Bewitched and amazed by Vitaly Pisarenko in Colombia

A recital of refined intelligence and sumptuous piano playing.A pianistic perfection of kaleidoscopic colour and elegance that is a rarity indeed where mediocrity passes for the norm.Here is a unique example that sets a standard by which lesser mortals should be judged .
FRANZ SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828)
Sonata in C minor D 958 Allegro-Adagio-Menuetto/Trio Allegro-Allegro
FRANZ SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828) transcribed for piano by FRANZ LISZT
Gretchen am spinnrade Auf dem Wasser Zu singen
FRANZ LISZT (1811 – 1886)
Valse oubliée No. 1
Funérailles ( Harmonies poétiques et Religieuses)
Transcendental Etude No. 12, “Chasse neige” Faribolo pastour
Totentanz (piano solo version)
LUIS ANTONIO CALVO (1882 – 1945)

Some remarkable playing from Vitaly Pisarenko who I have heard many times over the past few years.But in this recital there was all the precision and pianistic perfection that one would expect from someone who had taken the Utrecht Liszt competition by storm at the age of twenty.But there was also a finesse and intelligence allied to a poetic intelligence that made his performance of Schubert’s C minor sonata quite riveting.From the very first opening declaration of intent there was a driving rhythmic force – an undercurrent that was ever present and which kept us mesmerised from the first note to the last.This did not preclude the absolute fidelity to the very precise phrasing and dynamic indications that Schubert had meticulously written into the score of the first of his last trilogy of Sonatas .It was written in the last year of his life when he was suffering the final fatal symptoms of syphilis .The last three sonatas D.958, 959 and 960, are his last major compositions for solo piano and were written during the last months of his life, between the spring and autumn of 1828.Schubert died on 19th November at the age of 31 but his Sonatas were not published until about ten years after his death.I have heard Vitaly’s fine performance of the Drei Klavierstucke also from the last period of Schubert’s all too short life but the performance of this most Beethovenian of Schubert’s Sonatas had the same rhythmic drive and finesse that I remember from Richter many years ago.It is like a tornado that even before the first mighty declaration in C minor you can feel the energy that is about to be released in the opening bars.I remember being overwhelmed by Richter’s performance in the Festival Hall in London and catching the Brighton Belle to hear him play it again the next day!

In Vitaly’s performance there was the same clarity and precision – the extraordinary phrasing in the menacingly quiet passage before the beauty of the second subject that Schubert writes ‘ligato’( his Italian like Beethoven’s was never perfect).The contrast was quite overwhelming as the beauty of the melody,like one of Schubert’s songs was allowed to sing with such eloquence .There was a scrupulous care of detail as it built up to a Beethovenian climax to die away to a mere whisper.The development explodes only to die away to a murmur with the melodic line in the bass so menacing as the seemless streams of chromatic scales accompany this force that leads into the recapitulation.Like Richter ,Vitaly has a phenomenal control of sound – a jeux perlé that was played with such poetic precision and clarity as it passed from piano to pianissimo and even pianississimo.The Adagio was played aristocratic poise with the brooding episodes played with an obsessive insistence that was almost orchestral in its sense of colour where every note had its just weight and place with an overbearing sense of desolation.The return of the theme after each menacing episode was ever more full of subtle radiant beauty with the legato melodic line accompanied so magically by the staccato left.The Menuetto was full of the same Beethovenian urgency of the first movement but mixed with uncertainty .It was followed by a trio of radiance and bucolic pastoral colour.The final tarantella was played with a continuous drive of great character and even humour.There was magic too in the sudden unexpected melodic outpouring in B major before the final relentless return of the tarantella to the final two mighty chords.

