There are events in history which one would have liked to witness personally. These may be classified among the foundational events of human history, or may pertain to more local or specific kinds of history, such as the history of music, or the history of musical performance. In order for such an event to reach the level of “history”, it must be qualified by several markers of exceptionality. All of these are found in the live recital recorded and published in this Da Vinci Classics CD. We have here a legendary pianist, who is the heir of one of the most important piano schools in the history of pianism; a superb instrument, hand-made with exceptional craftmanship; a magnificent location, in the buildings of the astonishingly beautiful Theatre La Fenice in Venice; and, last but not least, a mouth-watering programme, which leads us through a variety of styles in terms both of music history and of the overall character of music. Petrushansky was born in Moscow after World War II, and had the good chance of growing up into a household of musicians. His talent showed itself early, and at the ripe old age of eight the child gained access to one of the most prestigious institutions for music pedagogy in the world, the Central School of Music attached to the Conservatory of Moscow. Whilst most of his piano education was due to Inna Levina, the final touch completing his formative years came from the legend of legends, Heinrich Neuhaus. The name of Neuhaus is one which elicits constant wonder and devotion among pianists and musicians; he taught musicians such as Svjatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels, to name but two; and his legacy in terms of famous pupils and of written sources is one from which the entire Russian piano school continues to draw creative energies, while disseminating them throughout the world. One of the heirs of this school was Lev Naumov, who was Neuhaus’ assistant. While Petrushansky was fortunate enough to profit from Neuhaus’ last teachings, in 1964 (for a few months before the Master’s death), through the mediation of Naumov was he able to receive the whole of Neuhaus’ tradition in a more complete form in the following years. Empowered by his encounter with Neuhaus and several years in the school of Naumov (with whom he would continue his education until 1975), a barely twenty-y.o. Petrushansky embarked in the venture of the piano competitions, awarded in three of the most important contests in a row (Leeds in 1969, “Tchaikovsky” in Moscow in 1970, and “ARD” Monaco in 1971), followed by the “Casagrande” Prize in Terni in 1975. From then on, his career took off abruptly, and he was officially admitted into the Gotha of piano performance. In turn, he became one of the most sought-of teachers for the new generations of pianists, while performing extensively and at the top level both as a soloist and as a chamber musician. Faithful to the Russian tradition, Petrushansky did not concentrate on just a section or segment of the piano repertoire, but kept playing works from all epochs and styles, in the fashion of the late-Romantic virtuoso. This approach is meaningfully exemplified by the programme recorded here, which spans over the full range of the mainstream piano repertoire, boldly juxtaposing composers who have little in common, except the greatness of their artistry and musicianship. To be sure, the first two composers featured in this programme belonged in the so-called Vienna School, and epitomize many of its distinctive traits. Indeed, perhaps Haydn and Schubert are the two Viennese composers who have most in common, though their outlook on life (and their lives, indeed) could not be more different. What Haydn and Schubert share is a particular attention toward the folk element of music (and particularly of Hungarian elements which proudly surface within the framework of “cultivated” music); a particular feeling for melody and for its organic development; the capacity of “losing” themselves in the world of sounds when this is worth doing. What differentiates crucially Haydn from Schubert is biography. The former was long-lived, by his times’ standards; and though his life was certainly not without its crosses and pains, in comparison with many other musicians Haydn was a happy and fulfilled man. This contributed to, and was in turn helped by his positive outlook on life, his good-hearted and good-humoured character, and his irony and nonchalance. Haydn was also a man of faith, and this certainly supported him through the difficulties he did have to face in his life. Finally, Haydn was a man of the eighteenth century through and through, even though some of his late works are not devoid of pre-Romantic influences. By way of contrast, the life of Franz Schubert was short even for his contemporaries, and mainly unhappy. Whilst Schubert did love good company and mirth, he was never truly happy and fulfilled; he was inhabited by a perennial longing for infinity, but, having lost his faith, he was unable to find an answer to that yearning. This nostalgia suffused his entire musical output, and is precisely what makes it unforgettable; it is also, of course, one of the characterizing traits of Romanticism, which Schubert almost “founded” as a musical style. If Romanticism can be foreseen in Haydn’s output, certainly his Andante with Variations in F minor qualifies as a prime champion. The theme itself could easily come from a Schubert