life_cover_750x750_88985424452_enThis could be the best thing I’ve heard this year. A bold claim, I know, but listening to Igor Levit’s new recording Life (Sony Classical) literally stopped me in my tracks….

With four recordings already and glowing reviews wherever he plays, this latest offering – his first in three years – from German-Russian pianist Igor Levit was eagerly awaited. It’s very different from his previous recordings which have focussed on “big” serious works (the Diabelli and Goldberg Variations, Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated, late Beethoven Sonatas). ‘Life’ is a classical concept album, a very personal existential reflection on life and death, prompted by the death of a close friend. Music has proven therapeutic benefits and Levit finds a way through his grief , though perhaps not a sense of closure, in a series of solemn, valedictory and deeply thoughtful works by Busoni, Bach/Busoni, Schumann, Rzewski, Wagner/Liszt and Bill Evans. There’s no flashiness here, no glittering runs or vertiginous virtuosity – that would be inappropriate. Instead we have a continuous meditative flow of music from Busoni’s Fantasie after J S Bach through the fleeting poignancy of Schumann’s Geister (‘Ghost’) Variations to Bill Evans’ Peace Piece, an unusual but entirely fitting work with which to close this wondrous recording.

Every note is considered, measured, poised but never mannered: there’s none of the pedantry other “intellectual” pianists tend towards in performance. This playing epitomises the maxim “through discipline comes freedom” – something I felt very strongly in Levit’s mesmerisingly intense concert of Beethoven’s last three sonatas at Wigmore hall last year. You could have cut the atmosphere – one of concentrated collective listening – with a knife, and Levit achieves the same palpable sense of presence, intimacy and profound communication on this recording. It’s as if you’re in the room with him, quietly observing, listening, almost without breathing, while he plays. He finds incredible delicacy in the quietest reaches of the dynamic range – technically hard to achieve and emotionally wrought – and the entire album has a compelling processional quality, felt most strongly (for me) in Liszt’s transcription of Wagner’s Solemn March to the Holy Grail from Parsifal, to which Levit brings immense control and a hushed, prayer-like quality to the magisterial architecture of this work.  The Fantasia and Fugue on the Chorale  ‘Ad nos, ad salutarum undum’,  the longest work on this 2-disc recording, is another glowing transcription, also by Liszt, demonstrating that music, like life, is subject to change. Isolde’s passionate Liebstod and Busoni’s poignant Berceuse pave the way for the final work on the recording.

Bill Evans’ ‘Peace Piece’ matches the solemnity and intensity of the rest of album but in its ostinato bass and delicate treble filigrees, so redolent of Chopin’s tender Berceuse, there is, finally, a sense of consolation. It’s beautifully played by Levit, as are all the pieces on this recording.

Highly recommended

 

 

A recent conversation with a pianist friend of mine (who, incidentally, is probably the best advocate I know for amateur pianism, such is her devotion to the piano and its repertoire), during which my friend described a festival adjudicator who implied that she should not be playing works like a Chopin Ballade, reminded me of an attitude which exists, and persists, amongst some professional musicians (and indeed a few amateurs too) and teachers that certain repertoire is for professional or advanced pianists only. This is of course rubbish: no repertoire should be considered “off limits” or the exclusive preserve of the professional. The music was written to be played, whether in the privacy of one’s home or to a full house at Carnegie Hall

Prior to the nineteenth century, most music was written for and performed in the court or the church but there was also instructional music (for example by JS and CPE Bach) to help the keyboard player improve their understanding of technique etc (later taken up in the nineteenth century by Chopin, for example, in his Études). J S Bach’s Clavier Übung (literally ‘Keyboard Practice’) includes the six keyboard Partitas, the Italian Concerto and Overture in the French Style, and the Goldberg Variations – all wonderful works which regularly appear in concerts and are enjoyed by pianists the world over. All these works were written to be played at home as part of one’s keyboard study, and I cannot imagine Bach would consider his splendid music to be “off limits” to amateur players – nor Chopin either!

