A mysterious voice over the intercome was intent on creating the right atmosphere for the ritual that was about to unfold.
Imploring us to savour two minutes of absolute silence,in complete darkness,in preparation for the sounds we were about to receive -sounds were born before words we were told !
And out of the darkness a silhouette appeared as a shadow slowly advancing onto the stage and sitting at the piano as the light gently appeared.
The show was about to begin with the sounds of the poetically imperious chords of Chopin’s Polonaise Fantasy
This was just the introduction to Alexander Gadjiev’s rapturously received Rome debut for the Accademia di Santa Cecilia.
An interval where there was just time to swop over pianos -Fazioli for Chopin but Steinway for Schumann !
This for Alex was an adventure that he wanted us to share and be part of.
His almost improvised freedom was allied to a search for sound and the inspiration that had ignited Chopin and Schumann in their moments of creation.
There were moments of ravishing sounds and washes of colour -has Chopin’s ‘wind over the graves’ ever sounded so impressionistic and terrifying?
Schumann’s youthful passion for Clara unbridled a red hot ‘ruin’ where the right hand was called into play to strike fear into Clara’s fathers refusal to acknowledge true love -a love that was to produce eight children!
But it was the solitary Prelude op 45 by Chopin that showed the true artistry of this young top prize winner at the last Chopin competition .
Sounds that spread like a flow of lava over the entire keyboard.Full of shifting harmonies but allowing a deeply expressive melodic line to unravel with sumptuous ease.
Alex had penetrated the soul of an audience who clammered for more after he had revealed the secret message that Schumann had woven into his greatest masterpiece.A message for his ‘distant beloved’ that Alex had so passionately portrayed.
Five encores and wanting more shows how successful Alex was in demonstrating that music can and must speak louder than words.
Could that voice in the darkness have been this poet of the keyboard that had so enraptured his fellow travellers tonight in the Eternal City?
The red hot passion of the Schumann Fantasie.Written as an outpouring of love for his future wife Clara Wieck .Alex plunged in with a passion and savage rhythmic intensity that was quite overwhelming .The burning passion and unrelentless forward movement found momentary respite in the ‘Im legendenton’ played with such a mellifluous freedom that the bar lines ceased to exist as it built in tension to the true climax of this movement. The right hand once again found itself in foreign territory as it added to the enormous sonority being created.Schumann’s quote from Beethoven’s ‘An die ferne Geliebte ’ was played with great liberty and I wonder if Alex knows something more than is just printed in the score as the movement moved to it’s magical conclusion
The original title of Schumann’s work was “Obolen auf Beethovens Monument: Ruinen, Trophaen, Palmen, Grosse Sonate f.d. Piano f. Für Beethovens Denkmal”. The movements’ subtitles (Ruins, Trophies, Palms) became Ruins, Triumphal Arch, and Constellation, and were then removed altogether before Breitkopf & Härtel eventually issued the Fantasie in May 1839.Dedicated to Franz Liszt , who replied in a letter dated June 5, 1839: “The Fantaisie dedicated to me is a work of the highest kind – and I am really proud of the honour you have done me in dedicating to me so grand a composition” Liszt in return dedicated his B minor Sonata to Schumann – two pinnacles of the Romantic piano repertoire .The piece has its origin in early 1836, when Schumann composed a piece entitled Ruines expressing his distress at being parted from his beloved Clara Wieck (later to become his wife). This later became the first movement of the Fantasy adding later that year two more movements to create a work intended as a contribution to the appeal for funds to erect a monument to Beethoven in his birthplace of Bonn.So it was hardly surprising the imperious opening of Alex’s second movement – Triumphal Arch indeed .Although written mezzo forte in the score it was of truly orchestral proportions building unbelievably in sonority each time it reappeared.The beauty of the ‘etwas langsamer’came as a true relief from the relentless rhythmic drive and enormous sounds that Alex coaxed out of this beautiful Steinway piano.
An even greater relief was the pianissimo scherzando before the mighty build up to the infamous leaps that Schumann demands in the ‘più animato’coda.Even here there was a total command and authority that the transcendental difficulties just disappeared in a resonance of overwhelming power and majesty.
“Resounding through all the notes. In the earth’s colourful dream.There sounds a faint long-drawn note.For the one who listens in secret.”is the poem that prefaces the Fantasie and nowhere can it be more appropriate that in the final ‘Langsam getragen Durchweg leise zu halten’.The enormous sforzando E flat chord,ending the second movement,was allowed to die away before the magical opening in C major just seemed to appear from afar.I remember Agosti writing in my score ‘Cla …ra’over the long held A and G as a sign that this really was as Schumann wrote to Clara: ‘the most passionate thing I have ever composed – a deep lament for you.’They still had many tribulations to suffer before they finally married four years later.In Alex’s hands there was a continual outpouring of ravishing sounds always with deep,true feeling never for a second becoming sentimental or weak.The three carefully judged final chords brought this miraculous programme to a close ………or so we thought ……not counting on the generosity of this much loved artist.
