Leslie Howard, who has chosen a typically diverse all-Liszt programme for his 75th birthday concert at Wigmore Hall, is known universally as a specialist in the music of this most prolific and influential of composers and has devoted much time to performing, recording, teaching and writing on his works. Howard has also shared his extraordinary understanding of Liszt in numerous masterclasses around the world where his erudition and ease enable him to convey the very essence of Liszt’s style.
Masterly playing for Leslie Howard’s 75th birthday concert.
Of course a Liszt recital of works many of us have never heard on the concert stage before.
His series of Liszt recitals in this very hall have passed into history as have his complete recordings on 100 cd’s of the entire pianistic repertoire of the Genius that is Liszt.
Seated at the piano hardly moving a muscle he miraculously ignited the piano with an extraordinary range of sounds and colours.It was the same lesson that had allowed Rubinstein to ravish and seduce audiences right up to his last concert in this very hall at the age of 90.
Art that conceals art that had so inspired the young blue eyed ,blond haired Australian who had made the pilgrimage to Siena to study in the class of Guido Agosti.
Agosti who had been a disciple of Busoni in turn a disciple of Liszt was no showman and playing in public was a great suffering for this real gentleman of the piano.
His true artistry could only be best expressed in the intimate atmosphere of his studio that became his home every summer in Siena for thirty years .
There were sounds heard in that studio that have never been forgotten by generations of pianist many of whom at the beginning of illustrious careers.
Agosti and his wonderfully extrovert wife Lydia a real Floristan and Eusebius couple,immediately realised the extraordinary intellect and serious intent of this young virtuoso as they took Leslie very much under their wing.
It was obviously from Agosti that the seed of absolute musical integrity and reverence for the composer’s wishes was born.Also a musical curiosity of rare intelligence and humility.
Lydia had never realised also what refreshing fun music could be with this extrovert young Australian.
A musical purity in which the pianist is a medium between the composer and his audience.
Je sens,je joue,je trasmets.
Music for Agosti was the bible!
Of course there is great scholarship and the understanding of structure and architectural shape of a great musical mind .A scholarship that has Leslie searching the archives for the original manuscripts to get as close as possible to the seed that gives birth to the music.
Agosti and Leslie Howard,two great minds at the service of the composer.
Leslie has happily an international concert itinerary which has seen him performing throughout the world for more than half a century.Unlike Agosti he relishes his ability to communicate with a public and his generosity towards serious young musicians is well known by all those that flock to his home to discuss and discover the secrets in the scores of which Leslie is a living encyclopaedia of knowledge and acquired wisdom. https://christopheraxworthymusiccommentary.com/2022/02/16/leslie-howard-masterclass-at-the-r-c-m-scholarship-and-mastery-shared/.
A talking encyclopaedia indeed that can bring all the most obscure and absurdly ignored scores vividly to life ……at the touch of a hat!
Like Rubinstein Leslie is also a ‘Bon viveur’and well known also for his discerning taste in fine wines.
Tonight on his 75th birthday even though in momentarily difficult circumstances he pulled another rabbit out of the hat.
A scintillating display of virtuosity,scholarship and the joy of communication that held a full house astonished and astounded by many works that they had never heard before.
Infact some works were only recently discovered in the archives.’Der Todesengel’ was dicovered by Minkyu Kim, a disciple of Leslie,and a distinguished pianist and scholar in his own right, who found it in Georgetown University -Leon Robbin Collection.
Above all Leslie like Rubinstein shared his ‘joie de vivre’ and generosity with his admirers who are happy to know that Leslie still has another quarter of a century before him of stimulating discoveries.
He may not have had the strength to offer a much requested encore,but it certainly did not stop him from unwinding with his many friends and disciples in the improvised Green room just a stones’ throw from the scene of his triumphant birthday concert.
Noretta Conci and her husband John Leech,both well into their nineties were the first to congratulate their musical ‘son’ who they have nurtured and mentored for more than half a century.
Noretta,a disciple of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli ,who had also as a child studied with Agosti,was astounded that there was not a single wrong note musically or technically in Leslie’s heroic appearance tonight.
John founded the Keyboard Trust together with Leslie,thirty three years ago ,as a sixtieth birthday present for his beloved Noretta.
He will be 98 on Friday and made the pilgrimage tonight especially to be with his musical ‘baby’ on his mere seventy fifth birthday.
Edward Morton Jack of the Liszt Society, writes in tribute: ‘Among Leslie Howard’s many distinctions is his having been invited, aged only 39, to be president of the Liszt Society upon the death in 1987 of Louis Kentner. Howard has remained president of the Society ever since, working tirelessly to promote an understanding of the music and life of Liszt’. Tonight’s concert is no exception.
- Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
- Ballade No. 1 (‘Le chant du croisé’) S170
- Ballade No. 2 S171
- 4 Valses oubliées S215
- Petite valse (‘Nachspiel zu den drei vergessenen Walzer’) S695e
- Variationen über das Motiv von Bach S180
- Hungarian Rhapsody No. 16 in A minor S244
- Hungarian Rhapsody No. 17 in D minor S244
- Hungarian Rhapsody No. 18 in F sharp minor S244
- Hungarian Rhapsody No. 19 in D minor S244