Ignas Maknickas at St Marys.A poet speaks with simplicity and fluidity

Tuesday 24 January 3.00 pm 


I was invited about four years ago to a concert at the Royal Academy of Music in which two ‘freshers’were performing the Mozart Double Concerto.I had known Alim Beisembayev since his studies at the Purcell School with Tessa Nicholson and it was she who had invited me to the concert in which Alim was playing with a young Lithuanian student Ignas Maknickas.Two very talented young pianists embarking on an intensive professional training.Alim has gone on to win the Gold Medal at the Leeds International Piano Competition and on todays performance Ignas is well on the way to receiving International recognition too .I had heard Ignas a few years later at the Imogen Cooper Musical Trust and at St James’ Piccadilly and began to realise that the young rather undisciplined pianist of the Mozart Double was fast maturing into a pianist to be reckoned with.Today I heard a great artist ready to take the world by storm.But not only for his extraordinary natural technical skill but for his intelligence and simple but profound musicality.A fluidity of sound that seems to be the norm for the Lithuanian school of pianists who have come to perfect their studies in London.A school that creates pianists with a relaxed natural technical ease that gives the sound they make a fluidity and purity similar to the remarkable Hungarian School .(I am reminded of the fluid,liquid sound of Geza Anda).Rokas Valuntonis ,Gabrielé Sutkuté and Milda Daunoraite are three Lithuanian pianists whose career I have been following with great interest ,who all play with a natural ease and fluidity of sound.An exhilarating ‘joie de vivre’ that allows the music to flow so naturally from their finely trained fingers and gives them a security that is so often missing in young performers in need of experience.

From the very first notes there was a rhythmic energy and passionate involvement but with a clarity and technical ease that allowed him to pursue Schumann’s wishes to the full.The rippling left hand I have never heard so clearly since Geza Anda.A clarity that was unobtrusive but gave a support to the passionate outpouring of Schumann’s heart in ‘the most passionate thing he had ever written’.There was tenderness too as Schumann’s deep lament for his beloved Clara gave rise to ravishingly lyrical interludes.Never allowing the tempo to sag,Ignas had entered so well into the very heart of a composer deeply in love.There was an overall architectural shape to his playing that never denied intimate moments of reflection,always picking up the tempo(something that the composer had not marked clearly in the score).The second movement was played with great musicality as Schumann’s sometimes irritating dotted rhythms were give a shape and meaning as they led to the gradual build up to the treacherous coda.Hurdles placed in these final two pages that Ignas took in his stride shaping them into the overall argument with transcendental control and never loosing his wonderful luminous sound.It was a control sound that he had realised from the outset that the march is marked only mezzo forte as it gradually built up to this final exhilarating explosion of pyrotechnics.Liszt was said to have played this coda with glee and although he played the entire work in private he never actually played it in public considering it not ‘effective’.The first performance I had ever heard was in the 60’s from the golden hands of Artur Rubinstein.It was Rubinstein too,a showman like Liszt,who never played Davidsbundler in public (Schumann’s most poetic early masterpiece) because it finished quietly and audiences required a more triumphant finish to the first or second half of a recital!The central ‘etwas langsamer’was played with ravishing beauty and the lightness of the pianissimo scherzando was shaped with such delicacy and even the slight ritardando at the end although not marked in the score was the touch of a true poetic stylist.The deep beauty of the last movement where Schumann declares openly his deep feeling for his distant beloved was played with a fluidity and a control of balance,that never allowed the melodic line to be overwhelmed by the fluid accompaniment,even in the most passionate climaxes.The deeply contemplative final page where the temperature was allowed to discreetly rise,as Schumann indicates,but without any exaggeration as the music drew to its final three whispered chords with a natural musicianship and intelligence that could be called recreation!

The Fantasie in C, op.17, was written in 1836. It was revised prior to publication in 1839, when it was dedicated to Franz Liszt.Liszt in return dedicated his B minor Sonata to Schumann.The two works are generally considered to be the pinnacles of piano music of the Romantic period.The Fantasie is in loose sonata form. Its three movements are headed:Durchaus fantastisch und leidenschaftlich vorzutragen; Im Legenden-TonMäßig. Durchaus energischLangsam getragen. Durchweg leise zu halten. 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.Later that year, he wrote 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, Bonn.

Liszt’s Beethoven Monument in Bonn

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.Schumann prefaced the work with a quote from Friedrich Schlegel:Durch alle Töne tönet Im bunten Erdentraum Ein leiser Ton gezogen Fur den, der heimlich lauschet.(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.)Agosti a student of Busoni who was a student of Liszt wrote the word Cla-ra in my score over the long A to G in the last movement.

Cla- ra written by Agosti a pupil of Busoni who was a pupil of Liszt.

There is a musical quotation of a phrase from Beethoven’s song cycle An die ferne Geliebte (to the distant beloved )in the coda of the first movement :’Accept then these songs beloved, which I sang for you alone.’All Schumann wrote to Clara: The first movement may well be the most passionate I have ever composed – a deep lament for you. They still had many tribulations to suffer before they finally married four years later.

