Hats off to Alberto Ferro with his impeccable performance of the complete Etudes-Tableaux streamed live from Teatro Politeama in Tolentino ,Italy.Introduced inexplicably by a masqueraded hostess who obviously did not know who Rachmaninov was.Alberto on his honeymoon went on unheeded and unmasked to give a hair raising account of one of Rachmaninov’s most challenging works.Working with that magician Epifanio Comis in Catania he showed us just what it means to be an intelligent and passionate virtuoso.
Born in Italy in 1996, Alberto Ferro began his piano studies with his mother at the age of seven and gave his first recital at the age of thirteen. He achieved his Master’s degree under the guidance of Prof. Epifanio Comis, his lifetime mentor, at the “Vincenzo Bellini” Institute of Music in Catania (2018). He also attended several piano masterclasses held by very important pianists such as Michel Béroff, Dina Yoffe, Leslie Howard, Elisso Virsaladze, Joaquín Achúcarro, Richard Goode, Jörg Demus and Vladimir Ashkenazy.
He won many awards in national and international competitions, including: 2nd Prize, International Press Prize and Haydn Prize at the “Ferruccio Busoni” International Piano Competition in Bolzano (2015); 1st Prize at the “Premio Venezia” National Piano Competition at Teatro La Fenice in Venice (2015); 6th Prize and Musiq’3 Prize of the public at the “Queen Elisabeth” International Piano Competition in Brussels (2016); Finalist Prize and Children’s Corner Prize at the “Clara Haskil” International Piano Competition in Vevey (2017); 1st Prize and Audience Prize at the International Telekom Beethoven Competition in Bonn (2017).He is currently Professor of Piano at the “Umberto Giordano” State Conservatoire of Music in Foggia.
The Études-Tableaux (“study pictures”), Op. 33, is the first of two sets of piano études composed by Rachmaninoff.They were intended to be “picture pieces”, essentially “musical evocations of external visual stimuli”. But Rachmaninoff did not disclose what inspired each one, stating: “I do not believe in the artist that discloses too much of his images. Let [the listener] paint for themselves what it most suggests.”However, he willingly shared sources for a few of these études with the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi when Respighi orchestrated them in 1930.
There was a magical contrast between staccato and legato in the first study especially delicately played with the contrasts of the middle section question and answer.The second had a beautiful languid melodic line amidst magical arabesques played with extreme poetic care leading to the ethereal sounds that resolved on to vibrations as the piece melted so magically in Alberto’s sensitive hands.The contemplative third study growing in glowing intensity with such sumptuous sounds and the three final chords like the B minor sonata of Liszt disappearing into the distance.The delicately rumbustuous fourth as if undecided to be happy or sad as it almost burst into song before being reminded of it’s quixotic journey .Some dazzlingly fleet playing of the fifth,one of the most difficult of all the Etudes.Played with all the precision and lightness of the great virtuosi of the Golden era of piano playing of which Rachmaninoff was linked with the likes of Godowsky,Rosenthal and Lhevine with the legendary jeux perlé of an almost lost tradition.The subtle call to arms of the sixth was played always with a great sense of architectural shape and sounds that were very carefully judged with a sensitivity that never allowed him to make harsh sounds even in the glorious triumphant ending of this well worn study.The extreme beauty of the seventh a cantabile melody delicately accompanied by continual waves of sound gradually building in intensity until dissolving into a nostalgic melodic line with which it had begun.The final study disturbing in it’s Scriabinesque battle between major and minor.An amazing sense of colour and line amongst all the passionately pulsating chords
The Études-Tableaux (“study pictures”), Op. 39 is the second set of piano études composed by Rachmaninoff . They are even fuller, more finely textured and darker than the first set.
From the swirling anguish of the first exploding into tremulous chordal patterns dissolving into typical intricate webs of sound as in his Prelude in the same C minor key.Repeating even more insistently the chordal patterns with an astonishing sense of fantasy and virtuoso control of sound.It contrasted so well with the liquid mellifluous sounds of the second.A deeply brooding left hand gradually building to a climax with a superb sense of balance leading to the final magical chords and flourish that was made of pure gold.The remarkable continual butterfly movement of the third study was played with such a subtle sense of swirling colours.One of the longest and most intricate of the studies.
The almost Gavotte charm of the fourth was played with a clarity and dexterity that led to the remarkable burst of melodic outpouring of the famous fifth study.Played with such passionate aristocratic eloquence and a sense of balance that allowed the melodic line to be sustained by the throbbing multicoloured surrounding harmonies.One voice answered another in the darkly brooding middle section sustained by an ever more insistent rumble from the bass until the melody returns glowing as never before in the tenor register, dissolving into the depths with such beautiful sounds that Alberto found from his wondrous poetic vocabulary.The terror and animal excitement he generated from the first flourishes of the sixth is no wonder that this is known as ‘Little Red Riding Hood and the Woolf ‘ study.An amazing chordal dexterity with a display of phenomenal virtuosity.The impish chord after the final roar just showed the imagery that Alberto was able to portray.There was almost clockwork precision in the insistent chords of the seventh study.The repeated left hand notes like in the Appassionata Sonata were developed into something much more sinister.A beautiful legato tenor melody appeared as if by magic turning into the glorious pealing of church bells before dying away again to its opening gently menacing insistence.The beautifully fluid eighth study with its languid yearning was so well portrayed by Alberto with a heartbreaking nostalgia full of ravishing colours on a continual wave of emotion.The triumphant opening fanfare of the ninth was played with astonishing forward drive with a nice quixotic middle section to contrast with the blistering final outburst so masterly portrayed.Alberto demonstrating a mastery and maturity way above his actual age of only twenty four .