Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Rafał Blechacz plays Beethoven | Auditorium Parco della Musica | 27 February 2012

Less than a year since he was last in Rome delighting audiences in the Santa Cecilia concert hall, Polish classical pianist Rafał Blechacz was back at the Auditorium Parco della Musica yesterday evening, with another young star in the world of classical music at the helm, Colombian conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada, who was making his debut with the Accademia di Santa Cecilia Orchestra and Choir.

The evening opened with a rare treat - Elegischer Gesang, Op.118 and Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, Op. 112, two hauntingly beautiful and rarely-performed choral works by Beethoven - before Rafał Blechacz took to the stage to perform as the soloist in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major. Still only 26 years old and looking, if anything, slightly younger, Blechacz plays with a depth and maturity beyond his years. He is currently garnering unanimous critical praise for his latest and absolutely stunning recording of works by Szymanowski and Debussy (anybody lucky enough to have caught his performance last time around in Rome would have heard him play some of those pieces live). I am now hoping that we won't have to wait long before the immensely talented Blechacz records his own interpretation of Beethoven's piano concertos too – his playing last night was a wonderfully measured blend of intimate delicacy and sparkling virtuosity.

At the close of the concerto rapturous cheers and applause from the audience brought him back out on stage several times before he graciously conceded an encore. Blechacz famously won all the prizes at the 2005 Chopin Competition in Warsaw and it was to the work of his fellow countryman that he returned for what turned out to be an absolutely sublime encore – Chopin's Waltz in A minor Op.34 No.2. Unmissable!

The concert was rounded out with an exhilarating performance of Antonin Dvořak's Symphony No. 7, which saw both orchestra and conductor Orozco-Estrada enthusiastically applauded at its close.

Full programme:
Elegischer Gesang, Op. 118
Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, Op. 112
Piano Concerto No. 4 G major, Op. 58
Waltz in A minor Op.34 No.2
Symphony No. 7 D minor, Op. 70

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Evgeny Kissin – Grieg's Piano | Auditorium Parco della Musica | 5 February, 2012

Russian-born classical pianist Evgeny Kissin returned to enthral audiences in Rome at the weekend for a series of three concerts in the Santa Cecilia concert hall at the Auditorium Parco della Musica performing Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg's perennially popular Piano Concerto. British conductor James Judd stepped in at the last minute for Vladimir Jurowski who had been originally slated to conduct the Santa Cecilia Orchestra, but was forced to cancel due to sudden illness.

With Rome brought to a standstill by heavy snow falls and with schools, offices and museums closed, I had feared the worst on Saturday morning and resigned myself to the fact that the concert would surely be cancelled – thanks to the goodwill of the performers and the organisers, however, the concert was merely postponed until Sunday afternoon.

Grieg's Piano Concerto is something of a warhorse. One of my own earliest memories of hearing it as a child is a television sketch by British comedy legends Morecambe and Wise in which Eric Morecambe, together with an orchestra conducted by an exasperated André Previn, attempts to perform the concerto by playing “all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order”! Incidentally, that often repeated piece of vintage comedy first aired in 1971, the year in which Evgeny Kissin was born. A former child prodigy upon whom the “genius” epithet was bestowed at a tender age – he was playing entire piano concertos from memory at age four – the forty year old adult Kissin is now a critically acclaimed virtuoso and considered one of the world's great pianists. Who better than Kissin to bring fresh life and power to those familiar motifs of Grieg's richly melodic concerto? I was utterly captivated by the understated bravura of his playing throughout the entire performance.

The sold-out concert hall was maybe not as full as one would have expected under normal circumstances, but the rapturous applause and cheers of bravo from the audience were as loud as ever when Kissin took his bows at the end of the concert and was cheered back on stage for a first exhilarating encore, where he announced in a surprisingly deep voice that he would play Grieg's From the Carnival. Kissin has a reputation for enormous generosity with his encores and true to form, the audience managed to cajol him out again for one final gem – an exquisite rendition of Chopin's Minute Waltz. A must-see performer!

The concert was rounded out with Brahms' Tragic Overture, which opened the afternoon, and Tchaikovsky's immensely enjoyable Symphony No 2 - “The Little Russian”, which were also met with warm applause.

Full programme:
Tragic Overture
Piano Concerto in A minor
From the Carnival (Pictures from Country-Life, Op.19)
Minute Waltz
Symphony No 2 - “The Little Russian”

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Snow in the Eternal City!

When a light dusting of snow fell on the city of Rome almost two years ago in February 2010, I was amazed and delighted to have witnessed such a rare event.

Incredibly, it has snowed again this year - Friday night saw heavy snowfalls and Romans awoke this morning to find the Eternal City covered in a thick blanket of snow.

Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, Piazza Navona in the snow - Photo © Deborah Swain

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