s

Tuesday February 4th 2020 2.00 pm repeated on Spring Holiday 25th May 2020 for Teatime Classic Archive

Simon Watterton (piano)

Beethoven: Piano sonata in F sharp Op 78
Mozart: Adagio in B Minor K540
Schumann: Romance in F sharp Op 28 no 2
Schumann: Arabesque Op 18
Beethoven: Five Bagatelles from op 33, 119 and 126
Beethoven: Rondo Op129 ‘Rage over a lost penny’


Wirral born pianist Simon Watterton has given recitals as soloist and chamber musician all across the world. In recent years he has performed in China, Canada, the USA, Sweden and Italy as well as extensively in the UK and Republic of Ireland. He made his concerto debut at London’s Cadogan Hall and was featured as a Rising Star in International Piano Magazine at the time of a cycle he gave of all the Beethoven piano sonatas in London. He has appeared at the Wigmore Hall, St John’s, Smith Square and the Purcell Room, as well as performing live on Radio 3’s InTune and for Classic FM. As a writer on music he selected and wrote the foreword for a new edition of Frank Bridge’s piano music published by Dover Publishing of New York, which came out in October 2014.
Simon studied at the Purcell School of Music with Patsy Toh and the Royal College of Music with Yonty Solomon, where he won a range of prizes and awards, including the Hopkinson Silver Medal, the Marmaduke Barton Piano Prize and the Peter Wallfisch Prize.Recent concerts included an evening of chamber music at Cadogan Hall with the London International Players, and future projec ts include an eight recital traversal of Beethoven’s piano sonatas at Riverhouse Barn Arts Centre from September 2020, in commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth.He is represented by Gunnar Management.


A programme  that as Simon explained has intimacy at its core.

Beginning the programme with one of Beethoven’s favourite sonatas according to his pupil Czerny:The Piano Sonata No. 24 in F sharp major  Op. 78, nicknamed “à Thérèse”  written for Countess  Thérèse von Brunswick 1809. It consists of two movements:Adagio cantabile — Allegro ma non troppo  ;Allegro vivace.

A beautiful opening adagio that quite unexpectedly after only four bars  leads into a Schubertian melodic movement of an almost childlike simplicity .As though Beethoven after the mightly Waldstein and Appassionata is seeking like Schubert  a golden thread that will after the eruption of the Hammerklavier sonata n.29 be transformed into the etherial almost unearthly utterings of his last three sonatas. It was played with a real sense of that Beethoven sound which is never frail or sentimental but with a sense of instrumental cantabile that gives such weight and poignancy to a  seemingly innocent melodic outpouring.The second movement was played with just that same sense of playfulness that he brought to the Bagatelles op 33 later in the programme.It was played with great buoyancy , rhythmic impetus and technical assurance.This was Beethoven  at his playful best.

Well almost! As Simon pointed out that Beethoven’s so called rage over that lost penny in the Rondo op 129 was  of such infectious good humour that his invention for the innocuous theme knew no limits.Adding more upon more variations of  compulsive good humour.The same he had brought to the Bagatelle op 33 n.7 where the syncopated chords became ever more insistent building to a tumultuously good humoured endless barrage of chords. Finding the fragmentary meanderings of the melodic line in op 119  n. 6 and the startling melodic invention alternating with burst of fire in the last of his piano compositions the Bagatelles op 126 of which he offered the second.

An encore , as he told his audience, that there was no need to even tell them the title.’Fur Elise’ has been played by everyone that has tried to play the piano.Here it was  played with the simplicity and good taste of a  very fine musician and  it became a little jewel in it’s own right.A simple melodic line allied to a sense of almost improvisatory fantasy that I have not heard since Kempff used to play it as an encore in his recitals.

The Adagio in B minor by Mozart so interestingly introduced by Simon who told us that it was written for his father a year after his death in 1788.Writing to his sister, Mozart said that he hoped it would make eveything now alright.Written only three years before Mozart’s own untimely death in 1791 it is one of only two instrumental works in B minor – the other being the Flute Quartet K 285.It is a very poignant declamation for his father.The complete simplicity in which the opening almost Wagnerian notes reappear between episodes of startling contrast and melodic  simplicity.One can only marvel at the genius of Mozart who can  express so much in only 57 bars ( quite unlike Wagner here of course!)

Two pieces by Schumann made up this beautiful programme.

The first the Romance in F sharp (like the Beethoven Sonata) op 28 n.2 .An outpouring of melodic invention in the ever expressive middle register of the piano.It was written as a birthday present for his wife Clara and it was the last thing she heard as it was played to her on her death bed as was her wish.

The Arabeske op 18 was played with a simplicity and sense of line in which the duet between the voices in the first episode was beautifully marked.As Simon pointed out in a very personal point of view the final coda expressed with such simplicity what Brahms had aspired to do in his  own intermezzi later.An ending of sublime beauty that Schumann had added similarly at the end of his song cycle Liederkreis where the piano enters a world where words are just not enough.



