Tuesday 14 July 4.00 pm
Streamed ‘live’ concert in an empty church
Rokas Valuntonis (piano)
Chopin : Ballade no 3 in A flat Op 47
Grieg : 5 Lyric Pieces
CPE Bach: 12 Variations on Spanish Folia theme
Scarlatti : 3 Sonatas: K487, K8, K7
Chopin Nocturnes op. 15 nos 1 and 2
Liszt : Waltz from Gounod’s “Faust”
Praised for his “liquidity of sound” and “devilish performances”, Lithuanian pianist Rokas Valuntonis has drawn admiration for his imaginative interpretations and striking virtuosity. A laureate of more than 20 international competitions, Valuntonis won 1st Prize at the 2018 Campillos International Piano Competition (Spain) and previous victories include both the International Music Competition “Societa Umanitaria” (Italy) and the Nordic Piano Competition (Sweden). Valuntonis has performed all over Europe, including Denmark, Finland, France, and Portugal, in venues such as Milton Court (Barbican Centre), La Sala Verdi, The Wallace Collection, Lithuanian National Philharmonic Hall, and La Sala Casella Accademia Filarmonica Romana. He has also performed with the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, Lund Symphony Orchestra, St Christopher Chamber Orchestra, Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, and Panevežys Chamber Orchestra. Aside from traditional concerts, Valuntonis has collaborated with both actors and presenters. His most recent collaboration, with the celebrated Lithuanian actor Kostas Smoriginas, explored the characters and emotional lives of great composers like Beethoven, Chopin, and Rachmaninov. The 2020/21 season sees Valuntonis present solo recitals around Europe in venues such as Lithuanian National Philharmonic (Lithuania), Klaipeda Concert Hall (Lithuania), Harpa Concert Hall (Iceland) and festivals such as Deal Arts and Music festival (UK), Barnes Music festival (UK), Summer of Piano music in Druskininkai (Lithuania). Growing up in Lithuania, Valuntonis studied at the Lithuanian Music and Theatre Academy under Aleksandra Zvirblyte, before attending the Sibelius Academy (Finland), followed by studies with Eugen Indjic in Paris and Artist Diploma studies at Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London under Peter Bithell. Rokas joined the City Music Foundation Artist Programme in 2017. For his many achievements, Valuntonis has been honoured with the prestigious Queen Morta Award and acknowledgements by two Lithuanian Presidents. This year Rokas was awarded with “Jung Artist Grant” by Lithuanian Ministry of culture.
I have heard Rokas play many times over the past three years since he came to London to work with Peter Bithell at the Guildhall and his astonishing command of the keyboard never fails to amaze me.He has an orchestra of ten wonderful fingers that do exactly what he tells them to do without any fuss or extraneous movement.His concentration and superb ears allied to a great sense of style allow him to give some truly remarkable performances as we could again witness today.It is infact the same concentration without any flamboyance that was the hall mark of Horowitz’s performances.Kaleidoscopic colours together with an amazing clarity and digital control are hall marks too of Rokas’s playing.There is no sign of a great sculptor moulding the sounds as with Rubinstein or Volodos but there were nevertheless some sumptuous sounds from the very first delicate notes of the Chopin third Ballade.A beautifully shaped performance with trills that glistened like jewels and some very delicately played arabesques that led so naturally to the gradual build up to the final grandiose outpouring of the opening innocent melody.Played with great passion and control it brought this opening work to a triumphant close.
The beautiful Arietta op 12 n.1 by Grieg is infact similar to the opening of Chopins fourth Ballade.It was one of Griegs favourite of the 66 Lyric pieces that he wrote throughout his life.Ravishing sound and a perfect sense of balance created just the atmosphere for the first of five of these lyric pieces that are rarely to be found in concert programmes these days.Butterfly op 43 n.1 hovered over the keys in a quite miraculous way as the meanderings were shaped with the same fluidity as to be found in Liszt’s Au Bord d’une source.The third and fourth of the pieces he chose I did not know but the first was played with an impish almost infectious sense of dance and the second was beautifully shaped with a whispered repeat and a miraculous diminuendo at the end.The final piece was the well known Dance of the Trolls op 54 n.3 and it was played with a devilish rhythmic verve and sense of excitement that contrasted with the middle section played with a touching simplicity.
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was the fifth child and second (surviving) son of Johann Sebastian Bach and Maria Barbara Bach. He composed his 12 Variations on the ‘Follies of Spain’ in 1778 for keyboard. The Follies (‘la Folía’ in Spanish) is one of the oldest melodies in western music and in Rokas’s hands it was played with just the luminosity needed to contrast with the variations that were played with such crystal clear ornamentation and absolute clarity leading to the beautiful return of the theme at the end after a series of quite exquisitely played variations.It led so naturally to the world of Scarlatti with the beating of drums and rhythmic drive and a quite delicious glissando at the end of K. 487.The second Scarlatti sonata K.8 was played with a beautiful cantabile where again one could marvel at the luminosity of sound and his superb control of texture.The final Sonata K. 7 was played with absolute clarity and astonishing rhythmic agility.
The two nocturnes op 15 n.1 and 2 by Chopin followed in this very varied and interesting programme.The F major n.1 was played with such simplicity where his wonderful sense of balance allowed the melodic line to sing so touchingly .The tempestuous middle setion was kept under scrupulous control that gave such overall shape to the Nocturne.The famous F sharp major Nocturne was played with a refreshing forward movement with a passionately felt middle section before the return of the opening melody.
Liszt’s Waltz from Gounod’s Faust immediately plunged us into a demonic atmosphere with Liszt’s ingenious elaboration of the Waltz in which to quote Leslie Howard :’Gounod is transformed and transcended at a stroke.’ Played with great style adding bass notes to give even more sonority and wondrous sense of colour.Some amazing feats of piano playing not least the glissandi thrown off with consumate ease and a truly amazing display of virtuosity at the end .