On Sunday mornings in the beautiful sixteenth century Del Carmine convent in Velletri we are treated to a series of concerts by superb young musicians who have been selected by Ing Giancarlo Tammaro to bring life to the Erard of 1879 that Liszt would have played whilst on his many visits to the Villa d’Este and the Castelli Romani.
Lovingly restored to its original splendour and heard in a series that was initiated in 2011 in the Villa d’Este for the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Franz Liszt.The series is now in its tenth year and is housed in the magnificent concert hall created within this historic monument.
I had first come across it in the seventh edition in 2019 in the Villa Mondragone in Frascati when Ivan Donchev had given a remarkable performance of the Liszt transcription of the Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz.https://christopheraxworthymusiccommentary.com/2019/04/29/ivan-donchev-in-search-of-liszt/
Today I was curious to hear a young pianist who I have heard many times over the last few years ,Axel Trolese,in a concert announced as a celebration of Liszt’s Spanish student Isaac Albeniz .Born on the 29th May 1860 today would have been his 162nd birthday.There is no direct evidence that Albeniz studied with Liszt but Ing.Tammaro put forward a very persuasive case for it even without any direct evidence.
Two books from the four that make up the suite Iberia are on Axel’s new CD which has already received high critical acclaim.Axel a local’ lad’ from the nearby town of Genzano ‘the city of flowers’,brings his quite considerable artistry home after his studies with Louis Lortie,Benedetto Lupo,Maurizio Baglini have taken him from Rome,Paris,Belgium and Cremona to where he now resides near Padua.So it was a double celebration for his friends and family to be able to appreciate his great artistry after years of study.Still only 25 he has a good part of a century before him!
It was obvious that a work by Liszt was ‘de rigueur’ and Axel had chosen one of the most beautiful but sadly much neglected works ,a miniature tone poem from his series of ten works under the title ‘Harmonies Poétiques et Religieuses’. ‘Benediction de Dieu dans La solitude ‘ is prefaced by a poem of Alphonse de Lamartine : ‘D’où me vient,o mon Dieu,cette paix qui m’inonde?D’où me vient cette foi dont mon coeur surabonde,A moi qui tout à l’heure,incertain,agité,Et sur les flots du doute à tout vent ballotté,Cherchais le bien,le vrai,dans les reves des sages’.It is a deeply expressive work and needs a great artist to bring it to life.I have never forgotten the early Turnabout recordings of Beethoven and Liszt by a young Alfred Brendel – just 50 pence for landmark interpretations that we students used to devour played by an almost unknown Brendel .His Liszt Sonata,Norma Fantasie and this Benediction have remained as a major influence on my taste buds as has the historic recording of Wilhelm Kempff playing the Two Legends.This was not the barn storming Liszt ,a vehicle for shallow virtuosity,but was playing of a real interpreter who could delve much deeper into the score and find so much more than a superficial glitter.
Axel has recently been accepted to be part of the Keyboard Charitable Trust https://christopheraxworthymusiccommentary.com/2022/03/24/axel-trolese-in-london/.It is another of their members,Ivan Krpan,that during the long period of silence ,imposed by the pandemic,had made a specific study of the ten Harmonies poétiques et Religieuses that I am happy to include here :https://christopheraxworthymusiccommentary.com/2021/02/11/ivan-krapan-premio-busoni-2017-presents-liszt-harmonies-poetiques-et-religieuses/
A very mellow sound was the first impression of this very handsome looking instrument.It was a world where there was an overall limit to the sound within which the music evolved.I was not immediately convinced as I have been used to a luminosity of sound and a sense of balance between the hands that makes a great differentiation between the deeply expressive opening with is tenor melody of such simple beauty that Liszt marks ‘ cantando sempre’ and the gentle fluidity of the accompaniment ‘sempre piano ed armonioso’.But after the initial surprise there was a sense of harmonic well being especially when the melody was played with the beauty and subtle phrasing that this young man seduced us with.I found myself imagining the same effect as with Liszt’s other great tone poem the Vallée d’Obermann.Gradually as the melodic line passed to the treble things became much clearer and the piercing luminosity of the melodic line over a richly harmonic background was quite a revelation.The gradual build up in intensity too was so clear as the line was never allowed to be overwhelmed by the brute force that so often modern pianos can accommodate.Here there was an upper and lower limit to the sound within which the music was allowed to evolve.
