Standing ovation in Paradise
Yuanfan Yang at La Mortella The Walton Foundation Ischia meets the Keyboard Charitable Trust
Miracles are rare but not when you are in the paradise that Susana Walton created in celebration of her husband.
They are both here Sir William and Lady Susana Walton ,their ashes interred in the place that they created and shared together.
Susana after the death of Sir William in 1983 created a foundation so that their paradise could live on forever as a lasting legacy of their life together.
Lady Walton died in 2010 and in the 27 years alone not only augmented La Mortella as a botanical garden but also built a concert hall where her series of concerts for young musicians is an inspiring venue for some of the finest young musicians of the day. All in the name of Sir William and a lasting testimony to one of the finest composers of the twentieth century.
She created an amphitheatre too overlooking the bay like in nearby Ravello where youth orchestras from around the world could also play.
A magnificent programme of music organised by the distinguished musician Lina Tufano with the whole amazing complex overseen by Alessandra Vinciguerra with her team of dedicated helpers that have all been inspired by the untiring dedication of Lady Walton.
There is a family atmosphere where every minute detail is treated with such loving care that creates a magic atmosphere from the moment one steps into the wondrous gardens of tropical plants .
The first collaboration with the Keyboard Trust allowed me to accompany Yuanfan Yang to give two afternoon recitals in the concert hall next to the music room where Sir William used to compose.I
had been to La Mortella several times when Susana was alive who was a close family friend.
Susana and my wife Ileana Ghione were both admirers of each other-birds of a feather you might even say.They both had the indomitable spirit that would never think anything was impossible as they reached for their seemingly impossible dream with a passion and business acumen that is rare indeed.
My wife created a theatre in Rome that became a cultural beacon in Europe as Susana had done likewise on Ischia.
Two remarkably courageous women in what was very much a man’s world!
It was in Yuanfan’s second recital that a miracle occurred as he had obviously been inspired by the atmosphere of this very special place.
From the exquisite delicacy of Debussy.La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune played with sounds that seemed to appear and disappear like magic as the radiance of sensual passion unwound in La puerta del vino.This was played with a kaleidoscopic sense of colour vanishing into thin air leaving the stillness and poignant chords of Canope Harmonies mingling in the refined air and the shrill comments of such aching nostalgia high in the distance so reminiscent of the atmosphere created in the sea preludes from Grimes by that other great British composer Benjamin Britten.
But the true miracle was yet to come.
After Yuanfan Yang’s own prize winning composition ‘The Waves’ he gave a truly inspired performance of Chopin’s 24 Preludes.
The Waves – written ten years ago describes in sound a rock thrown in the water that produces waves of ever growing intensity.There were such subtle colours and ravishing cascades of notes very much inspired by the sound world of Debussy with maybe even a touch of Messiaen.A remarkably descriptive work of great effect.
Indeed on the same crest of a wave the first prelude of Chopin created immediately an atmosphere that was to hold the audience spellbound through the long journey that Chopin too had been inspired to write on an island ,that of Majorca.There was such beauty in the second prelude with the brooding murmuring bass and the swirling left hand of the third on which the innocent melody rode unimpeded.The gentle inflections in the fourth just added to the ravishing atmosphere with it’s three sumptuous final chords.The busy meanderings of the fifth we’re played with fleeting lightness leading to the touching melancholy of the tenor melody with its gentle sighing accompaniment in the sixth.A pity he did not note Chopin’s final pedal marking which would have taken him to even more ravishing heights.Chopin knew best!There was grace and charm in the seventh played with a touching simplicity.The passion of the eighth was disguised in a haze of romantic sounds shaped with such care and breathing control and there was some wonderful tenor pointing that gave a subtle pregnant meaning to this sudden outpouring of romantic fervour.There was a rich sound from the very first notes of the ninth,with some wondrous changes of colour and it’s passionate build up of such aristocratic poise .The tenth ,as contrast was thrown off with consummate ease and charm leading to the radiant sounds of the eleventh.Passion and virtuosity combined in the twelfth played as a true musician with real control and shape -the final phrases played with moving dignity.There was poise in the thirteenth – a beautifully shaped melodic line and a middle section that shone like jewels as a subtle duet was allowed to play out so naturally.The fourteenth crept in with is gradual build up before blowing itself out and leaving the field to the heart melting beauty of the so called’Raindrop’prelude.I have never heard the middle section chorale played so poetically with almost religious dedication.
The treacherous sixteenth prelude was thrown of with great virtuosity , swirls or waves of sound of breathtaking brilliance led so inevitably to the two final mighty chords.It was the same virtuosity that he had brought earlier in the recital to the study op 10 n.1 with cascades of notes accompanying the deep bass melody .There were magical bass notes too in the seventeenth over which the melodic line reappeared as if in a dream ‘un sentiment de regret ‘as Cortot would have described it .A remarkably operatic recitativo followed that could have been straight out of a bel canto opera.The mellifluous melodic line of the nineteenth was allowed to hover over the ever changing harmonies as it had in the study op 10.n.11 that Yuanfan had also played earlier in the recital.There was majestic dignity to the great C minor prelude as it gradually died away to a whisper showing Yuanfan’s quite superb control of sound. Subtle rubato in the magical cantabile of the twenty first was followed by the octaves of the twenty second creeping in with passionate fervour.The gentle streams of pure gold in the twenty third only prepared the scene for the youthful passion of the great twenty fourth prelude.Wonderfully shaped the initial subdued passion boiling over with some extraordinary changes of colour before the final desperate ending.
