Mengyang Pan – Ilya Kondratiev with Joyous music making ‘Notre amitié est invariable’

Thursday 23 March 3.00 pm

A complete concert together for two remarkable musicians who up until today had only played in various festive occasions but never had a chance to play an entire recital together.The delicacy and sensitivity of Mengyang were complimented by the musicianship and showmanship of Ilya.Both had completed their training in the class of Vanessa Latarche at the Royal College so their musical pedigree was assured.Both have now been elevated to professorships at the Royal College.Two virtuosi who have mastered much of the solo piano repertoire but have the humility and responsibility of helping young musicians.Encouraging them to put aside their newly acquired skills and to focus on listening to themselves and translating the composers wishes into sounds.A concert of duet ‘lollipops’ in the sense that they presented a programme of well known duets by great composers.It was just this that showed off their remarkable pedigree as they presented these works with a freshness and intelligent musicianship that made one realise what gems they can be in the right hands.

Four hands!Means just that but also four feet .It also needs a policeman to decide the logistics of the different height of the stool and also who is to turn the pages and when.I remember Benjamin Britten ‘complaining’ that in his duo with Richter he would suddenly find two great feet on his as they fought for the pedals.In the passion of the moment Richter’s great temperament took over from Britten’s more gentlemanly control.The most important thing of course is a sense of balance that allows the musical line to shine through.These are all things that need real musicians listening with the sensitivity and humility that is necessary for all chamber music ensembles.

Opening with the first of Brahms’ 21 Hungarian Rhapsodies with the passionate tenor sweep from Ilya replied by the delicate cascading notes from Mengyang.It immediately showed their sense of control of sound as the melodic line was passed from the tenor to the soprano.Ilya’s heart beating palpitations in the bass never overshadowing the melodic line that he had now passed to Mengyang.The change of gear in the ‘trio’ section was played with teasing and beguiling style.An opening that immediately established the musical credentials of these two fine musicians.

The Hungarian Dances ) by Johannes Brahms (WoO 1) are a set of 21 lively dance tunes based mostly on Hungarian themes, completed in 1879.They vary from about a minute to five minutes in length. They are among Brahms’s most popular works and were the most profitable for him. In 1850 Brahms met the Hungarian violinist Ede Reményi and accompanied him in a number of recitals over the next few years. This was his introduction to “gypsy-style” music such as the csardas which was later to prove the foundation of his most lucrative and popular compositions.Only numbers 11, 14 and 16 are entirely original compositions.The better-known Hungarian Dances include Nos. 1 and 5, the latter of which was based on the csardas “Bártfai emlék” (Memories of Bártfa ) by Hungarian composer Bela Kéler which Brahms mistakenly thought was a traditional folksong.A footnote on the Ludwig-Masters edition of a modern orchestration of Hungarian Dance No.1 states: “The material for this dance is believed to have come from the Divine Csárdás (ca. 1850) of Hungarian composer and conductor Miska Borzó.”

A great sense of balance allowed these gems to shine with subtle colour and refined shape.The famous ‘mother’s hour’ Berceuse was played with great delicacy.I remember Perlemuter who lived in the same house as Fauré telling us of the simplicity that Fauré wanted in his music – sentiment without sentimentality.Ilya and Mengyang obviously with their great love and sensitivity for the music sometimes held up the natural flow as they imbued the music with their own heartfelt feelings.The Berceuse,Le Jardin de Dolly and Tendresse were moments to cherish but it was in the Mi-a-ou,Kitty- valse and Le pas espagnol ,where they allowed the music to flow with a rhythmic drive and ‘joie de vivre’,that was truly capitivating
The composer playing the secondo part to the primo of the young Mlle Lombard, daughter of his host and hostess at Trevano, Lake Lugano, in 1913.