By the nineteenth century, the piano had improved significantly and by the mid-nineteenth century advanced manufacturing techniques meant pianos could be produced more quickly and cheaply. The instrument became an important member of the household and composers responded to its popularity by writing smaller scale works, “albumblatt”, miniatures and duets, specifically aimed at the “at home” or amateur player. Many of these works are now staples of concert programmes.

As pianists we are terribly spoilt for choice. We have a vast repertoire to explore, and today composers continue to add to that repertoire, which means we also have brand new music to explore and play. And in my experience, composers are pleased if you actively seek out their music to play (and preferably purchase it too). OK, so it’s not as prestigious as having it premiered by a leading artist, but that the music is being played and perhaps shared with others via piano clubs, self-organised recitals etc means the music is getting out there.

Don’t let anyone tell you you’re “not worthy” of this fantastic repertoire, that you shouldn’t attempt a Chopin Ballade, a late Beethoven or Schubert Sonata, Liszt’s Dante Sonata or Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit.

The music is there to be played – just go and bloody well play it!

As friends and followers of this blog probably know by now, I moved to Dorset at the end of May after 40 years living near or in London. We spent six weeks in temporary accommodation with my mother-in-law and our cat Monty, with just some basic furniture and effects to enable us to function and continue to work day to day (my husband runs his own business, working from home). Meanwhile, the bulk of our furniture and belongings went into storage. Three days after we moved into our new home on the island of Portland, near Weymouth, a large Pickfords van arrived to deliver our effects and left us a few hours later surrounded by packing boxes. The efficiency of Pickfords’ packing service ensured that every box was clearly marked, though some were rather ambiguous, such as “shoes and books” – which turned out to contain all the files associated with my London piano teaching practice. As I gradually unpacked, drawing our possessions out of their wrapping paper, a certain item – a book or a vase – would elicit a response or a Proustian rush of memory. Finding photos of my son as a baby and little boy were particularly poignant and special (he is now 20, living in his own flat and working as a chef at one of London’s top hotels).

It also occurred to me, as I worked my way through the boxes, that being reunited with these items, accumulated over a marriage of nearly 30 years and remembering how and why they came into our home and our joint lives, was like reacquainting myself with piano repertoire I had learnt previously. Just as I recalled why that mid-century white vase was special, so I also recalled what I liked about the repertoire and why I selected it in the first place. Some pieces go back a long way in my piano life – to when I was a teenager (Schubert’s D899 Impromptus, Mozart’s Fantasies), or when I was starting to play the piano seriously again as an adult (Bach’s Preludes and Fugues, Chopin’s Nocturnes). Others have more recent heritage – the music I learnt for my performance Diplomas or pieces played in concerts, which will always remain special because of their association with positive and enjoyable performances.

Returning to previously-learnt repertoire can be extremely satisfying – like reacquainting oneself with an old friend, while also making a new friendship. Some pieces reveal their subtleties and qualities more slowly than others and benefit from a cycle of work, rest, work, rest. A prime example for me is Mozart’s Rondo in A minor, K511, a profoundly emotional and complex work which I revisited four times and will work on again this autumn, such is the work’s appeal and breadth. Picking up a piece again after a long absence often offers new insights into that work, revealing details one may not have spotted the first time round, while time away from the music – perhaps spent listening or reading about it – helps one crystallise thoughts and form new ideas to put into practice. It can be surprisingly easy to bring previously-learnt work back into one’s fingers, and this ease is a good sign – that one learnt the work deeply in the first place.

At the time of writing, my grand piano is still in storage with a friend in London. In the meantime, I have been enjoying listening to music I’ve previously learnt while also considering new repertoire for performance later this year.

Oh, and I’ve also been enjoying the fantastic scenery on Portland…..