Sasha Grynyuk plays Beethoven 250 at 360 degrees

Tuesday November 21st 2.00 pm

Teatime Classic Archive repeat on 22 May 2020

Sasha Grynyuk (piano)

Beethoven: Sonata in C minor Op 13 ‘Pathetique’
Beethoven: Sonata in E flat Op 27 no 1
Beethoven: Sonata in F minor Op 57 ‘Appassionata’

Born in Kyiv-Ukraine, Sasha Grynyuk studied at the Lysenko Music School, National Music Academy of Ukraine and later at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London with Ronan O’Hora.Sasha has also had lessons with many great musicians such as Alfred Brendel, Charles Rosen and Murray Perahia and is currently working with Noretta Conci-Leech.Sasha performed in the most renowned concert halls throughout Europe, South and North America and Asia including Royal Festival Hall, Salle Cortot, Wien Konzerthaus, Barbican Hall, Weil Recital Hall and Wigmore Hall.Recent engagements also included the world premier of the original piano score of Shostakovich’s music for the film New Babylon, which was screened live at the LSO St. Lukes in London.Winner of over ten International competitions, prizes and awards including 1st prizes at the Rio de Janeiro International Piano Competition, Grieg International Piano Competition and Guildhall School’s Gold medal.

Beethoven is alive and well and at St Mary’s in Sasha Grynyuk’s hands

  • Exceptional recital. What a fabulous pianist…. Wonderful playing,

 I have heard Sasha play many times and have written many comments on his extraordinary playing .He is somehow born to the piano in   the same way that  Ashkenazy was.Everything seems to be so natural and right both visibly and audiably.

Certainly Hugh Mather has hit the nail on the head in his comment that I quote and he should know as he and his team promote an average of 200 aspiring musicians a year.Tirelessly promoting and encouraging young musicians by offering not only a professional engagement but also an audience worldwide via their exceptional live and archive streaming.

Streaming is something that International Competitions are beginning to adopt so the world can judge for themselves whom they admire rather than just relying on a jury.Most often  the best winner is chosen by  distinguished musicians but  the enormous talent that is lost in the rounds  is overlooked.Pianists who do not have the luck or their talent is not yet mature or ready to do the ultimate juggling act without dropping any of the balls!


I have just made a few notes about the remarkable playing of Beethoven in Sasha Grynyuk’s programme of three Sonatas in this celebratory year.

Yes there is still something to celebrate- Beethoven is Universal – and when it is interpreted with such simplicity and intelligence it can even make us forget a world that quite unexpectedly has been turned upside down.

He has had the privilege to work on the complete works of Beethoven with Noretta Conci,the assistant for many years of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli.She too a noted benefactor like Hugh Mather to many young talented musicians via the Keyboard Charitable Trust that her husband set up to consolidate a lifetime’s work dedicated to music and above all exceptionally talented musicians at the beginning of their careers.


The Sonata Pathétique was given such a simple performance in which the bold Grave first chord immediately established Sasha’s – and Beethoven’s of course – credentials with the imperious commanding presence that Beethoven states from the very first notes.It was however shaped so beautifully with great dynamic contrasts but always with the overall sense of line in view.Serkin would have been even more fiercely precise with the dotted rhythms of the opening chords but Sasha’s was a more lyrical view which suited so well the buoyancy and rhythmic urgency of the Allegro di molto that follows.Con Brio Beethoven even adds and one could delight in the almost rustic good humour that Sasha brought to it.Absolute fidelity to Beethoven’s markings brought a sense of clarity and simplicity to the good humoured question and answer between the hands.The interruption of the Grave was both surprising and tender as it dissolved so magically before the business like continuation of the con brio.The final four chords could not have been more final as though’ that was enough of that’ before revealing one of Beethoven’s most poignant – and unfortunately most often ‘played’- slow movements.

The Adagio cantabile often heard in four was here played as Beethoven asks in two and it allowed for a great sense of shape to the melodic line sustained as always in Beethoven by a string quartet type accompaniment in which every voice has its own sense of line adding to a sumptuous and satisfying whole.The viola could have been even more simple and less accomodating but  the beauty of Sasha’s tone allowed him some licence to shape the melody in an almost operatic way that was most touching.The delightful comments from the basson like bass figures were only an exhilarating comment on the pianissimo melodic line that had slightly more foreward movement than the opening  arioso.The Rondo was Beethoven’s way of having fun and Sasha was visibly enjoying letting his hair down.But not without some extraordinary legato cantabile interruptions leading to Beethoven’s’ joie de vivre’ bubbling over at 100 degrees.


