Goldberg – Ferrucci at St Mary’s The start of a glorious journey of discovery

Sunday 28 March 4.00 pm 

Jonathan Ferrucci (piano) 

Bach: Goldberg variations BWV 988

An extraordinary performance of the Goldberg Variations from Jonathan Ferrucci.
An 80 minute journey from the opening aria to its whispered repeat after a spiritual and uplifting journey through all the human sentiments from the ridiculous to the sublime.
It was exactly the same timing as Rosalyn Tureck’s memorable comeback performance in Rome thirty years ago.
So completely different though but with the same mastery that does not allow for wrong notes.How could there be when every note and nuance is so pregnant with meaning?
Jonathan playing with all the repeats,as Andras Schiff rightly says:’who are we mere performers to presume to know better than the creator’
Here indeed the word creator is the key one as there was in this young man’s hands a great spiritual message that kept us mesmerised from the first to the last note.
What wonders there were too …has the 28th variation ever glowed as in late Beethoven with a seemless trill on which floated such magic sounds.Semiquavers that seemed to grow out of this luminous light.Before the great organ stops in the 29th variation and the physical enjoyment of letting his hair down as Bach had done with the quodlibet.A whispered aria just once this time was absolutely breathtaking in its sublime simplicity.
As Jonathan says with the humility of a true artist:the beginning of a journey.

His ornamentation in the repeats too was highly individual from the very outset with the first variation, tongue in cheek.poking fun at the almost too serious rhythmic buoyancy from the very outset of this long journey.It contrasted with the utmost delicacy of the second and third variations before the very strident fourth.Amazing dexterity in the meanderings of the fifth obviously meant for a two manual instrument although not specified by Bach.There was a great sense of bucolic character to the dance rhythm of the seventh and the rhythmic clarity of the eighth reminded me of the rock like monument that Rosalyn Tureck created here.There was such serenity and utmost simplicity in the ninth but it was the very individual phrasing of the tenth that took me unawares especially with his very telling ornamentation in the repeats.The poignant beauty of the thirteenth that almost anticipates that of the twenty fifth was rudely interrupted by the very rhythmic alternating of hands in the fourteenth that swept across the keyboard like a whirlwind.And what better way to finish this first half of this monumental work than with the deep communing of feeling.A deep lament where the pulsing of the heartbeat was truly felt as the final delicate scale disappeared into infinity.

There was a real reawakening with the imperious French overture with its very decided rhythm and gilded ornamentation.Taking delicate flight as it joins hands with the seventeenth.There was a flowing beauty to the eighteenth alla breve and then an unexpectedly slow dance to the nineteenth with a very marked differentiation between legato and non legato.The twentieth,one of the ten that Bach specifically marks for a two manual instrument,was here that Jonathan’s transcendental clarity and control gave us a glimpse of the build up of excitement in these final virtuosistic variations.Very telling his holding the bass notes on the 3rd,5th and 6th bars which is implied and Jonathan courageously underlines with the sustaining pedal – a real master stroke indeed. There was a deeply felt intensity to the twenty first before the sun begins to show from behind the clouds with the real reawakening of the twenty second .The almost ‘prim’ precision of the twenty third that Rosalyn Tureck had confided was the variation that gave her the most problems memory wise,as it led to the gentle lilt in 9/8 of the twenty fourth.The great personal statement of the twenty fifth was played with real anguish as we could see on Jonathan’s face the effort that each note cost him.Beethoven too in his great Diabelli chooses this moment to unburden himself before the build up to the final lap in a similar monument to the art of variation.18/16 against 3/4 put the ball back in the court for the final transcendental build up to the explosion of joy in the quodlibet.The twenty eighth I have mentioned above and was a remarkable subdued variation where the actual transcendental control was hidden behind Jonathan’s message of musical magic.The semiquavers usually just rattled off rhythmically here took over gradually from the trills in the same way that they do in Beethoven’s Sonata op 109.They are ethereal sounds written on the page in a certain way but understood only by a true artist who can delve deep into the meaning of creation.

Just one of the many remarkable moments of sublime maturity of someone who has lived and slept with these variations for a long time.Infact the variations kept Jonathan company into lockdown and as he says this is just the beginning of a long journey of discovery.The addition of bass octaves was perfectly judged for the twenty ninth variation as suddenly one could hear the blaze of the church organ in all its glory.Bach’s family also had a sense of fun and humour as was made even more apparent by the incorporation of two folk songs always on the same bass framework.Jonathan played them with great exhilaration “I have not been with you for so long” and “ cabbages and turnips have driven me away …..if my mother had cooked meat ,I would have stayed longer!”

I am reminded of Jonathan’s mentor at the Guildhall ,Joan Havill,telling him he would need to build himself up if he intended to work on the Brahms second concerto.Anyone who has seen Jonathan with his ashtanga yoga exercises will know that that there is a great deal more to true internal energy than brute force.We were made blissfully aware of that today after his tumultuous 29th and 30th variations gave way to an aching silence out of which could be heard the delicate whisper of Bach’s aria for a final moving farewell. This is a podcast made by the Keyboard Trust with sone insightful comments from Jonathan as he prepared for his first public performance at St Mary’s.It will eventually be linked to the complete performance as soon as it becomes available.

Italian-Australian pianist Jonathan Ferrucci has given concerts throughout Europe, Australia, the US and Japan. In London he has performed in Wigmore Hall, Barbican Hall, Milton Court Concert Hall. As winner of the Jaques Samuel Competition in 2016, his Wigmore recital was professionally recorded and he was invited to play at Fazioli Concert Hall in Italy. In 2018 he made his debut at Carnegie Weill Hall as part of the “Guildhall Artists in New York” project and was a winner at the International Bach Competition in Leipzig. In 2019 he was a Rising Star for Portland Piano International and gave a masterclass and recitals throughout Oregon. Jonathan studied at the Conservatory of Music in Florence with Giovanni Carmassi, then in London with Joan Havill at the Guildhall, where he completed a masters degree, Artist Diploma, and Artist Fellowship. His studies have been supported by the Leverhulme Trust, Jessie Wakefield Award, Guildhall School Trust and Tait Memorial Trust. Jonathan’s artistic development has been profoundly influenced by Aldo Ciccolini and Robert Levin, and by his ongoing studies with Angela Hewitt, as well as masterclasses with Murray Perahia, Richard Goode, Peter Frankl and Christian Zacharias. As co-founder of Made in Music, a non-profit, he organized two festivals bringing together musicians from eight countries. He believes that music is a universal language that can unite people from different cultures and backgrounds. Alongside his time at the piano, Jonathan practises Ashtanga yoga and considers it an integral part of his work, and essential in his life.

Both Rosalyn Tureck and Tatyana Nikolaeva performing the Goldberg Variations in my concert series in 1991

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