Jonathan Ferrucci -The essence of music with aristocratic intelligence and passion at St Mary’s

Tuesday 3 May 3.00 pm

Nice to be back in the Mecca for pianists in West London.
Especially when Jonathan Ferrucci plays Bach.It was the much missed Peter Uppard who had told me about his wondrous Bach at the Jacques Samuel’s piano competition six years ago.

Under the guidance of Angela Hewitt it has matured and he has become an ever more inspired interpreter of the genius of Bach.
Three toccatas ‘a playground of ideas’ to use Jonathan’s own words were played with a hypnotic rhythmic intensity and sense of improvisatory freedom that was quite remarkable.
Every note was given a just meaning of such burning intensity that the all to brief Adagio in B minor by Mozart became a startling contrast where so little could mean so much.
The bare opening notes where Tristan or even Schoenberg sprang to mind.

St Mary’s Perivale

And a Prélude,Chorale and Fugue by Franck that was played with such red hot intensity and overwhelming commitment that even here it could have been Messiaen with the extreme exultation of a true believer.
Every note of the recital was so pregnant with meaning that the mutual concentration and sense of discovery created a tension that made my journey to Perivale an absolute imperative despite the superb streaming facilities that Dr Mather and his team offer with Roger Nellist at the helm today

The Toccatas for Keyboard, BWV 910–916, are seven pieces for clavier and although the pieces were not originally organized into a collection by Bach himself (as were most of his other keyboard works ) the pieces share many similarities, and are frequently grouped and performed together under a collective title.The toccatas represent Bach’s earliest keyboard compositions known under a collective title.The earliest sources of the BWV 910, 911 and 916 toccatas appear in an important collection of keyboard and organ manuscripts of various composers compiled by Johann Christoph Bach between 1707 and 1713. An early version of the BWV 912 (known as the BWV 912a) also exists in another collection compiled by Johann Christoph Bach known as the “Möller manuscript”, from around 1703 to 1707.This indicates that most of these works originated no later than Bach’s early Weimar years, though the early northern-German style indicates possible Arnstadt origin.

  • Toccata in C-minor, BWV 911 (Toccata) Adagio (Fuga) Adagio(Fuga) Adagio / Presto
  • Toccata in G-minor, BWV 915(Toccata)Adagio Allegro Adagio Fuga
  • Toccata in D-major, BWV 912 Presto Allegro Adagio (no tempo indication) Con Discrezione Fuga

The three that Jonathan chose started with the glorious exultation of the C minor Toccata with the final Presto played in a very deliberate unrelenting way.I have never forgotten Martha Argerich opening her recital in Florence followed by the Liszt Sonata with the same unrelenting forward movement and almost chiselled non legato phrasing just as Jonathan today.The G minor Toccata was crystal clear with a continuous question and answer sometimes of great vehemence but full of ‘joie de vivre’.The fanfare opening of the D major Toccata and an unusually virile Adagio and recitativi led to the hypnotic toccata and the scintillating final acrobatics played with absolute clarity and rhythmic drive by Jonathan. The final flourishing chord seemed to come as a complete surprise as Jonathan tried to apply the break on such an exhilarating journey.Thirty minutes of music played in a masterly way with a clarity and an overall architectural shape that was remarkable and made an important opening statement from the very first notes.

The Adagio in minor K 540 Mozart entered it into his Verzeichnis aller meiner Werke (Catalogue of all my Works) on 19 March 1788 just three years before his death in 1791 at the age of 35.It is only 57 bars long plus repeats and the key of B minor is very rare in Mozart’s compositions; it is used in only one other instrumental work, the slow movement from the Flute Quartet n.1 in D major K.285 and as Jonathan said in his introduction that after the radiance of the Bach we were now submersed into a world of ‘sturm und drang’.Drama and tears indeed as the Adagio is a startlingly original work where so few notes could mean so much.Jonathan played them with ravishing tone and impeccable timeless phrasing where the four times repeated three chord call to arms just opened the door for ever more poignant thoughts .Even the question and answer between the bass and the treble was played with such aristocratic sense of style and added an operatic touch to the whispered confessions of meaningful simplicity that makes one wonder whether Mozart had some premonition of his fate just a few years on.

