Francois Dumont remembering the genius of Fou Ts’ong at the Razumovsky Academy

Monday 17 January 2022, 7.30 pm

Fou Ts’ong Remembered concert

François Dumont piano

BACH-LISZT  Prelude and fugue in a minor BWV 543

BENJAMIN    Piano figures (2004)

DEBUSSY    Estampes:

Pagodes – La soirée dans Grenade – Jardins sous la pluie



Ballade n.1 op23 – Ballade n.2 op38 – Ballade n.3 op47 – Ballade n.4 op52

Bach’s original autograph

Prelude and Fugue in A minor,BWV 543 was written originally for organ by Bach sometime around his years as court organist to the Duke of Saxe-Weimar(1708–1713).In August 1844, Liszt whilst staying in Montpellier on a concert tour met up with his friend Jean-Joseph Bonaventure Laurens,an organist, artist and writer. His friendship with the Schumanns and Mendelssohn and the Bach library he had assembled with them enabled Laurens to become one of the main experts on Bach organ works in France. Forty years later, Laurens’ brother recalls their lunchtime conversation. In semi-serious banter, Liszt demonstrated three ways of playing the A minor fugue, a work that Laurens said was so hard that Liszt might be the only one capable of tackling it. Liszt first gave a straight rendition, which was a perfect classical way of playing; then he gave a second more colourful but still nuanced rendition, which was equally appreciated;

finally he provided a third rendition, “as I would play it for the public … to astonish, as a charlatan!” Laurens then writes that, “lighting a cigar that passed at moments from between his lips to his fingers, executing with his ten fingers the part written for the pedals, whilst indulging in other amazing technical feats, he was prodigious, incredible, fabulous, and received gratefully with enthusiasm.” This kind of gimmickry was not uncommon at that time: “Indeed, Liszt is reported to have accompanied Joachim in the last movement of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with a lighted cigar in his right hand the entire time!”In 1847, exhausted by his years on the concert circuit, Liszt retired to the Weimar ,where in 1848 he was appointed to be Kappelmeister at the Grand Duchy, the same role once filled by Bach. He initially was there for 13 years. Later he also divided his time between Budapest and Rome, teaching masterclasses.His new mistress was Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein who lived in a country estate at Woronińce in Ukraine ;their companionship continued until Liszt’s death. After three months in Woronińce, Liszt set to work on preparing the transcriptions of BWV 543–548. He chose the Haslinger edition as a starting point, although probably also consulted the 1844 Peters edition. He was aided by the copyist Joachim Raff at various stages. The A minor prelude of BWV 543 is the main example for how the process works, with particular attention given to how the pedal part can be filled in from the right hand. In the published version of Peters, over thirty years later Liszt commented to his piano class that it would have been “sinful” of him to add dynamic markings to the score of the A-minor fugue, since “the great Bach” had written none himself.” Even in his later years, Liszt’s A minor fugue remained one of his favourites: Liszt’s first choice was the fugue and in his letter of thanks disclosed that Clara Schumann now as matter of course played his transcription rather than her own. In the 1880s, American pupils of Liszt,were witness to his pleasure in hearing or speaking about the fugue, be it at a Weimar dinner party in his honour, where students sang it together, or in a masterclass discussing its performance. Francois gave a remarkably luminous performance where the beauty and clarity of the piano were added to his precision and intelligence with sumptuous sounds and almost improvised brilliance in the Prelude.The entry of the fugue subject so simply gave no idea of the accumulation of sound that was to appear as the voices built up to the might bass entry .Superbly played with a control and fullness of sound that was rich and never hard with gentle calm before the remarkable Romantic fervour of the final entry.The great bass stop and the scintillating spiralling cadenza of breathtaking grandeur.The remarkable thing about the performance was the cleanliness of line never smudged or blurred by the pedal but of a clarity and rhythmic urgency that was as breathtaking as it was beautiful.We used to hear the famous Busoni arrangements of the Chaconne in the hands of Michelangeli or the organ Prelude and Fugue in D from Gilels but this performance of Liszt’s transcription of Bach was just as memorable tonight.I am not sure if Ts’ong would have approved of transcriptions.I cannot recall ever hearing them from him or his students but he certainly would have approved of Francois masterly playing and on his own piano!

