Showing posts with label Angelo Villani. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Angelo Villani. Show all posts

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Angelo Villani: I've got a little Liszt...

There could be worse inspirations for a pianist than Vladimir Horowitz. As the pianist Angelo Villani prepares for his first London recital in five years, he's written us a guest post about how the legendary Russian has lit the way to an approach that respects the score and composer while also finding a spontaneity that recreates the music anew in every performance. Do come and hear him play Chopin, Mozart, Bach and, of course, a little Liszt - actually, quite a lot - at the Royal Overseas League next week, 5 July. JD

Angelo in action
Photo: Bronac McNeill

Angelo Villani writes:

This July will be my first public recital in London for five years, so it’s an understatement to say I am excited. In the past, my repertoire has been principally centred around Liszt, as well as my own transcriptions, but for this next concert, alongside Chopin, I will be playing a smattering of Bach and Mozart for the very first time. My supporters are curious as to how I plan to approach these composers. 

Since my teens, I have listened to great pianists, like Horowitz, who came to Mozart late in his life. He didn’t play a huge amount of Mozart, but he played him magnificently. Horowitz came from an operatic perspective that was not wholly conventional, and it ties in with how I feel about finding nuances and a sense of colour, which forms its own boundaries and its own cohesion and wholeness. His playing is very inspired. And inspiring. It’s emotive and personal, and changes with every performance. That’s what I am looking for, too. 

Like period dramas, music shows us something of that time, but they also hold a mirror up to ourselves, showing us the human condition. We will always be drawn to Shakespeare, for example, and this year is the 200thanniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. They speak to us as we are essentially the same humans. The customs and manners have changed, which is what we see in these dramas. We see the way they behave is different, but what they feel inside, that humanity, really hasn’t changed a lot. People still search for love and truth. 

For me, in whatever I play, it’s a question of expression. With Mozart I am not looking for any of that classical form of correctness. I believe that can be achieved, that sense of style, when one taps into what Wagner referred to as melos. Being in the moment. It’s very telling, and it’s derived from his ideas on conducting. Approaching all music, one has to find that sense of being in the moment and finding the right mood, and let that carry through. It creates its own structure and sense of scale and for me it’s very important to do that in an organic way, although it’s difficult to achieve.

When we talk about classical music, we’re using an umbrella term for a lot of music that blossomed from the Renaissance up until present day. We have Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and then Moderns, Avant-garde and beyond, to what we have now. It’s good for people to understand that music can greatly reflect its epoch, but at the same time for the artist to be able to exploit the humane characteristics of the music, and to bring out its soulfulness and inherent humanity, they need to transcend barriers of classification. A lot of music can express these very personal human emotions that don’t necessarily come from the Romantic era. For me, when I played my transcription of Purcell’s Dido’s Lament, it opened a door for me to hear the Mozart D minor Fantasy and the Bach Siciliano in a completely different way because it reminded me, all of a sudden, that this music is heart-breaking and has its own pain, even though the way it is structured, its simplicity, is very much a Baroque style. It’s like a small etching or a pencil drawing, but with incredible and very poignant detail. So it drew me to these pieces in a way I wasn’t necessarily aware of when I was younger. 

I’m sometimes asked what my motivation is for altering the score. I don’t do it that often, but it largely happens with Liszt, who was unique in this respect as his works were not always a finished product in the same sense as Chopin or Mozart, where everything was crystallized. He comes from a very Beethovenian line of thinking. Liszt tended to improvise and he kept re-writing the same pieces, not really knowing what would be the final result. His music relied a lot on the performer, who infused a good deal of their own personal take on it, especially the endings. So, I am always at ease with the idea: "Well, what would the composer do to take it beyond what they have arrived at?" Because music is a transitory experience, when a composer writes a piece down on paper, it’s still in transition until the performer brings it to life. I don’t think it’s a finite work, and we do have to respect that these great composers improvised. Chopin used to improvise a lot of the ornaments in his music, and his students said he never played his music in the same way twice. So even he changed things. They were ornaments, but it was essential for him to be able to change them. With Liszt, it was a malleability in his sense of texture and sound, which was more orchestral. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Angels and demons in South Kensington

One of the most enjoyable commissions I had last year was a set of programme notes for the pianist Angelo Villani's debut CD. It's a breathtaking musical journey through Dante's Inferno, featuring some of the characters the poet encounters in his exploration of hell: Tristan, Isolde and Dido are all there, even Franz Liszt (well, in a way).

