Friday, February 20, 2015

Standing ovation for dazzling Yuja Wang performance in Rome

Sala Santa Cecilia, Auditorium Parco della Musica – 13 February 2015

Recitals by the immensely talented concert pianist Yuja Wang have been a regular fixture on the Santa Cecilia programme for several years now, where she has always amazed and delighted audiences with her ever-more dazzling performances. Her formidable technique, combined with an irresistible force-of-nature stage presence, have made her appearances the must-see event of every season. Yet Yuja’s return to Rome last Friday evening saw her scale even greater heights. Alongside the fireworks and breathtaking virtuosity she brought yet more to the table – even greater tenderness and emotional depth. This was absolutely stunning playing from start to finish.

The versatile recital programme opened with three brief, yet utterly delightful, Liszt transcriptions of Schubert, followed by an exceptionally sensitive reading of Chopin’s Sonata No. 3, which emphasised the sheer beauty of Chopin's melodies. I particularly enjoyed the searching subtlety of the third movement.

With 2015 marking the centenary of Skriabin's death, the second half of the evening was almost entirely dedicated to the Russian composer. Opening with the Prelude in F-sharp minor for the Left Hand, Yuja then led us on a mesmerising journey through the composer’s musical development, with works of increasing harmonic complexity, culminating in the unsettling and menacing dissonance of the “Black Mass” Sonata. It was a thrilling ride. The final item on the scheduled programme, Balakirev’s Islamey, was an exhilarating display of bravura that brought thunderous applause at its close.

The Rome audience was rewarded with not one but three stunning encores: the exquisite Der Kontrabandiste, a rarely performed Schumann composition, followed by two hugely popular crowd pleasing gems that earned a well deserved standing ovation: Tea for Two, which proved yet further that Yuja is at home playing just about anything, even 1920s jazz, and the wonderful Horowitz arrangement of Variations on Bizet’s Carmen.

Absolutely unmissable!

Full programme:
Schubert - Liszt
Schwanengesang D.957, No. 1 and No. 5
Die Schöne Müllerin D795, No. 19
Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op 58
Prelude for the Left Hand, Op. 9 No. 1
Prelude, Op. 11 No. 8 in F sharp minor
Fantasie In B minor, Op. 28
Prelude, Op. 37 No. 1 in B flat minor
2 Poèmes, Op. 63
Sonata No. 9, Op. 68 “Black Mass”
Schumann - Tausig
Der Kontrabandiste
Youmans - Tatum
Tea for Two
Bizet - Horowitz
Variations on a theme from Carmen

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Poetic musicality - Benjamin Grosvenor plays Liszt in Rome

Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia conducted by Kent Nagano

Santa Cecilia Hall, Auditorium Parco della Musica – 6 December 2014

Meeting Benjamin Grosvenor in Rome
When, at the age of nineteen, the prodigiously talented British concert pianist Benjamin Grosvenor appeared at the First Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in 2011, he was the youngest ever soloist to have performed at the event. The piece he chose to play on that occasion was Liszt's Concerto for Piano No. 2 in A major, and it was with this work that he made another début this past weekend, in his first collaboration with the Santa Cecilia Orchestra in Rome. I’ve enjoyed Grosvenor’s recent recordings enormously, so was thrilled by the prospect of finally seeing him play live, particularly under the baton of guest conductor Kent Nagano, who was last in Rome conducting another brilliant young pianist, Rafał Blechacz.

Salvatore Accardo once made a wonderful observation about Maurizio Pollini, commenting that he played not to demonstrate his own virtuosity, but to demonstrate the beauty of the music. I was reminded of those words on Saturday afternoon as I watched Benjamin Grosvenor on stage at the Auditorium. At only twenty-two his technical command of the keyboard is already formidable, but what really shone through during his performance of Liszt's Second Piano Concerto – ostensibly less of a showcase for flamboyant displays of virtuosity than his First Piano Concerto – was Grosvenor’s innate musicianship, and the grace and poetry he brought to the dialogues between the piano and the woodwinds and strings of the orchestra. His playing was a delight from start to finish. Grosvenor’s performance was short and sweet, however. Sadly, on Saturday afternoon the powers that be at the Auditorium prevented the pianist from performing an encore, much to the disappointment of the audience who had rewarded him with rapturous applause and numerous curtain calls. After such a tantalisingly brief, yet brilliant performance, I can’t wait to see him back in Rome again soon.

The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to Kent Nagano’s exploration of musical Romanticism, with all three composers on the programme sharing an obsession with repeated musical motifs or rhythms, opening with Wagner’s Tannhäuser with its leitmotifs, through to the “idèe fixe” which permeates the Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz. A hugely rewarding concert that closed to noisily appreciative cheers from the audience.

