Mihai Ritivoiu at St Mary’s

Tuesday 19 January 4.00 pm 

Mihai Ritivoiu (piano)

Haydn: Sonata in C major Hob. XVI:50 Allegro-Adagio-Allegro molto

Ravel: Ondine from Gaspard de la Nuit

Schubert: Impromptus D 935 nos 1 in F minor and 2 in A flat   

Beethoven: Bagatelle in A Op 33 no 4 

Liszt: Mephisto Waltz no 1 S514


A superb concert from St Mary’s Perivale.Mihai Ritivoiu a true poet of the piano from the crystal clear hi-jinks of late Haydn through the magic swirling and swishing of Ravel’s Ondine to the sublime simplicity of Schubert.Beethoven too in almost Schubertian mood and finally the devilry of Liszt for which he was to pay dearly in his later years.
All played with sumptuous sound and total mastery.
Mihai’s playing just grows in stature from the first time I heard him in his first year at the Guildhall with Richard Goode almost ten years ago to today’s performances from an established artist graduated with honours from the school of Joan Havill.

Born in Bucharest, the multi-awards pianist Mihai Ritivoiu won the Dinu Lipatti National Competition in 2010 and was laureate of numerous international competitions including the George Enescu Competition in 2011 (Bucharest), Tunbridge Wells International Young Concert Artist Competition in 2014 and Teresa Llacuna Competition in 2015 (Valence). Most recently, he was awarded the Gold Medal at the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe Intercollegiate Competition. Mihai leads an international career performing solo and chamber music recitals in Europe and Asia. He also played concertos with the Bucharest Philharmonic Orchestra, the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra, the English Chamber Orchestra and the MDR Leipzig Radio Orchestra. Regularly invited to play on BBC Radio 3’s programme ‘In Tune’, his performances have been broadcast on Radio Romania Muzical, Radio Television Suisse and Medici TV. His debut album released under the label Genuin with solo works by Franck, Enescu and Liszt has been praised as “beautifully recorded, handsomely played – a solo recital to cherish” (The Arts Desk). Graduated with the highest distinction from the National University of Music in Bucharest and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London, Mihai studied with Professors Viniciu Moroianu and Joan Havill. He also had the privilege to take part in masterclasses led by Dimitri Bashkirov, Dominique Merlet, Emmanuel Ax, Richard Goode and is mentored by Valentin Gheorghiu. Mihai is a City Music Foundation artist and a Yeoman of the Worshipful Company of Musicians. He has received generous support from the Liliana and Peter Ilica Foundation for the Endowment of the Arts, Erbiceanu Cultural Foundation and Ratiu Family Charitable Foundation.

A perfect sense of style in the Haydn C major Sonata Hob XVI:50 and as Mihai explained is a late work that shows off all Haydn’s mischievous sense of humour.From the bare opening notes to the bubbling energy and sense of character full of sparkling ornaments and the humorous questions and answers all played with such delicacy and musical understanding .There was a beautiful change of colour for the development and surprising pedal effects that Haydn writes in the score anticipating his illustrious pupil.The exquisite delicacy of the Adagio was played with such simplicity and sense of colour where the music really was allowed to speak for itself.Deliciously descending staccato scales after a trill that just seemed to dissolve in a moment of sublime beauty.Sensitivity and sense of discovery with astonishing key changes and a magical coda leading to the final deep breath.There was a great sense of humour in the Allegro molto where Haydn at a certain point seems to be taking the player astray only to rejoin the fun with the final chords thrown off with whimsical nonchalance.