This was Beethoven op 13 and to follow was op 27 .Not the other most famous sonata the so called ‘Moonlight’ op 27 n.2 but its brother op 27 n.1- the even more extraordinary sonata in E flat .Like it’s companion Beethoven marks ‘Sonata quasi una fantasia’ and it is  in many ways  even more remarkable than the so called ‘Moonlight ‘  Sonata.With it’s tender opening of question and answer between the hands allowed to flow in two with a lyricism that is promptly interrupted by a very busy Allegro.The lyrical passages were played with a sumptuous sense of balance that gave great depth and colour to the melodic line .The Allegro was played with  passionate vehemance of true Beethovenian character.Dissolving to a whisper where Beethoven’s meanderings  ( almost like Chopin’s 2nd Sonata ) seem to ramble on so innocently  before being interrupted by infectious syncopated rhythms.All this  before the cat and mouse game of the Allegro molto that brings us to the extraordinary Adagio con espressione.

So similar in feeling to the slow movement of the third concert written in the same period.Here the key of A flat  like that of E major of the concerto are both warm keys of a sumptuous velvet sound that Beethoven invests with one of his most poignant melodic outpourings. Simply and beautifully played and of almost unbearable beauty when the melodic line is allowed to float on a more elaborate framework.Rudely interrupted by the Allegro vivace and the good natured ramblings of the bassoon with rhythmic outbursts and contrasts that are so characteristic of Beethoven .All played with impeccable style and great sense of almost animal like urgency arriving at the final energetic outburst before the surprising and for that even more poignant return of the Adagio which Beethoven dispences with in a frenzied race to the final two chords.


Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op 57 is among the three famous  piano sonatas of his middle period (the others being the  Waldstein op 53 and  Les Adieux op 81 a).It was composed during 1804 and  1806,a few years before the 5th Symphony, and was dedicated to Count Franz von Brunswick.Unlike the early Pathétique ,the Appassionata was not named during the composer’s lifetime, but was  labelled in 1838 by the publisher of a four hand arrangement of the work.

One of his greatest and most technically challenging piano sonatas,the Appassionata was considered by Beethoven to be his most tempestuous piano sonata until the 29th Sonata (known as the Hammerklavier).1803 was the year Beethoven came to grips with the irreversibility of his progressively deteriorating hearing.A Sonata of enormous energy and contrasts received an exemplary reading from Sasha where already at the opening the menacing four bass notes ( so like the fifth symphony and similar to the Liszt Sonata opening motif) were played with such menacing simplicity.The sudden explosive interruptions inspite of being played between the hands had just the right almost savage impatience that was oviously part of the frustration of Beethoven’s gradual lack of hearing.A beautiful warmth enveloped the rich accompanyment of the second subject and the contrasts he found in the development were quite mesmerising.Leading to a gradual build up of excitement in which the simple menacing opening motif was allowed its full savage voice.The coda and the cadenza like lead up were played with an animal excitement that only gave creedence to the publisher’s idea of  the name :Appassionata.

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There was a beautiful full sound to the cortège of the Andante con moto that flowed so mellifluously in Sasha’s  delicate hands.I have rarely heard the second variation played so simply but with such beauty and shape and the gradual lead up to the final variation was indeed masterly.

Taking us by the scruff of the neck ,as Beethoven asks, he threw himself into the fray of the Allegro.Always with the control of ‘ma non troppo’ as Beethovens asks but is rarely conceded.It was played with a clarity and precision that allowed for an unrelenting forward movement that was quite hypnotic.With ample reserves for the coda marked now ‘presto’ Beethoven’s great Appassionata was revealed, as all too rarely happens, as one of the great works of the piano repertoire.Passing the finishing line with an exhilarationg flourish after a frenzied chase across the keyboard. Knotty twine indeed! But in masterly hands.

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A remarkable recital as Hugh quite rightly says ……to add to the many others that I have heard ………..this one I had missed and was doubly grateful for this series that has allowed me to catch up on some wonderful missed performances.

