Giovanni Bertolazzi- The mastery and authority of Liszt

Domenica 4 dicembre in tournée a Rieti, per Reate Festival
Lunedì 5 dicembre ore 20.30 Teatro Palladium
Una Rapsodia Ungherese
B. Bartok: Divertimento per archi BB 118, SZ 113
F. Liszt: Malédiction, per pianoforte e orchestra d’archi, S 121
F. Liszt: Rapsodia spagnola, versione per pianoforte e orchestra d’archi a cura di V. Petukhov
Giovanni Bertolazzi, pianoforte
Roma Tre Orchestra
Luca Ballabio, direttore

Luca Ballabio with Giovanni Bertolazzi

La musica ungherese è sinonimo di ritmo, brio, color gitano, allegria. Non si può, inoltre, parlare di Ungheria in musica omettendo la figura di Franz Liszt, autentico aedo di questa terra. Proponiamo dunque un programma che ci porta in giro per questo Paese, dai colori di un brano giovanile di Liszt come Malédiction, ai ritmi compositi di Bela Bartok e del suo Divertimento.
Con noi Giovanni Bertolazzi, interprete raffinato di Liszt, recente secondo classificato nel prestigioso concorso di Budapest che proprio a questo autore è intitolato e per la prima volta sul podio di Roma Tre Orchestra il giovane direttore d’orchestra Luca Ballabio.

A concert with a very Hungarian air to it as Giovanni Bertolazzi winner of top prize at the Liszt Budapest International Piano Competition showed us once again that he is undoubtedly one of the most gifted artists of his generation .

It was when Giovanni was at the helm that we felt the undercurrent of rhythmic drive and passionate involvement.Not only of Liszt the showman but also of Liszt the innovator.The Malédiction is a very early work where Liszt is feeling his way with orchestration at the expense of melodious lyricism.One can hear so many passages and orchestrations that are then used in his second piano concerto.But it is a work really of great difficulty for the orchestra as it is for the piano .Giovanni drove the work forward with astonishing technical ease and musical understanding .There was an undercurrent to his playing that was present even in the few most ravishing lyrical episodes.The drama of the opening with solo piano was like a call to arms but his astonishing technical prowess and authority was always at the service of a musical line and sense of colour.Although a rather hollow work compared to the masterpieces that were to come from Liszt’s pen just a few years later,the rhythmic force and dynamic drive that he gave to the score almost succeeded in us wanting to hear it again before putting it away on the shelf where it really belongs.

Liszt began experimenting writing for piano and orchestra and one of his earliest compositions for this combination was what is now called Malédiction, written for piano and string orchestra or string sextet. Malédiction means ‘curse’ , this word was written over the first part of the work in the manuscript by Liszt. There is no other title on it. It was given this title by musicologists who found the piece in 1915. It is an experimental piece, as Liszt was learning how to orchestrate and write a concerto for piano and orchestra, not an easy thing to do especially with the pianos of the day.It shows an expanded idea of harmony, especially in the first part, the part marked Malédiction. Some of the chords in this section are quite striking in their dissonance, especially when we know the piece was written in 1833-1834. Liszt was in his early 20’s, fresh from meeting Berlioz and attending the premiere of Symphonie Fantastique in 1830. As a composer, Liszt was in the avant-garde of the era almost immediately.

Malédiction is in one movement, and originally may have had a programme to go with it. A tone poem for piano and orchestra essentially, that changes moods and shifts tempos throughout. It begins in a minor key and ends in a major key and has a lot going on in between. It is a glimpse into the creative mind of the young Franz Liszt.We do not know if Liszt ever heard his Concerto for Piano and Strings—the so-called Malédiction—even in rehearsal.This powerful single-movement piece is among Liszt’s earliest efforts at finding a way forward for the sonata principle where its outlines conform to the general pattern of exposition,development and recapitulation, There is a similarity of the opening motif (it is just this motif which Liszt labels ‘Malédiction’),with the later Orage from the first of the Années de pèlerinage .The strings first accompany this menacing first theme with quiet trills, and next build a sinuous chromatic line around it. The opening motif generates the livelier transition material, the last much calmer section Liszt writes: ‘Pleurs, angoisse’ (‘Tears, anguish’). The tonality has ranged quite widely from the initial E minor by this stage, but a recitative introduced by piano and cello brings us to the second theme proper, in the traditional relative major, and to material which Liszt would recall in the late Valse oubliée No 3 of 1883. The recitative is fully incorporated into this theme before the livelier tempo Vivo is reached,which Liszt marks ‘Raillerie’—and a full close in G major is reached. The development immediately moves to E flat, concentrating upon the first theme and leading to a cadential recitativo where the introduction is recalled. When the orchestra reappears we are at the recapitulation, but the order of events is somewhat altered. The earlier transition material is first, followed by the opening motif from piano and orchestra. The first theme now appears in E major, and the tempo increases. The cello motif is now incorporated into the first thematic group before a further increase in tempo brings the second subject material, transformed into the coda, with just a brief recall of the first theme in the last four bars.