Full programme:
Ouvertüre und Venusberg aus Tannhäuser
Piano Concerto No 2 in A major
Symphonie Fantastique

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Devilishly good! Daniil Trifonov in Rome

Sala Sinopoli, Auditorium Parco della Musica – 14 November 2014

Autographed Daniil Trifonov CD
Since winning the 2011 Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition, and sweeping the board at the XIV International Tchaikovsky Competition that same year, 23 year old Russian concert pianist Daniil Trifonov has been steadily making a name for himself around the world, garnering critical praise and performing at prestigious venues. When a concert pianist of the calibre of Martha Argerich publicly expresses wonder at the prodigious talents of a young pianist, one tends to sit up and take notice after all. I was mildly surprised, therefore, to see that Trifonov’s recent Rome concert was to take place in Sala Sinopoli, one of the smaller of the main concert halls at the Auditorium Parco della Musica, and that whilst reasonably full, the venue was by no means sold out. No doubt that will change in the future as his reputation grows in Italy too. Certainly the stunning performance he gave on Friday evening will have earned him many new admirers.

There’s a fearlessness about Daniil Trifonov that is apparent from the very second he steps out on stage. A brisk bow, and it was right down to business with Liszt’s arrangement of Bach’s organ Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, played with majestic boldness and assurance. Next on the programme was Beethoven’s final sonata, No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111, another excellent choice that exhibited Trifonov’s extraordinary interpretive abilities as a performer. He brought a freshness and sense of improvisation to the sonata, with his formidable technique eliciting gasps during the most delicate pianissimos.

After a short interval, Trifonov was back on stage and already at the keyboard as stragglers in the audience were still returning to their seats, launching zealously into what would prove to be a remarkable tour de force – all twelve of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes. Clocking in at over an hour in length, a live performance of these technically challenging Etudes is a formidable feat of sheer stamina for any artist – and can be exhausting for the listener too - but Trifonov seemed, at times, a man possessed, unafraid to explore his own hidden depths, and push the capabilities of the piano as an instrument. His playing was so seductively demonic, one really did begin to wonder if he had made a Faustian pact with the devil!

The audience followed him spellbound on this journey and the close of the Etudes was met with rapturous applause. Trifonov was coaxed out on stage for numerous curtain calls and to loud cries of bravo! He did not, however, perform an encore. After such a marathon it was clear that he had given us his all. Remarkable – a must-see performer.

Full programme:
Fantasia and Fugue in G minor BWV542, transcribed for piano by Liszt
Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111
12 Etudes d’exécution transcendante S139

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Rome Film Festival 2014 | Festival Internazionale del Film di Roma

16 - 25 October 2014 at the Auditorium Parco della Musica

Geraldine Chaplin at Rome Film Festival 2014
The ninth edition of the Rome Film Festival, with Marco Müller once again at the helm for a third and final time as artistic director, has just drawn to a close. The annual kermesse may have seen a dramatic cut in budget and consequently a reduced number of screenings this year, but there was still plenty to enjoy, with a rewarding selection of encounters with both mainstream and cult filmmakers and actors such as Miike Takashi (winner of this year’s Maverick Director Award 2014), Park Chan-wook, Jia Zhangke, Walter Salles (Marc’Aurelio Lifetime Achievement Award), and Geraldine Chapman, as well as a varied programme of world cinema premières.

In many ways I enjoyed this festival, with its focus away from mainstream big budget movies and Hollywood stars, more than previous years - there were some truly wonderful films in this year’s programme. Russian director Alexey Fedorchenko – inaugural winner of the Marc’Aurelio of the Future Award, a new festival prize – presented the stunning and poetic Angely Revoluciji (Angels of Revolution). Award-winning Chinese theatre director Xu Ang was in Rome with actor He Bing to present his debut film Shier gongmin (12 Citizens), an engaging transposition of Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men exploring the contradictions and different social strata of Chinese society. The film was warmly received during its première and took home the People's Choice Award in the Cinema d'Oggi category.   

Jia Zhangke and Walter Salles on stage in Rome
Walter Salles’ work-in-progress version of Jia Zhangke, un Gars de Fenyang (Jia Zhangke, A Guy from Fenyang), shown ahead of its official world première in Sao Paulo, was a fascinating, and often moving documentary about the life and work of the Chinese director, who also joined Salles for an on stage discussion after the screening. Kamisama no iutoori (As the Gods Will), Miike Takashi’s latest gory, gloriously bonkers, and thoroughly enjoyable film, was given its world première in the presence of the director and its young stars Sota Fukushi and Hirona Yamazaki. I also loved Dólares de arena (Sand Dollars), directed by Laura Amelia Guzman and Israel Cardenas, with its mesmerizing central performances by Geraldine Chaplin and co-stars Yanet Mojica and Ricardo Ariel Toribio.

Miike Takashi on the red carpet
From the screaming teenage (mostly) girls who bivouacked along the red carpet from dawn on Sunday morning to see Lily Collins and Sam Claflin attend the première of Love, Rosie, and later that same day, Josh Hutcherson and Benicio del Toro for Escobar: Paradise Lost, to the 1980s music fans who greeted Spandau Ballet for the Gala première of Soul Boys of the Western World, and with Richard Gere, Kevin Costner and Clive Owen on hand to add a pinch of Hollywood glamour, Müller’s festival really did have something for everyone.

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