3 – 7 October 2018
Kings Place, London
2018 promo video here

Katya Apekisheva | Alexandra Dariescu | Margaret Fingerhut | Ingrid Fliter | Stephen Kovacevich | Konstantin Lifschitz | Leszek Możdżer | Charles Owen | Paul Roberts

“A reminder of what a fabulous variety of sound can be conjured from two pianos”
5* The Telegraph

  • Third annual London Piano Festival at Kings Place with Co-Artistic Directors Charles Owen and Katya Apekisheva
     
  • Solo recitals by Konstantin Lifschitz and Ingrid Fliter, amplified jazz performance by Leszek Możdżer and lecture/recital on Debussy by Paul Roberts
  • Two-piano Marathon with Stephen Kovacevich, Margaret Fingerhut, Konstantin Lifschitz, Ingrid Fliter, Charles Owen and Katya Apekisheva which will be recorded by BBC Radio 3 for future broadcast in Radio 3 in Concert
  • Family concert of The Nutcracker and I by Alexandra Dariescu with piano soloist, ballerina and digital animation

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Charles Owen and Katya Apekisheva announce the programme of their third annual London Piano Festival, taking place from 3-7 October 2018 at Kings Place, London.  This year the Co-Artistic Directors bring together seven pianists in addition to themselves for a programme of solo recitals, jazz, a family concert, lecture/recital and the highly anticipated two-piano marathon.  The theme of this year’s Festival is the centenary of the death of Claude Debussy which is seen throughout the 5-day series.  This year the London Piano Festival are bringing in a student ticket scheme, offering £5 tickets to a number of events during the 5-day Festival.

The highlight of the London Piano Festival is its Two-Piano Marathon, referred to as “altogether exemplary” by The Times (2016). In various pairings, Stephen Kovacevich, Margaret Fingerhut, Katya Apekisheva, Charles Owen, Konstantin Lifschitz and Ingrid Fliter perform a range of works by Brahms, Bax, Debussy, Adès, Stravinsky, Rachmaninov and more.  The Two-Piano Marathon will be recorded by BBC Radio 3 for future broadcast in Radio 3 in Concert.

The Festival opens with a concert by Co-Artistic Directors Charles Owen and Katya Apekisheva performing both solo and duo repertoire.  Katya opens the concert performing Schubert’s Moments Musicaux 1-3, Granados’ The Maiden and The Nightingale and Ginastera’s Three Argentinian Dances before Charles performs Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit. The second half of the concert sees the duo perform Three Nocturnes by Debussy (arranged by Ravel), marking the composer’s centenary, and Milhaud’s Scaramouche.

“At the London Piano Festival we want to bring together a whole range of music appealing to piano lovers of all ages.  As 2018 marks the centenary of Debussy’s death, we felt it was important to mark this within our programming this year.  We also love to present contemporary music at the Festival and this year we’ll be performing an existing piece by Thomas Adès who is a great friend of Charles’.” Charles Owen and Katya Apekisheva

Both Owen and Apekisheva will be releasing solo albums to coincide with the opening concert of the London Piano Festival this year.  Katya is releasing an album of Scriabin, Chopin and Fauré impromptus on Champs Hill Records, a programme which she brought to the Festival in 2016.  Charles is releasing a double-disc of Brahms’ late piano works on Avie. This follows the recent release of their duo recording in January 2018, Rachmaninov: The two-piano suites; Six Morceaux, Op. 11 which Gramophone magazine called “a highly recommendable disc”.

The London Piano Festival features two solo recitals by pianists making their debuts at Kings Place. Russian pianist Konstantin Lifschitz performs a programme of works by Schubert, Janáček and Debussy, and Argentinian pianist Ingrid Fliter performs Beethoven Sonatas before they both join the Two-Piano Marathon.   Celebrated Polish jazz pianist Leszek Możdżer brings a night of amplified jazz to the Festival, following his sold-out show at Kings Place in 2017 which London Jazz News called “a great show that held the attention from start to finish”. 

Commemorating the centenary of Claude Debussy, concert pianist and writer Paul Roberts presents a lecture/recital in Kings Place’s Hall Two about Debussy’s Piano Music on Saturday 6 October, focussing on Debussy’s Images books I and II.  Paul Roberts is the leading authority on the music of Debussy and Ravel, having written Images: The Piano Music of Claude Debussy, Debussy: a biography and Reflections: The Piano Music of Maurice Ravel.

For this year’s family concert, Alexandra Dariescu brings her ground-breaking multi-media piece The Nutracker and I, by Alexandra Dariescu for piano soloist, ballerina and digital animation to Kings Place for the first time, following its critically-acclaimed world premiere last year.  Tchaikovsky’s beloved ballet music features throughout and includes favourites such as Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Arabian Dance, Chinese Dance, Pas de Deux, and the Flower Waltz in 15 virtuosic arrangements by Mikhail Pletnev, Stepan Esipoff, Percy Grainger and three brand new variations by Gavin Sutherland.  Dariescu is releasing an album of The Nutcracker and I on Signum Classics on 27 April.

