Alberto Portugheis – A Renaissance man goes POSK to celebrate the 213th Birthday of Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin

A programme of some of Chopin’s greatest works

What a surprise but then with Alberto life is always such a voyage of discovery.A true Renaissance man of many parts.In the kitchen or at the piano or sending messages to the leaders of the world to stop creating wars to fill their own pockets!Eight years ago Alberto invited me to be part of his 75th birthday celebrations with his schoolchild friend Martha Argerich.A Wigmore Hall packed to the rafters for an unforgettable occasion.Now eight years on I receive an invitation to Chopin’s 213th birthday celebrations!A concert including some of the major works of Chopin but also a chance to enjoy an after concert dinner of Polish Cuisine.Alberto apart from being the pianist that we know and have loved for a lifetime he is also a ‘cordon bleu ‘ chef having shared in the running of a restaurant with his lifetime friend Martha Argerich.The restaurant was called ‘Rhapsody’ at the end of Alberto’s road at the crossroads of Holland Park,West Kensington and ……………Shepherds Bush!I remember Shura Cherkassky telling me all about it.Shura had asked me when we first met if we had any mutual acquaintances in common.Alberto was one of them.Shura was not convinced and thought I was just making polite conversation until I pulled out of my pocket a card that had recently been given to me by a pianist who had played too in our season in Rome.ALBERTO PORTUGHEIS chef ……….the ice was broken and Shura and I became great friends for the next ten years!

What a discovery of an oasis of peace and culture amidst the surrounding ever changing confusion that surrounds it .

Now an invitation to POSK Polish centre in Hammersmith.Opposite Latimer Upper School where Walter Legge and my brother had been students.

In the centre Ileana at our wedding in Kew in 1984 with the Sidney Harrisons top photo with Jack Rothstein and bottom with neighbour Ruth Eedy

Sidney Harrison,my first teacher and a father figure for me,Norma Fisher and many others had also been to school at Latimer Upper.He was a television personality and lived in a big river fronted house in Chiswick.His next door neighbour was Eamon Andrews of ‘Crackerjack’ and ‘This is your Life’fame!It was Sidney together with Ingrid Bergman that were invited to open this Polish Centre in the late sixties when I was still a schoolboy,having been taken under the wing of the Sidney’s .I had never been inside ,though,until I received this invitation from Alberto.A magnificent theatre,Polish restaurant,library and a real oasis that had been staring me in the face for the past fifty years until I received Alberto’s invitation.

A theatre full to the rafters for the Polish National hero’s birthday celebrations

And at 82 the indomitable ever generous Alberto had prepared a programme that could well have been fit for a Prince – that of Artur Rubinstein whose much awaited yearly visits to London in June were always an eagerly awaited feast.Joan Chissell a critic who was also a poet could illustrate and illuminate a performance in two well chosen words.’Mr Rubinstein,the Prince of Pianists,turned baubles into gems’ described the exquisite performance of his friend Villa Lobos’s ‘O Prol do Bebe’ suite.It was interesting to note that Alberto had chosen to include the much debated repeat in the first movement of the B flat minor Sonata.I had asked him about it and enquired which edition he uses.He told me he had recently added the Ekier National edition to his library and when asked about the hotly debated repeat simply said it depends how I have played before and what I want to do after!Martha Argerich replied similarly to Temirkanov when he asked her what she did in a certain passage…..’you choose’ ,she replied with an innocent smile!

Well today Alberto was obviously in pensive mood because he included the ‘Ekier’edition repeat of the first introductory bars .Instead of playing them Maestoso he played them piano and misterioso as Gadjiev had done in the Chopin competition a year ago.Then it makes musical sense and of course how could it be otherwise with such master musicians at the helm.I have often been astonished at Alberto’s total fidelity to the composers wishes when I have brought some students to his house for dinner and discussions around music.Like Menahem Pressler he can point out details in the score that can in the heat of youthful performance be overlooked or at least not sufficiently understood.Giovanni Bertolazzi a recent top prize winner in Budapest was invited to Alberto’s home to play his prize winning performance of Liszt before tasting Alberto’s sumptuous cuisine and he was surprised to be stopped after just one page of the Liszt B minor Sonata!

Nicola Losito,Gabriele Sutkute (recent winner of the Chappell Gold Medal)and Can Arisoy have all benefitted from Alberto’s discerning musicianship and the luckiest his cooking too – ‘che non guasta’ as they say!

Today’s Chopin celebration was a recital where Alberto’s love and passion for works he has lived with for a lifetime shone through all he did.There was a weight and timeless quality where every note was pregnant with meaning.Nothing was thrown away,even the quixotic runs in Chopin’s much loved waltz in C sharp minor op 64 played as an encore.It followed a military invasion from the symbolic Héroique Polonaise in which Chopin’s troups were kept under the strict surveillance of Alberto’s lifetime experience of dealing with military coups!The Mazurkas op 24 were indeed ‘canons covered in flowers’ and were played with great personal involvement and fervent conviction.These little gems would certainly benefit from Joan Chissell’s poetic turns of phrase.A fourth Ballade that together with the Liszt Sonata and Schumann Fantasie are the pinnacles of the Romantic piano repertoire.Can it just be coincidence that they are all dedicated to each other?It takes one to appreciate one we used to say as children!

Is it not the innocence of children that inspired Schnabel to describe the performance of Mozart as too difficult for adults but too easy for children!Let us not forget too the monumental opening performance in Alberto’s recital of the Fantasie op 49.A lifetime’s experience guided his hands that despite his 82 years never wavered in front of Chopin’s driving rhythms or leaping octave declamations.Two Nocturnes op 15 including the much loved F sharp major and the ‘sturm und drang’ of its sister in F major were played with such overpowering conviction .An ovation for Chopin or Alberto or both!A lesson in humility and love that they both share so generously with the world.Love after all is eternal and long may it stay that way!

It was nice to see Deniz Gelenbe in the Green room afterwards to greet her colleague and friend after her triumphant concert a few days earlier for the Chopin Society in London.

An unexpected admirer from Wales where Alberto gave many educational recitals with the late Gwyneth George.Clutching a photo of an even more youthful looking Alberto than today and wanting to thank him for inspiring her and her school friends to love and cherish music which has guided them through life ever since.

This lovely lady told us it was in Nice but on further assistance to incredulous elderly friends hard of hearing ,it turned out to be Neath!

Alberto refreshed and stimulated by his outing with Chopin was ready to taste the Polish Cuisine on offer with friends and admirers.I was sorry to leave but an early flight back home to Rome awaited,to applaud a colleague of Alberto’s from the same class of ‘41.A concert of the 21 Hungarian dances by Brahms for four hands with her young protégée ,Emanuele Savron,of sixty years younger!

It is with Bobby Chen that Alberto too will play four hands .

Marcella Crudeli is like Alberto very much involved with the organisation of EPTA – the European Piano Teachers Association founded by the indomitable Carola Grindea.Sidney Harrison was the first President ……..small world !Links.chains,circles and music makes the world go around.And if music be the food of love …….please please play on …………..and turn up the volume

Beautiful Polish restaurant POSK Cultural Centre
Hidden away …from me at least opposite Latimer Upper School whose playground behind was so cruelly divided in two by the M 4!
Alberto enjoying a break from a pre concert rehearsal.The elegance of Peter Katin and the same love for Chopin


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