Victor Maslov at Leighton House Masterly playing of intelligence and poetic vision

The finale concert in Lisa Peacock’s series of ‘discoveries’ in the splendour of the newly restored Leighton House.Five concerts with five future stars in Lord Leighton’s sumptuous music room.
Pianists who have come to London to perfect their already quite considerable talent.Today it was Victor Maslov who closed the season with a full hall that included his mentor Dmitri Alexeev and his wife Tatyana Sarkissova.
Three of the five pianists chosen to take part in this new series were mentored by Dmitri Alexeev at the Royal College of Music and it was the master himself who had given a memorable concert here too just a few weeks ago.

Could it be coincidence that this beautiful feathered bird should be the symbol on the staircase to the music room.

Victor Maslov graduated in 2021 covered in prestigious prizes and gaining his Masters of Performance with distinction as well as a Bachelor of Music First Class degree.
He is fast making a name for himself on the world stage and only a few days ago gave a memorable recital at the Pharos Arts Centre in Cyprus organised in partnership with the Keyboard Trust.
Just an hour of music but from the very first notes it was obvious that we were in the company of a master.
Whether in the poetic vision of Rachmaninov delving deep into the Russian soul or the disarming simplicity of Janacek’s hauntingly nostalgic folk melodies or the amazing fireworks of Stravinsky’s Firebird ,Victor held us in his spell with masterly playing of intelligence and poetic vision.
It was the disarming beauty of his encore ,the G sharp minor Rachmaninov Prelude that summed up his artistry where in just two pages he could show us a world of nostalgic yearning and brooding unrest with a kaleidoscopic range of colour but above all an aristocratic sound of ravishing beauty and purity.

Lisa Peacock introducing the last in this remarkable series of ‘Discoveries’ that one hopes will be the first of many more seasons to come.
Rachmaninov Etudes Tableaux that were six tone poems of subtle sounds and character.Deeply nostalgic Russian brooding and beauty but always tinged with a sadness and aristocratic nobility that gives Rachmaninov an unmistakably unique voice.From the strident march of the first study where Victor immediately showed us his orchestral sense of colour.Long held notes took on a poignancy as the left hand march continued relentlessly.A momentary vision of distant bells was even more remarkable because the insistent march had momentarily been halted only to surface in the final bars as the march continued into the far distance.There was ravishing beauty in the second study with the yearning melodic bel canto floating magically on a stream of gently murmuring sounds.A momentary climax ‘appassionato e sempre più mosso’was quickly dispelled with a ravishing cloud of shimmering notes played with supreme delicacy as the wafts of sound led to the final tenor exaltation of yearning.The third created an atmosphere of terror that in Victor’s hands truly sent a shiver down our back.His extraordinary sense of balance and colour allowed him to translate Rachmaninov’s very precise indications into sounds.There was terrifying reality as waves of notes were turned into sounds on which Rachmaninov’s sparse melodic notes were allowed to vibrate with extraordinary luminosity.Immediately changing mood with the imperious fanfare of op 33 n.7 and its driving rhythmic impetus .A momentary quixotic change of mood that Victor could chameleonically portray as he led this rumbustuous study to it’s turbulent ending of enormous sonority and exhilaration.There was a complete change of character with op 33 n. 8 .An oasis of subtle beauty and luminosity with a melody etched in gold surrounded by magic arabesques that gradually became more turbulent only to burn themselves out with an almost too serious coda that Rachmaninov dismisses with disarmingly abrupt chords piano and finally pianissimo.Op 33 n.9 interrupted this magic atmosphere with a dramatic opening ‘Grave ‘ indeed but then a boiling cauldron of turbulence ,reminiscent of the insistent turbulence in some of Scriabin,leading to the ecstatic,dramatic and above all spectacular ending.A remarkable journey that Victor shared with us with complete mastery and sense of colour that could bring vividly to life the vision that Rachmaninov paints so poignantly in these Tableaux Studies.

The Études-Tableaux (“study pictures”), Op. 33, is the first of two sets of piano études composed by Rachmaninoff .They were intended tudto be “picture pieces”, essentially “musical evocations of external s visual stimuli”. But Rachmaninoff did not disclose what inspired each one, stating: “I do not believe in the artist that discloses too much of his images. Let [the listener] paint for themselves what it most suggests.”However, he willingly shared sources for a few of these études with the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi when Respighi orchestrated them in 1930.Rachmaninoff composed the Op. 33 Études-Tableaux at his Ivanovka estate in Tambov,Russia between August and September 1911, the year after completing his second set of preludes ,Op. 32. While the Op. 33 Études-Tableaux share some stylistic points with the preludes, they are actually not very similar. Rachmaninoff concentrates on establishing well-defined moods and developing musical themes in the preludes. Rachmaninoff biographer Max Harrison calls the Études-Tableaux “studies in [musical] composition”; while they explore a variety of themes, they “investigate the transformation of rather specific climates of feeling via piano textures and sonorities. They are thus less predictable than the preludes and compositionally mark an advance” in technique.Rachmaninoff initially wrote nine pieces for Op. 33 but published only six in 1914. One étude, in A minor, was subsequently revised and used in the op 39 set ; the other two appeared posthumously and are now usually played with the other six. Performing these eight études together could be considered to run against the composer’s intent, as the six originally published are unified through “melodic-cellular connections” .Differing from the simplicity of the first four études, Nos. 5–8 are more virtuosic in their approach to keyboard writing, calling for unconventional hand positions, wide leaps for the fingers and considerable technical strength from the performer. Also, “the individual mood and passionate character of each piece” pose musical problems that preclude performance by those lacking strong physical technique.The study Grave in C minor n.3 was re-used in the Largo of Rachmaninov’s Fourth concerto which was completed in 1926.