Full programme

Wednesday 3 October, 19:30pm | Hall One
OPENING NIGHT – Charles Owen and Katya Apekisheva
Schubert Moments Musicaux 1-3, D.780 (KA)
Granados Maiden and the Nightingale from Goyescas, Op. 11 (KA)
Ginastera Three Argentinian Dances, Op. 2 (KA)
Ravel Gaspard de la nuit (CO)
Debussy Three Nocturnes (arr. Ravel) (KA & CO)
Milhaud Scaramouche (KA & CO)

Thursday 4 October, 19:30pm | Hall One
ON AN OVERGROWN PATH – Konstantin Lifschitz
Schubert Sonata in A minor, D 784
Janáček ‘On an Overgrown Path’ 1st series
Janáček ‘On an Overgrown Path’ 2nd series
Debussy Preludes Book I

Friday 5 October, 19:30pm | Hall One
LESZEK MOŻDŻER IN CONCERT 

Saturday 6 October, 14:00pm | Hall Two 
IN THE MIND’S EYE – DEBUSSY’S IMAGES – Paul Roberts

Saturday 6 October, 16:00pm | Hall One
TEMPEST – Ingrid Fliter
Beethoven Sonata No. 18 in E-flat major, Op. 31, No.3
Beethoven Sonata No. 17 in D minor ‘Tempest’, Op. 31, No. 2
Beethoven Sonata No. 22 in F major, Op. 54

Saturday 6 October, 19:00pm | Hall One
TWO PIANO MARATHON – Stephen Kovacevich, Margaret Fingerhut, Katya Apekisheva, Charles Owen, Konstantin Lifschitz, Ingrid Fliter
Brahms Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56 (KL&IF)
Bax The Poisoned Fountain and Hardanger (MF &CO)
Poulenc Élégie (MF & KA)
Poulenc Capriccio (d’après Le Bal masque) (MF & KA)
Poulenc L’embarquement pour Cythère (MF & KA)
Debussy En blanc et noir (SK & CO)
Rachmaninov Russian Rhapsody (1891) (KL & KA)
Arensky Suite No. 1, Op. 15 (IF & KA)
Thomas Adès Concert Paraphrase on Powder Her Face (CO & KA)
Stravinsky Scherzo à la russe (CO & MF)

Sunday 7 October, 14:00pm | Hall One
THE NUTCRACKER & I BY ALEXANDRA DARIESCU

 


(source: Albion Media press release)

It seemed fitting in the year of the centenary of Claude Debussy’s death for the pianist Denis Kozhukhin to devote half of a concert to his music, and appropriate to include George Gershwin in the second half. Debussy was undoubtedly aware of – and influenced by –  American ragtime and jazz, and had an immense influence on Gershwin, and later jazz composers, including Duke Ellington, Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett. The ghost of the French composer haunts many of Gershwin’s works with their pungent harmonies, simple melodies and improvisations.

Never had Book 1 of Debussy’s Préludes seemed so languid, so laid back as in Kozhukhin’s hands: even the up-tempo pieces such as Le Vent dans la plaine and Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest, or the capricious La Danse de Puck had a relaxed suppleness which suggested music played not in a grand concert hall but rather late evening in a Parisian café with a glass of something before one. Danseuses de Delphes set the tone: this first Prelude had an erotic grace, a hint of naughtiness behind the direction Lent et grave (slow and serious). Voiles even more so: was this a boat gently rocking on water, its sails barely ruffled by a warm breeze, or perhaps diaphanous veils wafting in an altogether more sensuous scenario? Kozhukhin kept us guessing, lingering over Debussy’s intangible perfumed harmonies, subtly shading his colourful layers and textures, and highlighting the quirky rhythmic fragments which frequent these miniature jewels. His approach was concentrated and intense – the frigid stillness of Des pas sur la neige was almost exquisitely unbearable – but there was wit and playfulness too, Minstrels prancing cheekily across the keyboard to close the first half with an insouciant flourish.

