Liszt: Rhapsodie Espagnole S.254 Busoni: Elegie No.2 All’Italia Liszt/Busoni :Fantasia and Fugue on Ad nos, ad salutarem undam
It is very interesting to note the remark below about Patrick’s admiration for Thomas Kelly.I have long been admirers of both for their extreme intelligence and searching minds added to their transcendental keyboard skill where difficulties do not exist.They are an elite company of four young musicians that are rapidly being applauded by critics and public for their innovative programmes,searing intelligence and inquisitive minds.With Thomas and Patrick we must certainly add Mark Viner (Alkan) and Tyler Hay (Kalkbrenner) to this elite group that has appeared from a need to take a fresh look at many long neglected works from the vast piano repertoire.
Patrick Hemmerlé writes :’I am doing here something I have not done before. I am “lending” my channel to another pianist. Thomas Kelly is an absolutely wonderful pianist I discovered almost by accident, clicking on a facebook video. I was immediately taken in and decided that one day I would invite him to play for my college if that was possible. Soon after it was decided that we wanted to keep music going in the college during the pandemic, so that the plan materialised sooner than I expected, and I am very pleased he accepted to come and play in difficult conditions in Clare Hall which has only has a dining hall, not a concert hall, and on top of it all, the central heating broke down, and he had to play his extremely demanding program in arctic conditions. ‘His extremely interesting programme is as follows:
Liszt Rhapsodie Espagnole I have rarely heard in the concert hall but the two times I remember were unforgettable. The recital at the RFH in London when Gilels gave a truly explosive performance.A second time in Italy in the Ghione theatre in Rome when a young Russian Mikhail Petukhov played them in the Busoni arrangement for piano and orchestra with the chamber orchestra of Lithuania under Saulius Sondekis.Liszt was fascinated by the temperamental melodies of the Iberian peninsula, after a six month tour through Spain and Portugal and integrated elements of this music into his piano works. The character of the “Rhapsodie espagnole” is very different from that of the Hungarian Rhapsodies– instead of Hungarian boisterousness and deep melancholy, one encounters Spanish noblesse and elegance. At the centre are the age-old theme “Folies d’Espagne” and a much loved folkdance melody from Aragon (“Jota”); both of which Liszt worked into a dazzling virtuosic series of variations. Thomas searching more for the poetry than just scintillating showmanship.But even on this piano with a very dry bass he was able to build up to a tumultuous climax of transcendental octaves leading unexpectedly to a cadenza that I assume was his own,as Liszt himself may have done.
With the six elegies Busoni recognized his change of style : “My entire personal vision I put down at last and for the first time in the Elegies.They signify a milestone in my development. Almost a transformation.But a critic of the day had this to say :’He who knew something of Busoni’s strivings for a new harmonic system and of his belief that he has already achieved new tonalities through curiously built scales, could certainly perceive a structural logic and an aesthetically ordered system of sound deployment in these pieces; but novelty seekers will have found as little “music” here as the normal, naïve listener … No, no and no again, these were not the inspirations of a man ahead of his time, these were simply calculations…’Later, after more public performances, Busoni was well aware of the negative public reaction, but still clearly believed he had chosen the correct path. In a letter to his pupil Egon Petri he wrote, “Thank you for your kind words about the Elegies. On several occasions I have now found that they appear infinitely simpler to the reader than to the listener. In these pieces I am particularly proud of the form and clarity.”A strange piece of great effect and played with total commitment by Thomas .With it’s deep brooding bass out of which emerges one of those nostalgic Busonian melodies almost like Fauré in its inconclusion.Giving way to continuous swirling sounds only momentarily interrupted by a folk melody before the powerful rhythmic urgency comes to rest in a final sumptuous peaceful resolution.A startling performance of great emotional effect that makes one wonder why it is rarely if ever heard in the concert hall.