Norma Fisher a Celebration in Music

                                                                                                   Norma Fisher
Thanks so much Chris……..think of me, as you pass “that address”…….we will always share special memories!!!
Thought you might like to see the birthday “special” my son thought up……….
And so it was in 1968 that I was taken by “our” piano daddy,Sidney Harrison , to hear the little girl that he had imbued with the magic of  music just as he had done for me.
I was just a schoolboy at  Chiswick Boys’ Grammar School  a stones’ throw from his river fronted house.
Sidney Harrison was a household name in that period when he was the first person to give  piano lessons on the television.
A box that had only four hours of transmission a day.
One channel- the British Broadcasting Company.
We were one of the few in my street to own one and all our schoolfriends and neighbours would come over to look into this magic box that had a gigantic enlargement lense in front of a tiny pale screen that would magically light up for those few hours a day.
Poeople would follow Peter Croser’s  lessons and others to see how they progressed.
So it was obvious that parents of talented children all wanted their offspring to study with the  man who was as famous as Eamon Andrews of This is your Life.( By coincidence he lived next door to the Sidneys in Hartington Road)
How many young musicians had fallen under his spell and played on his beautiful inlaid Steinway?Enjoying endless cups of coffee prepared by his wife and very much partner in crime- she too a Sydney- whilst he enthralled us with the magic sounds he could draw from the piano.
He became our friend and accomplice with his expert no nonsense common sense knowledge of the piano but above all  he shared his love for music with us .
He took me to the opera and to the Proms as I am sure he did Norma too.
I remember meeting the 15 year old Ian Hobson in the house too before he went on to win the Leeds Piano Competition.
Angela Hewitt, who although never his pupil, was befriended by him when she  too came to live in Chiswick to further her studies in Europe.She had  been  discovered by Sidney  as he had her fellow countryman Glenn Gould on his adjudication rounds of the festivals in Canada.
Norma was playing a recital at the Wigmore Hall in 1969 for the London Pianoforte Series and I was bowled over in particular by her performances of the Brahms Handel Variations and Chopin Berceuse.
Sidney took this rather shy fresher, now studying with him at the  Royal Academy, to meet her.
‘Meet the winner of the Liszt Open Scholarship’ was his way of introducing me to her!
He was always very proud and generous of his students accomplishments.
He had often talked about Norma and how he had suggested to her as a fifteen year student of his to go and listen to great women pianists like Gina Bachauer.
Passing by the Royal Albert Hall one day she saw the name on the bill board.
Bought a ticket and went backstage to meet her.
‘My teacher says I play like you’ was her opening gambit .
‘Oh’ said Miss Bachauer ‘you had better come and play me something.’
She took her Brahms second piano concerto!
Although she did not have time to  teach she introduced her to her own mentor Ilona Kabos ,the wife of Louis Kentner the great exponent of Liszt and Bartok.
Sidney with his great humility and wish for the advancement of his students  was only too happy to place Norma into such illustrious hands as he had done for me with Gordon Green a few years later.
I went to many of her concerts in the 70’s and an occasional Prom during the summer months when I could spend more time in London.
During the 80’s my music had taken me to Siena in  Italy.
A life long love affair in every sense was born!
I built and ran a  theatre in Rome  with my Italian actress wife Ileana Ghione  and so I had not realised that Norma  in the meantime had been forced to  retire from the concert platform with focal dystonia in her right arm.
She came once to Rome,of course with Barry her husband, to play Rachmaninov second piano concerto in a summer open air venue in the courtyard of one of Bernini’s most famous churches.I regret that time did not permit her to come to my home and meet my wife or see our theatre that we had created with such love and passion  in a happy life together.
The Sidney’s had come especially  to Rome to see the theatre in 1984 and to my marriage on Kew Green in the same year.(Sidney was  best man at Norma and Barry’s wedding)
I remember how proud he was to know that yet another of the promising youngsters he had helped had created such a venue and where such artists as Annie Fischer,Rosalyn Tureck,Shura Cherkassky and many many other young and old  had found a welcoming home in the Eternal city that had been denied them until we came along.
He listened to Victor San Giorgio ,a student of Noretta Conci,and was very impressed with the way we  promoted also young aspiring musicians.
It was a great treat  to find that in wishing Norma birthday greetings she had sent me quite unexpectedly her two new recordings from the BBC archive .
Ever generous  she added :’Hope you enjoy them,Chris they are YOUR birthday present!’
Enjoy is not the word .I have spent two days enthralled to hear the pianist that I remembered.
As Tortelier said to me once …you know what I mean by weight?
It means playing into each note not with violence or harshness but clinging onto every note like a limpet.
Giving the sound a rich  and pure  quality that is never hard (we used to describe many of the pianists making their debut in London as having the trans atlantic percussive sound .It seemed  at that time to be  so much part of the so called virtuoso bagage of a whole generation of pianists seeking glory and fortune in London).
This was long before the arrival of Richter or Gilels  in the west where we were not aware until then of how quietly and with what variety of sound the real word  virtuoso implied.
It is interesting to note that the pianists who most influenced Norma were in fact Emil Gilels and Annie Fischer.Gina Bachauer too who had that extraordinary sound as does Lilya Zilberstein and Sofya Gulyak today.
And of course Martha Argerich is a unique example to us all.
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It is exactly these qualities that I had noticed in a film that Norma’s son had prepared with such loving care for this very special occasion.
At the closing sequence  the middle section of the ‘Gondoliera’ from ‘Venezia e Napoli’ by Liszt is heard in the background.Just a few short phrases but played with a unique sound and sense of line .With the same shaping as  the human voice  but with a flexibility without ever loosing the inner energy that lies within the very notes.
It was of course Norma and wishing her greetings and thanking her for the wonderful hour I had spent with all her friends,students and admirers  but  I just wish I could have heard more of that Liszt.
Hence the surprise packet from the postman!
Straight to that Liszt.
