Alexandre Kantarow ignites and delights Naples at San Carlo with his great artistry

April 22, 2023


A truly breathtaking and exhilarating performance of Brahms first Piano Sonata op 1.
From the very first notes there was a sumptuous richness to the sound with the deep bass harmonies opening up endless possibilities of colour.
Infact the melting whispered cantabile of the second subject had a fluidity of ravishing beauty.Here was a true musician the same one that had mesmerised me in the performance he gave to an empty Philharmonie in Paris during the Covid pandemic.An oasis of beauty and hope for the future.A performance of Rachmaninov’s seemingly ungrateful first sonata that in his hands revealed a hidden masterpiece.

Waiting for Kantarow in the sumptuous beauty of San Carlo Opera House in the heart of Naples

It was the same today in the bustle of Naples on a Saturday night where he created an oasis of beauty revealing a masterpiece every bit as noble as the better known third sonata.Revealing a true symphony for piano with transcendental command and a technical mastery at the service of the composer.Here was a Furtwangler at the piano commanding attention and revealing the very soul of recreation.The Schubertian questioning and answering of the Andante was unforgettable for the portent that was concealed in so few notes.A truly magical duet between the tenor and soprano voices was a celestial ending.A spectacular Scherzo immediately broke the spell with its dynamic driving energy contrasting with the beautifully fluid trio.The finale was indeed Allegro con fuoco with it’s burning intensity and driving bass energy.Above all there was clarity and precision not only technically but of the mind of a great artist that can give us the complete architectural shape of a very complex work

A selection of six Schubert Lieder in the transcription of Liszt.Miniature masterpieces recreated by the genius Liszt.In Kantorow’s hands they were indeed imbued with the magical atmosphere of Schubert that Liszt had miraculously recreated.Six miniature tone poems in this artist’s sensitive hands where each one was a true ‘song without words’.Avoiding the more obvious well known Erlkonig,Standchen etc Kantarow brought us the rarely heard ‘other six’.I imagine he may have chosen them at the last minute like Schiff and Richter preferring not to be pinned down to a specific programme years in advance.’Sei mir gegrusst,Du bist die Ruh’,Meeresstille,Die junge Nonne,Rastlose Liebe,Der Wanderer’ by process of elimination were the Lieder he actually played.I have rarely heard them in concert and they were a revelation of sumptuous golden sounds,melancholic simplicity,mystery but above all a sense of balance that allowed the melodic line to sing out no matter the glittering ingenious cascades of notes that Liszt envelopes them in.They sparkled and shone like the jewels they are but above all communicated the emotion of the poetry and digging even deeper,revealing a world where the actual words are just not enough.Hypnotic performances that showed the extraordinary sensitivity and artistry of this youthful poet of the piano.A remarkable technical command of hands and feet! Yes,it was Anton Rubinstein who said the pedal was the soul of the piano and nowhere has it been more apparent than in the series of wondrous sounds and atmospheres that surrounded this beautiful black box on a stage that is used to welcoming the greatest voices of the age.A public that had escaped to a world of pure magic as they surrendered to the beauty and passion that was filling this historic temple of music that has resounded to some of the greatest performances ever heard.

The Wanderer Fantasy continued this Schubertiade without a break (probably because we were expecting all twelve Lieder as printed) but also because it had created an atmosphere that Kantarow was happy to maintain to the tumultuous ending of Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy.A Fantasy that had opened the door for Liszt with it’s newly created form created with the transformation of themes.Liszt was to continue and pursue this new form bringing to it to even more Romantic self identification.He was happy to inspire his son in law Richard Wagner who was to bring it to unheard of heights of inspiration.To quote Badura Skoda :’It is Schubert’s most monumental piano piece and stands as a guidepost to the future not only in the matter of form ,but also in its grandiose ‘orchestral’ use of the piano’.Kantarow imbued it with orchestral sounds and even the scales and arpeggios that abound were linked to a bass that was the anchor that guided us through a work written in the same year as Beethoven’s visionary last thoughts in the evolution of the Sonata from op 2 to the final Sonata op 111. The four movements are developed from a single thematic cell ,a rhythmic motive taken from the song Der Wanderer (that we had heard earlier in Liszt’s transcription ). All the themes in the Fantasy are developed from a single Leitmotiv as in the symphonic poem of a later era.Here the classical symphonic order of movements -Allegro,Adagio,Scherzo,Finale – corresponds to the principal sections of one larger sonata movement (exposition,development,recapitulation and coda).

It was this architectural shape that was missing in a performance of great beauty and transcendental command where he chose rather fast tempi that meant there was a continual relaxation of tempo in the more lyrical passages that rather fragmented a work that in many ways anticipates the symphonic sonata of the Brahms op 1.In Brahms Kantarow had kept a bass anchor that was like a great wave that took us from the first note to the last and gave great weight and authority as in fact he had done in the Rachmaninov Sonata from the Philharmonie.His Schubert of course was played with the same artistry and sensitivity but I missed this undercurrent that could have given great weight and authority to this most Beethovenian of all Schubert’s piano works.I found the opening of the Scherzo – Presto rather fragmented and the last movement too fast for it’s Allegro indication.The last movement lost something of it’s accumulation of grandeur and crescendo of excitement that was so telling in Arrau’s artistocratic hands.This was a Schubert Fantasy of a young poet that I am sure will gain in weight and authority as it enters his soul.

Amazingly only the night before Kantarow had played a magnificent Rachmaninov First Piano Concert in Turin with Barenboim’s assistant Thomas Guggeis – two artists in their twenties who can be heard in this link to the live radio broadcast:—Il-Cartellone-del-21042023-99a3944b-9d83-4ad2-9378-0e65eb224d08.html.

Three encores in a crescendo of acceptance as Kantarow treated us to another Schubert transcription of sumptuous beauty.

It was followed by the encore he had played the night before in Turin :Vecsey/Cziffra ‘Valse Triste’.Played with passion and insinuating style together with all the jeux perlé ‘tricks of the trade’ associated with the heir to Liszt that was the extraordinary Cziffra.Like the ‘bel canto’ stars that have ignited this stage for the past two centuries Kantarow knew how to ignite and excite an audience that was now following his every move with rapt attention and adulation.Realising like the great artist he is that he could not leave his audience yet he gave them what they were craving for with the greatest circus act of our age :Volodos’s revisitation of Mozart’s ‘Turkish March’.It sent the audience into delirium with everyone on their feet cheering this great new star that had arrived in their midst.

A surging mass of people outside on a festive Saturday evening in the centre of Naples
Waiting for Kantarow in one of the most beautiful theatres in the world
Kantarow ‘Veni,vidi,vici’
Nice to join in the fun of Naples by night in the Pizzeria opposite San Carlo with my adopted family waiting to run me home.
Nice to know that Michael Aspinall’s favourite restaurant awaits just around the corner too


Inserisci i tuoi dati qui sotto o clicca su un'icona per effettuare l'accesso:

Logo di

Stai commentando usando il tuo account Chiudi sessione /  Modifica )

Foto di Facebook

Stai commentando usando il tuo account Facebook. Chiudi sessione /  Modifica )

Connessione a %s...