Another rarely heard work followed with a concert transcription of Liszt’s organ Fantasy and Fugue on the Chorale ‘Ad nos,ad salutarem undam’ by Busoni of such authority that this is a prime example of the transcription actually being an improvement on the original;Busoni’s pianistic ingenuity ensures that none of the grandeur of Liszt’s conception is lost or diluted while achieving a clarity and brilliance often not possible on the organ .It was composed in 1850 and first published the following year.The theme is taken from the chorale of the Anabaptists in the first act of Meyerbeer’s immensely successful opera Le prophète, premiered in Paris the previous year; the Fantasy and Fugue seems to spring as much from his religious side as the theatrical. The Fantasy, the first of the work’s three clearly defined sections, is a rhapsodic improvisation, challenging, emotional and dramatic, but the second (Adagio) is more of a devout meditation in the remote key of F sharp major which, paradoxically, is often associated in Liszt with both sacred and profane love. A thunderous cadenza links to the final Fugue which has all the rhythmical and dramatic traits of his so-called ‘Mephisto style’, and it is likely that the ultimate triumphant blaze of C major represents the defeat of those forces. Saint-Saëns, who played the work with great success in the 1870s (once in the presence of Liszt), declared it ‘the most extraordinary organ work in existence’.There are passages where Busoni’s own distinctive palette is clearly discernible but, equally, the lessons assimilated from his immersion in Liszt’s keyboard writing are uncannily fruitful and convincing.An amazing work,hard to believe it was conceived for the organ such are the truly transcendental demands on the performer.From the grandiose opening and amazingly busy cadenza like passages before the calm magic of the central section.A cadenza signals the opening of the fugue played with absolute clarity and amazing dexterity before the final triumphant conclusion.A work that needs listening to many times to discovery the intricacy of line that Liszt and Busoni have woven and so impressively played by Thomas.Last time I heard Thomas he played the almost unknown piano sonata by Reubke ,Liszt’s prize student who was to die in his early twenties having left only two major works :the well known organ sonata and the enormously difficult piano sonata that Thomas had the courage to present as he had done this mammoth Liszt/ Busoni work today.An amazing intellectual and technical tour de force.He is indeed a force to be reckoned with
Thomas Kelly was born in 1998, and started playing the piano aged three. In 2006 he became Kent Junior Pianist of the Year and attained ABRSM Grade 8 with Distinction. Aged nine, Thomas performed Mozart Concerto No. 24 in the Marlowe Theatre with the Kent Concert Orchestra. After moving to Cheshire, he regularly played in festivals, winning prizes including in the Birmingham Music Festival, third prize in Young Pianist of the North 2012, and first prize in WACIDOM 2014. Since 2015, Thomas has been studying with Andrew Ball, initially at the Purcell School of Music and now at the Royal College of Music. Thomas has also gained inspiration from lessons and masterclasses with musicians such as Vanessa Latarche, William Fong, Ian Jones, Valentina Berman, Wei-Yi Yang, Boris Berman, Paul Lewis, Mikhail Voskresensky, and Dina Yoffe. Thomas will begin studying for a Master’s at the Royal College of Music in 2021, sharing with Professors Andrew Ball and Dmitri Alexeev. Thomas has won first prizes including the Pianale International Piano Competition 2017; Kharkiv Assemblies 2018; at Lucca Virtuoso e Bel Canto Festival 2018, RCM Joan Chissell Schumann competition 2019; Kendall Taylor Beethoven Competition 2019; BPSE Intercollegiate Beethoven Competition 2019; and the 4th Theodor Leschetizky competition 2020. He has performed in a variety of venues, including Wigmore Hall, Cadogan Hall, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, St James’ Piccadilly, Oxford Town Hall, St Mary’s Perivale, St Paul’s Bedford, the Poole Lighthouse Arts Centre, the Stoller Hall, at Paris Conservatoire, the StreingreaberHaus in Bayreuth, the Teatro Del Sale in Florence, North Norfolk Music Festival and in Vilnius and Palanga. Since the pandemic restrictions in 2020, Thomas’ artistic activities include participating in all three seasons of the Echo Chamber, an online concert series curated by Noah Max, and releasing three singles under the Ulysses Arts label on digital platforms. Thomas is a C. Bechstein Scholar supported by the Kendall-Taylor Award. He is being generously supported by the Keyboard Charitable Trust since 2020, and Talent Unlimited since 2021.