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13th of April

Britten, Prokofiev, Shostakovich: The Cello Sonatas


Francesco and Daniel Muller-Schott release a collection of cello sonatas including pieces by Britten, Porkofiev and Shostakovich. The new album offers three works that sum up several chapters of 20th c. Soviet history that go far beyond just the music. Sergei Prokofiev displays a masterful serenity in his songlike Sonata in C, op. 119, composed in 1949. It makes evident his adjustment to the cultural politics of the Soviet Union to which this world-famous composer had returned. Dmitri Shostakovichs Sonata in d minor, op. 40 is no less marked by the communist regime. The piece was on the program of a concert tour given by the composer and his cello partner Viktor Kubatsky in 1936 when Shostakovich was put on the Stalinist index of undesirables. Finally, Benjamin Brittens Sonata in C, op. 65 marked the beginning of a productive, creative friendship with Rostropovich that was established, despite the Cold War, in Aldeburgh in 1961, where it was debuted by the composer and Rostropovich.
You can pre order the cd here.

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30th of March

Live video stream Frankfurt


Francesco has been in Frankfurt for the last week working with the hr-Sinfonieorchester in the prestegeous Alte Oper. They perfromed Amadeus Mozart’s 25th piano concerto in Cmaj, conducted by Manfred Honeck. The concert was streamed live and broadcast on German radio. You can watch Francesco’s perfromance here. For more videos see Francesco’s media page.

5th of February

Is Dvořák’s piano concerto a masterpiece? by Francesco Piemontesi


Is the Piano Concerto Op.33 by Antonin Dvořák a masterpiece? Surprisingly I have been asked this quite a lot lately. Until then I never saw a reason to consider this question, and my answer would have been clear. The recording of this piece by András Schiff and Vienna Philharmonic was actually the first compact disc I proudly owned. I must say the concerto made quite an impact on me, probably because of its rhythmic energy, and its range of imagination.

Even though the Dvořák Concerto has been with me ever since, I only learned it much later. It was not until the Radio-Symphonieorchester Berlin and Marek Janowski offered me a performance that I started working seriously on the music. Shortly after, plans to record it for Naïve Classics with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Jiří Bělohlávek concretized.

Personally, studying the historical context of a particular work has always been as important as practising the piece itself. Soon I found out that shortly after the first performance in London, in October 1883, the concerto started collecting negative reviews. Critics were primarily dismissing it because the solo part didn’t produce the desired virtuosic effect.

A quick overview of the most beloved Piano Concertos in late 19th century will show how much Dvořák’s instrumental writing differs from what listeners were used to in this period. Popular concerti by composers such as Moscheles, Alkan and Litolff were written in a more flamboyant and bright style. A Solo Concerto was expected to give the soloist the opportunity to display his technical skills.

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Dvořák’s Op.33 was written in 1876, at a time when he was changing his compositional style: he abandoned his focus on the music of Wagner and Liszt and turned his attention to classically-influenced models, form and construction. In addition to this renewed attention, the folk element became more important among his sources of inspiration. The mix of folkloristic energy and classical composition technique is clearly represented in this concerto.

While the outer movements are conceived as enlarged Sonata form (I) and Rondo (III), the second movement appears as more a fantasy-like form, with both recitative and song-like elements. Especially in this movement, the relationship to Beethoven’s fourth Concerto is evident. If you take a closer look, the use of classical Sonata and Rondo form in first and last movements is more complex than it might seem. The symmetrical construction at a local (counting bars in every section will reveal much of his love for symmetry) but also a global level shows precious interconnections.

The piano part of this first version turned out to be far too easy: in 1876, Dvořák, already experienced in composing symphonic music, had not written any work for piano solo. The result couldn’t compete with the pianistic standard of that time. Under pressure from his publisher, he revised the piano part fundamentally for the second version, which was printed in 1883.

Dvořák’s piano writing now became really demanding, but not efficient. It is clear that the composer concentrated on the mere musical aspects without taking into account the ergonomics of the hands. In my opinion this shows that Dvořák cannot have been a consummate pianist himself. For instance, when I performed it for the first time I had the feeling that the audience hardly noticed I was breaking my fingers for 40 minutes.