The Dolly Suite, op.56, consists of six short pieces written or revised between 1893 and 1896, to mark the birthdays and other events in the life of the daughter of the composer’s mistress, Emma Bardac.Fauré wrote or revised the pieces between 1893 and 1896,for Régina-Hélène Bardac (1892–1985), known to her family as Dolly (she was later to become Madame Gaston de Tinan), the young daughter of the singer Emma Bardac,with whom Fauré had a long-running affair.He was in the habit of sending pieces of music, in manuscript, to mark Dolly’s birthdays and other family occasions.The Berceuse, marking Dolly’s first birthday, was a very early piece, composed in 1864 for Suzanne Garnier, the daughter of a family friend. In 1893 Fauré made some small amendments and changed its title from “La Chanson dans le jardin” to “Berceuse” – that is, a cradle song.”Mi-a-ou” was written for Dolly’s second birthday in June 1894.The title does not refer to a pet cat, as has often been supposed,but to Dolly’s attempts to pronounce the name of her elder brother Raoul, who later became one of Fauré’s favourite pupils.The young Dolly called her brother Messieu Aoul, which Fauré took as the original title for the piece.”Le jardin de Dolly”, was composed as a present for New Year’s Day 1895. It contains a quotation from Fauré’s First Violin Sonata composed 20 years earlier.The Bardacs’ pet dog was called Ketty, and in Fauré’s manuscript the piece is called “Ketty-Valse”.’Tendresse”, written in 1896, was originally dedicated to Adela Maddison,wife of a music publisher.The suite ends with a Spanish dance, a lively and picturesque piece of scene-painting, in the style of Espana by Fauré’s friend Emmanuel Chabrier .The first public performance of the suite was given by Alfred Cortot and Edouard Risler in 1898.Fauré himself enjoyed taking part in performances of the work, not only in public but en famille with the young children of his friends.

One of the great works for piano written in that miraculous last year that Schubert was to be on this earth.Schubert had found a free form but within an architectural framework that was to lead the way for Liszt,Berlioz and Wagner.Mengyang and Ilya played with beauty and style with a give and take that was evident from the very opening melodic outpouring.The same magical palpitation that was to bind this remarkable work together as one.
There was drama too with the ‘Largo ben marcato’declaration with it’s dynamic rhythmic figures kept firmly in control with a remarkable sense of ensemble.Bursting unexpectedly into a beautifully mellifluous duet between bass and soprano that was played with disarming simplicity and ravishing colour.The fervent dotted rhythms returning where even trills were involved in a duet of transcendental control where it was evident that these were four hands with an extraordinary technical command.(It is much simpler to play loud and fast that to play pianissimo and fast that is only for true masters.)
The Scherzo was played with a playful sense of style and an infectious buoyancy that allowed the trio to be played with real ‘delicatezza’without loosing any of their exhilarating rhythmic drive.Magic was in the air as the opening theme returned as a bridge to the knotty twine of the fugato.There was a sense of control and balance that allowed the musical line to shine through the intricate stream of notes that were passed from one voice to another.The drama that was enacted in the final eight bars was so overwhelming that our valiant players and also the audience needed a moment’s reflection before seeking the childlike simplicity of Debussy’s Petite Suite

The Fantasia in F minor by Franz Schubert D.940 (op .posth. 103), is considered by many to be one of Schubert’s most important works for more than one pianist and one of his most important piano works altogether. He began writing the Fantasia in January 1828 in Vienna and it was completed in March of that year, and first performed in May. Schubert’s friend Eduard von Bauernfeld recorded in his diary on May 9 that a memorable duet was played, by Schubert and Franz Lachner.It was dedicated to Caroline Esterházy, with whom Schubert was in (unrequited) love.Schubert died in November that year of 1828 and after his death, his friends and family undertook to have a number of his works published. This work is one of those pieces; it was published by Anton Diabelli in March 1829.

A plate from the original autograph in the Austrian National Library

The basic idea of a fantasia with four connected movements also appears in Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy for solo piano and represents a stylistic bridge between the traditional sonata form and the essentially free-form tone poem.The basic structure of the two fantasies is essentially the same: allegro, slow movement, scherzo, allegro with fugue.The form of this work, with its relatively tight structure (more so than the fantasias of Beethoven and Mozart) was influential on the work of Franz Liszt who arranged the Wanderer Fantasy as a piano concerto, among other transcriptions he made of Schubert’s music.