Piano Figures (2004) is vintage Benjamin.The set of ten piano miniatures lasts barely 13 minutes, but what a wealth of invention it contains. Benjamin tells us that the pieces were ‘conceived for the hands of young pianists,’ but it would take unusually agile young hands, and a sharp musical intelligence, to tackle them.Each one instantly conjures a particular expressive landscape, often linked to a particular technical challenge such as hand-crossing or rapid pedal-work. There’s ‘Knots’, reminiscent of a close-knit Debussy Etude, ‘Interruption’, which has some fascinating third-pedal effects, and ‘Mosaic’ which surrounds a long-breathed melody with decorative flurries.Despite the apparently artless titles – No 9 is “Around the Corner” – the music can explode into some quite startling juxtapositions without losing its basic thread. In Francois hands there was a kaleidoscopic range of sounds from the luminous,jeux perlé or martellato always with a juxtaposition of rhythmic energy and magical sounds in which the silences between these ten brief pieces became ever more pregnant with meaning.It reminds me of the Visions fugitives of Prokofiev – of course a different language-but their ability to express so much in so little time is quite masterly.Francois held us spell bound with his characterisation of each piece and the fluidity of sound due to his subtle use of the sustaining pedal.A few heartfelt words before the performance directed also at Fou Ts’ong wife who was present in the hall.It was on this piano that he had played many times in their home in London where he came frequently for many years.He explained about Fou Ts’ongs modernity and originality that kept his performances ever fresh and his teaching so inspirational,.

Estampes (“Prints”), was finished in 1903 by Debussy There are three-movements and as Francois said in his introduction he had as a boy growing up in France always preferred Ravel to Debussy .It took Fou Ts’ong to make him discover Debussy and it was a revelation.Ts’ong included many of his works in his recitals in Rome including the Preludes and the Studies.Peter Frankl said that his performance of the studies that he had heard on the BBC radio was one of the most remarkable performances of this extraordinarily complex late work.Ts’ong was as passionate about Debussy as he was about Chopin.There was the mistaken tradition that many famous pianists adopted of not following the very precise indications left on the page by Debussy himself (Debussy had edited all the works of Chopin so knew the importance of the composers indications).In fact in Francois hands it was indeed a revelation with the luminosity and liquid sounds and subtle use of the pedals that just added colour and atmosphere.Trills that were mere vibrations of sound.Deep gently sonorous bass notes made to vibrate as magic harp like vibrations appeared above them.The diminuendo at the end of Pagodes was pure magic.Such sultry,insinuating sounds at the opening of La soirée and even the ecstatic climax was bathed in a golden haze of sound.There was a subtle rubato too as the sounds drifted off into the distance.Jardins was played with a gentler rhythmic energy than most hammered out performances and there was a gentle luminosity to the French folk melodies as they appeared on the horizon.The sun began to shine intermittently through the clouds and there was radiance with the final glowing notes.This was one of the finest and certainly most poetic performances that I have heard since Richter’s magical account many years ago.I am sure Ts’ong must have played it too but not in Rome.

Pagodes Pagodes evokes Indonesian gamelan music which Debussy first heard in the Paris World Conference Exhibition of 1889 and makes extensive use of pentatonic scales ,mimicking traditional Indonesian melodies.There is an emphasis on the wash of color presented by the texture of the work. Debussy marks in the text that “Pagodes” should be played “presque sans nuance“, or “almost without nuance.” This rigidity of rhythm helps to reduce the natural inclination of pianists to add rubato and excessive expression!