Cla- ra in Agosti’s hand in my score

Liszt had played the piece to Schumann privately, and later incorporated it into his teaching repertory, but he considered it unsuitable for public performance and never played it in public.However, Liszt returned the honour by dedicating his own Sonata in B minor to Schumann in 1853. Clara Schumann did not start to perform the Fantasie in her concerts until 1866,ten years after the composer died ,the Liszt Sonata she never played as she considered it ‘a blind noise’!

It was Artur Rubinstein who in his ‘80’s decided that this last masterpiece for the piano of Schubert should be shared by him in the concert hall.In fact there is a wonderful very aristocratic performance available on an historic video from Poland .His protégé, Janina Fialkowska had discovered it during the pandemic when she finally decided that the time was right to include this masterpiece in future programmes. https://youtube.com/watch?v=qLTM-Y3dXs4&feature=share. Rubinstein had recorded the sonata in the studios in Rome but he had brought his own beautiful piano with him.He realised that this was one long outpouring of song – the last that was to flow from a composer aware that there was little time left on this earth.It requires a fluidity of sound and a sense of balance and control that never allows for any Beethovenian symphonic heavyness .Even in the tumultuous climaxes there must be an overall glow to the sound as the forty minutes of continuous mellifluosity should be like floating on the continual undisturbed movement of a mountain stream.Ignas had just this sound and entered perfectly into this ravishing sound world.His musicianship and sense of overall architectural shape revealed a maturity way beyond his actual age.The deep bass rumble (menacing like the Appassionata?) was played with superb control which is not easy on a good but not perfectly regulated piano.He created a sublime outpouring of song in the Andante sostenuto only interrupted by the deeply sonorous chorale central episode .But it was the Scherzo Allegro vivace con delicatezza that I will remember for its freshness ,luminous shape and the beauty of the trio with its bump in the night ‘fzp’that are usually so intrusive.Not in this musicians hands as he shaped the music with the same musicality and loving care of all he did.Including the interruption of ‘G’ in the ‘Allegro,ma non troppo’last movement.It merely signalled the quixotic changes of character in a movement of grace and great drama.a memorable performance form a youthful poet of the piano.

Schubert’s last three piano sonatas ,D 958, 959 and 960, are his last major compositions for solo piano. They were written during the last months of his life, between the spring and autumn of 1828, but were not published until about ten years after his death, in 1838–39.Like the rest of Schubert’s piano sonatas, they were mostly neglected in the 19th century but the late 20th century, however, public and critical opinion had changed, and these sonatas are now considered among the most important of the composer’s mature masterpieces. The last year of Schubert’s life was marked by growing public acclaim for the composer’s works, but also by the gradual deterioration of his health. On March 26, 1828, together with other musicians in Vienna Schubert gave a public concert of his own works, which was a great success and earned him a considerable profit. Schubert had been struggling with syphilis since 1822–23, and suffered from weakness, headaches and dizziness. However, he seems to have led a relatively normal life until September 1828, when new symptoms appeared. At this stage he moved from the Vienna home of his friend Franz von Schober to his brother Ferdinand’s house in the suburbs, following the advice of his doctor; unfortunately, this may have actually worsened his condition. However, up until the last weeks of his life in November 1828, he continued to compose an extraordinary amount of music, including such masterpieces as the three last sonatas.Schubert probably began sketching the sonatas sometime around the spring months of 1828; the final versions were written in September.A year after the composers death Schubert’s brother Ferdinand sold the sonatas’ autographs to another publisher, Anton Diabelli who would only publish them about ten years later, in 1838 or 1839.Schubert had intended the sonatas to be dedicated to Johann Nepomuk Hummel whom he greatly admired. Hummel was a leading pianist, a pupil of Mozart, and a pioneering composer of the Romantic style (like Schubert himself).However, by the time the sonatas were published in 1839, Hummel was dead, and Diabelli, the new publisher, decided to dedicate them instead to Robert Schumann who had praised many of Schubert’s works in his critical writings.

Born in California in 1998, Ignas was raised in Lithuania. In 2017, graduating from the National M.K. Ciurlionis School of Art in Vilnius, he was honoured by the President of Lithuania, H.E. Dalia Grybauskaite. With his sister and three brothers the talented Maknickas Family Ensemble has represented Lithuania on National Television and at State Occasions.Ignas completed his Bachelor of Music at the Royal Academy of Music on full scholarship under Professor Joanna MacGregor. In September 2021 he commenced the Master of Arts Programme with Professor MacGregor, also on full scholarship. He is a recipient of the Julien Prize, the ABRSM Scholarship Award, the Imogen Cooper Music Trust Scholarship, Munster Trust Mark James Award, Robert Turnbull Piano Foundation Award, Tillett Trust and Colin Keer Trust Award and Hattori Foundation Award. He is an Artist of the Munster Trust Recital Scheme.He has attended masterclasses with Dmitri Bashkirov, Dame Imogen Cooper, Christopher Elton, Stephen Hough, Yoheved Kaplinsky, Marios Papadopoulos, Menahem Pressler, Geoffrey Simon, Tamás Ungár, Arie Vardi and Ilana Vered. As a soloist he has appeared at the Steinway Hall in London, Auditorium du Louvre in Paris, Charlottenborg Festival Hall in Copenhagen, Ed Landreth Hall in Fort Worth, Lithuanian National Philharmonic in Vilnius and Kinross House in Scotland.”




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