United Kingdom Chopin, Haydn, Schumann: Nicola Losito (piano), Keyboard Charitable Trust at Steinway Hall of Fame, London. 20.6.2018. (JB)
Chopin –Studies, op.10 nos 1,2,3,4, & 12 and op.25 nos 7 & 12.
Haydn – Sonata Hob XVI:50 in C
Schumann – Faschingsschwank aus Wien op.26
The first question to ask of any young pianist is whether he has an identifying, pianistic voice which is his alone. The answer with Nicola Losito is a resounding and how!
His contrasting programme was a surprise from start to finish as he revealed his insights into three hugely different composers. He continually takes risks (always an admirable quality in a young artist in any field) but these always deliver, for the excellent reason that they are underscored by a very solid, authoritative technique. And the technique is quietly but assuredly self-lubricating. He often sounds like someone you would not want to meet on a dark night. In a brief conversation after the recital, I was surprised to discover that he is the kindliest and gentlest of souls. Is this man I am talking to the same that just plastered me to my seat with a volley of powerful sound?
So began the Chopin Studies – loud, brash, not a little vulgar – but these familiar arpeggios have never sounded with such brilliance. Don’t stop. me now, I’ve a lot more to tell you was the first message he got across. Op.10 no.2 was as light a new-born bird making its first flight. Shocking contrast to no.1. No.3 was studiedly hesitant. He’d got to the end of it before I’d realised he was just checking to see if we were all on board. We were. His fiery tone of no.4 led nicely into no.12 – the so-called Revolutionary which was just that: revolutionary. And delivered with Pride and Passion, both with capital P’s.
Op.25 no.7 in C sharp minor is probably the most beautiful of Chopin’s studies. But here comes the biggest surprise so far of the evening: the monster who has been shocking us with dramatic, forceful compelling sound, suddenly melts into richly sonorous tones, on par with Horowitz’s mystical magic. Op.25 no.12 in C minor is the last of Chopin’s Studies –allegro con fuoco says Chopin. (The first – Op.10 no.1 was in C major.) Nicola Losito is no stranger to what may be considered life’s inconvenient truths. He hurls the audience through this fire with sublime confidence. A few seconds of astonished audience silence before the shocked, thunderous applause begins.
The boy has taken us to where we have never been before in music we only thought we knew. And there’s better to come.
With the Haydn Sonata in C, Losito takes us into another world of sound. Were I listening blindfold I would have said it was another pianist. The opening Allegro was dispatched with a sleight of hand, with Haydn’s frequently missed tongue-in-cheek humour effortlessly on display. The Adagio had a fine singing tone with eighteenth century politeness as its a style. The final Allegro molto was a touch too heavy for my ear – more Beethoven than Haydn. Though I know of course, that Beethoven acknowledged indebtedness to Haydn when he came to write his own sonatas. Nicola could here be said to be merely returning the indebtedness.
We used to be told as music undergraduates that a composer is not someone who can write a tune but someone who knows what to do with a tune when he’s written it. This was clearly the task which the young Schumann set himself when he wrote the Faschingsschwank aus Wien (Vienna Festive Music). It’s often a piece which is more enjoyed by pianists playing it than audiences listening to it. But Mr Losito had his audience in the palms of his hands when he began this piece. And by the end of the piece those hands and the audience were as one entity.
Throughout the recital there was strong evidence of the Richter no-nonsense style of playing, never so much as a whiff of sentimentality. The danger of this approach, to use another metaphor, is that the baby can all too easily get thrown out with the bathwater. But Losito is audibly alive to this danger. And so is his audience. Not so much as the baby’s toe nail gets thrown out. This is tightrope playing which is breathtakingly beautiful to hear.
To remind myself of this music, the morning of the concert, I listened to Richter’s YouTube live-performance recording: steely, uncompromising, dramatically blazon, but also sacrificing some of Schumann’s tenderness. I then turned to a live recording of Benedetti Michelangeli, (live RFH 1957) whose humble attention to Schuman’s phrasing convinced the ear that there was nothing anywhere in this music to be thrown out. I doubt whether Nicola has heard this recording.
There is only one word which adequately describes Losito’s opening Allegro: he buggered it. I say this, calling upon that medieval word to underline the penetration of the piano’s strings, which sounded as though he had gone through those strings and come out on some other side. Never can there have been such a sexy performance of Faschingsschwank. Where Michelangeli cushions the thunderous chords, Losito blazes through them. Schumann suffered from sexual inhibitions. His servant tonight clearly has no such inhibitions. A pity the composer is still not around to give his verdict on what will probably always be considered a controversial performance. But when controversy is as musically convincing as this, then bring it on, is my own verdict.
The second movement – Romanze – was beautifully hushed, in sharp contrast to the energy and drama of the opening. And it was as brief as it was charming. Brief too was the appropriately named Scherzino. (little joke in English) which has a distinct accent of Victorian England. Though the inverted commas are clearly audible round the Victoriana, Schumann’s gentle humour is not without its delightfully dated charm. This humour is offered by our talented pianist with an understated take it or leave it touch. The Intermezzo is the moment for Schumann’s ever sure lyricism. And in Lusito’s playing it floats as easily as it soars; its wings are in as much evidence as its natural energy.
But it is the two outer movements which are the most demanding, musically and technically. The dangers are once again the clearest voice in the Finale, where Schumann requests Höchst lebhaft (as lively as possible). Nicola Losito takes this request extremely seriously. And he is always at his best when he challenges himself to beat his own record. The aggression and drama are restored, but equally impressive are the quieter passages of careful lubrications, a tenderness in which Michelangeli excels and which Losito equals.
The pianist’s response to his ovation was a nakedly simple offering of a Chopin nocturne.
Watch the name of Nicola Losito. You may be disturbed by his open, intellectual honesty but your ears will be well rewarded.