Roman Kosyakov – Mastery at St Mary’s

Tuesday 3 November 4.00 pm

Streamed LIVE concert in an empty church

Roman Kosyakov (piano)

Schumann: Humoreske Op 20

Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition

Roman Kosyakov was born in a musical family and made his debut with an orchestra at the age of 12 with the Mozart Concerto No 23 in A Major.  In 2012, he graduated from the Central Music School in Moscow where he studied with F.I. Nurizade and then in 2017 from the Tchaikovsky Moscow Conservatory with V. Ovchinnikov.  Since September 2017, he has studied at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire on a full scholarship with P avel Nemirovski.He is a laureate and a winner of many national and international competitions, among them “Young Talents of Russia” (Russia, Moscow 2006), the 1st International competition “Sforzando” (1 st Prize, Berlin, 2007), the International Alexander Scriabin Piano Competition (1 st Prize, Paris 2011), the 8 th Open Competition of Musicians Performers N. Savita (1 st Prize, Russia, Ufa, 2012), the International Piano Competition “Minsk-2014” (2 nd Prize, Republic of Belarus, Minsk, 2014), the 4 th International Piano Competition “ Russian season in Ekaterinburg “ (1 st Prize, Russia, Ekaterinburg, 2015), the 4 th International Piano Competition “Vera Lotar-Shevchenko” (2 nd Prize, Russia, Ekaterinburg, 2016), the 4 th Prize of the 1 st Saint-Priest International Piano Competition Saint-Priest (Lyon-France, 2017), the Gold award for the 3rd Manhattan International Music Competition ( 2018 ) and 1 st Prize and the Audience prize for 10th Sheepdrove Piano Competition ( 2018, UK). He is regularly invited to give concerts in France, Italy, Germany, Republic of Belarus, Russia, UK, USA, and was guest soloist from 2014 to 2017 at the Kemerovsky State Symphony Orchestra. Roman has also participated in Berginos Music Festival as a guest pianist in Bergamo (2018, Italy). He has performed with the Hastings Philharmonic Orchestra and English Symphony Orchestra in 2018 in UK.Most recently Roman won the prestigious 1st Prize and the Royal Philharmonia Orchestra Prize of the 14th Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition (2018, UK).

It is rare indeed to hear these two works played with such mastery .A sense of colour and sound that brought the magic sound world of Florestan and Eusebius to life in Schumann’s Humoreske.

It brought too an entire orchestra and pealing bells into this charming rendundant church with Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition..Redundant no longer as it has resounded for quite some years now to the sounds of so many magnificent young musicians given the opportunity of a professional and recorded performances by Dr Hugh Mather .A retired physician and active musician, who with his dedicated team offer three concerts a week to their vast virtual public.Public performances have been the norm in pre Covid times but it is one of the only venues in this difficult lockdown period that offers valuable engagements to young musicians being plunged into disarray at the beginning of their careers.

Humoreske in B-flat major, op. 20 was composed in 1839  Schumann cited Romantic writer Jean Paul’s style of humour as source of inspiration, although there are no direct links to his works to be found in the piece.It  consists of seven sections (not originally indicated as such by the composer except for the last one, “Zum Beschluss“), to be played without a break one  after each other.It is less popular with audiences than with pianists and some think it as an ill-judged attempt by Schumann to take his formula in Kreisleriana op 16 a step further. However, it has been championed by some who consider it  among Schumann’s greatest pieces and one of his most astonishing, and most overlooked, piano works.Certainly from op 1- The Abegg variations through all the much loved masterpieces in the intervening period the Humoreske is still one of the least heard works of this early period of Schumann before illness took over his sanity and his output became more varied.

The Humoreske needs not only a great virtuoso but above all a great musician with a meticulous sense of balance and colour in order to bring it to life.It has to be treated with loving care ,passion and dexterity but above all an extra sensitive palette and sense of balance.I have heard artists such as Radu Lupu and most recently Sokolov give superlative performances but neither having all the chameleon type qualities that Schumann demands. Horowitz and Richter of course paved the way for lesser mortals- but genius can turns even baubles into gems!

It was today a refreshing surprise to hear this young Russian pianist with all the qualities needed to show us just what a masterpiece it is.From the very first notes of the sublime Einfach(simple) one could immediately appreciate his delicate hand movements that seemed to caress the keys with a swimming movement that followed the rise and fall of this beautiful opening.It is somewhat reminiscent of the Blumenstuck-Flowerpiece op 19 that immediately preceeds it.The Sehr rasch und leicht (Very fast and light)  flowed so well with such well marked contrasts and Noch rascher (Even faster)  was beautifully judged and shaped with some beautifully pointed harmonies due to his superb use of the sustaining pedal.Erstes Tempo, Wie im Anfang (First tempo, as in the beginning) with the return of the opening theme that seemed to glow with even more luminous sounds due to his perfect sense of balance between the hands.

The second section with Florestan at play Hastig (Hastily) showed a great sense of control and passionate involvement Nach und nach immer lebhafter und stärker” (Gradually more lively and stronger) was all played with sumptuous rich sonorities with never any harshness. The magical entry of Eusebius as he takes control with tender caressing harmonies Wie vorher” (As previously)  led to the very poignant coda, Adagio, where the poet truly speaks.

