Giovanni Bertolazzi at the Quirinale A kaleidoscope of ravishing sounds that astonish and seduce for the Genius of Liszt

The Quirinale Palace in the heart of Rome

Après une lecture du Dante – Fantasia quasi Sonata
da Années de pèlérinage. Deuxième Année. Italie, S.161 (1849).
Sonetto di Dante “Tanto gentile e tanto onesta” (da H. v. Bülow), S.479 (1874)
Totentanz. Parafrasi sul Dies Irae, S.525 (1865) Preludio su “Weinen, klagen, sorgen, zagen” (da J. S.Bach), S.179 (1859)
Recueillement. Vincenzo Bellini in memoriam, S.204 (1877)
Rapsodia ungherese n. 2, S.244 (1847)Lento a capriccio (do minore)

Liszt is alive and well in his beloved Eternal City and at the President’s Palace .
With the young virtuoso ,top prize winner of the Liszt / Budapest competition , Giovanni Bertolazzi astonished us this morning in a live Sunday morning broadcast where not even the unexpected intrusion of a brass band could distract him from the nobility and poetic insights he brought to the Genius of Liszt.

An encore in Hungarian Style with the Valse Triste by Vecsey-Cziffra

Considered by many to be the finest young pianist of his generation he showed us why, with an hour of astonishing playing of great showmanship but above all with a kaleidoscope of ravishing sounds of deep poetic content all from the hands of an artist of great stature.Liszt is indeed alive and well and I like to think he too was looking on today to a worthy disciple

The dramatic intensity he brought to the ‘Dante Sonata’ from the very first notes immediately held our attention.Silences that became menacing as sounds entered like threatening whispers out of this void.A performance of great theatricality where passionate explosions were contrasted with sublime confessions of intimate secrets.It was not only the transcendental control and dynamic physicality of his virtuosity but it was the kaleidoscope of sounds that he could find and extract from this powerful Fazioli that surrendered all its secrets under his hands.Not even the explosion of a loudspeaker in the most tender part of the Sonata could distract from the atmosphere he had created that held us all in his spell from the first to the last note of this remarkable one movement work.

Après une lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata (French for After a Reading of Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata; also known as the Dante Sonata) was completed in 1849. It was first published in 1856 as part of the second volume of the Anne de Pélerinage (Years of Pilgrimage) and was inspired by the reading of Victor Hugo’s poem “Après un lecture du Dante” (1836).It was originally a small piece entitled Fragment after Dante, consisting of two thematically related movements,which Liszt composed in the late 1830s.He gave the first public performance in Vienna in November 1839.When he settled in Weimar in 1849, he revised the work along with others in the volume, and gave it its present title derived from Victor Hugo’s own work of the same name.

Three rarely heard works by Liszt gave much needed contrast to the drama that unfolds in the Dante Sonata and Totentanz.I imagine the Liszt expert Leslie Howard had pointed Giovanni in the direction of these rarely heard gems of Liszt.A simple beautiful outpouring of song from Hans von Bulow who was Liszt’s son in law until Wagner came along and stole away the heart and mind of his daughter,Cosima.Beautifully played with a ravishing sense of balance that resounded with such beauty in these sumptuous surroundings

Von Bülow’s song Tanto gentile e tanto onesta never entered the repertoire, Liszt’s enthusiasm for it notwithstanding. The piano transcription S.479 is simple and straightforward, and the original song a worthy setting of Dante Alighieri. (‘My lady is so gentle and modest when she greets others that every tongue trembles and is still, and eyes do not dare to look upon her.’) .Written on the first anniversary of Beatrice’s death (therefore in 1291, according to the chronology established by Dante himself) this sonnet with two different beginnings above all describes the poet’s pain in the memory of his woman now seated in the splendor of the heavens, also through the personification Cavalantiana of the sighs that come out of the author’s chest and speak autonomously. In the prose, the anecdote that allegedly gave rise to the composition of the sonnet is interesting, i.e. Dante’s meeting with unspecified important characters while he is intent on drawing “an angel above certain tablets” (perhaps evidence of an artistic practice also evoked in other parts of Dante’s work).

An overwhelming performance of Totentanz where even my camera could not keep up with the funabulistic gymnastics of Giovanni.I remember hearing Arrau play this with orchestra in the vast Royal Albert Hall and being blown away by the volume of sound that he could produce.It is rare to hear this version for piano solo but Giovanni brought an amazing sense of line pointing out the Dies Irae no matter what technical feats were being performed all around.Giovanni had an entire orchestra in his hands as he astonished and amazed us.He also found the tranquility and innocence of a saint with the simplicity he brought to the plain chant in between the enormous volumes of sumptuous sounds he produced that would have put any orchestra to shame .

Totentanz (English: Dance of the Dead): Paraphrase on Dies irae, S .126 for solo piano and orchestra is notable for being based on the Gregorian plainchant melody Dies irae as well as for stylistic innovations. It was first planned in 1838, completed and published in 1849, and revised in 1853 and 1859.Some of the titles of Liszt’s pieces, such as Totentanz,Funérailles,la lugubre gondola and Pensée des morts show the composer’s fascination with death.In the young Liszt we can already observe manifestations of his obsession with death, with religion, and with heaven and hell.Liszt frequented Parisian “hospitals, gambling casinos and asylums” in the early 1830s, and he even went down into prison dungeons in order to see those condemned to die.Liszt also wrote versions for two pianos (S.652) and solo piano (S.525) In the last movement of the Symphonie fantastique by Berlioz the medieval (Gregorian) Dies Irae is quoted in a shockingly modernistic manner. In 1830 Liszt attended the first performance of the symphony and was struck by its powerful originality. Liszt’s Totentanz (Dance of Death), a set of variations also paraphrases the Dies Irae plainsong.An an early biographer notes, “Every variation discloses some new character—the earnest man, the flighty youth, the scornful doubter, the prayerful monk, the daring soldier, the tender maiden, the playful child.”

