Ivan Donchev’s extraordinary recreation of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony at Villa Torlonia

Ivan Donchev and Prof Catucci

A quite extraordinary ‘tour de force’ from Ivan Donchev in the series for Roma Tre University in the beautiful Teatro Torlonia .’La Music è una Cosa Meravigliosa’ is a series of five appointments with concerts introduced by illustrious musicians.The series started in January with an all Liszt programme.https://christopheraxworthymusiccommentary.wordpress.com/2022/01/17/giovanni-bertolazzi-in-rome-liszt-is-alive-and-well-at-teatro-di-villa-torlonia/

It has now reach the penultimate concert with Liszt the transcriber of Beethoven .A very interesting short introduction by Prof Stefano Catucci was followed by a remarkable performance by Ivan Donchev.I am indebted to Leslie Howard the renowned Liszt expert for his detailed description of this transcription below and can only add that listening to Ivan’s performance I was totally amazed by how faithful Liszt’s transcription is .Not only,but the magical sounds and tumultuous virtuosity brought the symphony vividly to life .The Thunderstorm showed Ivan’s quite amazing technical prowess but always at the service of the music as it described the drama of the storm so clearly.The gentle lilt to the ‘Scene by the Brook’ was beautifully captured and the birdsong that Leslie Howard describes so well was played with such clarity and colour and showed off Ivan’s quite remarkable technical command.The beauty he brought to the ‘Shepherds song and the Joyful,thankful feelings after the storm ‘ was ravishing in its luminosity and subtle whispered fluidity of tone.

What more could one ask after such a transcendental performance by a pianist who has recently become a father to a son that he has very aptly christened ‘Leo’.A Lion indeed as Ivan astonished and seduced us with a performance of such ravishing colour and style and above all a transcendental command of the piano.I have heard and admired Ivan many times but today his performance was quite overwhelming .It was even more astonishing as it was played without the score, something all too rare in these times of the ever more invasive ‘ I Pad’.

But this was by no means the end of the recital as he had obviously thought very carefully about an eventual encore.And it just shows his great artistry as he sat at the piano and intoned Schumann’s Abschied from Waldscenen op 82 .It was the perfect link that just enhanced Beethoven’s own thanksgiving and created the same magic that Ivan’s mentor Aldo Ciccolini would create at the end of his memorable recitals.It was played with ravishing whispered sounds with the streams of golden counterpoints weaving their way around the beauty of the melodic line.After such a moving experience an ever more insistent public was rewarded with a scintillating performance of Chopin’s ‘Cat’ waltz where Ivan’s sense of style and charm completed a memorable evening.

Prof Catucci speaking so eloquently about Beethoven and Liszt

I am indebted to the Liszt expert Leslie Howard who I quote from his learned writings of this transcription of the Sixth Symphony. “Liszt had a great success with the Sixth Symphony from the beginning. It was probably the first of the Beethoven symphonies that he set himself to transcribe, and he played at least the last three movements at many a public concert. Beethoven completed the work at about the same time as the previous symphony, in 1808 and the Sixth remains perhaps the most congenial of all of Liszt’s symphonic transcriptions from a pianistic point of view.In the ‘Awakening of joyful feelings upon arrival in the countryside’ (Liszt gives only French titles in the first version) one revels in the joy of finding all of Beethoven’s textures not a ripple or birdsong is missed in the ‘Scene by the Brook’ – to the extent of some dangerous left-hand stretches simultaneous with combined trills and melodies in the right hand. And tranquil athleticism is the only way to describe the requirements at the recapitulation with its added clarinet and violin arpeggios.Liszt apparently told Berlioz that he played the second eight bars of the ‘Happy gathering of the country folk’ slightly slower because they represented the old peasants – in contrast with the young peasants at the opening and it seems like an excellent idea to have in mind whilst performing the piece. High points of the transcription include the wonderfully mad bit with the fiddle ostinato, the oboe melody and the artless bassoon – quite a challenge at the keyboard – and the whole 2/4 section which imitates the bagpipe and brings the flute counterpoint into much finer prominence than most orchestral balance usually achieves.’The Thunderstorm’ is an inspired piece of virtuoso writing. Just as Beethoven extends the demands on his orchestra in the interest of special effects, so does Liszt mirror them in equivalent pianistic devices, and the relief when the storm subsides is almost tangible in both cases.’Similarly, the ‘Shepherds’ Song. Joyful, thankful feelings after the storm’ finds Liszt at one with Beethoven’s spirit.”







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