La soirée dans Grenade uses the Arabic scale and mimics the strumming of the guitar to evoke images of Granada in Spain.At the time of its writing, Debussy’s only personal experience with the country was a few hours spent near Madrid .Despite this, the Spanish composer de Falla exclaimed : “There is not even one measure of this music borrowed from the Spanish folklore ,and yet the entire composition in its most minute details, conveys admirably Spain.

“Jardins sous la pluie describes a garden in the Orbetello in Normandy during an extremely violent rainstorm. Throughout the piece, there are sections that evoke the sounds of the wind blowing, a thunderstorm raging, and raindrops dropping. It makes use of the French folk melodies “Nous n’irons plus aux bois” and “Dodo, l’enfant do.

Here are some words from Yvonne Lefebure about performing Debussy that I am not sure if Ts’ong would have admired.Ts’ong together with his lifelong friend Martha Argerich were responsible of bringing before the public another legendary pianist Youra Guller :

Chopin’s four ballades were composed between 1831 and 1842 and are considered to be some of the most important and challenging pieces in the piano repertoire.The term ballade was used by Chopin in the sense of a balletic interlude or dance-piece, equivalent to the old Italian ballata, but the term may also have connotations of the medieval heroic ballad, a narrative minstrel-song, often of a fantastical character. There are dramatic and dance-like elements in Chopin’s use of the genre, and he may be said to be a pioneer of the ballade as an abstract musical form. The four ballades are said to have been inspired by poet Adam Mickiewicz.The exact inspiration for each individual ballade, however, is unclear and disputed.

Chopin Fourth Ballade op 52 autograph

I am lost for words to describe the wondrous beauty of the performance today .It was such poetic playing where every note spoke so eloquently in a seemingly timeless way.Ravishing sounds of great sensitivity holding us spell bound as Francois unravelled these four great stories before our very eyes.Reminiscent of Fou Ts’ong who imbued so much meaning into everything he touched.If sometimes he held the first note of a phrase a fraction too long and lost for a moment his disarming simplicity it was because he loves it so much.Rubinstein in his old age would play with such simplicity and any personal feelings were in the note itself as I am sure Francois will do as he matures with this music for a lifetime.Ts’ong often used to say to me that I preferred his early recordings from the Chopin competition to the way he played now.My reaction was always the same that he played with such overwhelming conviction and passionate involvement exactly as he lived his life and I loved it .Today’s performance might have been a reincarnation of Ts’ong with wondrous playing of great sensitivity.There was simplicity in the opening of the first ballade where the second subject just seemed to evolve out of the magic streams of arabesques that Chopin entwines.Played as if in a trance recollecting past times as it built to a climax of aristocratic grandeur where there seemed to be so much time to express so much instead of the usual barnstorming outpouring from lesser hands.The coda too was played with beauty and control but also with passion and startling virtuosity.The second sang so beautifully thanks to Francois’ superb sense of balance.There was subtle rubato and tonal inflections just as in human speech and the six repeated A’s before the Presto con fuoco were like the pulsating of his heart.If in the coda he tended to over emphasise the first note of every phrase it was because this young man has a passionate heart too like Chopin himself.The opening of the third ballade was someone about to tell a story.And what a story of grace and subtle charm .Embellishments unwound like streams of gold leading to the mystery and even a little menace in the build up to the final sumptuous outpouring and the final four chords in crescendo – even here each chord had a sound of its own.Ravishing beauty of the opening of the fourth ballade leading to the theme played seemingly freely and with such poignant meaning but never loosing its forward flow.The first variation was simply cascades of sounds accompanying the melody.The return of the opening was played with a subtle inflection from the thumb to give such a golden colour to what Cortot described as being ‘avec un sentiment de regret’.The long build up to the final climax, there were streams golden sounds in the left hand on which rose the theme in all its passionate glory.A momentary respite of calming chords before the tempestuous coda of transcendental difficulty .It was played with the understanding and passion of a poet and musician with an explosion of romantic ardour.The final four chords were played with the same excitement and passion almost a race to the tumultuous end that Rubinstein would suddenly inject into the music even in his 90th year!