Gaspard de la nuit (subtitled Trois poèmes pour piano d’après Aloysius Bertrand),is a suite of three pieces by Ravel written in 1908.Of the three pieces Ondine,Le gibet.Scarbo,Mihai played the first and perhaps most ravishing of the suite:Ondine. It is the tale of the water nymph singing to seduce the observer into visiting her kingdom deep at the bottom of a lake:’I thought I heard A faint harmony that enchants my sleep.
And close to me radiates an identical murmur Of songs interrupted by a sad and tender voice.’A beautiful melodic line above the splashes of swirling water that surround the water nymph Ondine was played with sumptuous sound where the melodic line seemed to emerge from the watery sounds that were so beautifully played.With complete technical command even the glissandi seemed to be just waves of colour that Mihai added to his magic palette.Building to a tumultuous climax always with such radiant tone colours as he threw himself into the quite extraordinary hurdles that Ravel purposefully places before any pianist who tries to play this suite that was written with the idea to out do Bakakirev’s notorious Islamey.The virtuoso Ricardo Vines gave the first performance in Paris in January 1909.It was though Vlado Perlemuter who sought out Ravel to get his advice on giving the first complete Ravel recitals in Paris in 1929.Here is the link to his historic performance recorded in 1991:https://www.facebook.com/legendarymusicians2020/videos/444771353608392/

The first two of the ‘late’ Impromptus by Schubert made up this very well thought out programme.The first is one of the longest of the set of four D.935 published after Schubert’s early death and were probably written in his last year of 1828.There are haunting seamless streams of melody that seemed to pour from Schubert’s pen with such ease and simplicity.These four Impromptus were thought by Schumann to be a Sonata in disguise much like the Drei Klavierstucke D.946.In fact the first two impromptus that Mihai had chosen for his programme could almost be the first two movements of a sonata with the first long almost in Sonata form without development and the second a simple Minuet and Trio.The first Impromptu was played as if Mihai was telling a story with such an imperious opening dissolving into landler played with such delicacy and flowing tempo.It dissolved to the the magic duet between bass and treble voices over a constant stream of waves of sound played with such colour and sensitivity by a true poet of the piano.A duet between voices just as poignant as in Schubert’s songs.Songs without words indeed,but just as eloquent when played with such sensitivity.

There was an almost string quartet texture to the A flat Impromptu that followed not just as a melody and accompaniment but gave great depth to this seemingly innocent opening.There were some very poignant bass notes too that gave great meaning to the upper voices.Schubert deliberately rewrites the same time signature for the flowing Trio section and I would have kept more strictly the same tempo as at the opening even though Mihai played it in a lovingly flowing way.Almost Beethovenian in its unsentimental sentiment it was beautifully realised and made this the ideal companion for the charming almost Schubertian Bagatelle op 33 n.4 by Beethoven.As Mihai said ‘this is a piece of sunshine on a beautiful bright day where all the worries are left long behind’and it was part of this carefully constructed programme that he offered today.

After all this charm and pastoral peace Mihai chose the devil himself to finish.Liszt’s demonic Mephisto Waltz n.1. written originally for orchestra in 1859 is one of Liszt’s most popular show pieces for piano .It is pure programme music and tells the story of a wedding feast in progress in the village inn, with music, dancing, carousing.’Mephistopheles induces Faust to enter and take part in the festivities. Mephistopheles snatches the fiddle from the hands of a lethargic fiddler and draws from it indescribably seductive and intoxicating strains. The amorous Faust whirls about with a full-blooded village beauty in a wild dance; they waltz in mad abandon out of the room, into the open, away into the woods. The sounds of the fiddle grow softer and softer, and the nightingale warbles his love-laden song.’It certainly must have been quite a party that Mihai envisaged as he opened at high speed with a delicacy but rhythmic urgency that immediately set the scene.Some amazing pyrotechnics were thrown off with aplomb but with such musical understanding.Here again was a poet of the piano with a technical mastery that the story was allowed to unfold with mounting excitement and even the nightingales seemed happy allowed to warble within his scintillating fingers.A truly exciting finish to an extremely enjoyable programme.

In fact as I told Mihai this lockdown is obviously doing you good – ‘what is your secret?’: ‘It must be Yoanna’s superb cuisine.’Charming and spirited in life as on the platform.


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