The spirit of Chopin was evidently hovering in the air as each prelude revealed jewels that glittered and shone as they led to the crowning glory of the last prelude.
The final three mighty D’s deep in the bass resonated with an emotional force that was the culmination of this extraordinary journey that we had been treated to today.
A standing ovation was greeted with Yuanfan asking the audience to take part themselves in this party atmosphere that had been created.
Fur Elise in Scott Joplin style was greeted by Night and Day in Straussian style .
Yuanfan proceeded to improvise on these themes that had the audience on their feet cheering this young musician and the miracles that he had created in this paradise…….
His first recital had included the Haydn’s sonata in E minor Hob XVI:34 played with great character and charm with crystal clear ornaments .The last movement played with impish good humour after an Adagio of great clarity and simplicity.Chopin’s Polonaise Fantasie the second Ballade and the F sharp minor Polonaise were given very robust performances of startling virtuosity and poetry.The Polonaise Fantasie one of Chopin’s last works was played with a vibrant sense of magical sounds from the very first great chords that were allowed to vibrate over the whole keyboard.The F sharp minor Polonaise was given a performance of heroic proportions and the contrasts between the gentle opening of the second Ballade and the tempestuous interruptions was quite overwhelming in its intensity and sheer brilliance.The four Mazurkas op 33 were played with touching simplicity and aristocratic control as was the Waltz op 42 with which he ended the programme.
And so on to the mainland and Sorrento,just an hours journey on the hydrofoil passing by the smaller island of Capri.The opening of a new series invented by the indefatigable deus ex macchina of all things musical in Sorrento – Paolo Scibilia.
‘Homage to Chopin’ on the terrace of the Villa Fondi de Sangro overlooking the bay of Naples.
This was the culmination of the short tour of the bay of Naples before Yuanfan flies off the Paris – the Salle Cortot and at the end of the month to Warsaw where he has been selected to take part in the International Chopin Competition presided over in by the legendary Martha Argerich astonishingly in her eightieth year.
Yuanfan’s Chopin is not the sickly delicate Chopin of a certain tradition but a Chopin of aristocratic strength.Delicacy,tenderness and nostalgia have their part to play but with vigour,strength and above all respect for what Chopin actually wrote.Rubinstein and Pollini have long been our guiding light out of a tradition of sickly charm and disrespect for the score and a thing called rubato that became,in many traditional hands, complete distortion!
Throwing down the gauntlet with the study op 10 n.3 .One of Chopin’s most played (excluding the transcendental middle section,of course) and best loved melodies ,which even became a best seller song.It was often given the title ‘Tristesse’ which was certainly not Chopin’s as is evident from his indications in the score – an invitation not to drawl indeed
Yuanfan played it with aristocratic beauty and simplicity and it created a special atmosphere on this balmy night with water all around!
There was no terror of the middle episode that grew so naturally out of the first,dissolving into the magic return of what Chopin himself considered one of his most beautiful melodies.The mellifluous study op 10 n.11, the melodic line was allowed to float over the gentle harp like harmonies similar to the study op 25 n.1.The study op 10.n.1 was played with astonishing clarity and a sense of musical line in the bass accompanied by arabesques thrown off with the sumptuous ease of a master musician.
The group of four Mazurkas op 33 are miniature tone poems and part of the 56 jewels that Chopin penned over his short life.Works where he could say so much in such a short space.The first, just disappearing into the heights followed by the stamping rhythms of one of his most popular mazurkas before the pure theatricality of the third (hardly surprising it was used for the ballet Les Sylphides) .The last of the set is one of the longest with it’s captivating melody that returns over and over again after each varying episode.
The three ‘major’ works on the programme included the Ballade n.2, op 38,the Polonaise Fantasie op 61 and the Polonaise in F sharp minor op 44.They were played with scrupulous attention to Chopin’s very precise indications and with an authority and transcendental command that never excluded the supreme poetry or ‘canons covered in flowers’ to quote Schumann.An exquisite flexibility that allowed this ‘bel canto’ to sing so naturally without any distortion or unrelated showmanship.These were great performances of pianistic masterpieces played with love,respect and passion.
The waltz in Aflat was played with scintillating jeux perlé of beguiling charm and grace – the same that was so unforgettable from the hands of Artur Rubinstein.The final comment in the bass just bringing this hour of music to a noble end.
By great demand a series of improvisations suggested by the audience – ‘O sole mio’ was an obvious choice as was ‘Torna a Surriento’.Astonishing ability to play in any style gave him another standing ovation.Ending with his own composition : ‘The Waves’ surrounded as we were in the magic Bay of Naples,surrendering to the sheer beauty of it all.-Torna a Surriento -yes please!……per la vita!