Sonata, thanks to its hesitations, its singing tone, its depressive mood; however, at its heart, the theme itself contains an antidote to the Romantic depression. The sections in the major mode temper the sombreness of the opening gestures with a more nonchalant approach, and the lightness of the rococo style counterbalances the pre-Romantic agitations and turbulences of the minor key. This composition was written in 1793 for a young pianist, Barbara von Ployer, who was a gifted amateur. Not only had she the honour of receiving this delightful composition by Haydn, but she had also been the dedicatee of two of Mozart’s finest Piano Concertos. She might have been just a dilettante, but evidently she had made an impression on two of the greatest geniuses of music history… Ployer was probably gifted with a special sensitivity and expressiveness; and if one cannot speak of pre-Romanticism proper in this work, certainly it bespeaks the very soul of the Empfindsamer Stil, the style of sensitivity, about which Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach had written extensively. Sensitivity abounds in the four Impromptus op. 142 by Schubert, published posthumously and written in his last year. According to Schumann, these four pieces (whose title “Impromptus” is a label imposed on them by the publisher) could be interpreted as forming a Sonata. Schumann argued for this on tonal grounds (the four pieces build up a consistent tonal itinerary which could fit well with the aesthetics of Schubert’s Sonatas), of form (the first Impromptu is reminiscent of a Sonata Allegro form, the last is similar to a Rondo, and the two central pieces could correspond to the slow movement and to a theme with variations replacing the usual Minuet or Scherzo), and of character. While today’s musicologists no longer subscribe to Schumann’s hypothesis, undeniably the pieces of this set are best played in a row, as Petrushansky does, and without excerpting them from the cycle. The first Impromptu is built on a powerful contrast between the opening gesture – dramatic, tragical, “showy”, solemn and pathetic – and the second theme, almost whispered within a forest of pianissimo semiquavers. The longest sections of this piece build up a fascinating dialogue between two musical characters, as in a duet between a female and a male voice, set over a monotonous accompaniment of semiquavers, reminiscent of the never-ending motion of the mill’s wheel or of Gretchen’s spinning. The second Impromptu is one of those quintessentially Schubertian miracles, where simplicity becomes a beacon of beauty. In the classical A-B-A form, this piece weaves an A section combining a Chorale-like prayer with dance rhythms, and a B section where the lopsided accents found in section A sustain a seemingly eternal movement of waves. The Variations building up the third Impromptu can fruitfully be compared with Haydn’s; here the lightness of certain passageworks typical for the Classical style is nearly lost, in favour of a deeper investigation of the theme’s harmonic structure (without fearing the possibility of venturing into distant keys), and of an overturning of the theme’s very character, which is transformed into a funereal march at the heart of the cycle. Finally, the last Impromptu closes the series with irony, brilliancy and some virtuoso passages; what is most remarkable here is how Schubert manages to hold the listener’s attention in spite of the elementary musical material he is employing – scales and repeated figurations. Prokofiev’s Sixth Piano Sonata has this in common with Schubert: similar to Schubert’s last three Sonatas, it was composed at almost the same time as two of its sisters, the Seventh and the Eighth; interestingly, the latter two were premiered by Neuhaus’ most famous pupils, Richter and Gilels, whilst the composer himself performed the world premiere of the Sixth. This Sonata came about after a relatively long distancing of the composer from the Piano Sonata form; it reopened the flow of his inspiration, paving the way for its younger sisters. It displays a fascinating variety of moods, exemplified by the quasi-polytonality of its opening theme and of the first movement, which reinterprets the classical Sonata Allegro form while remaining faithful to it. Reminiscences of Schubert’s skillful handling of harmonic and rhythmic ambiguity are also found in the slow waltz, offering itself as a decadent result of the Viennese tradition, whilst the enthralling Finale, with its utterly virtuoso style, recaps the entire Sonata by alluding to the preceding movements (and here too we may see a parallel with Schubert’s last Piano Sonatas). The audience’s enthusiasm for the tour de force performed by the pianist at the La Fenice concert elicited a dutiful encore; and it was certainly worth asking… Franz Liszt’s concert paraphrase on Paganini’s La Campanella is one of the epitomes of piano virtuosity, but also a piece offering to the audience a truly delightful listening experience. And though few of us were able to participate directly in the “historical” experience of Petrushansky’s recital, what is offered here, in this Da Vinci Classics booklet, is certainly a powerful experience, capable of recreating the feelings of that soirée.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2022
Boris Petrushansky`s highly original creativity and vivacious personality have gained him wide recognition as a concert pianist.
