Italian-born pianist Aldo Ciccolini has died aged 89
15 February 2015
For me, studying with Aldo Ciccolini (1925-2015) was both an honour and a privilege. He was an immense artist who pursued an international performing career alongside considerable teaching responsibilities, without compromising his commitment to both. Until the late 1980s, Ciccolini remained the doyen of teachers at the Paris Conservatoire; students travelled from every corner of the globe to be part of ‘chez Ciccolini’ and both Jean Yves-Thibaudet and Nicholas Angelich readily testify to the special alchemy that informed his teaching during this period.
I first met Ciccolini in the late 1990s. By then he had established his own teaching Academy outside Milan and I found his blend of innate musical instinct, personal philosophy and understated charm to be revelatory. His own pianistic pedigree via Alfred Cortot and Marguerite Long placed emphasis on finger articulation and clarity, but music was infinitely more than this to him. For him, the act of performing and teaching became a quasi-religious rite and his selfless pursuit of the ‘message’ or ‘soul’ within the music was the centrepiece of his teaching.
Despite his early success in the 1949 Marguerite Long/Jacques Thibaud competition in Paris, Ciccolini was anything but an admirer of today’s international piano competition circuit. He could be a candid but disquieting jury member – on one occasion, frustrated that an erratic, but genuinely gifted pianist had been eliminated from the contest at the expense of a more mundane, but consistent player, he chilled the blood of the Organising Committee with the words: ‘I shall speak to the press...’
Although of an infinitely courteous and amenable disposition, he was subject to melancholic lows exacerbated by recurring bouts of insomnia. At times when life threatened to overwhelm him he seemed to slip into a character from one of the magical realism novels by Marquez that he so admired; only very recently I expressed concerns for his wellbeing as he maintained his predilection for practising at his Paris home during the dead of night. ‘Mon petit’, he replied, ‘at night I hear the counsels of the moon.’
Enigmatic, artistically original and with an unimpeachable musical and moral integrity, Ciccolini was the most discreet of virtuoso pianists. For his public who continued to flock to his sold-out recitals and orchestral concerts, his loss is great. But for his family of pupils it is incalculable; no teacher can have been so greatly loved.
Better late than never: Harriet Cohen works premiered in London – 100 years after their first publication
7 February 2015
Exactly 100 years after their publication by Augener in 1915, Harriet Cohen’s evocative Russian Impressions received a stirring first-known public performance by Mark Bebbington in a fascinating recital on 4 February. The recital, which also featured premieres of works by Felix Blumenfeld (Vladimir Horowitz’s teacher) and Castelnuovo-Tedesco, took place at the historic Central Synagogue near London’s Regents Park, and was part of an international series themed on music of the Jewish experience. Bebbington’s admirable passion for reviving neglected music also emerged in the framing works, Arthur Bliss’s Masks and Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Neapolitan Rhapsody Piedgotta, both from 1924, and both recently recorded (the Bliss due for release later this year on Somm).
Harriet Cohen is best-known as a pianistic muse who inspired geniuses such as Vaughan Williams, Ireland, Bliss, Bartók, Bloch and Bax, her lover; yet her own creativity, apart from some Bach transcriptions, is less familiar. It was thus a special treat to hear this first-known public rendition of her Russian Impressions, four miniatures whose distinctive allure and mystique resonate with a neo-Musorgskian and post-Scriabinesque pianistic idiom. Plangent delicacy sets the mood for Sunset on the Volga, warm melodies in different registers contrasting with a sprightlier central pastoral interlude. The Exile is a delicate pastel-shaded gem that resembles an improvisation on The Old Castle from Pictures at an Exhibition, while chorales from the Great Gates of Kiev seem to rise up in the bell-like dissonances of The Old Church at Wilna.
Yet more striking here are affinities with Debussy’s La Cathedrale Engloutie, played by Bebbington earlier alongside four more Preludes. The Tartars, the most extended piece, crowns the set: Bebbington projected its expressive lyricism and propulsive, often obdurate textures with panache. The whole set highlighted a creative compositional talent that appears to have been suppressed in favour of an international performing career that was to exert a notable influence on 20th century music.
One hopes that Bebbington’s expanding discography will soon include a premiere recording of Harriet Cohen’s gem.
By Malcolm Miller
A season of music; a journey into Jewishness is presented by Central Synagogue with Inverne Price Music Consultancy. The next recital – 'Exiles Cafe' features pianist Lara Downes and takes place on 25 March
Bösendorfer’s Schönbrunn pianos sell out at NAMM
6 February 2015
The Schönbrunn is the second in the limited edition Marquetry Series and follows on from Bösendorfer’s popular Hummingbird design. The sell-out success will no doubt boost the boutique piano manufacturer’s confidence, as the industry continues to suffer from wider economic challenges.
‘We saw how well the Hummingbird sold and were keen to continue the series,’ said Bösendorfer’s managing director Brian Kemble. ‘Schönbrunn epitomises what we do well – a beautiful looking, hand-built instrument with our inspiring sound and 186-year heritage.’
The orders for the instrument came from the US, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan and China.
The Schönbrunn is a tribute to the magnificent gardens and murals of Vienna’s famed baroque Schönbrunn Palace. Schönbrunn played host to many leading figures from the arts, including the six-year old Mozart, who performed there in 1762.
Lang Lang premieres a new perfume
26 January 2015
He’s collaborated with some of the world’s leading brands including MontBlanc, Adidas, and Bombardier, and now Lang Lang has launched a new perfume, in tandem with Barbara Le Portz, founder of Fragrance Inspirations (Art in a bottle).
The new fragrance entitled ‘Amazing Lang Lang’ was ‘premiered’ at a VIP event at Berlin’s Galeries Lafayette. The scent – available in ‘his’ and ‘hers’ – was inspired by ‘a range of emotions selected by Lang Lang’. The range was developed by perfumer Nathalie Lorson.
‘Amazing Lang Lang for Her’ is said to feature kumquat, grapefruit, red pepper, jasmine, gardenia, tuberose, patchouli, musk and kyara wood; while ‘Amazing Lang Lang for Him’ includes bergamot, lavender, black pepper, jasmine, geranium, rock rose, cedarwood, vetiver and kyara wood.
Guests were treated to cocktails inspired by the new fragrances and goodie bags that contained samples of the new perfume, plus a copy of ‘The Mozart Album’ (Sony). Galeries Lafayette will donate €5 per bottle sold in the first few weeks to the Lang Lang International Music Foundation.
Federico Colli selected to step in for Yevgeny Sudbin
15 January 2015
The up-and-coming Italian pianist Federico Colli will perform with the BBC Symphony Orchestra tomorrow, in place of Yevgeny Sudbin. Sudbin was due to play Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No 3 at the Barbican, but has had to pull out due to illness.
The programme remains unchanged and Rachmaninov’s totemic work will be paired with Nielsen’s Third, 'Sinfonia espansiva ', FS60, Op 27. The Dryad, by Sibelius, opens the event.
Federico Colli is IP’s One to Watch in the current edition. (January/February 15, issue 29, available here.)