But this is certainly not the only impression while performing this piece. The originality of Dvořák’s imagination is tremendous. In spite of the formal strictness, he grabs us with his richness of fantasy. Very few octaves and chords make it difficult for the piano to compete with the large symphony orchestra in terms of volume; in return the piano part offers a unique refinement and variety of colours. While performing it, I feel both like a soloist but also as a chamber-music partner of the orchestra.

640px-Dvorak_1868Due to the presented difficulties, famous Czech pianist Vilém Kurz rearranged the solo part, giving it a lot of brilliance and sound. By doing so, however, he used many elements of the pianism of Liszt and altered Dvořák’s writing. Kurz’s version eliminates the characteristic two-and-a-half to three octaves leap between the hands and the use of the higher register, which gives a particular bell-like soundscape to this concerto.

But the gained brilliance comes at the expense of Dvořák’s peculiar use of colour. Moreover, Kurz “corrected” some harmonies and voice-leadings which for me is unforgivable. It is therefore not surprising that I chose to record Dvořák’s original version.

There is no greater pleasure for me than studying the handwriting of the composers I play. This gives an intimate insight not only into the structure of a piece, but also into the creative process, and even the struggles and troubles. In the case of Op.33, Henle-Verlag published a magnificent facsimile of Dvořák ‘s manuscript. Looking at it, a lot of corrections, modifications and dismissed sections attest to the many obstacles on the way to completion.

On the other hand, numerous sections show us a filigree handwriting, which must have been written in one go and without any apparent effort. This concerto is certainly not one of the most accessible works of Dvořák, but a closer look reveals how the formal structure is only there to support musical imagination, and that’s what marks it as a masterpiece. I consider it to be among the most important works of this genre, maybe even because of its unevenness and nonconformity.

This article was written by Francesco Piemontesi for the release of Schumann / Dvořák: Piano Concertos (2013, Naïve Records)

12th of January

New Artist of the Month at Musical America


BERLIN – “I suppose I am by nature a curious person,” says Francesco Piemontesi. “I want to know.”

It’s a quality that the young pianist makes apparent on more than one front. In recital at the Konzerthaus Berlin last spring, he performed works by Debussy, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert with a combination of meticulous technical assurance and nearly philosophical introspection.

A mere glance at Piemontesi’s contribution to program notes reveals the depth in which he had explored… Read more

(c) Marco Borggreve

19th of December

A look back at 2014…


2014 has been a defining year for Francesco, with debuts with major orchestras all around the globe and a much-praised solo recording. Orchestral debuts include NHK Symphony with Roger Norrington, São Paulo Symphony with Andrew Manze, and Helsinki Philharmonic with Kazuki Yamada.

Over the summer, Francesco’s debut at the BBC Proms with Thomas Søndergård and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, where he performed Strauss’s Burleske and Mozart’s Rondò in A major, was praised in the British press: “Francesco Piemontesi sparkled with dashing insouciance, only to contrast that with playing of lyrical beauty in Mozart’s Rondo in A major, K386” (Financial Times). On the other side of the Atlantic, he performed Mozart Piano Concerto No.27 with the Cleveland Orchestra to an audience of thousands, as part of the Blossom Music Festival.

Francesco made much-awaited comebacks to orchestras such as the Hallé in Manchester, and he toured Switzerland and Italy with Royal Philharmonic and Charles Dutoit. In November, a performance of Beethoven Piano Concert No.4 with City of Birmingham Symphony and Lahav Shani was described, in a five-star review on Bachtrack, as “…one of the most assured performances of the piece I can recall hearing”.

In recital, Piemontesi returned to Rotterdam De Doelen, BOZAR at Royal Conservatoire Brussels and Wigmore Hall in London, and made his debut at Berlin and Vienna Konzerthaus.

Mozart Piano Works, released in April on Naïve Classique, has garnered widespread acclaim for its maturity and refinement, consolidating him as “a Mozartian force to be reckoned with” (Jessica Duchen, BBC Music Magazine).