But first a Mephisto Waltz with a twittering of bird calls that was quite sensational.I have never heard such clarity and sound allied to such precision in pianissimo since Gilels.And it followed on from such sumptuous full sounds contrasted with such delicacy and clarity too.A limpet type belonging to the keys that seems to extract such energy from each note .The build up to the climax was of sound upon sound just as I remember Gilels in the Spanish Rhapsody in a rare appearance at the RFH.The sort of playing that grips you by the scruff of the neck and does not let go .Not the usual barnstorming or tear on the sleeve Liszt but a Liszt restored to the heights where it truly belongs.
A sound that glistens like gold even on these recordings.
They have been salvaged from the few BBC archive recordings not deleted in their inexplicable blitz on an  archive of inestimable value.  Luckily Norma had some recordings taken from the broadcasts and it is thanks to Tomoyuki Sawado,the producer, that a miracle has been performed here.
A exemplary presentation by Bryce Morrison who knows more about pianists and piano playing than anyone on the planet makes this a gem indeed.
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And so to that ‘Venezia e Napoli’.
A ‘Gondoliera’ with the magical shimmering sound of water everywhere (the magic of Visconti in Death in Venice springs to mind) and the simplicity of the Gondoliers song with drops of water that seem to cascade from Norma’s fingers as at the Villa D’Este.
The pure opera of ‘Canzone’ in true Italian style with all the rhetoric and drama, all the more movingly powerful for that.An oh so subtle submissive duet that leads to a Tarantella of such lightweight virtuosity  belonging to another age.
No empty note-spinning but clouds of sound with a forward impulse that is so hypnotically compelling.
The extreme beauty of the embellishments adding to the sumptuous sounds of the melodic line like diamonds glittering in the crown.
A luminosity of sound and gradual build up to its ultimate goal and furious conclusion in a maze of pyrotechnics.
And pyrotechnics abounded indeed in the two transcendental studies included here.
The F minor study was played surprisingly delicately.For here was a true musician who had seen this piece not as the usual barnstorming study but as a tone poem of passionate emotions.
The accompanying figures were played with such finesse where waves of sound were created on which the most noble of melodies could float and let its heart beat so searingly.Leading to a frenzied build up played with aristocratic control before the animal like excitement of the coda.
Like an animal finally let out of the cage and  on the rampage!
Breathtaking indeed.
Mazeppa too was emersed in swirls of sound that climbed to the top of the mountain where the well known Mazeppa was revealed  in all its glory.The sumptuous cantabile of the middle section was encapsulated in magical cascades of sound.
A Danse Macabre full of infectious dance rhythms and a wonderful sound from the tenor register full of melancholy and nostalgia.The wailing of the wind in this seemingly Icelandic landscape disappearing to a mere whisper.
Leaving a simple lied by Schubert in its wake  closing this first CD dedicated to Liszt with his arrangement of Standchen.
A melodic line played with such luminosity and with a filigree accompaniment of subtle finesse becoming ever more delicate and luminous glittering like jewels in the sun.
The sumptuous final chords were of poignant artistry and a fitting end to these revelatory performances of Liszt.
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The G minor Sonata by Schumann opens the second CD followed by three Etudes by Debussy full of subtle colours and above all  clarity The same clarity that she  brought to her friend  André Tchaikowsky’s impishly good humoured inventions dedicated to many of their mutual friends.
A Schumann once overplayed is rarely heard in the concert hall these days.
Here it is restored to its true glory.
Both Passionate and melodic – Florestan and Eusebius  very much in evidence here.
As fast as possible Schumann writes and it is the urgency and great sense of architectural line that  is so evident in all that Norma does.Great breadth and depth with a melodic line of subtle inflections  of a natural fluidity like the human voice.Filigree passages of fleeting lightness but with tumultuous rhythmic urgency.
An Andantino of sublime simplicity with one of Schumann’s most poignant melodies played with such a sense of balance that allows it to sing with such luminosity .A velvet trail sustained with sumptuous sounds of Philadelphian proportions.
A Scherzo with a supreme sense of legato as the contrast of rhythmic and melodic is always in perfect proportion and equilibrium.
It was interesting to hear the original finale (not the one usually played).A Presto Passionato of fleeting lightness.A toybox of magic sounds with a perfect sense of line and direction.Schumann’s rather abrupt ending makes me wish she had also included the more often played final movement,requested as something easier to play by his wife Clara,that finishes more in glory.
Three Etudes by Debussy in which the technical difficulties are completely assimilated into a sound world of such subtle colours and shapes.
Has  a Czerny exercise ever sounded like this?
Or chromatic scales creating a floating wave of sounds on which the subtlest of melodies appears as though  peeping through the cracks.The greatest ‘what the butler saw’ indeed.
Arpeggios that are those of pastoral origin so beautifully and expressively shaped with such clarity and subtle colouring.
André Tchaikowsky I met at his masterclasses in Dartington and he immediately became a friend to us all.
A remarkable musician and nice man.
Tragically struck down in his 40’s he was a renaissance man who not only played the piano magnificently but also composed some very important scores yet to be discovered.
His life’s work the  opera ‘The Merchant of Venice’ was performed in Bregenz 11 years after his death  and brought to London for only a weekend where it had been turned down just months before his death in 1982.
His recital of op 109 Beethoven and the Goldberg Variations at Dartington I will never  forget.
He even persuaded Ilona Kabos to listen to his newly written string quartet for any criticism good or bad  from her hawk like ears.
He died in Oxford and his great friends Peter Frankl,Gyorgy Pauk,Ralph Kirshbaum played his trio that he had never  yet heard on his death bed.
Norma has recorded  his piano concerto that one hopes will be reissued too.
Radu Lupu,also a great friend played it in a one off concert at the Festival Hall such was the esteem and affection that his colleagues had for this man with an impish sense of humour.
He left his skull to the Royal Shakespeare Company to be used in their productions of Hamlet.
 In his will he left his body to medical research, and donated his skull to the Royal Shakespeare Company.In 2008, the skull was finally held by David Tennant in Stratford. After the use of the skull was revealed in the press, this production of Hamlet moved to the West End and the RSC announced that they would no longer use Tchaikowsky’s skull (a spokesman said that it would be “too distracting for the audience”).However, this was a deception; in fact, the skull was used throughout the production’s West End run, and in a subsequent television adaptation broadcast on BBC 2. Director Gregory Doran said, “André Tchaikowsky’s skull was a very important part of our production of Hamlet, and despite all the hype about him, he meant a great deal to the company.”