Victor chose six pieces from the Janacek cycle of ‘On an Overgrown Path’.A work rarely heard in the concert hall but one of very touching simplicity missing an overall architectural shape but creating an atmosphere with a hauntingly mellifluous traditional outpouring.’Our Evenings’ was played with absolute delicacy and simplicity and it led to ‘A blown- away leaf’ with all the gentle fluidity and luminosity of the fairytale it is.There was the playful halting rhythm of this short quixotic story ‘Come with us’ indeed!Followed by a deep brooding opening to ‘The Madonna of Frydek’ with its magical music box musings leading to an imperious outpouring of great lament that just bursts into intimate song.Declamations of striking atmosphere in ‘They Chattered Like Swallows’ and finally the echoing vibrations of desolation in ‘The Barn Owl Has Not Flown Away!’.A remarkable oasis of serenity and peace between the turbulence of the two Russian works either side of it on the programme

On an Overgrown Path is a cycle of fifteen piano pieces written by Leos Janacek and organized into two volumes.Janáček composed all his most important works for solo piano between 1900 and 1912.He probably began preparing his first series of Moravian folk melodies in 1900.At this time, the cycle had only six pieces, intended for harmonium : Our evenings, A blown-away leaf, The Frýdek Madonna, Good night!, The barn owl has not flown away! and a Piu mosso published after Janáček’s death.These melodies provided the basis for the first volume of On an Overgrown Path. Three of these compositions were first published in 1901 with the fifth volume of harmonium pieces, Slavic melodies, under the title On an overgrown path – three short compositions.By 1908 the cycle had grown to nine pieces, and was by then intended for piano instead of harmonium. The definitive version of the first book was published in 1911.On 30 September 1911, Janáček published the first piece of the second series in the Lidove noviny newspapers. The new series was created, in its entirety, around 1911.The complete second book was printed by the Hudební matice in 1942. The première of the work took place on 6 January 1905 at the “Besední dům” Hall in Brno.

Leos Janacek

The Nostalgia and Pain of Memory: Janáček’s On an Overgrown PathThe nationalism that hit the 19th century and carried through to the 20th century had a profound effect on music. Music that had been ignored for its folk-like character, or its non-urban nature, became the basis for new works that not only celebrated the folk sources but also the country itself.In Czech music history, three composers defined the nation: Smetena (1824-1884), =Dvorak (1841-1904), and Janacek (1854-1928). Janáček took inspiration from Moravian and other Slavic folk music to create his works, supported by his own research into the folklore and music of his country. Achieving international fame in his 60s with his opera Jenůfa, Janáček joined Smetana and Dvořák in symbolising Czech music.

A piano cycle created starting around 1900, On an Overgrown Path, had a complicated birth. Seven pieces were originally written for harmonium, and five were published as Slavonic Melodies in 1901 and 1902. The remaining two pieces were set aside. In 1908, Janáček revised the work and wrote 3 more pieces, and made the 8 pieces into a cycle for piano. Two more pieces were added in 1911. That formed series I. Series II, which started with two new pieces, grew with the addition of the two pieces that had been set aside in 1902, forming nos. 1, 2, 3, 5 of Series II. No. 4 is just an ink sketch with some pencil revisions. Series II was published in 1942 after Janáček’s death and the 5 pieces do not have characteristic titles but only tempo indications.The title for the work, On an Overgrown Path, had been settled by 1901, but the titles of the individual movements changed before the publication of Series I in 1911. For example, No. 2, started out as ‘A Declaration of Love,’ was then changed to ‘A Love Song’ and finally became a much more mysterious title of ‘A Blown-Away Leaf’.Janáček described the work as having a double trajectory of ‘distant reminiscences’ of his childhood and reflection on the death of his 20-year-old daughter Olga in 1903.The first five parts of the cycle refer to his childhood: No. 1. Our Evenings, for evenings by the fireside; No. 3. Come with us!, for children’s games; and no. 4. The Madonna of Frydek, for a religious procession near his home village.As we get into the second part, emotion, rather than memory, has a place: no. 6. Words fail!, No. 8. Unutterable Anguish, and No. 9. In Tears.No. 7, Good Night!, was a metaphor for Olga’s death, while the last movement, No. 10. The Barn Owl Has Not Flown Away!, refers to the owl’s status as a foreteller of doom.Janáček’s change in the work from childhood memories to the tragedies of the grownup parent make this a unique statement of the human condition.

