Slip, Slurp, Skid: Fireworks!

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Franck, Schumann, Enescu, RavelAnna Tifu (violin), Gloria Campaner (piano).  Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia at Sala Sinopoli, Parco della Musica, Rome.  23.01.2015 (JB)

It’s always been my policy when reporting on emerging young performers to write nothing at all rather than identify a string of negative qualities.  Listening to this recital, I became increasingly convinced that I would be filing a nil return.  Until, that is, I heard the last piece on the programme.  Suddenly there was a musical experience which I would treasure for the rest of my life.

How this contrast happened I shall have to break my own rule and go back to the beginning of the recital and earlier, to try to understand how such a contrast happened.  All this in the interests of integrity –my own as well as the two artists.

Anna Tifu is now twenty-eight years old.  It was only hours after the recital that I remembered that I had indeed heard her when she was fifteen or sixteen.  She was then very small and pretty, though not so statuesquely beautiful as she is now.  Those thirteen years ago she was auditioning for the European Union Youth Orchestra (EUYO).  I was a member of the commission.  Candidates play a piece of their own choice.  They are also required to prepare some very challenging orchestral excerpts from the EUYO’s concert repertory.  The EUYO make it clear that these extracts are the main part of the audition.

This small child blew me away with a forceful account of  Kreisler’s Prelude and Allegro in the style of Pugnani.  But when she came to the orchestral passages she was all over the place.  There was no way we could forward her to the finals.  I saw from her application form that she was studying with Salvatore Accardo.  Well that should put her violinist’s house in order, thought I.  But it’s now starting to look as though I was wrong.

Their Santa Cecilia recital began with the Franck sonata.  Between them, violinist and pianist played between 80 and 90% of the notes which Franck had written.  There were slips, slurps, skids and even a couple of crashes.  Talk about all over the place!  Franck begins with the piano sounding the chord of the dominant ninth and the violin rocking forwards and backwards  across the arpeggio of this chord.  From this hypnotic beginning, Franck extracts and expands all four masterly, contrasting movements.  These players showed not the minimum awareness of this magisterial structuring.  And it was far from hypnotic.  It sounded rather like three little kittens have lost their mittens.

Just before the Schumann Fantasia, Anna Tifu seemed to have twigged that her violin had been out of tune and made the appropriate adjustment.  Too late for poor César Franck, of course.  The Schumann fared a little better though the duo were irritatingly not together in places.  Had they never rehearsed this?  There are lots of traps for the unwary in this piece.  And unwary these two pretty lassies were.  This is the kind of playing you might expect to hear at the Oswaldtwistle Townswomen’s Guild Concert Party.  But not at Santa Cecilia.

Speaking of duo, I should add that all the vital dialogue  between violin and piano of the Franck was swept under the carpet, the performers blissfully unaware of the massacre they were carrying out.

After the interval came Enescu’s Childhood Impressions, Op 28 –ten short salon pieces for violin and piano.  The pieces are of excruciating dullness without wit or charm and enlivened only by pianist Campaner’s crashing down a few wrong chords.  While on Ms Campaner, I ought to advise her to practise and drill those directionally changing left-hand arpeggios that accompany the lyrical right-hand double octave lyricism in the first movement of the Franck, until your fingers know these passages better than you do.   It’s not enough to slap down the right foot pedal and hope that no one will notice.  You’re not in Oswaldtwistle.

Then came the final piece which transformed the concert from a nightmare to a thrilling memory.  Anna Tifu gave Ravel her whole in the Tzigane. This was conviction playing of the highest order.  Gypsy fireworks! And straight from Tifu’s soul into the audience’s.  Anna was born in Sardinia of a Sardinian mother; there probably is some gypsy blood in these islanders.

She kept all that up too for the Sarasate Carmen Fantasia.  Then, in contrast, a third and final encore of a very nicely poised Intermezzo from Thais.

I did wonder if someone had tipped these two glamorous young women off with that old untruth that no one will remember what you do during the concert so long as you send them away happy at the end.  Much as I will continue to  rave about the end, I do, sadly, remember the beginning too.

Jack Buckley



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