Tuesday 23 November 3.00 pm
Beethoven: Piano sonata in E Op 109
Vivace / Prestissimo / Andante and variations
Brahms: Piano sonata in F minor Op 5
Allegro / Andante / Scherzo / Intermezzo / Finale
It was very stimulating to be able to hear Jianing Kong in the Brahms F minor Sonata just a few days after hearing his mentor Dmitri Alexeev play it in his series of concerts dedicated to his own mentor Dmitri Bashkirov.Of course both are superb musicians and real artists with all the technical resources at their fingertips to be able to concentrate on the actual meaning behind the notes and the overall architectural shape of this monumental work.One cannot make comparisons between two such committed performances.Each one stands on it’s own and in that moment is totally convincing.But it is possible on reflection to make some comments and observations as one rethinks of the performances and of things that linger in ones mind and are to cherish for a long time after the sounds have died away.Let me say immediately that the comparison for me is between Alexeev at the helm of the Philadelphia under Ormandy and Jianing with the New York Philharmonic under Boulez.
Some time ago I heard Volodos play the Brahms second piano concerto at the Festival Hall.Volodos ,also a pupil of Bashkirov,has been glibly but with a grain of truth described as the greatest pianist alive or dead!It was a magnificent performance that just slipped out of his fingers with his ravishing tone and transcendental technical control. I remember very little else about subtle details or those velvet moments (to use Joseph Coopers very apt remark about the F sharp major episode of the slow movement). I do though still remember 30 years on the performance by Curzon at the Proms where he sweated blood and tears together with the Concertgebouw orchestra .I was standing almost next to him and could see the enormous effort that went into the performance.My teacher Sidney Harrison listening on the radio confirmed that it was indeed a memorable performance.
Recently a well known critic went to hear the Beethoven trilogy played by a very fine artist who having come to the end of his cycle of 32 sonatas had to repeat the trilogy on the same day such was the demand for tickets.I listened to the first performance on the radio in my garden ,the score at hand ,and was overwhelmed by a performance of such perfection and absolute fidelity.The critic had been only able to secure a seat for the second performance and he confirmed my impression of the earlier concert.’There is only one point though’ he said very wisely ‘ when I heard Arrau play this trilogy in the Festival Hall he was so exhausted and exhilarated at the end of such a mammoth journey as was his audience too.It would have been unthinkable that he could have just had a cup of tea and done it all over again’.Wise words indeed.Make of it what you will!Music ,must be a struggle. Like climbing a mountain a life embracing all or nothing effort.
Jaining’s performance of Brahms op 5 I have admired enormously for his formidable technical control and superb musicianship.A rhythmic precision that in this sonata is a great challenge to the performer.There were some beautiful counterpoints in the ‘con espressione’ of the first movement and the transition to D flat was quite magical.His sense of architectural shape was also quite remarkable.The beauty and colouring he found in the Andante duet between voices was only surpassed by the delicacy with which he played the ‘poco più lento.’There was passion too in the gradual build up to the climactic outpourings.Sumptuous rich sounds in the coda that started with a mere whisper and built up to a climax of orchestral proportions.The scherzo was played with enviable clarity and rhythmic energy and his colouring of the trio was of great beauty. The startling Intermezzo was played with great attention to detail but did not quite create the desolate atmosphere of this extraordinary movement.The Finale was played with enviable precision and kept firmly in control as the beautiful mellifluous ‘con espressione’ created a wonderful contrast.There was such a rich sound to the chorale melody too that built to up to an overwhelming opulence.His very clean and precise ‘più mosso’ was just the right maze on which this beautiful chorale melody was to wind it’s way to a tumultuous climax.A remarkable performance that I admired enormously.It is however the struggle and turmoil of Alexeev’s conquest that will remain with me for a long time to come.
Jaining’s Beethoven playing I have always admired for it’s precision,clarity and utmost fidelity to the score.But in Beethoven he seems to have understood also the very soul of the composer and I have never forgotten a quite remarkable recital he gave at St Mary’s a few years ago.