Piemontesi ends the year with a return to some of the ensembles with whom he enjoys a longstanding relationship. Together with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra he performed Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh on 3 December, taking it afterwards to Glasgow Ayr and Perth. Two weeks later, he performed the same work with the Royal Northern Sinfonia and Thomas Zehetmair at Sage Gateshead, as part of the hall’s 10 years celebrations.

Piemontesi also returned for a mini-tour with Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne, playing at Geneva’s Victoria Hall on the 10 December, Salle Equilibre in Fribourg on the 11 December, and the Salle de Musique in La Chaux-de-Fonds on 12 December. He performed Dvorák’s Concerto for piano and orchestra in G minor, which he recorded for Naïve in 2012. The concert in Geneva has been broadcast live on radio RTS Espace 2, which you can listen to here.

FPI website 2014 round up with Halle
Francesco rehearsing with the Hallé in Manchester.

4th of December

“Wit and imagination”


Francesco’s performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.2 with the Hallé Orchestra was praised by the local press in Manchester this November. This was Francesco’s second collaboration with the orchestra after his captivating debut last season, returning to interpret some of Beethoven’s earlier work.

He’s superbly equipped technically, but, more importantly, has wit and imagination that he can bring to bear in the most familiar classical works. It’s a matter of doing the little things well – like making real contrasts in his playing to match those written into the orchestral music, and catching an atmosphere of mystery, as he did in his first movement cadenza.

Click here to read the full article.

18th of September

“A refined, probing, uncompromising intelligence”: the Spectator on Francesco


British magazine the Spectator published a feature on Francesco ahead of his Proms concert with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in August.

Focusing on Francesco’s recording of Schumann’s Piano Sonata No.3 in F minor (Claves 2009), writer Damian Thompson praises him as a pianist of “refined, probing, uncompromising intelligence”, comparing his approach to the architecture of a piece, for example, to that of Alfred Brendel.

Read an extract:

Can you tell how intelligent a musician is by listening to him play? Last year I discovered a recording of Schumann’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor, a sprawling and spidery work that can fall apart even under the nimblest fingers. Not this time. Francesco Piemontesi, a young Swiss–Italian pianist, totally nails it.

Believe me, it takes some nailing. In the opening Allegro brillante and the final Prestissimo possibile, Schumann stretches lyrical melodies across madcap scales and arpeggios that dart in every direction. The rhythms are insistently dotted: Schumann at his most obsessive-compulsive. There are lots of crunching gear changes and scampering pianissimo passages that turn to mush if the pianist seeks safety in the sustaining pedal.

Click here to read the full article.

15th of March

Waiting in line for Mozart…


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Everybody has already received it, my managers, my pr agency, even amazon received it though they are not allowed to sell it yet. I seem to be the only one to whom the package has not been delivered. The package from Naïve with the first batch of my new Mozart CD.

Since I live in the country of greatest possible efficiency (hard to forget – I’m constantly told so since I moved here), I can hardly imagine this being caused by a lack of efficiency. Well, I must admit that the post office in charge at Torstraße is usually not known for its high effectiveness; rather for its illustrious clients. I already met Arvo Pärt and Jonathan Meese there. Perhaps the funny contemporary aesthetics of both have noxiously influenced this post office? That would at least explain following incident:

Yesterday I found an official letter from Deutsche Post in my postbox, telling me that my Mozart-package cannot be delivered since the address the package was addressed to did not exist. This letter, however, was addressed and delivered to exactly the same address. That’s at least the only thinkable reason why I found it in my post box.

In attempting to explain to the postal clerk at Torstraße why this is a paradox, the suspicion crept over me that the post office perhaps was not influenced by Arvo Pärt, but Pärt might be under the influence of this post office. Perhaps a similar experience has inspired him to his composition “mirror in mirror”. Or maybe he found the idea to “annum per annum” there while waiting in line. After I dragged the package up in my apartment which does not exist, I can at least say one thing for sure and without any modesty: It’s really weighty. The release dates are:

UK March 17
Italy March 17
Germany April 11
France April 14

As a foretaste you can listen to the first movement of the f major Sonata K533 here, or watch this video with an excerpt from the recording session!

6th of March

Mozart – a foretaste


My new Mozart-Album for Naïve will be released in a few days.

