Damir Durmanovic A new star shining brightly at St Mary’s

Tuesday May 25th 4.00 pm 

Schubert: Hungarian Melody in B minor D 817

Brahms: Intermezzo in E Op 116 no 4

Liszt: Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth S 534

Kalinnikov: Elegie in B flat minor

Blumenfeld: 5 Preludes from Op 17 :
Nos 19, 20, 21, 22, 5

Grieg: Ballade in G minor Op 24

https://youtu.be/bNELff8-uuE. Here is the high definition recording of the concert

“Astonished.ravished and amazed by Damir Durmanovic’s artistry at St Mary’s.His intelligence too combining the key relationships of the works he had chosen for his unusually stimulating programme was nothing short of genius.
An unknown Liszt of ravishing beauty and Preludes by Blumenfeld where you began to understand the influence on the youthful Horowitz – who actually never played any of his teachers works in public!……….A very exciting new star shining brightly at St Mary’s……….here he is at St James’s during the lockdown.

It was last September during a partial lockdown that I was one of the few to venture out to St James’s Piccadilly for a lunchtime concert by a young pianist I had not heard before .I was bowled over by his interpretations of Schubert especially the ‘big’A major Sonata op posth.(his interpretation I believe is now available on CD ).Knowing his teacher Dmitri Alexeev and his masterly instinctive playing I could feel the influence but it was allied to his own very individual personal character.What can sometimes unfavourably be described as Schubert’s eternal length could have gone on forever as far as I was concerned, such was his musicianship and ability to make the music speak.Maybe Eternal could be substituted by Sublime !So I was very pleased when he applied to the Keyboard Charitable Trust and I was able to hear him again in completely different repertoire.This will be streamed live for the Keyboard Trust on 16th June at 7 pm In the conversation I had with him which is included in the live stream ,I was astounded by his profound musicianship and in particular his reference to historic performance practices and the relationship of keys in preparing programmes,his attitude to the musical profession and much else besides .All this had been stimulated by his time at Menuhin school and coming into contact with musicians such as Robert Levin and Marcel Baudet.It just proves how right Menuhin was to create a school where this sort of musical stimulation could be nurtured at an early formative age.I had spoken Dr Mather at St Mary’s about this remarkable young man and no time was lost in engaging him to substitute a pianist that for Covid quarantine reasons was not able to fulfil his engagement in his prestigious young pianists series .I was apprehensive about listening again especially as the programme Damir now produced was extremely eclectic and made me worry about the glowing words that I had shared in private with Dr Hugh Mather.I was not able to listen live either as I had a concert in Villa Torlonia in Rome with public,followed by a live stream of the final of the Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians Competition in Brussels,both with artists promoted by the Keyboard Trust.However at the crack of dawn I could not resist taking a look at the high definition stream of Damir’s concert and was relieved and excited by performances that were beyond all expectations.An exciting new talent who plays the programmes he believes in and refuses to enter the competition circus.This sort of genial talent is never easy to live with as there can be no compromise in what one passionately believes in.As Hugh says ‘he is a one-off -unique in fact.Wonderful control of sound but with programmes slightly lost on a general audience.’It is interesting to note that Damir would normally improvise between each piece with what were called in the ‘old days’ preludes.The key relationship between pieces was usually dominant to tonic.In today’s programme,as it was being streamed and the start and finish of each piece might not have been so evident,he chose to add the link only to the two that do not adhere to the key relationship which is Liszt to Kalinnikov.

The Schubert immediately showed a great sense of style and a beguiling sense of dance, tantalising in its charm with a rare sense of rubato Adding subtle ornamentation that gave great lift to these dances that can fall so flat in lesser hands.

This haunting Intermezzo from op 116 had a sense of poignant feeling of nostalgia and longing played with a sumptuous sense of colour .A ray of sunlight shone for a second before the return of the deep lament of almost unbearable inner feeling .It was all so vividly depicted in playing where every note spoke so eloquently.

Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth was quite a discovery with its opening flourishes full of such musical meaning before the melody of ravishing beauty and purity.Arabesques that were like quicksilver hovering and ornamenting the melodic line and only adding to the intensity of such a beautiful neglected work.Leslie Howard tells me it was a set piece for the Liszt competition in Utrecht but am unable to trace its origins which makes me even more intrigued by the originality of Damir’s programme .I quote Liszt expert Leslie Howard :”Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth was something of an obsession with Liszt. Started around 1841 and continuing until the last years of his life, he seems to have made three versions of the song to Lichnowsky’s poem about the cloisters on the island in the Rhine, an Élegie with a different text over the same music, four versions of it for solo piano, the second of these with an alternative reading effectively making version number five, just one version for piano duet, and versions for violin or cello and piano.This piano version is the last, and the simple song has become a nostalgic reflection upon happier times when Liszt in old age,dwelt on one of the happiest periods of his life when he and the Countess d’Agoult holidayed on the island of Nonnenwerth with their children Blandine, Cosima and Daniel in the summers of 1841–43—some of the few occasions when that extraordinary family was united.”