Five encores of Debussy and Chopin.The octave and arpeggio study of Debussy were played with ravishing colours and a quixotic control that brought these late masterpieces vividly to life and were in fact the highlight of the concert.The waltz op 42 by Chopin was played with jeux perle nonchalance and charm.Two of the shorter Preludes from op 28 gave us the emotionally charged n.4 and the whispered charm of the shortest of them all n.7.
Around 1837 Chopin composed a Funeral March , a piece which most likely reflected the musician’s profoundly mournful mood following the breaking of his engagement to Maria Wodzińska. When he then went to the island of Majorca,at the end of 1838, he began to write a piece, Grave , which will later be the first movement of the sonata, and a Presto which will be the finale; this time in composing Chopin was influenced by the worsening of his illness and influenced by the gloomy ruins and cemetery of the Certosa di Valldemossa,certainly not cheerful visions in the pouring rain that gave no respite. The Scherzo was written when the musician returned to Nohant in the second part of 1839.
In a letter to his friend Fontana he wrote: “I am composing a Sonata in B flat minor in which the Funeral March that you already know will be found. There is an Allegro, then a Scherzo and, after the March, a small Finale, not very long, in which the left hand chatters in unison with the right hand”. In writing the Scherzo , the musician had thought of collecting the pieces already composed in a Sonata, perfecting and polishing them.
The Sonata in B flat minor was published in 1840 in Paris by Troupenas, later in Leipzig by Breitkopf & Härtel and in London by Wessel. The piece is one of the few by Chopin that does not feature a dedication, perhaps it was actually a tribute intended for George Sand, to be kept private. Contemporaries were rather baffled by this Sonata. In the first place Robert Schumann who, while recognizing the beauty of the piece, even found “something repulsive” in the Funeral March and defined the Finale as “something more like an irony than any other music”. Even Felix Mendelssohn, not understanding the modernity of the Finale, declared that he abhorred it.Later Vincent d’Indy even went so far as to argue that Chopin had chosen certain keys not for strictly musical reasons, but only for executive convenience. The Funeral March was performed, in the version orchestrated by Reber , together with the Preludes op. 28 no. 4 and 6, played by the organist Léfebure-Wély, at the composer’s funeral on 30 October 1849. Of the Sonata Schumann wrote: “It might be called a whim, if not a hubris, that he called it the Sonata , for he brought together four of his most bizarre creatures, to be smuggled under that name into a place where they otherwise would not have penetrated “. The Sonata op. 35 has also been taken to support the view of many critics that Chopin had found himself in difficulty with the sonata and its formal construction.Others have found the composition to be defective in poetic unity and continuity, constructed with limited technique, judgments based mostly on an outward view of the work rather than an examination of its content. It was interesting to note that in this performance Alex did Chopin’s repeat to the doppio movimento and not to the much debated introduction as he had done so miraculously in other of his performances I have heard.Tonight it obviously felt right for him to accept the traditional repeat rather than the much debated ambiguity of the original score.
The Polonaise Fantasie in A flat major, Op. 61, was published in 1846 with dedication to Madame A. Veyret. Its complex form, the fact that it displays characteristics of both a fantasie and a polonaise, its advanced harmonic development and technical level, made it a piece that was slow in gaining favour from pianists.Alex’s was a very poetically imperious performance with mists of sound and atmospheres.Perhaps a little too free with the final reverberations of the opening chords before the tumultuous build up to the glorious final outpouring of triumphant passion.But it was in the last few bars that he found the magic of Chopin’s final whispered gasps with the last bell note just allowed to toll with such luminosity.A bell that was already tolling with this last masterpiece from the pen of the poetic and genial innovator of the piano that was Fryderyk Chopin.
The Prelude in C sharp minor, composed at Nohant during the summer of 1841 and published in the autumn as a separate Opus (45). When sending the manuscript to Fontana for copying, Chopin could not hide his satisfaction, expressed in the words: ‘well modulated!’.The Prelude does not have an a priori form. It gives the impression of being a notated improvisation. The four opening bars set the mood. There follows a dreamy spinning-out of two slowly formed themes: the principal theme, in which the boundary between melody and accompaniment melts away in the overall sound, and a second theme in which the distinctness of the melodic contour holds sway over the colouring, emotions over impressions.The charms of pure sonority are brought by the cadenza, but that too swells towards emotional ecstasy. The opening theme returns, before dissolving away in softening strains.Chopin composed the Prelude in C sharp minor for the Paris publisher Maurice Schlesinger. At the beginning of October, in Paris, Fontana proofread the work. It appeared as Opus 45, with a dedication to Princess Elisabeth Czernicheff, one of Chopin’s pupils.