Among the pieces are Angelo's own transcriptions of music from Wagner's Tristan and of Dido's Lament by Purcell, along with an extract from Liszt's Années de pélérinage and an exquisite, little-known piece by Hans von Bülow. The lynchpin of the disc is, of course, Liszt's Dante Sonata.

The CD is now ready for release by Sonetto Classics and Angelo will launch it at the salon of 49 Queen's Gate Terrace, South Kensington, London SW7 5PN, on 4 February. Tickets for the event (£20 including wine & canapés) are on sale and may be reserved by contacting Veronica Davies at

Here's a taster of the interview I did with Angelo about the repertoire for the CD booklet.
The other rarity is a piece from Liszt’s Années de Pélérinage (Years of Pilgrimage): ‘Sunt lacrymae rerum’ (‘There are tears for things…’) from the third ‘year’. The title is a quotation from Virgil’s Aeneid – a reference again to Dido. “This is very dark piece, full of pathos,” says Angelo. “Liszt’s late works seem to contain a vision of the future, looking forward into the soundworlds of Debussy, Ravel, Scriabin and others. There’s an otherworldly feeling to this piece, and an element of deep romanticism buried beneath its dark exterior.”
 Angelo credits this work with changing his life. Aged 17, he heard a recording of it by the Hungarian pianist Ervin Nyiregyházi, a one-time prodigy whose adult career (and life) traversed terrifying polarities of low and high. His musicianship reflected this extremity. “It’s an overwhelming, powerful recording and I was quite hypnotised by it,” Angelo says. “I grew up listening to many great pianists on record – Sviatoslav Richter, Vladimir Horowitz and Georg Cziffra, among others – but hearing Nyiregyházi transformed my ideas. It opened my eyes and ears to a completely different soundworld. I realised that this is the road for me. This was my catalyst for developing my own aesthetic. “My spiritual tie is primarily with the 19th century, so I felt grounded when I heard these great players that were linked to the past. They seemed to play with enormous expressiveness and a deep romanticism. It’s something very personal.”

You may well have read about Angelo on JDCMB before. Born in Australia to a family of south Italian extraction, he started out as a child prodigy, but a trapped nerve in his neck kept him away from his piano for some 20 years. A few years back it was finally cured and Angelo, who has lived in London for a long time, made a comeback recital at St James Piccadilly. He is a remarkable musician, an artist taking his cue from the "golden age" pianists he loves on recordings, and I for one can't wait to hear what he has done with this repertoire. The performance at Queen's Gate Terrace will include the public premiere of the Dido transcription.

Do come along and hear him! More details on the event's Facebook page.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Dante's piano inferno: three days to go

The pianist Angelo Villani, an astonishing Australian-Italian artist based in London who's featured strongly in these posts before, is raising funds for his debut album. It's a superb programme based around Dante's Inferno, featuring Liszt's Dante Sonata, Angelo's own transcription of Dido's Lament from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, some rare music by Hans von Bülow, and a fantasia on Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, uniting keyboard versions by Bülow, Liszt and Angelo himself. I've written his sleeve notes.

Angelo's burgeoning career was cut short in his teens by an injury to his right hand (karate is to blame). After 25 years and consultations with hundreds of specialists, he has been able to resume playing and his comeback began in 2012 with a debut recital at St James Piccadilly. This will be his first CD.

He's now found 77 per cent of the cash he needs, but with three days left, there's still a good bit to go...please help him!

Here's his Kickstarter page.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sunday roundup from a very busy week

I've been burning the candle at both ends, to coin a phrase. It beats the hell out of sitting alone at home watching repeats of Midsomer Murders - something I have resolved never to do again.

Last Saturday, Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House. You wake up, the sun is shining, you're free, it's opening night at Covent Garden, Jonas is singing and you're not there? Unthinkable! I scooped a return and drank long and deep of the genius of Verdi. It was almost impossible to imagine a finer cast. Sometimes when Kaufmann is on stage, the rest can fade to insignificance, but here his peers matched him moment for moment.