See now excerpts from the recording session in Lugano:

watch

28th of December

A journey through Schubert´s last year


Schubert
In December I performed for the first time the last three Schubert Sonatas in one concert. I was looking forward to this event for years and I am thankful to Stefano Lania in Bergamo who insisted for having this project in his concert series. It is a rare and special pleasure when an organizer encourages artists to realize something they otherwise would not often get the possibility for.

Years ago, when I first played the a major sonata for Alfred Brendel, he immediately animated me to perform these three masterworks in a single concert. He referred to them as a Kantian triad: A thesis of destructive and macabre energy in the c minor sonata, followed by an antithesis of positive activity in the a major is concluded by a synthesis of resigned sobriety in the last sonata. Schubert´s last sonatas belong together.

The C minor Sonata is indeed a work with a high degree of turbulence, the writing sometimes being neurotic: Behind a classical surface the music reveals a high degree of unexpected turns: the main earnest and tragic character – derived at least in my eyes from the opening bars of Beethoven´s c minor variations – balances with sudden, rapid and conflicting shifts of moods. For istance, the dreamy second subject is developped into a most passionate idea which dissolves into a pensive final group. The devolpment which follows has an illusive, almost funeral mood. The finale, in tarantella rhythm reminds me of the spirit of a danse macabre.

The second Sonata is in general the most luminous among the triad. Between the outer mouvements which bring a clear fiery and powerful (e.g. the starting chordal progression) and joyful (mostly in the finale) message we find the emotional heart of the piece right in the middle: the andantino starts in a grace or dance-like manner and slowly becomes a composition with a high degree of disturbance. The middle section sounds like a most scary scene. Until today I have not found a passage written until 1828 which appears to be so modern. The reprise of the main theme doesn´t remain unaffected by the outbursts: signs of disturbance can still be found in the shaking outer voices.

The last Sonata is in my eyes the most moving one. As Claudio Arrau put it D960 “is a work written in the proximity of death…one feels it from the very first theme…the breaking off, and the silence after a long, mysterious trill in the bass.” Only in the finale we find stormy passages, which are preceded – as Alfred Brendel pointed out – by the kind of silence that anticipates storms. The apparently smooth harmonic structure of this sonata is in fact more complex than in the others. I tried for many hours to give a sense to my analysis of the piece. Finally the suggestions of US musicologist William Rothstein helped me to decrypth the piece.

D958, 959 and 960 were written in 1828, however they were only published by Anton Diabelli around ten years after Schubert´s death. However, they were almost forgotten until the centennial anniverary of his death. Thanks to the writings of Sir Donald Francis Tovey and public performances and recordings of Arthur Schnabel they slowly received growing attention around 1930. I´m really astonished at how long it took until they finally became an important part of the repertoire. Historically, their public reception didn’t start in the easiest way: Schumann reviewed them in 1838 and showed his disappointment. The main criticism – still persisting today – is that of being too long, lacking in formal conciseness and in pianistic fireworks; hence not appropriate for an effective performance. According to contemporary witnesses, Schubert was not a virtuoso pianist in the style of Liszt. His piano playing was more on the introverted side: the main praise he received was for his singing tone. In one of his letters he writes angrily about the banging style of some virtuosos of the time. This aspect fascinates me the most; it is in the subtle tone colours that one gives sense to all tonal excursions, like the seemingly endless modulations in the development sections.

The journey I started in 2008 led me through three of the most sublime piano pieces I ever encountered. A very big challenge for the performer is to shift continuosly between song-like writing (the resemblance with many aspects of “Der Atlas” in D958, “im Frühling” in D959 and “Am Meer” the opening of D960 is quite obvious) and the dramatic, drastic, fieverish texture he interpolates. Even more so, when these moments are hidden behind a smooth or innocent surface. I’m thinking in particular of the beginnings from the slow movements of the c minor and a major sonatas. Another important challenge is to find a way how to integrate the dance like episodes or mouvements into the principal character of each piece.

Two recordings have been central to my study of these sonatas: Brendel´s live rendition of D960 from 1997 (for copyright reasons not available on Youtube) and Schnabel’s 1937 recording of D959.

© 2017 Francesco Piemontesi. Designed by kroeger-photography.com