A transcendental performance of Agosti’s famous 1928 transcription of the ‘Firebird’.Victor threw himself into they fray from the very opening notes with breathtaking drive and scintillating virtuosity-a truly Infernal Dance! There were beautiful sounds of orchestral colour in the Berceuse with a kaleidoscope of colours appearing over the entire keyboard.But it was the ravishing beauty of the appearance of the Firebird in the finale that was truly breathtaking.The build up to the tumultuous final bars was astonishing as the excitement mounted to a frenzy of unbelievable virtuosity and exhilaration.

Stravinsky’s score for The Firebird was written for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes dance company, which premiered the work in Paris in 1910. Based on ancient Russian folk tales, it tells the story of the young Prince Ivan’s quest to find a legendary magic bird with fiery multi-coloured plumage. In the course of his adventures, he falls in love with a beautiful princess but has to fight off the evil sorcerer Katschei to eventually marry her. The suite presents the culminating scenes of the ballet in a piano transcription by the Italian pianist and pedagogue Guido Agosti (1901-1989), who studied with Ferruccio Busoni.

The Danse infernale depicts the brutal swarming and capture of Prince Ivan by Katschei’s monstrous underlings until Prince Ivan uses the magic feather given to him by the Firebird to cast a spell on his captors, making them dance until they drop from exhaustion. The Berceuse is a lullaby depicting the eerie scene of the slumbering assailants, leading to the Finale, a wedding celebration for Prince Ivan and his princess bride.Agosti’s piano transcription, completed in 1928, is a daunting technical challenge for the pianist. Most of the piano writing is laid out on on three staves in order to cover the multi-octave range of the keyboard that the pianist must patrol. The piano comes into its own in this transcription as a percussion instrument, to be played with the wild abandon with which a betrayed lover throws her ex-partner’s possessions off the balcony onto the street below.Judging from the shocking 7-octave-wide chord crash that opens the Dance infernale, Agosti captures well the bruising pace of the action, with off-beat rhythmic jabs standing out from a succession of punchy left-hand ostinati constantly nipping at the heels of the melody line. The accelerating pace as the sorcerer’s ghouls are made to dance ever more frantically is a major aerobic test for the pianist.

Relief comes in the Berceuse, which presents its own pianistic challenges, mainly those of finely sifting the overtones of vast chord structures surrounding the lonely tune singing out from the middle of the keyboard.The wedding celebration depicted in the Finale presents Stravinsky’s trademark habit of cycling hypnotically round the pitches enclosed within the interval of a perfect 5th. Just such a melody, swaddled in hushed tremolos, opens this final movement. It is a major challenge for the pianist to imitate the shimmering timbre of the orchestra’s brightest instruments as this theme is given its apotheosis to end the suite in a blaze of sonority that extends across the entire range of the keyboard.

Guido Agosti (11 August 1901 – 2 June 1989) was an Italian pianist and renowned for his yearly summer course in Siena frequented by all the major musicians of the age.It was on the express wish of Alfredo Casella that Agosti took over his class which he did for the next thirty years.Sounds heard in his studio have never been forgotten.

Guido Agosti being thanked by Ileana Ghione after a memorable concert and masterclasses in the theatre my wife and I had created together in Rome.

Agosti was born in Forli 1901. He studied piano with Ferruccio Busoni Bruno Mugellini and Filippo Ivaldiand earning his diploma at age 13. He studied counterpoint under Benvenuti and literature at Bologna University. He commenced his professional career as a pianist in 1921. Although he never entirely abandoned concert-giving, nerves made it difficult for him to appear on stage,and he concentrated on teaching. He taught piano at the Venice Conservatoire and at the Santa Cecilia Academy in Rome.In 1947 he was appointed Professor of piano at the Accademia Chigiana Siena .He also taught at Weimar and the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki.

In the Ghione Theatre in the early 80’s with Ileana Ghione,’Connie’Channon Douglass Marinsanti ,Lydia Agosti ,Cesare Marinsanti,Guido Agosti.A closely knit family .

His notable students include Maria Tipo,Yonty Solomon Lelsie Howard,Hamish Milne,Martin Jones,Ian Munro,Dag Achat,Raymond Lewenthal,Ursula Oppens,Kun- Woo Paik,Peter Bithell.He made very few recordings; there is a recording of op 110 from the Ghione theatre in Rome together with his recording on his 80th birthday concert in Siena of Debussy preludes .

A full hall for the last in this series of ‘Discoveries’
Victor in discussion after the concert with Dmitri Alexeev and Tatyana Sarkissova
A family group with Victor,Lisa,Dmitri and Tatyana celebrating the triumphant ending of a wonderful series .
‘Victor was phenomenal, powerful yet sensitive, with a rich spectrum and colour.A thrilling performance.’ Garo Keheyan Pharos Arts Foundation

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