Rana and Spada – The crossing of swords with sublime music making in Viterbo

Music making that touched the sublime.
When David Romano intoned with Alessio Pianelli with such freedom and soaring passion it was hard to believe it possible to find such unison between these six instruments in Tchaikowsky’s truly ravishing Souvenir de Florence op 70.

The extraordinarily moving musical conversation between David Romano and Alessio Pianelli

It was the same unison that had made Beatrice Rana and Massimo Spada’s performance of Stravinsky’s own arrangement for four hands on one piano of The Rite of Spring,so hypnotic and mesmerising.To hear Massimo’s pungent rhythms in the bass played with a relentless throbbing suddenly exploding into cascades of notes from his partner Beatrice.Only to dissolve into the most ravishingly desolate voice with the four hands and arms entwined in a musical unison that was quite extraordinary.It was even more remarkable than the first time I heard this arrangement in 1968 at the South Bank Festival in London with a then unknown Daniel Barenboim and the recently defected Russian Vladimir Ashkenazy.They also performed the Mozart Double Concerto captured on a famous video by Christopher Nupen.Together with Jaqueline Du Pré,Pinchas Zuckermann,Itzak Perleman,Zubin Mehta,Martha Argerich and Nelson Freire it was a glorious moment of friends having all the time in their youth of enjoying each others company.

David Romano Massimo Spada Beatrice and Ludovica Rana enjoying each others company during a pause between works.

The Rite of Spring was composed for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and premiered in 1913 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris,conducted by Pierre Monteux .Igor Stravinsky’s harmonically adventurous score–along with a scenario of pagan sacrifice and Vaslav Nijinsky’s unconventional choreography–excited both opposition and support, and the event’s climax in a near-riot remains among the most notorious premieres in music history.
Stravinsky created a version of the orchestral score for piano four hands, and it was in this form that the piece was first published in 1913; the full score was unavailable in print until 1921 and there were few performances in the years following its composition due to the Ist world war and its after effects which made this arrangement the primary introduction to the work.

Beatrice Rana with Massimo Spada

Rubinstein famously used to try to convince Stravinsky that the piano was not a percussive instrument but to no avail.He even commissioned his friend to write a piece for him but was shocked when he received the Piano Rag Music and refused to perform it and the first performance was given by José Iturbi on 1919.Stravinsky in 1921, though,dedicated the piano reduction of Petrushka to him and gave Rubinstein permission to make his own arrangement which he played in his own inimitable free way but never allowed it to be recorded for posterity.Stravinsky’s aim was to attempt to influence Arthur Rubinstein into playing his music. (A 1961 live recording featuring Rubinstein at Carnegie Hall was published in 2012,after Rubinstein’s death and were part of the tapes made during his historic ten benefit recitals).Stravinsky ensured that Rubinstein would find the arrangement technically challenging but musically satisfying. Trois mouvements de Petrouchka reflects the composer’s intentions and is renowned for its notorious technical and musical difficulties. The three dances from Petrushka together with Agosti’s 1928 arrangement of the Firebird are two of the most difficult pieces in the piano repertoire and are usually rattled off with ease nowadays by note spinning virtuosi.But there are rare exceptions ,like today,when technical command is allied to musical artistry and Stravinsky’s early music can bring the same magic without the visual aid of Diaghilev.

Rehearsing the Rite

I usually dislike composers that use the piano as a percussive instrument but Massimo Spada and Beatrice Rana made the piano sing dance and seduce as only true magicians can.To turn a box of hammers and strings into a kaleidoscope of multi coloured sounds and moods shows a rare sense of artistry.Massimo Spada had the pedals and it was Anton Rubinstein who said the pedal is the soul of the piano …..never more evident than what he did today.Beatrice’s artistry has long been recognised but together they are a force to be reckoned with.

