Victor Braojos at Wesley’s Chapel – Passion and Poetry united

An very interesting visit to Wesley’s Chapel to hear the young Spanish pianist Victor Braojos in a exceptionally beautiful programme of Brahms op 117 and Schumann Fantasie op 17.Two of the most poetic works of the Romantic repertoire played together by a true musician.

And what does a true artist do to add a cherry on such a cake :the ósublime Bagatelle op 126 n.3 by Beethoven.Victor did not let us down.His musical credentials were obvious from the programme he presented.

I had already heard Victor, streamed from the Guildhall , with a very fine performance and an unusually stimulating masterclass with Stephen Hough on Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata.I was not surprised to learn that he is preparing for his master’s degree in performance with Martin Roscoe.Martin and I were at Dartington together playing in the class of Stephen Bishop-Kovacevich and I well remember his Brahms D minor concerto that showed all the musicianly qualities that were to come to the fore in a long and illustrious career.He of me ,when prompted, only remembered the pints we used to down together in the White Hart!

It was fascinating to have time before the concert to visit the cemetary opposite where Bunyan and Defoe are buried in an oasis in the very center of the city next to Old Street.

I was not expecting to find the Chapel so easily or quickly and so had time before the recital to explore this magical and to me unknown part of London.

It was nothing though compared to what awaited at the appointed hour with 50 minutes of some of the most beautiful music ever written for the piano and more importantly played with such musicianly care and intelligence.The passion too of a young man. The same that had ignited Schumann’s pen when he wrote this outpouring of love for Clara his beloved but still distanced future wife by an unapproving father!

The Three Intermezzi for piano, Op. 117 by Brahms,  were described by the critic Eduard Hanslick as “monologues”… pieces of a “thoroughly personal and subjective character” striking a “pensive, graceful, dreamy, resigned, and elegiac note.”They were written in 1892 and the first intermezzo, in E♭ major, is prefaced in the score by two lines from an old Scottish ballad, Lady Anne Bothwell’s Lament:’Balow,my babe,lie still and sleep!It grieves me sore to see thee weep’.Victor opened with beautiful singing tone and a flowing tempo with bass notes that gave great depth to the sound and allowed some very delicate shading.The second in B flat minor flowed so mellifluously and the deeply languid middle section portraying,according to Walter Niemann,Brahms’ biographer, ‘a man as he stands with the bleak,gusty autumn wind eddying round him’.The opening theme returns building to a sumptuous climax that dies away to a sorrowful,nostalgic farewell with a ravishing final chord stretched over the entire keyboard.The final intermezzo in C sharp minor has an autumnal quality with the melodic line shadowed in unison by the bass and of a searing melancholy.The florid middle section was played with a great sense of line and colour before the gradual magic return of the opening theme.

What better preparation could there be for the Fantasie op 17 by Schumann which he described as “an outpouring of love for his beloved Clara”

It has its origin in early 1836, when Schumann composed a piece entitled Ruines expressing his distress at being parted from his beloved Cara Wieck (later to become his wife). It became the first movement of the Fantasie. Later that year, he wrote two more movements to create a work intended as a contribution to the appeal by Liszt for funds to erect a monument to Beethoven in his birthplace of Bonn. Other contributions to the Beethoven monument fund included Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses.The original title of Schumann’s work was “Obolen auf Beethovens Monument: Ruinen, Trophaen, Palmen, Grosse Sonate f.d. Piano f. Für Beethovens Denkmal”-Ruins, Trophies, Palms became Ruins, Triumphal Arch, and Constellation, and were abandoned when in 1839 it was printed with a dedication to Franz Liszt.

The Beethoven monument was eventually completed, due mainly to the efforts of Liszt, who paid 2,666 thaler,the largest single contribution. It was unveiled in grand style in 1845, the attendees including Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and many other dignitaries and composers, but not Schumann, who was already ill.

Liszt in turn in 1853 dedicated his Sonata in B minor to Schumann.

A passionate performance from this young Spanish virtuoso played with an unusually clear sense of line . The very first left hand ‘G’ played strangely with the right which was made to resonate ‘appassionato e fantastico’ as it then played the opening declamatory melody. It was played with great forward movement with the passion of a young man but also with the intelligence and control of a fine musician.A very direct simplicity that seemed to arrive so naturally to the quote from Beethoven’s ‘to the distant beloved’.Schumann had infact prefaced the work with a quote from the poet Friedrich Schlegel :”Resounding through all the notes in the earth’s colourful dream, there sounds a faint long-drawn note for the one who listens in secret.”

In fact the melodic line was made to float so well on the throbbing undercurrent of sounds and the numerous indications of ritardando and changes of tempo never distracted this young man from projecting the overall melodic line or architectural shape.The chords that seem to gradually disintigrate before the passages marked Adagio I have never heard played so clearly or make such magical sense.The same pedal effect that Schumann asks for in Papillons op 2?

The second movement – or Triumphal Arch made a great contrast even if the mezzo forte opening was played with a bit too much vehemence to be able to contrast with the ‘triumphal ‘ restatement later. Trecherous bass notes held no terror for him as they were played with a wonderful natural arch of the arm.A middle section of sumptuous beauty and fleeting lightness that gradually led to the return of the opening march leading to the ‘gallows!’-The coda is one of the most notoriously difficult passages in Schumann and Victor took it bravely on his first outing with this monumental work.(He had been asked to substitute for a colleague who had to cancel at the last minute and Victor bravely offered to play a work that is new to his repertoire).

The last movement – Constellation- again was allowed to flow so naturally with some truly sumptuous sounds.It had a beautiful melodic line mirrored by the tenor and bass sonorities that gave the depth and strength of a full string orchestra. The shadowing of the thumb in the great build up to the declamatory chordal interruptions was very interesting and gave great depth without hardness.The final melodic outpouring passing from the treble to the bass was magically played and the gradual final build up, as Schumann obviously intended, was played with the passion of a young man.His heartbeat finally coming to rest on the final three quiet chords with which he finds solace.

The Bagatelle op 126 n.3 by Beethoven, offered as a thank you to his appreciative audience, not only showed his poetic sensibility but also the scrupulous attention to detail with Beethoven’s very precise pedal indications brought so naturally to life

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