Here, actor  David Tennant uses André Tchaikowsky’s skull in a 2008 production of  Hamlet.

It is a fitting tribute to him that Norma Fisher dedicates a great part of her new CD to his Inventions op 2 from the BBC archive.
They are played with a clarity and sense of line and purpose that brings them to life probably better than the composer could have done himself.André had such a microscopic sensibility that sometimes in his own performances you would not always see the wood for the way he caressed and nurtured the trees.
Norma plays with the same sensibility but never forgetting the overall structure and architectural shape of each piece.
There could be no greater tribute to a much missed renaissance man.
It is a sign of Norma’s intellectual musicianship that her first CD should include the two sets of variations by Brahms op 21 and Scriabin’s almost unknown First Piano Sonata.
Five studies op 42 by Scriabin as an interlude show off her great  technical prowess- a true ‘Kitten on the Keys’ who has the means to an end, which is always the very meaning of the musical message that she is transmitting.
No empty showmanship but a much more subtle showmanship that illuminates so poignantly all that she touches.
A Brahms that immediately from the first notes shows the great nobility of a Symphony orchestra dissolving into the most intricate world of subtle colour.
A true aquarium of exotic sounds bathed in gold.A great orchestral climax fearlessly  thrown off descending into dark bass trills signalling the final descent with such a clear music vision and inward rhythmic impulse.
The short Hungarian Song variations that accompany op 21 is a completely different world but so clearly articulated.
I am reminded of her unforgettable performance of the Handel variation op 24 that I heard with Sidney Harrison at the Wigmore Hall 50 years ago!
Four studies op 42 by Scriabin took us into another world of ‘will 0′ the wisp’ sounds and great passionate outbursts.
The featherlight fleeting sounds of the D flat study was complimented by the serene luminous beauty of the F sharp minor n.4,full of nostalgia but with infinite delicacy and finesse.
The famous C sharp minor n.5 I have never heard played with this brooding cauldron of sounds of water boiling at a 100 degrees .The most passionate outpouring of lush romantic melody with a build up of sounds from the bass that was quite masterly and indeed breathtaking.
The gradual disintigration after that was very moving indeed.
The little study n. 8 in E flat beautifully played of course  seemed rather pointless after that  except that it allowed a subtle respite before the atomic explosion of the opening of the First Sonata.
I was at the Academy in 1972 and I remember being asked to turn pages at Maida Vale Studios for David Wilde who was performing all Scriabin too for this same series that Norma was sharing.
She had obviously pulled the short straw.
David played n. 6 .Norma the practically unknown n.1.
She may have drawn the short straw but she gave the work a performance of a lifetime.
Here captured for posterity and in Bryce Morrison’s own words: ‘  The First Sonata is a neglected masterpiece fully as ambitious as Brahms’s early examples of the genre yet already reaching far beyong precocity’
Norma plunges fearlessly into the romantic outpourings of this early work daring even to do the repeat.A masterly control of this very complex work she illuminates the way so clearly.With a brooding slow movement and an extraordinary syncopated Scherzo where streaks of lightning suddenly shoot across the horizon.A remarkable final movement that is a Funeral March!A central chorale which Scriabin asks to be played pianississimo before the final reappearance of the Funeral disappearing to a whisper with the door slammed shut with  three ‘forte’ chords.
More please dear Norma and friends.
This is too important a  lesson for anyone that cares about the Art of Interpretation.
Her many students worldwide have had the privilege to share this with her but I think it is now high time that we the public should be let into the secret too!
                                                           Happy Birthday dear Norma may there be many many more.We need you!