Three encores by Chopin were played with the artistry and sumptuous sounds that reminded me of his master Fou Ts’ong.Two waltzes – the Minute waltz op 64 and the beguiling Waltz op 18 .This was playing of another age – the Golden age of playing – an art that is being too often overlooked in our fast moving age. A period when time stood still and we found time to look and wonder at the marvels that surround us.Marvels such as the Berceuse with which Francois enchanted and seduced us tonight as a final tribute to his Master.

Francois Dumont

French pianist François Dumont’s international career has been launched by his success in major international piano competitions winning prizes in the Chopin Competition, the Queen Elisabeth Competition, the Clara Haskil Competition, the Montecarlo Piano Masters. He has been nominated for the Victoires de la Musique, a major French classical music event, and received the Prix de la Révélation from the Syndicate of Music Critics in France. François has been chosen by Leonard Slatkin to play and record both Ravel concerti with the Orchestre National de Lyon. The CD was issued for Naxos during the 2019 season.At the age of fourteen François Dumont entered the Paris Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Bruno Rigutto’s class. He later studied at the Lieven Piano Foundation and the Lake Como International Piano Academy with artists such as Dmitri Bashkirov, Leon Fleisher, Murray Perahia, William Grant Naboré, Menahem Pressler, Andreas Staier and Fou Ts’ong.He appears as a soloist with orchestras such as the Cleveland Orchestra, the Mariinsky Theater Orchestra, the Montecarlo Philharmonic, the Warsaw National Philharmonic, the Orchestre national de Lorraine, the Orchestre National de Lille, the Orchestre National d’Ile-de-France, the Orquesta Nacional de Colombia, the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne, the Tokyo Symphony with conductors such as Jesùs Lopez-Cobos, Antoni Wit, Arie van Beek, Philippe Bender, Rani Calderon, David Reiland, Stefan Sanderling, Alexander Sladkovsky.As recitalist François Dumont often performs at the Festival International de la Roque d’Anthéron, the Piano aux Jacobins Festival à Toulouse, Chopin Festival in Nohant, Radio-France Montpellier Festival, Chopin à Paris Bagatelle Festival, Chopin and his Europe Festival in Warsaw, Nuits du Suquet in Cannes, Journées Ravel in Montfort l’Amaury, Ljubljana Festival, Kennedy Center in Washington, and regularly tours Japan, South Korea and China.His chambers music partners are Tabea Zimmerman, Augustin Dumay, Henri Demarquette , Xavier Philipps, the Prazak, Sine Nomine, Talich, Zemlinsky, Voce and Debussy Quartets. With Virginie Constant and Philippe Aïche, his is part of the Trio Élégiaque, which whom he recorded the complete Beethoven and Schubert Trios.His first solo recordings, the Complete Mozart Sonatas (Anima Records) and a Chopin album (Artalinna) both received the “Maestro” award of the “Pianiste” magazine. Other solo recordings include a Wagner/Liszt programme (Piano Classics) as well as a double CD live that includes all his performances at the Chopin Competition, published by the National Chopin Institute in Warsaw. His recording of the complete piano music of Maurice Ravel (Piano Classics) has received both critic (FFF Telerama, 5 Diapason) and public acclaim. Two B.A.C.H. project have been released by Artalinna, of which the famous critic Jacques Drillon wrote : « coherence, dignity, richness of affects. One thinks of Edwin Fisher ».His recent recording of Mozart Concerti K.271 and K.466 with the Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne have been praised for their “clarity of elocution”, their “ideal sense of equilibrium” and “delightful classicism”. Further collaboration with the OSB continues with Mozart Concerti K.453 and K.488 which he has recorded live, conducting from the keyboard. The project was taken to Salle Gaveau, Paris, where it met public and critic acclaim. His 2018 allbum featuring the complete Chopin Nocturnes was praised by the BBC magazine for his « singing tone » and the International Piano Magazine considers that it is « a stunning new version that sets him apart », while the American magazine Fanfare writes : «There are few recent recordings to compare with this one. »

In the Summer 2021 The Razumovsky Trust purchased a marvellous Steinway D Concert Grand Piano for the Razumovsky Academy.