Today I will add his op.109 as a thing to cherish.The very opening was played with the feeling that the melodic line had started like a bubbling brook in a distant paradise and had just momentarily resurfaced before disappearing just as mysteriously.It was played with a sense of improvisation that made the ‘Adagio espressivo’ episodes so startling in their rhetorical freedom.Written in such a way that one was not aware that ‘vivace’ was being interrupted by an ‘adagio.’It was a continual magical discovery played by Jianing with such understanding that allowed Beethoven’s notes to unwind with a simplicity that seemed to let the music speak for itself.The ‘prestissimo’ was played very deliberately giving time to allow the intricate details to speak so clearly.Even the ‘fortissimo’ opening was played with an understanding of the overall architectural shape of this rude interruption that Beethoven places as a contrast between two of his most meaningful statements.The opening of the last movement showed the true stature of Jaining’s Beethoven.The theme was played like in the last quartets with a richness of sound where every strand had a deep meaning as Beethoven asks ‘mit innigster Empfindung’ .A first variation was played with such restrained dignity,the almost waltz time accompaniment played with great weight.Rarely have I heard it so full of emotional significance.The ‘leggermente’staccato of the second variation was contrasted so well by the mellifluous ‘teneramente’ where his sense of contrapuntal line was quite extraordinary in it’s logical simplicity.Each semiquaver in the Allegro vivace third variation was give a significance that stopped it running ‘helter skelter’ as it so often does in lesser hands.It led so naturally to the gradual unwinding of the fourth variation before the great weight of the fifth,’Allegro.’’Non troppo’ Beethoven marks and it was this utmost precision that gave such significance to the great rhythmic impulse of this movement.It takes us to a magical realm that only Beethoven could experience in his inner ear but by some miracle could write down to share this celestial world with posterity.In Jaining’s hands it was truly a magical experience and the sublime reappearance of the theme with its subdued sumptuous string quartet writing brought to a close one of Beethoven’s most perfect creations.
Jianing is one of group of musicians from the school of Alexeev who now have illustrious careers of their own.Jianing Kong,Caterina Grewe and Vitaly Pisarenko in pauses from their own concert tours are sharing their knowledge and experience with the next generation at the Royal College of Music so ably run by Vanessa Latarche Head of Keyboard studies.An Ealing girl and like Dr Mather has her origins in the remarkable school of the much missed Eileen Rowe.
Jianing Kong has performed to great critical acclaim throughout the UK, US, Continental Europe and Asia. He appeared in many major concert venues as well as with renowned orchestras such as the Hallé Orchestra, Sydney Symphoney Orchestra, Orchestre Royal de Chambre Wollone, Orquesta Sinfónica de Radiotelevisión Espanõla, Scottish National Symphony Orchestra and National Symphony Orchestra of Dominican Republic. Jianing has been awarded numerous prizes in many prestigious international piano competitions such as the Leeds, Scottish, Santander, Beethoven (Bonn), Valsesia and Tunbridge Wells. In 2016, he became finalist and prizewinner at the Sydney International Competition, where his performances of Beethoven Diabelli Variations and Mozart K.467 concerto won unanimous praise and was awarded the Ignaz Friedman best semi-final prize and the best classical concerto prize, respectively. During 2012-13 season, Jianing was invited by the Keyboard Charitable Trust to give a series of recital tour at venues across Europe and America, including a gala-recital Maestro Lorin Maazel’s home Estate — the Castelton Festival Theatre in Virginia, at which Maestro Christopher Eschenbach was one of his audience. In the same year, Jianing was also selected by the Kirckman Concert Society as one of their artists and has since given his Wigmore Hall Debut Recital to an enthusiastic public. In recent seasons, Jianing gave extensive tours in Spain (Madrid, Seville, Córdoba, Santander and Bilbao); in China (all major cities) and in New Zealand. In 2019, Jianing has begun to embark on a new journey of recording and performing the complete Beethoven piano sonatas cycle and the complete chamber music. Jianing studied at the Purcell School with the legendary British pianist Ronald Smith and at the Royal College of Music, first with Ruth Nye and Gordon Fergus-Thompson, and then with Prof. Dmitri Alexeev. He also received regular coaching and mentoring from the renowned Chinese pianist Fou Ts’ong. Apart from a busy performing schedule, Jianing has joined the piano faculty at the Purcell School since 2011, and is now a professor of piano at Royal College of Music.