So often these days especially with the Russian school of playing we get infinite gradations of tone between pianissimo and mezzo forte and then a big gap to the forte and fortissimo.The great sense of line is sacrificed for a research of refined sounds on one side and a overpowering exhibition of force on the other.This was the great lesson today in that these inexplicable differences of the spectrum are just not possible on a single strung instrument of this period.Axel is a very fine musician and the sense of line that he was able to follow was so clear as he passed from a whispered opening of ravishing beauty to a glorious exultation of liquid mellifluous sounds.Liszt’s notation of a long alto melody shadowed by arpeggiated chords immediately became so apparent and Axel with his poetic soul was able to take us to a world of sublime beauty that one would not be aware of just looking at the printed score.The gentle return of the opening melody too immediately took on another aspect as it finished pianississimo -perdendo -disappearing into the heights.The Andante second episode was played with religious fervour and simple exhilaration but with a tone that was of a purity and clarity but at the same time could never be hard or ungrateful.The cascades of shimmering notes created sounds of seamless beauty and the final page – like in his great B minor Sonata was a culmination of all that had gone before.These final thoughts are only brought to life by an artist who has the sensibility and supreme technical command of sound to be able to interprete Liszt’s many,many minute indications. Axel created a rarified atmosphere to the final benediction commented on by the simple exhilaration of the Andante that in turn was to be answered by organ like chords of deeply felt meaning.They were played with the great weight that only a true artist can find – a simplicity pregnant with meaning placed on the page by a true believer.
A revelation too was the much maligned first Ballade op 23 by Chopin.Marked Largo and pesante how many times we have heard this noble opening played like the 1812 overture?The mellowness of Chopin’s ‘pesante’ immediately made sense as it dissolved into the beauty of the melodic line of the ‘moderato’ that it prepares us for,calling us to attention as it’s great tale unfolds.It was indeed the sound or magic of this instrument in Axel’s sensitive hands that opened a fantasy world of great poetic meaning and Chopin’s outpouring of emotions became immediately apparent.Even the ‘ sempre più mosso’ were just cascades of notes and a culmination of the intensity of the melodic line.There was ravishing beauty in the ‘meno mosso’ where the B flat on high was like a magic bell chiming above the beauty that had been created by the gentle weaving of Chopin’s melodic line.The fortissimo climax was a culmination of the gradual build up that had preceded it and led in turn to the unwinding of tension and the scintillating playful jeux perlé that Axel played with such technical brilliance and mastery.And mastery there was too in a coda of overwhelming technical control and exhilaration.Axel unleashed an avalanche of exhilarating sounds where two great final waves of sound were answered by quiet chords and dramatic statements ( here I would question the rather literal marcato on the final note even though it appears on the page which sound like a hiccup! ) .Cascades of octaves always kept in line by the limit of the instrument that gave such a clear sense of line to the final two chords place with the authority and care of a master after such an overwhelming exhibition of transcendental virtuosity.
What can I say of the Spanish music in the programme.Alicia de Larrocha used to play Iberia in my concert series with a simplicity and beauty of sound.A ravishing sense of colour and the same care of minute details in the score as meticulously observed as with Beethoven,Mozart or Haydn.Axel has approached these scores with the same humility and intelligence and gave performances of the first three pieces of Iberia where each one was a tone poem of overwhelming character and atmosphere.Evocacion in particular took on another meaning on this piano with its mellow ‘Cinema Paradiso’ sound of such wistful nostalgia and sultry desolance.There was piercing sunlight in El Puerto with the rhythmic energy and excitement from the very first notes.He even appeared to be clicking his heels at one point.We would often come out of a de Larrocha recital clicking out heels and stamping our feet such was the infections rhythmic elan that Axel too imbued in this extraordinarily evocative music.Fete Dieu a Seville is the best known of these three and I will never forget a young Spaniard Rafael Orozco running off with first prize at Leeds with his unforgettable performances where his Spanish blood was allowed full reign.He would often take Alicia de Larrocha out for a spin after her performances in Rome .Annie Fischer used to ask me what happened to that young hot blooded Spaniard who had so impressed her when she was a jury member in Leeds.Sir William Glock had a much more measured approach as head of the British Broadcasting Corporation and chairman of the jury and cast his vote to a wonderful sultry looking Russian,Victoria Postnikova.Rafael died much too young and should today be remembered for his extraordinary recorded legacy.If Axel did not quite have that amazing flair that is in the Spanish genes he has a unique sense of colour and fearless technical prowess that could allow him to play the great melody in the ‘El Corpus Christi en Sevilla’ whilst all the bells were ringing out with joyous sounds of transcendental technical difficulty.
The three Danzas fantàsticas op 22 by Turina were played with the same sense of colour and exhilaration.The pungent sounds and rhythmic drive of Exaltaciòn were answered by the questioning opening of Ensueno and the dynamic energy of Orgia.Much less interesting than Albeniz and I see on his CD of both books of Iberia he has added works by two other Spanish composers De Falla and Mompou.A fascinating panorama of Spanish music from this young artist of great intellectual curiosity with a choice of repertoire that is indeed refreshing to hear.
It was back to Albeniz though for the encore ‘Granada’ where he had poured forth his emotions in works from the Romantic repertoire, and concluded with improvisations that might well have contained the thematic seeds that later sprouted into his Granada.It is the opening piece from his 1886 work Suite Española No. 1 premiered by the composer on 24 January 1886,since transcribed for guitar by Miguel Llobet.It has become one of most important works of the classical guitar repertoire and I well remember a very old Segovia playing it in what was to be his last recital in London.Axel gave a ravishing performance full of colour and nostalgia and it prolonged the magic for a few minutes more, that he had created during his morning recital a stones throw from where Axel was born!