Alim Beisembayev on St Mary’s Teatime Classic Archive Concert Series


Alim Beisembayev (piano)

Bach: Prelude and Fugue in E-flat minor BWV 853

Liszt: Transcendental Etude no 12 “Chasse-neige”

Chopin: Etude in C major Op 10 no 7

Rachmaninov: Etude-tableau in D minor OP 39 no 9

Tchaikovsky: Nocturne in F major Op 10 no 1

Schumann: Études symphoniques Op 13

Alim Beisembayev (piano) was born in Almaty, Kazakhstan and started playing the piano at the age of 5. He is currently a student at the Royal Academy of Music where he is supported by a full scholarship and studies with Tessa Nicholson. Alim had numerous successes in international competitions: International Competition for Young Musicians “Nutcracker” in Moscow (1st prize, 2008), Franz Liszt International Junior Competition in Weimar, Germany (3rd prize, 2014), Junior Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas (1st prize, 2015). Alim previously attended the Central Music School in Moscow and the Purcell School for Young Musicians. He performed in halls such as the Royal Festival Hall, Purcell Room, the Great Hall of Moscow Conservatoire, Fazioli Concert Hall in Italy. In 2016, February, Alim made an appearanceon BBC’s ‘In Tune’. Alim currently studies at the Royal Academy of Music and performs chamber music as well as solo. He is also experienced in performing with orchestras such as the Evgeny Svetlanov State Symphony, Tchaikovsky State Symphony, Fort Worth Symphony.

Alim Beisembayev

at St Mary’s teatime classic archive Friday 8th May 2020

Some of the more important of the 400 concerts in the St Mary’s Archive  have been chosen by Dr Mather and his team who have devised this new series every day at teatime whilst St Mary’s is indeed ‘redundant.’Giving some glimmer of hope to young musicians (who are all offered a professional fee for the repeat performances) and  at the same time giving a great deal of pleasure to his audience.
I can watch again some of the concerts that  I was able to listen to at the time either live or by streaming to my home in Italy .But there were some  that I was not able to hear.It is a very refreshing surprise and in many ways a highlight in my present day lockdown lifestyle, that instead of catching the E 2 to perivale all I have to do is switch on my computer and enjoy the very intimate atmosphere and share in the opportunity to play  to such an eclectic audience for these superb young musicians.An opportunity that has been created by a retired but ever enthusiastic  physician in a beautiful redundant church in  West London.Musicians who are amongst the most talented in London coming to the end of their studies and  at the beginning of their careers.All they need is an attentive public to share their music with, as it is not an easy life for these young musicians that after years of dedication and sacrifice to reach their peak, they now have to struggle  in order to build a career.Apart from talent and dedication you also need resiliance and to a certain degree luck in the sense that they should always be ready to play their very best in the most trying or  even on last minute occasions.Perlemuter always used to tell me that you must always be ready and above all always play well.Cortot his teacher said exactly the same and that every time you sat at the piano you must make music as if it was for the last time and that your life depended on it.
All these consideration came to me  as I was able to listen again to Alim play a public recital five years on.
I had been invited in 2015 to the Purcell School by  Tessa Nicholson to listen to one of her students who was about to compete in the Junior Van Cliburn Competition in Texas.He had also been awarded a full scholarship to continue his studies with her at the Royal Academy in London.
I was overwhelmed by what I heard not only for the professional way he played but for the technical proficiency and  also his real  understanding and mature musicianship.Tessa Nicholson has been responsible for training some of the finest young musicians who are now emerging on the International concert stage.Mark Viner,Tyler Hay ,Menyang Pan,Kausikan Rashikumar  and now Alim are just a few that come to mind.
A programme that I imagine was a try out for another International Competition many of which have unfortunately been postponed during this corona crisis.
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A Bach Prelude and Fugue in E flat minor BWV 853 played with a beauty of sound and simplicity that immediately confirmed my impressions of five years ago.A musician who has a great technical bagage that can be called on to express and convey true musical values.This was even clearer in the Fugue where the clarity and  purity of the parts was conveyed through a very subtle use of finger legato and spare use of the sustaining pedal.There was also a bold contour to the fugue that gave a great architectural shape to this ‘knotty twine’ spun though as only the genius of  J.S.Bach could do.
Three studies followed by Liszt, Chopin  and Rachmaninov.
‘Chasse Neige’ the last of Liszt’s 12 Transcendental Studies may be called a study in tremolando but in fact in Alim’s hand became the tone poem that it truly is.Such delicacy at the beginning (as with Ondine by Ravel) in which the melodic line floated on shimmering waters.The great dramatic climax was played with all the passion of a young virtuoso but with a sumptuous full sound that was never allowed to overpower the general melodic contour.
The study in C major op 10 n.7 by Chopin hovered over the keys with all the lightness and will’o’ the wisp colours of Liszt’s Feux Follets or Chopin’s own ‘Butterfly’ study op 25 n.9.A beautiful sense of balance in the middle section allowed the melodic line to appear so naturally without any ‘in fighting’ that is so often the case with so called young virtuosi.
The sumptuous grandeur of the Rachmaninov Study in D minor was played with  a beautiful full golden  sound just as Rachmaninov demonstrates himself in his famous recording of his own work.
The three studies were played as a whole and made a very satisfying musical impression rather than the more usual barnstorming approach that the word study might have implied to lesser souls.
The Tchaikowsky Nocturne op 10 n.1 is a rarity and I think I have only heard it from the hands of Cherkassky in concert.I imagine the cat was let out of the bag at this point as this may have well been a set piece for the Tchaikowsky Competition in Moscow.
It was beautifully played with a rubato of aristocratic good taste and a sense of balance that allow the melodic line to sing with such touchingly nostalgic simplicity
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The second half of this hour long programme was dedicated to a single work by Robert Schumann.
The Etudes Symphoniques op 13.
A masterpiece in which the word study appears again as it is indeed a technical challenge for a pianist  Studies in the sense that the term had assumed in  Chopin’s op 10, that is to say, concert pieces in which the possibilities of technique and timbre  for the piano is carried out; they are ‘symphonic études’ through the wealth and complexity of the colours evoked – the keyboard becomes an “orchestra” capable of blending, contrasting or superimposing different timbres.