Born in 1949 in Moscow, he started playing piano at the age of five, supported by a musical family, and had among his teachers the eminent Heinrich Neuhaus. After studying with Lev Naumov, he graduated from the Moscow Conservatory in 1975, having already distinguished himself in major international competitions, for example at Leeds in 1969, Munich in 1971, and Terni in 1975, where he won first prize.
Ever since the summer of 1975 when he gave two unforgettable recitals at the “Festival dei due Mondi” at Spoleto and the “Maggio Musicale Fiorentino” Festival (substituting Richter), Petrushansky has not looked back. His performances have taken him to Italy, Finland, Sweden, Japan, Great Britain, Germany, France, Belgium, Austria, Czecoslovakia, USA, Hungary, Israel, Egypt, Mexico, Taiwan, Hong-Kong, S. Africa, Chile. He has made recordings with Melodia (Russia), Stradivarius, Dynamic Fone, Agora, (Italy), Symposium (UK), Ar t& Electronics (Russia-USA).
The many orchestras that he has played with include: The Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, The State Symphony Orchestra of Russia, The Moscow Philharmonic, Symphony Orchestra “Verdi” of Milan, The Czech Philharmonic, The Staatskapelle Berlin, The Orchestra of the Academy of Santa Cecilia, The “Maggio Musicale Fiorentino” Festival Orchestra in Rome, The Helsinki Philharmonic, Symphony Orchestra in Santiago de Chile, The Moscow Chamber Orchestra, European Community Chamber Orchestra, The “New European Strings”, The Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, etc.
He has played with many renowned conductors as J.Ferencik, E. Bour, V.Fedoseev, E.-P.Salonen, V.Gergiev, A.Lazarev, P.Bellugi, M.Atzmon, D.Kitaenko, S.Sondezkis, R.Abbado, M.Shostakovich, J. Latham-Koenig, Lu Jia, V. Jurowsky, D. Matheuz, P. Kogan, L. Grin, A. Shokhakimov.
Among his partners, to name but a few, have numbered the Leonid Kogan, Igor Oistrach, Mischa Maisky, Zurab Sotkilava, Mario Brunello, Dmitri Sitkovetsky, Borodin Quartet and Philharmonia Quartet Berlin.
Boris Petrushansky is a member of jury of many international competition such as “F. Busoni” (Bolzano), “D. B. Viotti” (Vercelli), “A. Casagrande” (Terni), Tongyeong, Orlèans, Chopin in Warsaw, Paris, Tchaikovsky in Moscow, etc. In addition to his concert life, Petrushansky is active in teaching field: from 1975 he was teaching in Moscow Conservatory and now gives Master classes in the Royal Academy of Dublin and London, the Royale College Music of London, Rowan University of U.S.A (New Jersey), and in many cities of Italy, Europe, Israel, South Korea, Japan. He is now resident in Italy and since 1990 has held a position at the Accademia Internazionale “Incontri col Maestro” in Imola. Since 2014 he was awarded the title of Academician of the “Academy of Muses”, Florence.