This appears to be the one performance that the scheduled soprano, Anja Harteros, was able in the end to do, and the first time I've managed to hear her live. Her voice has an almost uncanny beauty along with extraordinary range of expression: the deepest levels enhanced by taut, dramatic diction, the uppermost soaring with rare 100-carat sheen. She's the perfect stage partner for Kaufmann, matching his sensitivity to nuance and blending with his multifaceted colourations, the final duet daringly hushed. Mariusz Kwiecien's double-edged charm and rich-flowing baritone, as Rodrigo, might otherwise have stolen the show, while Ferruccio Furlanetto's magnificently tortured and heartbreaking Philip II threatened to do likewise, with the type of voice and interpretation that brings every twist of phrase and fortune into close-up. Eric Halfvorsen's Grand Inquisitor rose to the challenge of one of Verdi's nastiest and truest personalities. In the pit, Tony Pappano and the orchestra plunged through the four-and-a-half hour span with passion undimmed; and the chorus was absolutely on fire for the auto da fe, a scene in which the confluence of symbol and drama could scarcely be finer.

Carlos is, after all, a German romantic hero - by Schiller - in all but moniker, a soul whose obsession with Elisabeth after one scant encounter in the forest can match that of Goethe's Werther for Charlotte. Flanders is Elisabeth; the burning heretics are the heart of Carlos, who burns inwardly for breaking the taboo of aching for his stepmother. Freud might have enjoyed that final moment of farewell when he addresses Elisabeth as 'mother'. What happened to Carlos's real mother anyway? We are not told.

Lianna Haroutounian has since stepped into Harteros's shoes, making her ROH debut; and the churlish anonymi grumbling on the ROH comments boxes that the house should have had a "name" as second cast may want to think again. Fiona Maddocks's review today declares: "Haroutounian seemed to pull forth ever-increasing vocal powers until you thought her heart, or yours, would burst."

On Tuesday we had the first run-through at home of the Hungarian Dances concert with the new team for the Ulverston and the St James Theatre June performances. David Le Page (violin) and Anthony Hewitt (piano) used to be duo partners in their teens, but hadn't met in 23 years...yet it was as if they'd last seen each other yesterday. And the intensity of their musical response to the story took me completely by surprise. It felt as these concerts probably should: we may be a reader and two musicians, but their engagement with the drama and the emotions in the narrative bounced different angles into the music, while their impassioned interpretations made me see new and darker corners in my own text. It was as if we all made music together, essentially. I'm hugely grateful to them and excited about sharing a stage with them. Ulverston is on 8 June, the St James Theatre Studio in central London is on 11 June, and booking is open.

On Wednesday, to St John's Smith Square to hear Angelo Villani in recital. Angelo, you remember, is the Italian-Australian pianist we talked to a little while back when he started to make his comeback after 20 years away from the concert platform due to a trapped nerve in his shoulder. He performs in white gloves. And there's something of the white gloves about his musicianship too, in the best sense: while some complained that the programme he chose consisted more of the slow and soft than the barnstorming so many people seem to expect of concert pianists these days, that was actually the point.

Whether in the freely-calibrated rubato of the Chopin Nocturnes Op.9, two of the Liszt Petrarch Sonnets and the Ballade No.2, or the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, adapted from Wagner by various hands including Von Bulow, Liszt and Villani himself, his exceptional and microscopic sensitivity, the way he immerses us in sonority, allows us to soak up the edges of vibration as if letting subtle-coloured dye infiltrate and diffuse through our inner worlds. It's unusual and it may not be for everyone, but this is fine-art pianism and it is good to know that it hasn't been entirely lost in the outside welter of the (largely positive but often noisy) Lang Lang Effect.

There's a wonderful story about Daniel Guilet, the founding violinist of the Beaux Arts Trio, as a young lad meeting Fauré in the foyer of the Paris Conservatoire. Monsieur le Directeur, as Fauré was then, said to Daniel: where are you going in such a hurry? "My violin lesson, sir." Ahh, said Fauré. You'll go to your lesson and you'll learn to play fast and loud. But to play slow and soft: that is really difficult.

On Thursday, my mates from the Culturekicks blog took me to the trendiest gig in town: The Knife, at the Roundhouse. I'll be writing about it more fully for them, but in brief, the experience was a polar opposite from Angelo's concert (=ear protectors) and in other ways just like the Proms, because if you're my height you can't see much. Music: Nordic Noir without the murders. More about it soon.

The great thing is that in this extraordinary world, and especially in this matchless city of ours, there's room for everything: music of different eras, angles, twists, turns, scale, substance and aspect. Try to do it all, if and when you have the chance. Because each experience feeds the next.

