A Golden Age of piano playing was very much in evidence at the first of four concerts that Dmitri Alexeev has dedicated to his teacher Dmitri Bashkirov under the title ‘Beyond Boundaries’.
In fact we were transported by four artists that have come under his influence to a magic world of radiance with a seemless stream of sumptuous golden sounds.
Can it be the hall,the piano or is it the supreme artistry that Alexeev has shared with his colleagues and that they have transformed into their own world taking us back to the Golden Age of piano playing.
An age when pianists were magicians as they could turn a piano into an orchestra as easily as they could share intimate whispered confessions.
Through a mastery of balance they could persuade us that the piano could sing as beautifully as any of the great bel canto divas of the day.
It is through a subtle sense of touch and complete mastery of the pedals ,that Anton Rubinstein described as ‘the soul of the piano’,that miraculously a black box full of hammers a wires can be transformed into a magic box of sparkling jewels .
And so it was tonight that we were enveloped in a sound world of sumptuous beauty in the hall the Fou Ts’ong always said was his favourite hall in London- it is much easier to play intimately in a big hall than it is in a small one he would often remark.And it was Ts’ong who was in my thoughts tonight as I met his widow coming into this beautiful hall.
The wonderful red drape backdrop and the refined central chandelier reminded me of all the great pianists I have heard here in the good old days.
It is good to be back and especially to hear artists that truly love the piano in a world where quantity has taken priority over quality and velocity has taken priority over artistry.
Jianing Kong’s Bach I could only admire from behind closed doors as both Patsy Fou and I were convinced it was a 7.30 start instead of 7.
Instead of being early we were late c’est la vie !However I did hear his three Chopin studies.The so called ‘Butterfly’ study op 25 n.9 just hovered over the keys and the final delicate bar was judged to the perfection of an intelligent artist.
Intelligence and beauty too were in evidence in the double thirds study op 25 n.6 where the beautiful bass melody was given the just priority over the transcendental double third accompaniment.Op 25 n.5 where the sumptuous middle section melody was played with ravishing beauty and the accompaniment just shimmered as it hovered above it.
Rubinstein often used to play this study on its own but a closer look at the score indicates quite clearly that the pedal links the rather strange question mark ending of number five with the gentle rustle of number six that emerges from it.
A newly bearded Victor Maslov played 8 Etudes-Tableaux op 33 with such subtle sounds and jeux perlé passages that swept across the keyboard as we were reminded of the magic that Rachmaninov himself could conjure in his performances.
I remember Vlado Perlemuter telling me that Rachmaninov would appear on stage looking as though he had swallowed a knife but then produced the greatest romantic sounds that he had ever heard.
And so it was with Victor whose playing I know well but this evening he even surpassed his own prowess with such sumptuous romantic sounds of such subtlety and a characterisation of each study that was mesmerising.
I suggested to Victor afterwards that he certainly keeps this new beard!
There was more ravishing beauty from Caterina Grewe not only to see her in such a beautiful blood red gown but to listen to the velvety beauty of sounds that she could produce.
A wondrous sense of balance allowed the melodic line of the three Liszt transcriptions of Schubert songs to emerge so naturally.
‘Am I too loud’ was the name of Gerald Moore’s autobiography and I would often compliment Graham Johnson on being allowed by singers to keep the piano lid fully open.
‘But I am a good driver’ would be Graham’s spirited reply.
It was exactly this sense of balance that Caterina had too,where the accompaniment is an integral part of the story that Schubert is unraveling.
A complete understand of the meaning of the poetry was immediately evident from the sounds that poured out of the piano where Caterina was both singer and accompanist.
There was a wonderful luminous sound after the deep brooding waves of sound with which Liszt depicts the great drama about to unfold in his B minor Ballade.The sumptuous melody was played with ravishing seduction as it is transformed by Liszt in ever more affusive pyrotechnics in true Hollywoodian style.
In Caterina’s hands it was full of overpowering emotion as her complete technical control allowed her to give full reign to her fantasy with sumptuous sounds and breathtaking virtuosity.
Always with the musical line of this great drama in view it was not just an empty display of virtuosity but a continuous outpouring of emotions.
Last but certainly not least enters the minute figure of Vitaly Pisarenko,winner at only 20 of the International Liszt Competition in Utrecht and has since gone on to win a top prize in the Leeds Competition too.He has for some years been ravishing connoisseurs of piano playing worldwide with his refined aristocratic performances especially of Liszt.
In fact it was in Liszt’s transcription of Schubert’s Gretchen am Spinnrade that a miraculous web of subtle sound kept the audience mesmerised.The absolute control and the enormous dynamic range was breathtaking as the melodic line emerged from the whispered spinning wheel to gradually build up to an astonishing fortissimo climax only to immediately allow the even more whispered spinning wheel to emerge at the end with heart rending beauty that had the audience on the edge of their seats.
The rarely hear Faribolo Pasteur was give such a seemingly simple performance as Caterina had done with Du bust die Ruh where art truly conceals art.
His performance of the solo version of Liszt’s Totentanz was a quite astonishing display of transcendental virtuosity but also of supreme musicianship as he kept the architectural line of these extraordinary variations on the Dies Irae as they unfold in ever more astonishing funambulistics.
An extraordinary exhibition of virtuosity like the great pianists of another age.He tells me he will be playing the original for piano and orchestra in Moscow in December.
A wonderful way to end a feast of music with Dmitri Alexeev in the audience visibly moved by the heartfelt tribute to his great mentor Dmitri Bashkirov.
I had heard Bashkirov only once in a recital in Rome and was reminded of him as I listened to the Schubert Liszt songs,enraptured today as I was then all those years ago
I am now in Rome where Dmitri Alexeev was for many years one of our most cherished artists together with Fou Ts’ong,Peter Frankl,Annie Fischer ,Vlado Perlemuter and Shura Cherkassky