Vasily Kalinnikov 1866-1901 In 1892 Tchaikowsky recommended him for the position of main conductor of the Maly Theatre and later that same year to the Moscow Italian Theater. However, due to his worsening tuberculosis he had to resign from his theater appointments and move to the warmer southern clime of the Crimea He lived at Yalta for the rest of his life, and it was there that he wrote the main part of his music, including his two symphonies and the incidental music for Tolstoy’s Tsar Boris

The Elegie was written in 1894 just seven years before his early death at the age of 35.There was in fact a beseeching cry to the piece so hauntingly played with Damir’s wondrous touch that seems to have no limit to his multi coloured palette of sounds that he can extract from the piano with such fluidity and naturalness.The gently lilting dance episode had much to do with Schubert like the opening work in this fascinatingly varied recital.It was interesting to hear Damir’s preluding or improvisation from the Liszt to the Elegie being the two works in the programme that did not adhere to the tonic to dominant key relationship between the other works on the programme.Damir would normally improvise or prelude from one work to another but for clarity on this on line recital he thought it would be clearer with such unusual repertoire to have a break between pieces.

Felix Mikhailovich Blumenfeld 1863 -1931) was a composer,conductor and pianist .He conducted the Russian premiere of Wagner’s Tristan at the Marinsky Theatre.He was born in the Ukraine and studied at St Petersburg Conservatory.From 1918 to 1922 he was director of the Mykolayiv Lysenko Music-drama school in Kiev where Horowitz was one of his pupils. From 1922 until his death he taught at the Moscow Conservatory where amongst his pupils were Simon Barere and Maria Yudina.As a pianist, he played many of the compositions of his Russian contemporaries. His own compositions, which showed the influence of Chopin and Tchaikowsky include a symphony, numerous pieces for solo piano, an Allegro de Concert for piano and orchestra, and lieder.It is interesting to note that he was the uncle of the great pedagogue Heinrich Neuhaus,teacher if Richter and many others ,and first cousin, once removed of Karol Szymanowski (Felix and Karol’s father, Stanislaw Szymanowski, were cousins).

A fascinating discovery of wonderful pieces by Blumenfeld almost totally neglected by pianists these days ,even Horowitz never programmed them.It has taken Damir to show us the wondrous colours and transcendental intricacy that are indeed influenced by Liszt,Chopin and Scriabin,but,as we were shown today,they have a ravishing voice of their own.There was haunting beauty in the first prelude where one could hear shades of Liszt’s Liebestod in the far distance.Such startling virtuosity in the second with seemless streams of gold that one can see immediately the roots of the phenomenon Horowitz.Sumptuous beauty of the tenor melody in the third with ravishingly beautiful accompaniments.Wondrous sounds with a palette of colours that most pianists these days do not know exist.This is someone who has totally understood the sense of balance and colour that can lie in this box of strings and hammers.Matthay,the renowned teacher of Myra Hess and Moura Lympany amongst many others, used to find a range of sounds on a single note from one to ten.Pianists these days seem only aware of a limited range of a maximum one to five !There was a ravishing melodic line despite the unnoticed technical difficulties in the fourth and a suave sense of rubato in the passionate melodic outpouring of the fifth. I understand that Damir is about to record the 24 preludes op 17 which will be a start to add some of Blumenfeld’s large output on CD which up until now has been almost completely ignored even by his pupil Horowitz!

Ballade in the Form of fourteen Variations on a Norwegian Folk Song in G minor Op. 24, is a large-scale work for piano and is in the form of theme and variations, the theme being the Norwegian folk song Mountain Song. Rarely played in concert these days it was one of the works played by Percy Grainger at his 1901 London debut at Steinway Hall, four years before he met Grieg, who was to become Grainger’s greatest champion.

A gentle opening full of delicacy that was to return at the close of this long journey of fourteen variations.There were some scintillating sounds of almost improvised freedom .Dance rhythms played with an irresistible sense of character and agility.The final triumphant melody was played with a great sense of line and much agility which again Damir put at the service of the music.The gentle poetic end was a fitting end to a superb recital by a ‘Master pianist’ to use Dr Mather’s own words.

As an internationally sought-after performer, Damir Durmanovic has performed in venues and festivals including the Wigmore Hall, Champs Hill Studios, YPF Festival Amsterdam, Wimbledon Music Festival, Renia Sofia Audotorium Madrid, Gstaad Menuhin Festival, Derby Multifaith Center, Flusserei Flums, ‘Ballenlager’ Vaduz. He has won prizes in numerous international competitions including The Beethoven Intercollegiate Junior Competition in London, Adilia Alieva International Piano Competition in Geneva and Isidor Bajic International Piano Competition in Novi Sad. He has performed in masterclasses with Claudio Martinez-Mehner, Dmitri Bashkirov, Pascal Devoyon, Jacques Rouvier, Robert Levin, Jean-Bernard Pommier, Tatyana Sarkisova, and chamber ensembles such as the Emerson Quartet. Damir is also a scholar at the ‘Musikakademie Liechtestein’ and regularly participates in the courses organised by the academy. Damir began his studies at age of eight in his home country, Bosnia and Herzegovina, with Maja Azabagic before continuing his studies at the Yehudi Menuhin School where he studied with professor Marcel Baudet. He is an ABRSM scholar and is kindly supported by the Talent Unlimited Scheme. He is currently studying at the Royal College of Music in London with professor Dmitri Alexeev.


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