Sunday, March 13, 2022
St Mary’s, Perivale Lane, Perivale, Middlesex UB6 8SS
Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga
Mozart. Eighteen Sonatas. Eighteen Pianists. Hugh Mather, Chairman and altruistic father figure of St Mary’s Executive Committee, has an informed enthusiasm, and skilled knack, for putting together such marathons – witness his Beethoven undertakings. The day started at two-o’clock and went on until after ten in the evening, with a break for supper. A feast of music including at least three superlative masterworks – the A-minor, K310 (Amit Yahav), C-minor, K475 (Julian Trevelyan, minus the usual accompanying Fantasy) and D-major K576 (Susanna Braun) – spanning the fifteen years from Munich 1774 to Vienna 1789. With Mather’s signature support of the up-and-coming generation, the emphasis unsurprisingly was on young players, generally with interesting things to say, broadly crisp techniques at the service of the page, some with the span of the music and phrasing in their fingers, others focussing more on detached chapters and detail. Julian Jacobson bore the flag for the senior British guard (F-major, K533/494).
Two UK-based friends of mine, of shared language and artistic aspiration, appeared back-to-back for the closing evening session. Dinara Klinton from Kharkiv, Ukraine (the ‘little’ C-major, K545), and Roman Kosyakov (B-flat, K570) from Kemerovo, South Western Siberia. Both trained at the Central Music School and Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, Dinara completing her studies at the Royal College of Music (where she was first Britten Fellow, 2014-15), Roman subsequently at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. The annihilation, mortality and pain of the past three weeks – in Vasily Petrenko’s words “one of the greatest moral failures and humanitarian disasters of our century” – has understandably left them numb, traumatised and near wordless. Punched in the solar plexus. Hourly, Dinara watches her grand home city, the streets and history of her childhood, assaulted into rubble. On the receiving end of a curt e-mail, Roman found himself the other day, along with a clutch of fellow Russians, peremptorily removed from taking part in the forthcoming Dublin International Piano Competition, a knee-jerk move by its administrators (like those of Honens) in harsh contrast to contemporaneous announcements supporting Russian artists from both the Van Cliburn and Gina Bachauer Foundations. It’s an unfortunate fact that in times of conflict people get tarred with the same brush. At risk to themselves and their families, liberal young Russians, eminent conductors and soloists, familiar names in our lives, within and beyond their country, have come out in protest. Because they’re Russian, they say, doesn’t mean they endorse the regime they find themselves under. Paying for his nationality in Canada recently, the pianist Alexander Malofeev, younger than Dinara or Roman, puts the matter succinctly: “It is very painful for me to see everything that is happening… Russian culture and music specifically should not be tarnished by the ongoing tragedy … the only thing I can do is to pray and cry … why, in a few days, has the whole world rolled back into a state where every person has a choice between fear and hatred? … the spread of hatred will not help in any way, but only cause more suffering.”
Addressing Russians and Belarussians, the World Federation of International Music Competitions in Geneva has issued a clear directive. “No candidate can be seen as an official of his/her government, and no participant can be automatically declared a representative of an ideology simply because of his or her nationality. To the contrary, our organisation will always protect and support young musicians regardless of where they come from. Using the universal language of music, we encourage young artists to act as ambassadors of dialogue, understanding and bridge building between people … With this in mind, we strongly recommend and ask our member organisations not to discriminate against and exclude any young and gifted artists from participating in their competitions. They are fighting for a better future, and they are in dire need of all the support we are able to extend to them.” Hugh Mather, wise and fair-minded, is of the same opinion. Others in Britain may pull the plug, down to the hysteria of removing Russian repertory from concert programmes (the fate of German music and things German during the First World War), but never him. Russians accordingly find themselves on the same welcoming stage as their Ukrainian cousins, playing the same Yamaha in myriad ways, doing what they do best in a spirit of friendship and common understanding, bringing elevation, enlightenment and balm to our existence. Non-partisan, un-politicalized art.
During the afternoon Sasha Grynyuk from Kyiv (National Music Academy of Ukraine, Guildhall School of Music and Drama) excelled in a particularly beautiful account of Mozart’s Sonata in F, K280. Here was elegant, distinguished playing, alert to all manner of inferences and articulations, symphonic in a galant way. The poised poetry and spun aria of the slow movement touched Concerto heights. The closing Presto grew teasingly out of singspiel. The kind of perfected performance one would love to take into a recording studio. Dinara’s choice showed – reminiscent of Ingrid Haebler – how to flower white-note scales into art, how to balance tempo, how to shape rather than rattle off semiquavers. K545, ‘for beginners’, looks easy on paper, but, like Bach’s same-key Prelude from Book I of the Forty Eight, it can derail the wariest. Looking pensive and wan, her smile faded, she extracted wonderful depth and intensity out of the root harmonies and spare textures of the G-major Andante – conjuring a forgotten music-room improvised somewhere in the aether, sounds floating, dying, on a distant night wind, a child’s soul among the stars. Limpid pianism, charmed purity and innocence in every note, sentence and cadence, a ‘speaking’ artist before us. In the bigger-limbed late B-flat Sonata, Mozart’s penultimate one, post the final trilogy of Symphonies, Roman, temperamentally a patrician Romanticist, favoured a frequently brillante extrovert characterisation, urgent in his phrase endings and paragraphing, a display solo waiting around the corner. He found some of his best moments in the conservazione of the Adagio, lyrically nurturing its melody and voices, savouring subtleties of ‘orchestral’ articulation, projecting a reflective song. Not perhaps Arrau’s “last plunge into the aching roots of being in this world” but sensing dimensions no lesser felt.
Among the great Austrian classical Sonata writers – Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert – Mozart is the hardest to bring off well. Yes, one can play the notes, but penetrating the personality and shifting sands of the man, the enigmas and cross-references riddling his imagination, the heart of his dream-ruminations, is another matter. Wandering a museum of open display cabinets, artefacts breathed into life, St Mary’s Mozart immersion quested the unfamiliar behind the familiar, leaving us to wonder.