It was a great honour for me to accompany Marcella Crudeli to Sorrento where for her 80th birthday celebrations she had be given the prestigious Premio Sorrento Classica 2021.She had already been honoured last April by President Mattarella of Italy with the Grande Ufficiale della Repubblica Italian and received a few years ago from President Ciampi the Gold medal for her dedicated service to education.But it is thirty years that Marcella has been at the helm of the Rome International Piano Competition that she created knowing that Rome had been lacking one for too long .Like Fanny Waterman in Leeds,who with the same indomitable spirit and unrelenting search for excellence had created in the 60’s one of the first piano competitions to stand side by side with Warsaw and Moscow.There are now hundreds of competitions but the Rome Competition stands out for the presence of the founder controlling with her eagle eye and with a directness that is missing from many similar state run events.
Paolo Scibilia the deus ex machina of Sorrento who fills this unique city with music involving the great Hotels and sponsors partecipating in the events of great cultural value.
I have known Paolo from the first time that Lya De Barberiis asked me to play four hands with her on a Sunday morning in the museum of ceramics.Later Paolo had invited my wife Ileana Ghione and I to give a recital at the Grand Hotel Coccamella.Paolo’s father had been president of the school where Fausto Zadra housed the students for his Masterclasses that he together with Wilhelm Kempff (who lived just down the road in Positano) Nikita Magaloff and many other renowned musicians held for many years in Sorrento.
I had taken Shura Cherkassky to play in the Cloister of S.Francesco many years previously.I had also found Rosalyn Tureck there and persuaded her to come to my theatre in Rome where she created a sensation with her return to the concert platform.And so it was a great honour to be able to accompany Marcella Crudeli to give a recital in the very cloister where so much great music had been heard in the past.
A Chopin recital and a Tribute for the 210 anniversary of the death of Fryderyk Chopin ( 1810 – 2020) with a mixture of works from the earliest Variations Brillantes op.12 through the Andante Spianato e Grande Polonaise Brillante op 22 and Scherzo n.2 op 31 to the Fantasie Impromptu op 66 and the crowning glory of the Fourth Ballade in F minor op 52.
I had listened to a masterclass by Marcella this winter in which she had complained that the young pianists of today do not seem to breathe enough to give time and depth for the music to evolve naturally.This was .of course,the great poetic lesson that she had learnt from her mentor Alfred Cortot and it was indeed this that stood out in her recital of much loved classics of Chopin.Nowhere was it more apparent than in the opening variations not often played since Nikita Magaloff who could thrown them off with a charm and jeux perlé of another age.
Marcella showed us too her absolute control and the sense of character that she gave to each of the variations leading to a finale of scintillating and beguiling charm.It was the same charm and intense character that she gave to the well known Fantasie Impromptu with the opening intricate web of notes given all the time needed to shape them into a seamless stream of golden sounds .The middle section was allowed to sing with grandeur and eloquence before the passionate outpouring and gradual dying away of the finale.
The Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise was played with great style and not a trace of sentimentality.There were moments when the music seemed to stop as Marcella would underline a particularly beautiful passage or cadence.The Fourth Ballade too was given a very robust performance leading to the passionate outcry before the transcendental coda.The highlight of the evening though was the B flat minor Scherzo played with great energy and rhythmic elan together with passages of heart rending cantabile.
Having received with great joy the Premio Sorrento Classica from the hands of Paolo Scibilia one would have thought that Marcella might have been tired and ready to stop.Little do they know ‘our’ Marcella who has superhuman energy and curiosity and was very happy to play three encores to the very enthusiastic audience that by now had invaded the stage.
A song without words by Mendelssohn (Marcella tells me she has recorded them all on CD),the Chopin Study op 10.n.3 (How sweet is your heart) and a Scarlatti sonata in D that she confided afterwards she had not played for some years but that this evening she had played it in a new way that even surprised her.
A constant voyage of discovery and an honour indeed to pay homage to this remarkable artist.