The Dance of Death (Totentanz) from Liber Chronicarum [Nuremberg Chronicle], 1493, attr. to Michael Wolgemut

The Prelude Weinen,Klagen,Sorgen,Zagen ‘Praludium nach Johann Sebastian Bach S 179 of 1859 is a dignified and restrained piece with just one dramatic outburst, all within the framework of a passacaglia which unfolds 25 variations on the motif

The prelude a work of more substance than these other two gems as Giovanni built it to a climax of unexpected architectural importance.Not the masterpiece of Liszt’s Variations on the same theme but a performance of great simplicity and beauty that I have never heard in the concert hall before.

Recueillement (‘Recollection’) S 204 was a gift to the Italian composer Lauro Rossi .It weaves arpeggios around a rising scale before settling into very simple, chordal writing.Written in memoriam to Vincenzo Bellini of who Liszt had made famous paraphrases of his Norma,La Sonnambula and I Puritani (Hexameron).Played with simplicity and sensitivity before the final salute from Liszt the greatest showman the piano has ever known .

One of Liszt’s most popular works the Hungarian Rhapsody n. 2 that followed the simplicity of the work dedicated to the memory of Bellini .It was given a new lease of life in Giovanni’s hands.There was a veiled beauty to the lassan before the full brass band of the friska.It was played with an irresistible sense of dance and style.Even the cadenza made a dramatic appearance as it led to the hard driven final octaves and the abrupt explosive final notes.

Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C-sharp minor, S.244 is the second in a set of 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies and is by far the most famous of the set.Franz Liszt was strongly influenced by the music heard in his youth, particularly Hungarian folk music, with its unique gypsy scale,rhythmic spontaneity and direct, seductive expression. These elements would eventually play a significant role in Liszt’s compositions.Composed in 1847 and dedicated to Count Laszlo Teleki it was first published as a piano solo in 1851 .Offering an outstanding contrast to the serious and dramatic lassan.the following friska holds enormous appeal for audiences, with its simple alternating tonic and dominant harmonization, its energetic, toe-tapping rhythms, and breathtaking “pianistics”.Most unusual in this composition is the composer’s invitation for the performer to perform a cadenza .Sergei Rachmaninov wrote a famous cadenza for his interpretation and Liszt himself wrote several cadenzas for the piece, but they were rarely performed.

Cappella Paolina Palazzo del Quirinale

Giovanni Bertolazzi
Insignito nel 2021 del 2° Premio e di 5 premi speciali al prestigioso Concorso Pianistico Internazionale “Franz Liszt” di Budapest, Giovanni Bertolazzi è nato a Verona nel 1998 e ha iniziato a studiare pianoforte da bambino. Diplomato prima al Conservatorio “Benedetto Marcello” di Venezia con Massimo Somenzi, quindi all’Istituto Superiore di Studi Musicali “Vincenzo Bellini” di Catania con Epifanio Comis, ha frequentato le masterclasses di Lily Dorfman, Joaquín Achúcarro, Matti Raekallio, Violetta Egorova, Boris Berezovsky, Stephen Kovacevich e Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. Ha vinto più di 40 premi in concorsi pianistici internazionali, tra cui il 1° Premio al Concorso Pianistico “Siegfried Weishaupt” di Ochsenhausen (2017), il 1° Premio al Concorso Pianistico Internazionale “Sigismund Thalberg” di Napoli (2018) e il 4° Premio al Concorso Pianistico Internazionale “Ferruccio Busoni” di Bolzano (2019). Nel giugno 2019 a Milano ha ricevuto il “Premio Alkan per il virtuosismo pianistico”. Dal 2020 è sostenuto artisticamente dall’Associazione Culturale “Musica con le Ali” e nel 2022 è stato premiato con il “Tabor Foundation Award”, riconoscimento assegnatogli dalla Verbier Festival Academy in occasione del Verbier Festival (Svizzera).
Si è esibito fra l’altro al Teatro La Fenice di Venezia, a Palazzo Pitti a Firenze, al Teatro Politeama Garibaldi di Palermo, al Teatro Bellini di Catania, presso la Sala Verdi del Conservatorio di Milano, a Budapest alla “Franz Liszt” Academy of Music e al Liszt Ferenc Memorial Museum, alla Landesmusikakademie di Ochsenhausen, al Kadrioru Kunstimuuseum di Tallinn e alla Steinway Hall a Londra. È stato ospite inoltre delle Serate Musicali di Milano, degli. Amici della Musica di Padova, del Bologna Festival, degli Amici della Musica di Firenze, del Verbier Festival e del Cziffra Festival di Budapest. Nei suoi concerti con orchestra ha collaborato, fra gli altri, con direttori come Gergely Vajda, Maurizio Dini Ciacci, Epifanio Comis, Daniel Smith. Ai Concerti di Radio3 al Quirinale ha debuttato in recital nell’ottobre del 2020.
Di recente ha pubblicato un album dedicato a Liszt e premiato dalla critica internazionale nel quale suona un pianoforte Borgato Grand Prix 333, strumento di fabbricazione italiana che detiene anche il record della maggior lunghezza (3,33 m.) per uno strumento gran coda da concerto.

With Andrea Penna the unflappable and highly informed radio presenter

Giovanni Bertolazzi will inaugurate the Robert Turnbull -Keyboard Trust series at the National Liberal Club in London on the 5th June

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