The transcriptions by Liszt of two of Schubert’s lieder were played with a sensitivity and a refined technical control .The sheer delicacy of the lapping water in Auf dem Wasser zu singen was something to marvel at.There was a sumptuous beauty of sound as it built to a climax with a wondrous sense of balance and unrelenting flow of mellifluous sounds.Played with the finesse of the virtuosi of another era,where fleeting lightness and subtle colours could bewitch and enchant an audience much more than barn storming octaves.Gretchen am spinnrade was played with the same wonderful sense of balance that allowed the melodic line to emerge above the continuous stream of accompanying notes . Building up to a sumptuous climax and the questioning start of the spinning wheel to the mighty final declamation before disappearing into the distance.

There was such grace too in the questioning Valse oubliée n. 1 played with scintillating rhythmic energy

Ravishing beauty in the shimmering scales of Chasse neige that just seemed to emerge from a distance where it eventually disappeared after passionate outpourings of romantic sounds of quite extraordinarily subtle virtuosity.

Faribolo pastour (‘Pastoral Whimsy’) is the title of a song by Jacques Jasmin (1798–1864) who wrote the dialect poem Françouneto in 1840 and may have invented the melody himself or else adapted it from a folk song. Liszt met Jasmin whilst touring at Agen in September 1844 and improvised upon Jasmin’s romance. Jasmin returned the compliment with an improvised poem which was later published with a dedication to Liszt.It is a beautifully delicate piece and was played with such ravishing charm and beauty before the extreme technical and emotional demands of Funerailles and Totentanz.

Funérailles subtitled October 1849,is the 7th and one of the most famous pieces in Poetic and Religious Harmonies.It was an elegy written in October 1849 in response to the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 by the Habsburgs .It is a great tone poem from the opening brooding Adagio played with truly devilish concentration -the bass notes resonating as it built to its inevitable climax and the call to arms on D flat -fortissimo and marcatissimo as Liszt marks.Expiring to leave the subtle colour and resonance of the bass melody,with the gently placed comment from the right hand chords.There was an aristocratic sumptuousness to the climax immediately giving way to the ravishing beauty of the lagrimoso and it’s passionate outpouring before the arrival of the troups . A central episode very similar to Chopin’s Polonaise Héroique op 53 which after a tumultuous display of octaves leads to the grandiose statement of the opening theme before dying away on a wave of distant memories .It was played with remarkable control and technical mastery,where musical values and architectural shape restored this work to one of the most original and perfect of Liszt’s vast output for the solo piano.

Some of the titles of Liszt’s pieces, such as Totentanz, Funérailles,La lugubre gondola and Pensée des morts show the composer’s fascination with death. In the young Liszt we can already observe manifestations of his obsession with death, with religion, and with heaven and hell. Liszt frequented Parisian “hospitals, gambling casinos and asylums” in the early 1830s, and he even went down into prison dungeons in order to see those condemned to die.

Totentanz in Liszt’s own arrangement for solo piano was originally written for piano and orchestra .I remember hearing Claudio Arrau play it in the Albert Hall with Weber Konzertstuck – both works absolute rarities these days.I do not know this version for solo piano but as played by Vitaly I am surprised it is not more often included in recital programmes . Totentanz (English: Dance of the Dead): Paraphrase on Dies irae, S.126 is based on the Gregorian plainchant melody Dies Iraeb. It was first planned in 1838, completed and published in 1849, and revised in 1853 and 1859.Every variation discloses some new character—“the earnest man, the flighty youth, the scornful doubter, the prayerful monk, the daring soldier, the tender maiden, the playful child.”A work of great technical difficulty played with such mastery and transcendental virtuosity .An ease and clarity that was remarkable with a sense of shape and colour of a true musician.An astonishing display of spectacular piano playing greeted by an ovation from an amazed and bewitched audience.

Luis Antonio Calvo (1882-1945) is one of the most celebrated Colombian composers. He wrote innumerable romantic works for piano in a “salon” style. Most of these works he wrote from the leper colony at which he was confined for most of his life. In the town where he was confined now stands a monument to his musical achievements.This beautiful arabesque was played by Vitaly as a homage and thank you for the series which is dedicated to him

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