Prélude, Choral et Fugue, FWV 21 was written in 1884 by César Franck with his distinctive use of cyclic form.Franck had huge hands (evinced by the famous photo of him at the Ste-Clotilde organ), wide like the span of emotions he conveys,capable of spanning the interval of a 12th on the keyboard.This allowed him unusual flexibility in voice-leading between internal parts in fugal composition, and in the wide chords and stretches featured in much of his keyboard music Of the famous Violin Sonata’s writing it has been said: “Franck, blissfully apt to forget that not every musician’s hands were as enormous as his own, littered the piano part (the last movement in particular) with major-tenth chords… most mere pianistic mortals ever since have been obligated to spread them in order to play them at all.”

The key to his music may be found in his personality. His friends record that he was “a man of utmost humility, simplicity, reverence and industry.” Louis Vierne a pupil and later organist titulaire of Notre-Dame, wrote in his memoirs that Franck showed a “constant concern for the dignity of his art, for the nobility of his mission, and for the fervent sincerity of his sermon in sound… Joyous or melancholy, solemn or mystic, powerful or ethereal: Franck was all those at Sainte-Clotilde.”In his search to master new organ-playing techniques he was both challenged and stimulated by his third and last change in organ posts. On 22 January 1858, he became organist and maître de chapelle at the newly consecrated Sainte Clotilde (from 1896 the Basilique-Sainte-Clotilde), where he remained until his death. Eleven months later, the parish installed a new three-manual Cavaillé-Coll instrument,whereupon he was made titulaire.The impact of this organ on Franck’s performance and composition cannot be overestimated; together with his early pianistic experience it shaped his music-making for the remainder of his life.

There is a radiance to the Prélude ,Chorale and Fugue that although in B minor I found very little of the promised despair or human suffering in Jonathan’s passionately committed performance.The etherial opening was like a ray of sunlight after the Mozart .The passionate freedom of the following passages marked ‘ a capriccio’,and later the voicing,was of a clarity and poignancy where Franck’s organ texture on the piano was given the same shape and colour that Jonathan had brought to the contrapuntal strands in Bach.The added bass note giving a subtle gentle stop before the rather pompous opening of the chorale which contrasted so well with the feather like arpeggiando chords that followed.Gradually growing with more sumptuous sound as Jonathan gave great prominence to the bass on which the chorale could float so magically.The improvised opening of the fugue was played with astonishing technical brilliance and excitement before the utter simplicity of the fugue subject.Building up with ever more intensity and virtuosity with Jonathan’s final airborne flourish before the passionate intensity that Franck marks ‘come una cadenza’.There was a sublime radiance to the sound as Jonathan allowed the opening motif to float so magically on the wondrous fluid sounds that Franck creates out of his searching cadenza.There was some transcendental playing of great virtuosity in the build up to the final climax until the explosion of joy in the mellifluous coda.The final added bass note B just gave the perfect sense of grandeur to a quite remarkable performance.

Italian-Australian pianist Jonathan Ferrucci has given concerts throughout Europe, Australia, the US and Japan. In London he has performed in Wigmore Hall, Barbican Hall, Milton Court Concert Hall. As winner of the Jaques Samuel Competition in 2016, his Wigmore recital was professionally recorded and he was invited to play at Fazioli Concert Hall in Italy. In 2018 he made his debut at Carnegie Weill Hall as part of the “Guildhall Artists in New York” project and was a winner at the International Bach Competition in Leipzig. In 2019 he was a Rising Star for Portland Piano International and gave a masterclass and recitals throughout Oregon.

Jonathan’s early teacher Giovanni Carmassi whose remarkable thoughts on music are outlined in this ‘Bible’ every bit as important as that of Neuhaus

Jonathan studied at the Conservatory of Music in Florence with Giovanni Carmassi, then in London with Joan Havill at the Guildhall, where he completed a masters degree, Artist Diploma, and Artist Fellowship. His studies have been supported by the Leverhulme Trust, Jessie Wakefield Award, Guildhall School Trust and Tait Memorial Trust.Jonathan’s artistic development has been profoundly influenced by Aldo Ciccolini and Robert Levin, and by his ongoing studies with Angela Hewitt, as well as masterclasses with Murray Perahia, Richard Goode, Peter Frankl and Christian Zacharias. è co-founder of Made in Music, a non-profit, he organized two festivals bringing together musicians from eight countries. He believes that music is a universal language that can unite people from different cultures and backgrounds.Alongside his time at the piano, Jonathan practises Ashtanga yoga and considers it an integral part of his work, and essential in his life.

With pianist Seung-Ju Lee
with friends after the concert
Dr Hugh Mather
Roger Nellist recording engineer for today


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