Franz Joseph Haydn (b Rohrau, Lower Austria, 31 March 1732; d Vienna, 31 May 1809). Austrian composer, brother of Michael Haydn. Neither he nor his contemporaries used the name Franz, and there is no reason to do so today. He began his career in the traditional patronage system of the late Austrian Baroque, and ended as a ‘free’ artist within the burgeoning Romanticism of the early 19th century. Famous as early as the mid-1760s, by the 1780s he had become the most celebrated composer of his time, and from the 1790s until his death was a culture-hero throughout Europe. Since the early 19th century he has been venerated as the first of the three ‘Viennese Classics’ (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven). He excelled in every musical genre; during the first half of his career his vocal works were as famous as his instrumental ones, although after his death the reception of his music focussed on the latter (except for The Creation). He is familiarly known as the ‘father of the symphony’ and could with greater justice be thus regarded for the string quartet; no other composer approaches his combination of productivity, quality and historical importance in these genres. In the 20th century he was understood primarily as an ‘absolute’ musician (exhibiting wit, originality of form, motivic saturation and a ‘modernist’ tendency to problematize music rather than merely to compose it), but earnestness, depth of feeling and referential tendencies are equally important to his art.
Franz Liszt: (b Raiding, (Doborján), 22 Oct 1811; d Bayreuth, 31 July 1886). Hungarian composer, pianist and teacher. He was one of the leaders of the Romantic movement in music. In his compositions he developed new methods, both imaginative and technical, which left their mark upon his forward-looking contemporaries and anticipated some 20th-century ideas and procedures; he also evolved the method of ‘transformation of themes’ as part of his revolution in form, made radical experiments in harmony and invented the symphonic poem for orchestra. As the greatest piano virtuoso of his time, he used his sensational technique and captivating concert personality not only for personal effect but to spread, through his transcriptions, knowledge of other composers’ music. As a conductor and teacher, especially at Weimar, he made himself the most influential figure of the New German School dedicated to progress in music. His unremitting championship of Wagner and Berlioz helped these composers achieve a wider European fame. Equally important was his unrivalled commitment to preserving and promoting the best of the past, including Bach, Handel, Schubert, Weber and above all Beethoven; his performances of such works as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Hammerklavier Sonata created new audiences for music hitherto regarded as incomprehensible. The seeming contradictions in his personal life – a strong religious impulse mingled with a love of worldly sensation – were resolved by him with difficulty. Yet the vast amount of new biographical information makes the unthinking view of him as ‘half gypsy, half priest’ impossible to sustain. He contained in his character more of the ideals and aspirations of the 19th century than any other major musician.
Profile from The New Grove dictionary of Music and Musicians
Franz Schubert: (b Vienna, 31 Jan 1797; d Vienna, 19 Nov 1828). Austrian composer. The only canonic Viennese composer native to Vienna, he made seminal contributions in the areas of orchestral music, chamber music, piano music and, most especially, the German lied. The richness and subtlety of his melodic and harmonic language, the originality of his accompaniments, his elevation of marginal genres and the enigmatic nature of his uneventful life have invited a wide range of readings of both man and music that remain among the most hotly debated in musical circles.
Sergey Prokofiev (b Sontsovka, Bakhmutsk region, Yekaterinoslav district, Ukraine, 11/23 April 1891; d Moscow, 5 March 1953). Russian composer and pianist. He began his career as a composer while still a student, and so had a deep investment in Russian Romantic traditions – even if he was pushing those traditions to a point of exacerbation and caricature – before he began to encounter, and contribute to, various kinds of modernism in the second decade of the new century. Like many artists, he left his country directly after the October Revolution; he was the only composer to return, nearly 20 years later. His inner traditionalism, coupled with the neo-classicism he had helped invent, now made it possible for him to play a leading role in Soviet culture, to whose demands for political engagement, utility and simplicity he responded with prodigious creative energy. In his last years, however, official encouragement turned into persecution, and his musical voice understandably faltered.