Giovanni Bertolazzi in Rome Liszt is alive and well at Teatro di Villa Torlonia

Reincarnation of Liszt at Villa Torlonia tonight with the extraordinary Giovanni Bertolazzi playing the two sonatas by Liszt prefaced by the Liebestod.
A concert for Roma 3 and the Keyboard trust in which a dear friend of the trust and an eminent broadcaster and musicologist Guido Barbieri presented the concert with all his intelligence and charm with carefully chosen letters from Liszt’s own times.

Giovanni Bertolazzi with Guido Barbieri

And charm there was from Giovanni with his encore of La valse by Vecsay/Cziffra in a performance that I doubt even Cziffra could have matched.
Playing of another age -the Golden age when the great pianists like the Master himself could hold their audience in the palm of their hands.Enacting the great dramas that were being brought to life with astonishing virtuosity and ravishing beauty reducing their seemingly refined audiences to a screaming mob of adoring fans.

There was true re enactment as he brought vividly to life all that he played.From the opening chords of Tristan played with such overwhelming conviction that immediately held our attention.He proceeded to ravish and seduce us with playing from a refined palate of magical sounds that intertwined as they build up to a tumultuous climax.Massive tremolandi and sumptuous notes deep in the bass just calculated to open up even more sonorities in this magic box of hammers and strings.This was all part of the magic that Giovanni could conjure up before our very eyes.Even attacking the keys with his fist and pointed fingers at moments of great abandon just as Richter used to overwhelm us on his first visits to the west.

But sonorities always of sumptuous beauty never hard or ungrateful because Giovanni is not only a master pianist but even more importantly a master musician who listens to every strand of sound.The final placing of the notes at the end of Tristan whispered into the rarified air in the magnificence of Villa Torlonia where Giovanni’s ravishing sense of timing had us all holding our breath waiting for the gates of heaven to open.A glimpse of paradise indeed before being plunged into’ inferno’.

It was the same with the Dante Sonata .Have the opening few bars ever sounded so dramatic and full of menace?After the dramatic opening a sinister gust of wind deep in the bass before the ravishing hint of the paradise that awaits.A melodic line of glowing fluidity as it gradually gained in strength and power.The silences too were so pregnant with meaning as Giovanni with aristocratic authority barely placed his hands on the keys as we strained to overhear such jewels that glistened and shone like magic prisms of radiance.When we were almost ready to surrender to this seduction there was an eruption of excited sounds of transcendental audacity and technical prowess that was doubly breathtaking because of the surprise.

It was just these contrast and sense of a living drama that held us spell bound in what Valerio Vicari said afterwards was the greatest performance of the Dante Sonata that he could ever remember hearing!

Valerio Vicari with Giovanni Bertolazzi

Valerio is the artistic director of Roma 3 who promotes a vast number of young musicians each year.I am proud to say that he listened to many of the greatest artists in his student days in the Ghione theatre in Rome.

Teatro Ghione home to many pianists young and old for over twenty years

The treacherous final pages where many pianists come to grief was bathed in bass harmonies from which the melodic line was allowed to float.Any technical feats were subordinated to their musical values.The grandiose and tumultuous final few bars will live in my memory as the savagery and abandonment was the same that I remember of Richter almost 50 years ago.

The B minor Sonata too with the opening three motifs played with overwhelming indulgence as he was reliving the very experience that Liszt had put on the page himself.It was ,after all,the master himself who said that to follow the score is only half of the story the other half has to come from the artist himself!
He certainly did that today as we were caught up in the drama that was being unveiled before us with such authority and poetry.The audience with baited breath was drawn into the fray and lay as exhausted as Giovanni at the end of this monumental B minor sonata.
The minutes of aching silence after the final three chords had ascended so magically on high was only broken as Giovanni gently withdrew his hands from they keys and placed them on his lap.

This was not just a transcendental performance but above all a musicianly performance where none of Liszt’s very precise indication had been overlooked but rather interpreted and reborn.There was a conviction and sense of communication that is so rare in a work where the so called ‘tradition’ has shut the eyes of so many virtuosi to the real intentions minutely indicated by Liszt in this revolutionary masterpiece.There were moments where there was great attention to the bass acting like an anchor opening up the sonorities within the piano.This was especially noticeable in the transition to the slow movement with barely whispered sounds vibrating on a harmonic cloud created by a subtle use of the pedals.The passionate build up of this middle episode was beautifully judged with rich expressive sounds never allowed to become hard or ungrateful even at the massive final climax .The left hand arpeggios were punched home with passionate meaning as it dissolved to the return of the ever more sinister opening motif.The magnificence of the fugato was breathtaking as it built up with its surge of unrelenting energy and the full orchestra suddenly appears in the bass.A moment that indeed belonged to Gilels that today I was reminded of in the hands of this remarkable young musician.The treacherous double octaves,first in the right hand and then the left were played as only a great musician could contemplate them and the eruption of the final chord was devastating as it dissolved to the final remarkable page of sublime invention.

Rarely have I heard this page played today with the sense of relief,thanksgiving but above all devotion as the final three chords were played as Liszt indicates so carefully in his score :a crescendo to a sudden pianissimo that is like a beacon shining brightly on high.

I do not remember ever experiencing the same moments of absolute silence at the end of today’s memorable journey.It was the same silence that had greeted the return of the aria in the Goldberg Variations the other day at S Cecilia with Angela Hewitt.A magical experience of collective silence that will linger in my memory for many a year.

Valerio Vicari,artistic director with Roberto Pujia,President of Roma 3

No recording or streaming tonight but as Mitsuko Uchida says a great performance should be a joy for ever,cherished in the memory and not just a stale image instantly bounced around the world.

Cherished indeed and thankful that we could have been present at the return of the true Franz Liszt to the eternal city where he had lived for so many years as he received holy orders,resigned and repentant from his previous very public life.

A recording from Budapest of the Liszt Sonata with Giovanni Bertolazzi

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