Einfach und zart (Simple and delicate) was played with a delicious sense of nostalgia – a great song of remembrance and the amazingly busy intermezzo entered so lightly and at great speed like a swarm of bees around the honey pot!The difficulty of course, for most mortals, is that these busy bees multiply into ferocious octaves that often require the breaks to be put on!This was no worry for today’s pianist who threw them off with the same panache as the previous single notes!An amazing tour de force of technical prowess and above all relaxed wrists!

Innig (Heartfelt) was played like a glorious expansive song interrupted in Schneller” (Quicker) by Florestan in impish mood.Before the return of the main melody with a subtle use of the bass notes to give an even richer sonority as it opened up the sound palette above. Sehr lebhaft (Very lively)-Immer lebhafter” (Increasingly lively  was played with great elan and a quite extraordinary sense of shape and colour – has Florestan ever been in such playful mood?

It led quite ‘helter skelter’ to the Mit einigem Pomp (With some pomp) with its pompous almost too serious chords and which in most pianist’s hands is always too loud and bombastic(Sokolov fell down here)and does not allow the hints of melody to be overheard in the distance.Roman today played this like a true master – hats off indeed!

Zum Beschluss (To the resolution)  was played with almost heartbreaking yearning with a disarming innocence and freshness.It is so difficult to interpret this seemingly simple melodic line in octaves and requires, like the second piece in Kreisleriana,a refined sense of balance and a perfect finger legato.

I have rarely heard it so beautifully played as today .A true poet of the piano as befits this most complex work that marks the end of Schumann’s extraordinarily productive years before insanity finally overtook him and took him to a world that he can only hint at as he shares it with us in his music.The beautifully sonorous Allegro of the coda brought this magnificent performance to a truly joyous conclusion.

As with most of Mussorgsky’s works, Pictures at an Exhibition has a complicated publication history. Although composed very rapidly, during June 1874, the work did not appear in print until 1886, five years after the composer’s death, when an edition by the composer’s friend and colleague Nikolai Rimsky- Korsakov was published The composition is based on pictures by the artist, architect, and designer  Viktor Hartmann. It was probably in 1868 that Mussorgsky first met Hartmann, not long after the latter’s return to Russia from abroad. Both men were devoted to the cause of an intrinsically Russian art and quickly became friends.Hartmann’s sudden death on 4 August 1873 from an  aneurysm shook Mussorgsky along with others in Russia’s art world. The loss of the artist, aged only 39, plunged the composer into deep despair. A memorial exhibition of over 400 of Hartmann works was organised in the Imperial Academy of Arts in St Petersburg in February and March 1874. Mussorgsky lent the exhibition the two pictures Hartmann had given him, and viewed the show in person. Later in June he was inspired to compose Pictures at an Exhibition, quickly completing the score in three weeks (2–22 June 1874) 

Usually a piece taken up by rather bombastic virtuosi but today it was a refreshing surprise to hear the beautiful mellifluous opening with a string orchestra rather than the usual barnstorming trumpets!

The demonic Gnome sprang like a spring out of his fingers and the different colours he found in the first repeated passage gave hope for a rebirth of this masterpiece in my mind!The final velocissimi scales thrown off more lightly than the ‘con tutta forza’ indicated when usually more than hammered home!A beautiful delicate promenade brought us to the Old Castle like a dream as it floated on the left hand heart beat with a variety of sounds that was breathtaking.

Have the children ever sounded more petulant and fun in theTuileries or the cattle cart more laiden and ponderous as it struggled on its way.Disappearing into the distance with some magical whispered sounds and a barely audible promenade before the Ballet of Unhatched Chicks that was played with immaculate precision and lightness and a sense of humour as they almost bumped into each other in a very effective ( but unmarked in my score) accelerando.

Have Samuel Goldberg and Schmuyle ever sounded so serious and unctious .No ammount of pleading would satisfy them even from Roman’s very sensitive hands.A wonderful string orchestra promenade before the amazing pyrotechnics of the Market Place in Limoges that burst in on the final vibrating B flat of the promenade.The sonorous eruption of the Catacombs had some wonderfully suggestive sounds with the almost unbearable beautiful resolution of stillness and peace in ‘Con mortuis in lingua mortua’.Rudely interrupted with no promenade as BabaYaga – The Hut on Hen’s legs took us by storm.With such virtuosity that contrasted with the orchestral calm of the central, Andante mosso, superbly controlled whilst the most extraordinary sounds appeared above and below.

An enormous crescendo of octaves of all shapes and sizes prepared us for the vision of the Great Gate of Kiev.Played with true majesty and grandeur with the sounds of bells pealing again around this beautiful ancient church.Not much pealing these days as St Mary’s bells were used to call the audience back from the concert interval in the pre Covid days when one could take a stroll in the beautiful historic graveyard that surrounds this oasis only a stone’s throw from the M40!).There was an almost religious peace in the plain chant interludes before the ever more insistent bells led to the overwhelming climax of what I now consider to be a masterwork.

Thanks to this extraordinary young musician who could bring this work once again so vividly to life for me.Richter was the first person I heard play this on a rare recording from Prague Festival long before he came to the west.Horowitz’s devil like performance was the second .Roman for his musicianship and superb technical control today will not be forgotten for a long time either.


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