From Beatrice’s absolute clarity of the Adoration of the Earth and Massimo’s magical reverberations before his savage eruption with the Dances of the Young Girls.Beatrice’s streaks of lightening just adding to the gradual build up of excitement with its constant undercurrent of continual movement and the appearance of the young girls .The frenzy they both brought to the Ritual of Abduction was quite as electrifying as the grandest of orchestras.Arms were entwined for the sudden Spring Rounds where the melodic line is shadowed both on high and below with ravishing effect.The shooting stars of glissandi in the Dance of the Earth was indeed mesmerising as it led to the sublime beauty of the Sacrifice.There was magic in the air as the Mystic Circles of the Young Girls was suddenly revealed with an almost Messiaenic sense of pagan rapture.The Glorification of the Chosen One produced some electrifying playing as the Evocation of the Ancestors blazed out of Beatrice’s hands.The sinister rhythmic precision from Massimo in the Ritual Action of the Ancestors was indeed hypnotic in its unrelenting advance to the Sacrificial Dance.A transcendental eruption of sounds played with such unrelenting rhythmic precision made one suddenly aware that the piano can also be a savage percussive instrument as this still quite astonishing work came to its explosive end.

Our host Massimo Spada with an ever more enthusiastic Amodeo-the youngest member of the family.

This new festival was pieced together by a group of extraordinary artists and friends in the family agricultural estate of Massimo Spada deep in the heart of the countryside in Sutri near Viterbo.It was to demonstrate their new Academy in Rome where the more experienced musicians share their artistry with the young and aspiring by making music together.As Massimo said at the end of a magical evening of music making:’it is a new way of teaching chamber music by sharing the platform with younger less experienced musicians.’The Avos project is a new and exciting reality

Well if this is the result it is has certainly created an earth tremor today.
I hope that the Mayor of Sutri,the celebrated art historian Vittorio Sgarbi arriving late and spending his time on his mobile phone will at least have noticed the reaction of the public on their feet visibly moved by such sublime music making

Vittorio Sgarbi obviously plagued by problems that as Mayor of Sutri he hopes to resolve ,enveloped and helped by the ravishing sounds that fill the air

Domenica 27 giugno ore 19.00
• Igor Stravinskij – La Sagra della Primavera Versione dell’autore per pianoforte a 4 mani
Quadri della Russia pagana in due parti
Beatrice Rana, pianoforte Massimo Spada, pianoforte
• Pëtr Il’ič Čajkovskij – Souvenir de Florence
I. Allegro con spirito
II. Adagio cantabile e con moto
III. Allegretto moderato IV. Allegro vivace
David Romano, violino Gloria Santarelli, violino Luca Sanzò, viola Carlotta Libonati, viola Alessio Pianelli, violoncello Lara Biancalana, violoncello

Tchaikovsky adored Italy and spent the long, harsh Russian winter in Rome, Florence, and Venice, seduced by the warmth of the sun, the music in the streets and the beauty of the men.”I am under a clear blue sky,” he wrote, “where the sun is shining in all its magnificence. There’s no question about rain or snow, and I go out wearing nothing but a suit … a magical shift is finally happening to me.”The first performance was in St Petersburg in 1890 when Tchaikovsky had finally achieved international fame.He was at the peak of his powers, pouring his full emotional self into every bar he wrote, not knowing that he had just three years left to live.In Florence, he scratched out a simple duet for violin and cello. This germ gave birth to Souvenir de Florence.

The sextet in rehearsal

In Tchaikowsky’s own words :”The second movement I have called adagio (because here one crochet is no more than 58, and to me this is not Andante); however this movement has the character of an Andante, and should not be drawn out. The central section of this adagio, probably written molto piu mosso (I don’t remember exactly) should be played with an improbable pppp; this should be just discernible, like summer lightning. The first movement needs to be played with great fire and passion. The second: cantabile. The third: scherzo. The fourth: brightly and enthusiastically”Tchaikowsky’s own words describe so perfectly the performance we heard today with the drive of David Romano as he threw himself with the ‘fire and passion’that just ignited the entire performance.The plucked strings in the second movement was like a guitar serenading the beautiful duet between violin and cello so eloquent as they intoned together.The simple folk song of the third flowed from Luca Sanzo’s viola with heart rending intensity.The last movement a relentless Slavonic dance with the melodic line shared in every conceivable combination of solo,duo and trio.There were some young faces amongst these six magnificent players that was the demonstration that Chamber Music cannot be taught but has to be lived as it certainly was today

Tchaikovsky’s verdict on his work? “It’s frightening to see,” he wrote, “how pleased I am with myself.” Which aptly sums up the feeling of elation that brought the audience spontaneously to their feet today.

The artists taking part in the concert share the tumultuous applause

Massimo Spada and Beatrice Rana

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