Rebel with a Cause

ItalyItaly Paganini, Brahms, Massenet, Kreisler, Tchaikovsky, Sarasate: Ivos Margoni (violin) Rodolfo Focarelli (piano). Former stables of the Caetani Castle, Sermoneta. Festival Pontino. 10.07.2016 (JB)

Photo credit: Elisa Cerocchi.
Rodolfo Focarelli (piano) & Ivos Margoni (violin) (c) Elisa Cerocchi.

I have the honour of reporting one of the most extraordinary concerts I ever heard. It’s worth telling how it came about.

The Campus Internazionale di Musica and the Festival Pontino di Musica were the brainchild of Architect Riccardo Cerocchi, who these days remains the Honorary President of the joint enterprise, while his daughter, Elisa Cerocchi, is the very busy Vice President of the Campus and Artistic Coordinator of the Festival. Professionally, Sig.a Cerocchi is a mathematics teacher at a Rome Lincei.

By far the most disruptive element in her class was Ivos Margoni, whose mischief knew no limits –stink bombs under the chairs of those foolish enough to like math –and worse. Punishing the little devil by keeping him back after school, only made the protest increase. Very much her father’s daughter, Sig.a Cerocchi took the classic approach to mischief makers: find out what really interests the monster.

Ivos Margoni is the youngest of five siblings in Rome. His father is from Lake Garda in the North. Both parents are musicologists. But none of their children had the slightest interest in music. So the traditional rebellion against parents was firmly in place.

However, during one of the after-school “punishment” conversations, Ivos let drop that maybe he would like to try to play the violin. (Fast forward to yesterday: when I asked him about his instrument he said, O some eighteenth century thing.) Elisa Cerocchi could hardly believe her ears. Really? she said. She said she knew a good violin teacher in Rome; would he like an introduction? Ivos said he would.

After only two years of instruction it was decided that he should audition for Marianna Sirbu’s Violin Masterclass at the Campus Internazionale. Madame Sirbu immediately recognized the astonishing native talent, and welcomed him onto her Course. This is his second year there. I was delighted to be invited to his lesson on the day following the concert. And it has to be said that he doesn’t yet speak the language of Bach. She was working with him on the Chaconne. On the same morning, a most outstanding Irish girl, Oife hi Bhrian had shown terrific understanding of the same piece and was even finishing Sirbu’s sentences as she picked up indispensable guidance. Ivos was listening attentively to Madame’s advice and struggling to comply with the strict requirements. But I am getting ahead of myself. What I want to report on is what happens when Ivos gives his demons full flight through his violin. You will see that the programme was chosen to facilitate this.

We live in a sad world where pub pianists have mostly disappeared. Shura Cherkassky was probably the last of these: when he had a memory lapse he would cheerfully improvise until he found his way back into the piece. Similarly, with the Viennese café violinists: Uto Ughi stands almost alone in reproducing the rich, convincing tones that that music requires.

Ivos Margone doesn’t simply play this music: he conveys like no other violinist –except maybe Ughi- the sheer pleasure of the music’s charm.   The Festival is centered on the Caetani Castle, a huge building which dominates the hill fortress, round which the remaining buildings are also owned by that same noble family. This concert took place in the former stables, which has a remarkably good acoustic but doesn’t offer much relief from the stifling July heat. Please see the photo of the dress rehearsal.

First up as evidence of Margone’s good taste was Paganini’s Cantabile op 109. –a sweetness of tone which was so naturale it never ever even hinted at being sugary. But sadly, here too was the amateur approach of the pianist, Rodolfo Focarelli, who always waited to see what the violinist would do, -and then followed him. The result was that they were often not together.

Oddly enough, the next piece, Brahms’s contribution to the F.A.E. sonata, was the most challenging piece of togetherness in the programme. The duo had obviously understood this challenge and rehearsed until they got it right. And together they were! They also played the movement as an encore. Brahms’s contribution was the third movement, a Scherzo in C minor. The F. A. E. sonata is so-called because the three composers (Brahms, Schumann and Schumann’s pupil Albert Dietrich) agreed those three notes should form the basis of each movement which they wanted to present as a dedication to their recent friendship with the violinist, Joseph Joachim (who also premiered Brahms’s concerto). One doesn’t often get evidence of Brahms’s sense of humour. But here it shines through. And the two young men told the joke beautifully –po-faced but with ferocious bite.

The joke was even clearer on the second (encore) performance.

Massenet’s Intermezzo from Thais had all the warmth you might expect. But it was a steely warmth with no hint of sentimentality.

Charm was much to the fore in Souvenir d’un lieu cher (memories of a dear place), written by Tchaikovsky while he was vacationing in the Ukrainian villa at Brailovo, which belonged to his sponsor, Nadezhda von Meck, to whom the three short pieces are dedicated. But here it was not the pianist’s fault that they didn’t start the second piece –Scherzo- together. Evidently, no one has explained to Ivos that unless he makes eye-contact with the pianist and for a split second uses his bow as baton, there is no way that the movement can begin together. But let me also add that I’ve never seen such an admirable use and flexibility of the bowing arm in a nineteen year old player, before this recital; limp, expressive, easy and almost balletic. Baroque bowing calls for other techniques, which, as mentioned, are not yet within Ivos’s grasp.

Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs) brought out all the fireworks. And here the little dog really did (violinistically) laugh to see such fun while running away with the violin. That brought on an ovation of the Brahms, followed by another of the final romp of the Sarasate. Keep your eye on this name. If he continues as started, his music will broaden and deepen, with a consequent wonderful career ahead.

Jack Buckley

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