 The  theme had been sent to Schumann by Baron von Fricken, guardian of Ernestine von Fricken, the Estrella of his Carnaval op. 9. The baron, an amateur musician, had used the melody in a Theme with Variations for flute. Schumann had been engaged to Ernestine in 1834, only to break abruptly with her the year after.

Hardly surprising then that  Schumann thought it was unsuitable for public performance and advised his wife  Clara not to play it!The entire work was dedicated to Schumann’s English friend, the pianist and composer  William Sterndale Bennett who  played the piece frequently in England to great acclaim.

Of the sixteen variations Schumann composed on Fricken’s theme, only eleven were published by him. The final, twelfth, published étude was a variation on the theme from the Romance Du stolzes England freue dich (Proud England, rejoice!), from  Marschner’s opera based on Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (as a tribute to Schumann’s English friend and dedicatee Sterndale Bennett). The earlier Fricken theme  does occasionally appear  during this étude and the work was first published in 1837 as XII Études Symphoniques. On republishing the set in 1890, Brahms restored the five variations that had been cut by Schumann. These are now often played, but in positions within the cycle that vary somewhat with each performance; there are now twelve variations and these five so-called “posthumous” variations which exist as a supplement.

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Alim played the original 12 Etudes Symphoniques and did not incorporate, as many do, the five posthumous variations.This gave a great architectural structure to the work and through the gradual build up and with his superb musicianship he did infact make these into truly Symphonic studies.

The simplicity and beauty of the theme and gentle question mark ending led so naturally into the lightweight scamperings in which the theme emerges with a superb sense of legato and staccato.The passionate beauty of the second variation played quite simply without any false exaggerations in the repeats but allowing the music to talk and speak for itself.The lightweight flight of the third was quite remarkable  with the melodic line so beautifully shaped in the tenor register. The third chordal study played with a forward motion  as it contrasted so well with Schumann’s  lightweight flights of capricious fancy free  invention. The passionate outburst of the fifth  was played with  impetus and impeccable technical control leading into the chords of the sixth played with great rhythmic energy and  again total control especially in the trecherous final octaves.

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The shape and structure of a  Gothic Cathedral as Agosti described the seventh showed again Alim’s real musicianship and sense of  architectural line .Allied always to a beautiful sense of contrast and colour but never forgetting the overall direction and shape of this  musically most complex of studies.The ninth study was thrown of with a Mendelssohnian ease that belies the real technical difficulties involved.The  tenth -the calm before the storm-  was played with a beautiful left hand tremolando much as he had done in the Liszt study.It allowed the melodic line and counterpoints to sing unimpeded as they conversed amongst themselves gently leading to the great passionate  outburst before dying away so magically.The finale was played with all the rhythmic impulse and romantic aplomb where his subtle sense of colour and shaping managed to shape the dotted rhythms, that Schumann too often inflicts on us, with such nobility and aristocratic control .

An encore of a Scarlatti Sonata in G showed off the crystalline technique and sense of colour together with an infectious sense of rhythmic urgency that can turn these seemingly innocent little  sonatas into  such sparkling jewels