Pietro Fresa. simplicity and beauty at St Mary’s

Tuesday 26 April 3.00 pm

Schubert: Two Impromptus from D 935
no 1 in F minor and no 2 in A flat

Brahms – Variations and Fugue on a theme by Handel Op 24

Some very assured playing from Pietro Fresa with two Schubert impromptus played with a simplicity and beauty that allowed the music to unfold so naturally.There was passion and authority too in the first impromptu that gave way to a hauntingly beautiful duet between the treble and the bass.The accompaniment was like water flowing on which floated this conversation between bass and soprano ever more intense but giving way to a heart rending surrender.It was played with such simplicity and luminous tone and contrasted so well with the rather more authoritative opening flourish.There was great beauty in the second impromptu with a fleetingly nostalgic atmosphere where the slight pointing of the bass notes gave great depth to the melodic line.The fluidity of the central episode was enhanced by his subtle definition of the melodic line which was illuminated like jewels in the sunlight.A complete performance of the four Impromptus D 935 I heard last December and have written about his performance in the link below


Brahms’s Variations and Fugue on a theme by Handel were played with astonishing clarity and rhythmic drive leading to a truly monumental climax worthy indeed of the Great Gate of Kiev that is in most of our thoughts these days.

The Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24, was written by Brahms in 1861 and consists of a set of twenty-five variations and a concluding fugue, all based on a theme from Handel’s Harpsichord Suite n.1 in B flat HWV 434. Tovey ranked it among “the half-dozen greatest sets of variations ever written”.Written in September 1861 after Brahms, aged 28, abandoned the work he had been doing as director of the Hamburg women’s choir (Frauenchor) and moved out of his family’s cramped and shabby apartments in Hamburg to his own apartment in the quiet suburb of Hamm, initiating a highly productive period that produced “a series of early masterworks”.Written in a single stretch in September 1861,it is dedicated to a “beloved friend”, Clara Schumann widow of Robert Schumann.It was presented to her on her 42nd birthday, September 13. At about the same time, his interest in, and mastery of, the piano also shows in his writing two important piano quartets, in G minor and A major. Barely two months later, in November 1861, he produced his second set of Schumann Variations, Op. 23, for piano four hands.One aspect of his approach to variation writing is made explicit in a number of letters. “In a theme for a set of variations, it is almost only the bass that has any meaning for me. But this is sacred to me, it is the firm foundation on which I then build my stories. What I do with a melody is only playing around … If I vary only the melody, then I cannot easily be more than clever or graceful, or, indeed, if full of feeling, deepen a pretty thought. On the given bass, I invent something actually new, I discover new melodies in it, I create.” The role of the bass is critical.Brahms played them at a meeting with Wagner who commented:’One sees what still may be done in the old forms when someone comes along who knows how to use them”.Clara writes in her diary :’On Dec 7th I gave another soirée, at which I played Johannes’ Handel Variations. I was in agonies of nervousness, but I played them well all the same, and they were much applauded. Johannes, however, hurt me very much by his indifference. He declared that he could no longer bear to hear the variations, it was altogether too dreadful for him to listen to anything of his own and to have to sit by and do nothing. Although I can well understand this feeling, I cannot help finding it hard when one has devoted all one’s powers to a work, and the composer himself has not a kind word for it.

Pietro played the theme with scintillating ornaments that sprang from his fingers like springs and gave such luminous clarity to the theme that was to be so nobly enhanced by Brahms in the triumphant 25th variation.There was never a moment in Pietro’s authoritative performance that seemed anything other than inevitable.The transcendental difficulties and complex musical ideas just poured from his sensitive hands as he gave an architectural shape to the twenty five variations culminating in a final fugal climax of overwhelming power and authority.There was rhythmic energy and clarity and joie de vivre to the first variation contrasting with the fluidity and legatissimo of the second with some very interestingly pointed counterpoints.There was a gentle lilt to the third and great sonorities to the octaves of the fourth.Gentle flowing lyricism of the fifth leading to the legatissimo octave question and answer of the sixth bringing great rhythmic impetus to the fanfare of the seventh.There was a gradual build up with a sudden rhythmic impetus to the eighth and admirable control of the whispered sonorities of the octaves answering one another in the ninth.There was a sudden change of character with the quixotic flight from the top to the bottom of the keyboard in the tenth contrasting with the beautifully lyrical eleventh.The languid left hand melodic line in the twelfth was very slow and unusually beautiful followed by the noble sonorities of pompous regal sonorities of the thirteenth.Tovey sees a grouping in Variations 14–18, which he describes as “arising one out of the other in a wonderful decrescendo of tone and crescendo of Romantic beauty”.The nineteenth is slow, relaxing variation, with its lilting rhythm and 12/8 time,written in the dance style of a Baroque French siciliana from the school of Couperin (Brahms had edited Couperin’s music ).It uses chords almost exclusively in the root position, perhaps as another reminiscence of “antique” music. In a technique often used by Brahms, the melodic line is hidden in an inner part and was played with a clarity and simplicity before the final build up to the twenty fifth triumphant fanfare and the mighty fugue.In fact there was great character to each of the variations played with an underlying rhythmic impetus which as Brahms clearly describes come from the solidity of the bass allowing freedom for all that rides on it.There was much beauty in the music box twenty second variation leading to the spikey staccato build up ever more energetic until the final explosion of the theme in all its glory.The fugue was played with amazing clarity and a build up of tolling bells and frenzied movement that demonstrated his truly transcendental technical prowess.An overpowering performance of one of the masterworks for the piano all too often used as a tool for aspiring young pianists struggling with the technical difficulties and not always realising the enormous musical invention that the 28 year old Brahms demonstrated at the same time as writing his poorly received first piano concerto

A tender whispered Mazurka by Chopin was played with the same refined sense of colour and artistry that had imbued all that he played in this short recital at St Mary’s …….a prelude to his recital at Steinway Hall on the 18th May for the Keyboard Trust


Pietro Fresa was born in Bologna in 2000 and first became known in musical circles when he made his debut in Liverpool in September 2017 playing Beethoven’s third concertoas representative of the Italian nation for the event “Bologna-Liverpool UNESCO city of music”. He studied at the Conservatorio G. B. Martini of Bologna in 2010 where he obtained the highest marks possible graduating with distinction in 2017. He also studied from the age of 11 at the prestigious Accademia Pianistica Internazionale in Imola with Jin Ju, and at present is a pupil of the renowned Russian Maestro, Boris Petrushansky. He then began his studies at the London Royal College of Music under Dmitri Alexeev and Sofya Gulyak. At twelve years old, he gave his first public performance with orchestra and since then he has embarked on an intensive career as a concert pianist both as a soloist and in chamber music in numerous musical events in Italy. He has been awarded first prize in more than thirty piano competitions, including the Vienna International Competition, and the Grand Prize Virtuoso Competition. Most recently Pietro has completed a tour as soloist in the English cities of Liverpool, Shrewsbury and Ludlow. Since then he has been living in London and has performed frequently in England.


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