Rhapsodie espagnole (Spanish Rhapsody), S.254, R.90, was composed by Liszt in 1858. The work is very suggestive of traditional Spanish music, and was inspired by Liszt’s tour in Spain and Portugal for six months from October 1844, and it was certainly on this trip that he became acquainted at first hand with some of the melodies he was to incorporate into various piano pieces.Liszt never visited this part of the world again but maintained contacts through his music and his Iberian students for the rest of his life.Liszt told Lina Ramann that he had written the piece in recollection of his Spanish tour whilst in Rome in about 1863. The work was published in 1867—subtitled Folies d’Espagne et Jota aragonesa.After the opening flourishes variations on La folia form a passacaglia in C sharp minor. The last variation slips gently into D major for the delicate presentation of the jota, mostly in the upper register of the piano.

Ferruccio Busoni arranged the piece for piano and orchestra in 1894

Mikhail Petukhov played his version for piano and string orchestra in Rome at the Ghione Theatre on 13th November 1989,with the Orchestra da Camera della Lituania conducted by Saulius Sondeckis

The well known Spanish Rhapsody was full of melodic invention and fantasy.I remember hearing Gilels playing the original solo version in London with a unrelenting rhythmic drive that had us sitting on the edge of our seats.Giovanni has the same drive and almost brought this reduction for string orchestra by Petukhov to life with ravishing colours and an irresistible sense of style.But Petukhov like Busoni allows too much importance to the orchestra at key moments of high tension and instead of driving the music forward it tended to sag.Certainly no fault of the orchestra or piano.It was Busoni’s transcription for full orchestra that was the first to appear.Petukhov played his version for string orchestra in Rome in the ‘80’s in a programme that included the Saint Saens Wedding Cake Caprice and ending with an encore of Liszt’s unashamedly virtuoso transcription of the overture of the Barber of Seville !

Giovanni tonight gave us an encore of the Ritual Fire Dance.A slightly less flamboyant version than that of Rubinstein but nevertheless breathtaking.The range of sound and colour together with his passionate involvement brought these two works by Liszt vividly to life and showed off the artistry and seriousness of this young musician .There was no I Pad to be seen as here was an artist who was convinced of the value of these works and prepared them with great seriousness very nearly managing to convince us too.

The concert had started with Bartok’s very complex Divertimento for Strings written at the outbreak of the Second World War.There were the pungent rhythms and folk melodies of the Allegro non troppo followed by the atmospheric Adagio with its whispered sounds evoking emptiness and spaciousness.There was a dynamic rhythmic drive to the Allegro assai full of complex Hungarian folk rhythms and even a pizzicato episode that took us to the excitement of the ending.

Expertly conducted by Luca Ballabio and some very fine solo playing from the first violin of Leonardo Spinedi and the cello of Angelo Santisi.Luca took a lyrical approach to the score missing the burning drive that Solti could bring to this work which can give it more of an overall architectural shape and direction.The Roma Tre Orchestra ever growing in stature as it reaches its twentieth anniversary.An orchestra created by Valerio Vicari,Artistic director and Roberto Pujia ,President to give professional experience to exceptionally talented young musicians at they start of their career .

Valerio Vicari,Giovanni Bertolazzi,Luca Ballabio
In rehearsal in Rieti
In concert at Rieti
Teatro Vespasiano Rieti

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