A standing ovation for Jonathan Ferrucci at Angela Hewitt’s Festival with playing that just gets bigger and bigger as he seems to get smaller and smaller!A Bach that reminded me of Gulda as he seemed to be searching for that undefined structure where Bach leaves a provocative question mark with a freedom that brought three Toccatas vividly and originally to life.
And as he so eloquently said an Adagio in B minor where Mozart is searching for an intense and contemplative memory that he cannot find.Played with a desolate anxiety of isolated sounds that one associates more with composers of the next century.
There was a sultry radiance to Albeniz’s Evocacion and an El Puerto that had us wanting to click our heels and stamp our feet.His Fetes Dieu was a towering tour de force of brilliance,colour and sumptuous sounds.
Three tone poems of such radiance and ravishing sounds as each one had a very special story to tell.
Granados’s Spanish dance n 5 was offered as an encore and which he had learnt like all of us as a child.
But,by God,I doubt we could have imagined it could sound as it did today in Jonathan’s magic hands.
It was lovely to meet so many of Angela’s friends from Canada who could suffer the torrid afternoon heat.But they filled the hall to enjoy again a pianist who is being mentored by Angela and who took her place the other evening whilst our much loved Angela is isolated with COVID.So near but still unfortunately so far in her house on lake Trasimeno.
I have written about Jonathan’s performance of the Bach and Mozart that he performed recently in London: https://christopheraxworthymusiccommentary.com/2022/05/02/jonathan-ferrucci-the-essence-of-music-with-aristocratic-intelligence-and-passion-at-st-marys/But like all real artists every performance is different and today the Bach Toccatas although having the same overall framework there were many differences where Jonathan felt free to elaborate with even more fantasy than on previous occasions.The overall impression was of a voyage of fresh discovery as he dug even deeper into the score.As he had said in his introductory talk,Bach in his Toccatas allowed himself a freedom and room for improvisation that is much less restrictive that the more usual dance based movements of his Partitas ,Suites or variations.
Today Jonathan on this magnificent Fazioli piano was having fun as he took his audience on a journey of discovery.Some things worked better than others and I found the opening of the D major Toccata rather quixotic but on the other hand the return of the theme in the C minor Toccata entering almost as a whisper after a long pause was masterly as was the vehemence of the G minor toccata .
It was the first time I had heard him play Spanish music though,and it was here with the same sense of improvisation added to a sumptuous sense of colour that he turned the first three of Albeniz Iberia into real gems.
I had missed them recently at the Hampstead Proms where he had played the same programme for the Keyboard Charitable Trust but was glad to have heard his masterly playing today.
He will be touring the USA for the Keyboard Trust in a long postponed trip due to the pandemic and is working on various programme proposals for this ten concert tour which includes a trip to the beautiful little theatre that Lorin Maazel constructed on his estate in Castletown,Virginia .
It was a New York critic who once said after a performance of Iberia by Alicia de Larrocha :’There is really nothing in Isaac Albeniz’s Iberia that a good three-handed pianist could not master, given unlimited years of practice and permission to play at half tempo. But there are few pianists thus endowed.’
I have never forgotten a performance by a hot blooded young Spaniard at one of the first Leeds Piano Competitions,Rafael Orozco,with a hair raising performance of such colour and brilliance of the Fetes Dieu a Seville.Annie Fischer who was on the jury had never forgotten either and when she asked me what had happened to him I was able to tell her that he was living in Rome and enjoying a more settled life away from the usual non stop concert tours.Unfortunately his life was cut short far too early living life to the full as was obvious from his hot blooded youthful performances.
Fête-dieu à Séville whose alternative titles are : Corpus Christi; El Corpus en Sevilla ,describes the Corpus Christi Day procession in Seville, during which the Corpus Christi is carried through the streets accompanied by marching bands. Musically, this piece consists of a processional march that eventually becomes overwhelmed by a mournful saeta, the melody evoking Andalusian cante jondo and the accompaniment evoking flamenco guitars. The march and saeta alternate ever more loudly until the main march theme is restated as a lively tarantella that ends abruptly with a flamboyant fffff climactic chord; finishing with a gentle coda again evoking flamenco guitars along with distant church bells.
It was given a transcendental performance where the triumphant theme rings out whilst the piano is submerged by the excited crowds thronging the streets.A tour de force technically as it requires great flexibility and sense of balance to keep the same sense of line spread over the entire keyboard.Jonathan’s extreme flexibility which comes from his expert yoga exercises were particularly useful here.Allied to his technical mastery there was also a fluidity of sound never hard or ungrateful as he flew from one end of the keyboard to the other with the grace and ease of an eagle swooping in on its prey.The tarantella too showed off the clockwork precision and fluid sounds of someone who is happy to spend hours at the keyboard perfecting his ‘fingerfertigkeit’.It was Curzon who when asked the secret of a great pianist replied:’90% hard work allied to 10% of talent ‘.Of course God was very generous with Curzon as he obviously has been with Jonathan.It is that 10% that we were able to appreciate in particular in the final bars where the gentle coda with distant church bells created a magic that held the audience spellbound with breathtaking silence.
Evocación is an impressionist reminiscence of Albéniz’s native country, combining elements of the southern Spanish fandango and the northern Spanish jota song forms. The rarely seen seven-flat key signature of A flat minor is in itself part of the Evocación.The sumptuously rich sounds coming after the crystal clear purity of Mozart took us by surprise as the kaleidoscopic sense of colour was given full reign and was a true revelation.The sumptuous bass of this Fazioli sounded so similar to that of the Bosendorfer and just opened up a sound world that took me by surprise from a piano that is best known for its clarity and brilliance.A great artist though can search for the sounds that are in his head and reproduce them as if by magic with the same sense of illusion of a magician where the seemingly impossible can happen.There was a subtle sense of phrasing where the notes just seemed to flow one out of the other with a fluidity that belies the very nature of this black box full of hammers and strings.
El Puerto is a zapateado inspired by El Puerto de Santa Maria in Càdiz.A lively Andalusian dance in 6/8 marked on two beats, the second being very stressed was in many way the most remarkable performance with its energy and transcendental technical command of irresistible verve and sense of style.