Feeling His Way

ItalyItaly Beethoven, Rachmaninov, Liszt. Vitaly Pisarenko (piano) The Keyboard Charitable Trust at the Teatro Ghione, Rome.  19.01.2014  (JB)

It’s always a pleasure to attend a recital promoted by the London based, Keyboard Charitable Trust.  Almost without exception, in the last twenty years the Trust has introduced us to a series of outstanding young pianists who have shown that they can bring fresh insights into old piano music.  The Trust is the brainchild of John and Noretta Conci Leech and as a Rome resident I am lucky they have made an arrangement with my friend, Christopher Axworthy, widower of Italian actress, Ileana Ghione, at whose theatre –ideal size at six hundred seats- these concerts are held.

Their latest discovery is Vitaly Pisarenko, Ukrainian, Moscow trained, twenty seven and winner of the 2008  Liszt Utrecht Competition,

 The Liszt bit is interesting.  Liszt turned out to be his most comfortable composer.  The so-called Dante sonata was impressive.  All Liszt’s angels and demons were beautifully slotted into place with an immaculate sense of structure (often overlooked in this piece) and every note delivered with the authority we have come to expect from the Russian School.  Other young pianists make the mistake of separating the wood from the trees in Liszt, of underscoring the detail at the expense of the whole.  That involves drawing attention to their own virtuosity.  But Pisarenko is too fine a musician to fall into that trap.  To be sure, all the detail was impressively focused,  but equally,  it found its place –almost magically- in the all-over shaping.

That was the end of the recital.  Only followed by the encore of the Bach / Siloti Prelude in E minor –a fine contrast and an admirable good-night piece.

The programme began with the Beethoven Pathetique, then Rachmaninov’s Five Fantasy Pieces, Op 3 and his Corelli Variations with the interval placed between the two Rachmaninov pieces.  That was a mistake.  The first part would not have been too long with both Rachmaninovs.  The second part would have been a little short but it would also have given Liszt his rightful place of glory in the programming.  It made no sense to immediately precede the Dante sonata with the Corelli Variations. They are wretchedly unhappy bedfellows.

And besides, the Corelli Variations turned out to be Pisarenko’s Waterloo.  It’s very easy to lose your way in them.  Rachmaninoff himself is on record doing just that, by his own admission.  They are all about sonorities, linking and contrasting sonorities.  The audience could feel Pisarenko striving for the right path.  And there were moments when –Eureka!- he found himself on it.  But the pleasure of that momentary discovery would cause him to then hurry and/or force –both destructive forces.

Of course, feeling your way is all about the excitement  of a young pianist, but he must learn how to carry the audience with him in this refreshing adventure.  Pisarenko does this pretty well for the most part.  This means as well as everything else he has to listen to the audience.  Rachmaninov himself confessed that he could hear nothing but coughing and distraction from the audience in one of his performances of the Variations and therefore cut the piece short by three or four variations!!  There was no sign of distraction at the Ghione audience so Pisarenko had an easier ride.  But for all that, it has to be said that the audience were not with him all the way.

The five Morceaux de fantasie op3  fared better.  There is little fantasie  in these pieces but they are a test to see if the pianist can play them simply as written, that is, with no frills, attachments or reductions.  Pisarenko is rather good at telling it like it is.  The elegie  was fine.  The famous C sharp minor prelude rather tripped him up.  In an effort to sustain its ominous tones he chose a tempo which was too slow to sustain the lyricism in the Ghione’s dry acoustic.  (I suspect he had had little more than a brief try-out in the theatre and without people.)  Polchinelle  had all the right impudence and glitter and the nearest thing Rachmaninov gets towards humour.

The Pathetique began impressively with those rich,  Grave dramatic organ-like chords; the tension of Beethoven the explorer was built up and plumbed in depth, right up to its bursting into the Allegro di molto e con brio, the only little problem there was that the brio  was almost so bright as to cancel out the Allegro di molto.   The famous Adagio cantabile  was both those things with a perfectly judged tempo.  The Allegro  Rondo finale is Mozartian charm at its finest.  Vitaly Pisarenko ought to know that he has enough musicianship and (as I found talking to him afterward) enough natural charm to relax and let the music carry him here.  But he doesn’t.  He works at it as though his life depends on it.   A pardonable fault in a young pianist maybe.  But a fault that this one could put right overnight.

Jack Buckley