The Trustees are very grateful to the many Friends of the Razumovsky Trust who contributed generously to our Steinway D Piano FundThis fabulous instrument belonged for many years to the legendary Chinese pianist Fou Ts’ong and his wife Patsy Toh. The distinguished French pianist François-Frédéric Guy said Fou had been his “mentor and a musical father”. “His Debussy, Chopin and Mozart remain legendary.”The renowned Chinese pianist Lang Lang described Fou Ts’ong as “a truly great pianist, and our spiritual beacon”. “Master Fou was a great artist…His understanding of music was unique.”We are immensely grateful to Nigel Polmear who introduced us to this instrument. Pictured left, Nigel suggested we invite Ulrich Gerhartz to advise on the best ways to preserve its beautiful qualities whilst at the same time ensuring that it is ready to serve Razumovsky Academy as a hardworking stage piano.

Francois Dumont

Ulrich Gerhartz, following initial examination of the instrument, suggested a comprehensive programme of servicing, both at Steinway Hall London’s workshop, and on-site at the Razumovsky Academy. Following completion of works by Ulrich, the rehearsals and recordings have resumed. “Ulrich’s work on the instrument was magical.” (Oleg Kogan).Our Chairman Sir Bernard Rix came to the Razumovsky Academy to meet Ulrich Gerhartz during the works (pictured here together in the Academy garden).Our dear friend Julius Drake, who came to rehearse here with singers Alice Coote and Ian Bostridge, commented on the piano: “Absolutely marvellous!

August 2021

Fou Ts’ong was one of our regular visitors to the Ghione Theatre and came year after year to play and give masterclasses.The theatre had opened in 1982 initially to provide a space for my wife ,the distinguished actress Ileana Ghione ,to produce the plays that she particularly wanted to perform with directors and set designers of great quality.She did not see the point in touring poorer productions and so set up home in an old derelict theatre next to S.Peters Square.Together we transformed it into one of the most intimate and beautiful theatres in Europe.It did not take long for musicians to ask if they could perform there too.My two teachers Guido Agosti and Vlado Perlemuter were the first and then followed a long line of distinguished musicians that through some strange twist of fate had never or rarely been invited to Rome.One of our favourite artists was Fou Ts’ong who would come year after year ,so much so that his wife ,the distinguished pianist Patsy Toh,thanked me for being so faithful.Well it is we that should thank him judging by the number of students who came under his spell and have gone on to distinguished careers.

One of these in particular is Roberto Prosedda who a week after Ts’ong’s death dedicated a Chopin recital in Pisa to him (included in an attachment here) and is now producing a book about Ts’ong’s remarkable genius.Paradoxically the book is being financed by the Chinese government for a PHD student of Roberto .Fou Ts’ong’s parents had committed suicide rather than compromise their principles in the cultural revolution.Fou Ts’ong many years later was persuaded to return to China was reverred as a God and it is why now there is need for a book about his life,background and musical ideals.William Grant Naboré a disciple of Carlo Zecchi in Rome was given the possibility to start his International Piano Academy in Lake Como in 1993 and he asked me if some of our distinguished musicians would like to spend a week together with super talented young musicians to share their experiences and musical ideas in masterclasses.Fou Ts’ong was one of the first to accept the invitation and it was a love affaire that lasted over 20 years .Francois Dumont was one of the lucky students to come under the influence of Fou Ts’ong in Como.

Fou Ts’ong after his masterclass in Rome with Danuta Aloisi(Duda),Ileana Ghione and Linda Alberti
The Ghione Theatre – S.Pietro Rome

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