It was the simplicity and beauty of Debussy that one was truly aware that this was a duo that played as one.There could be no greater compliment as they allowed the ‘bateau’ to float in calm magical waters and the Cortège to proceed with such joyous steps.The crystalline clarity of the Menuet was played with a simplicity and jewel like beauty.The ballet was imbued with insinuating elegance and drive.A ravishing performance that filled the air with freshness and light after the monumental drama played out in Schubert.

The Petite Suite was composed from 1886 to 1889, and was first performed on 2 February 1889 by Debussy and pianist-publisher Jacques Durand at a salon in Paris.It may have been written due to a request (possibly from Durand) for a piece that would be accessible to skilled amateurs, as its simplicity is in stark contrast with the modernist works that Debussy was writing at the time.The first two movements are settings of poems from the volume Fetes galantes by Paul Verlaine (1844–1896).

One of the best known Hungarian Dances was played with rhythmic drive and perfect ensemble.The ‘Trio’ section was like a gust of wind blowing over the keys interrupted by improvised almost serious melodic comments immediately dismissed by the driving rhythmic dance just waiting to erupt.

An encore of Schubert’s famous March militare was played with all the ‘joie de vivre’ and superb musicianship that had made this concert such a joyous occasion for us all.

Mengyang Pan was born in China and has been living in the UK since 2000. She began her piano study at the age of three before becoming a junior student at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. At the age of 14, she left China to study at the Purcell School in the UK with professor Tessa Nicholson. Upon graduating with high honours, she went on to complete her musical education at the Royal College of Music training under professor Gordon Fergus-Thompson and Professor Vanessa Latarche.The prize winner of many competitions including Rina Sala Gallo International Piano competition, Bromsgrove International Young Musician’s Platform, Dudley International Piano Competition, Norah Sands Award, MBF Educational Award, Mengyang has performed in many prestigious venues such as the Royal Festival Hall, Wigmore Hall, Cadogan Hall, Bridgewater Hall and Birmingham Symphony Hall amongst many others. As soloist, Mengyang has appeared with many orchestras and her collaboration with conductors such as Maestro Vladimir Ashkenazy, John Wilson and Mikk Murdvee has gained the highest acclaim. Mengyang also finds much joy in teaching. In 2019, Mengyang was appointed piano professor at the Royal College of Music in London, she also teaches at Imperial College

A critically acclaimed pianist, Ilya Kondratiev is the prize-winner of several renowned international music competitions, including Franz Liszt Budapest 2011, Franz Liszt Weimar 2011, the Fifth Tbilisi 2013, Brant Birmingham 2015 and Chappell Gold Medal in 2016. Born in Russia, he studied from the age of seven in Samara with the distinguished teacher Victoria Soifer and, from the age of 16, at the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory with the People’s Artist of Russia Zinaida Ignatieva. In 2014 he moved to London in order to further his studies at the Royal College of Music under Vanessa Latarche and Sofia Gulyak, graduating with a Master of Performance and an Artist Diploma. Ilya performs extensively as a soloist and chamber music player at venues such as the Great Hall of Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory, Gasteig Munich, Weimarhalle, Palacio de Festivales de Santander, the Palaceof Arts in Budapest and the Great Hall of the Tbilisi Conservatoire. In 2011 Ilya was invited to work with Elisabeth Leonskaya at the Franz Liszt Piano Academy in Schilllingfurst, Germany and with Pavel Gililov at the Eppan Piano Academy in Italy. He has also performed in the masterclasses of Dina Yoffe, Konstantin Shcherbakov, Willem Brons, Dmitry Bashkirov, Jerome Rose, Leslie Howard, Lang Lang and Arie Vardi. In 2015 and 2017 Ilya was invited to the ‘Encuentro’ Festival in Santander and in 2016 appeared as a guest artist in the Gumusluk Festival in Turkey, and the Beethoven Music Festival and Academy in Altaussee


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