Read full review here


Artist photo: Marco Borggreve

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When the concert is perfect, does that make the reviewer redundant?

As regular readers of this blog will know, I enjoy writing about the concerts I attend but I also struggle with the purpose and value of concert reviews. At the most fundamental level, a review is a record of the event, setting it in context and as a moment in history. A review should also offer readers a flavour of the event and the thoughts and opinion of the reviewer about that event. When I left Milton Court last night I told my concert companion I could not write about the concert we’d just attended because it was so perfect that to write about it could not possibly do justice to the quality of the performance…..

Last night I attended American pianist Jeremy Denk’s concert at Milton Court, one of London’s newest concert venues and, in my opinion, the finest for piano music because of the clarity of its acoustic. Add a pianist whose musical insight and intellectual clarity, magical touch and sense of pacing bring the music to life so that you want to hear him “no matter what he performs” (NY Times), and we have the makings for an evening of exceptionally fine pianism.

It was a typically piquant programme, changed from the published version to include just three works – two magisterial, transcendent late sonatas by Beethoven and Schubert and Prokofiev’s Vision Fugitives, twenty fleeting miniatures, by turns quirky, ethereal, rambunctious, grotesque, poetic, delicate, fragmentary….. Denk revealed their individual characters so carefully, so delightfully that each tiny gem felt like a stand alone piece in its own right.

Beethoven’s piano sonata in E, op 109, the first of his triptych of last sonatas, also opens with a fragment – a tiny arabesque of just two notes in the right hand to which the left hand replies with a similar figure. It’s not a melody, yet that opening is immediately memorable. In Denk’s hands the music unfolded before us, its narrative flow so naturally paced. A muscular middle movement which dissolved into a theme and six variations, surely some of the most transcendent Beethoven ever wrote and handled with a delicacy and robustness, when required, by Denk which pulled one into this otherwordly soundworld so completely that one was transported, fully engaged and utterly overwhelmed. It was akin to meditating.

It felt almost wrong to leave the auditorium for the interval and face the noisy crush around the bar, but we knew the second half would take us to another special place, the unique world of late Schubert, his final sonata completed just a few months before his death.

Is the Sonata in B flat, D960 Schubert’s “final word”? A valediction for his departure from this world? I’ve always been suspicious of this view of this great sonata, whose expansive opening movement is like a great river charting is final course before the ocean, and whose finale is a joyful outpouring of hope, a reminder perhaps that Schubert had more, much more to say, had he lived longer. This was certainly Denk’s take on Schubert’s last sonata. The opening movement’s first theme had the serenity of a hymn, the second theme more unsettled, but the overall sense of repose remained, occasionally interrupted by dark, but never ominous, rumbling bass trills.

The meditative quality of the Beethoven variations was felt again in the slow movement of the D960. In some pianist’s hands, this movement can sound funereal, but Denk gave it a mystical grace and a sense of forward movement, so that the warmth of the A major middle section when it came infused rather than surprised the ear. The Scherzo poured forth with the agile freshness of a sparkling mountain stream, but the Trio reminded us that melancholy is never fair away in Schubert’s world, the bass accents (too often overlooked in other performances/recordings) here perfectly highlighting the change of mood….

The finale opens with a bare G, potentially as cold as the opening of the first Impromptu, but a dancing sprightly rondo quickly ensures, rising to a joyous conclusion, all masterfully and imaginatively presented by Denk. The overall pacing of this Sonata, like the Beethoven, was so elegantly managed: it is a long work (around 40 minutes) yet Denk’s clear sense of a through narrative and overall architecture of the music ensured there were no longueurs, not a moment when the mind wandered to other realms.

The encore was Brahms’ ever popular Intermezzo in A, from the Op 118. Tender and poignant, it was a lovely conclusion to an exceptionally fine evening of pianism.

when I have felt in the moment of the performance I have brought the notes on the page to life in a weird way which is outside of me – that is the kind of success that I am after

– Jeremy Denk (interview with The Cross-Eyed Pianist)


Meet the Artist – Jeremy Denk