Last but not least, yesterday I went to a school reunion and saw friends I haven't seen since our A levels, more years ago than I'd like to admit, and they hadn't changed a bit. Time's a funny old thing. Just as an opera that is well over 100 years old can feel as fresh and relevant in terms of drama and emotional impact as an electro-post-pop band, the passing decades simply disappear when people's energies connect, reconnect and blossom. Yes, this was quite a week...

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Angelo Villani's back


.....well, THAT was Angelo's own transcription of the Liebestod from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, played live in the BBC Radio 3 In Tune studio yesterday. Blimey. Come and hear him play it, Alkan, Liszt and more at St John's Smith Square tomorrow (Wednesday 8 May):

If you missed our JDCMB Q&A with Angelo a few months back, here it is again.

Monday, December 31, 2012

And JDCMB's top ten posts of 2012 are...

Here are the top ten stories on JDCMB this year. Good to see that among the matters that interested you most were some of the world's top conductors, several exciting young artists and quite a few of the quirky JDCMB pieces that you won't find anywhere else - not least, the April Fool's Day spectacular. Below, listed in reverse order.

Thank you, everyone, for joining me through the roller-coaster highs and lows of 2012 and here's hoping that in 2013 the comets shine bright!

10.  Socks for the Lilac Fairy?                                                  
 Why do balletomanes knit socks for their favourite dancers, but Lang Lang doesn't get gloves from the pianophiles?

Life-enhancing ways to behave at a concert.


Introducing Angelo Villani.

In which I sit in on the great maestro's conducting masterclasses.

Italian romantic in cravat triumphs at the UK's premier piano competition.

You're a pragmatic lot, dear readers, and you know when you're on to a good thing.

Or can there? A look at this year's finalists.

1 April, and it looked like we might all have to play to Gergiev. Delightfully, a few of you fell for this, lock, stock and subsequent red ears.

And in first place...

The maestro gets it all off his chest.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Watch Angelo Villani's comeback concert right here

A couple of months ago, JDCMB had an e-interview with the Australian pianist Angelo Villani, who was due to make his London debut after an absence from the concert platform spanning two decades. Annoyingly, I couldn't make it to the concert, so invited him to do a runthrough in our front room, which was a treat of the first order. Now he has uploaded a film of the recital at St James's Church, Piccadilly, to Youtube, in HD. Here it is, in two parts. The acoustic is not the world's finest, but the white gloves are positively hypnotic. Enjoy.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A remarkable pianist is due to make his come-back after 25 years...

Here is a pianist who has absolutely nothing to do with Leeds.

Remember Tower Records at Piccadilly Circus? Many years ago, in the days when I edited a piano magazine, I used to love going into the classical department and having a good old browse in the historical piano section. One of the staff members there was exceptionally helpful and informative on this topic. He wore a red shirt and the name label ANGELO. Struck by his evident inside knowledge and love for the repertoire and its legendary exponents, I thought he was well named. And I always wondered what such a special guy was doing working in Tower Records in any case.

Now we know. Angelo Villani was a pianist himself - a remarkably talented one. He hails from an Italian family in Australia. A quarter-century ago he arrived at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow with high hopes, a week before it began. Disaster struck: a trapped nerve in his arm led to his withdrawal from the contest before the first round. He travelled the world looking for effective treatment, but since then has performed only sporadically, and has made a living by teaching - and, for seven years, working in Tower Records. 

And now he's making a come-back.

He'll be playing at St James, Piccadilly, on Saturday 6 October, with a programme of Grieg, Brahms and Liszt - nothing less than the 'Dante' Sonata. Box office: 020 7734 4511.

After listening to some of his performances on Youtube, I thought we'd better ask him for an e-interview.

JD: Angelo, what happened to you?

AV: Specialists have not been entirely sure how the nerve in my neck/shoulder came to be entrapped; some said it may have been an early sports injury or even carrying a heavy school bag on my shoulder.

JD: What has changed?

AV: About two or three years after the Tchaikovsky competition, it was finally diagnosed as calcified scar tissue impinging on the nerve. Many diverse treatments were tried and after a long while I finally began to see tangible results. My current specialist Andrew Croysdale has been working on my shoulder for the past 8 years or so. He is a Master with Tui-Na techniques, a Chinese method of deep tissue massage.

JD: Was it a difficult decision to make a come back?

AV: Well, truth be told, I have been waiting for this comeback for over 25 years.

JD: How do you feel about taking to the concert platform?

AV: For me, the idea of performing in public has always been a double-edged sword. So I guess it is as daunting as it is thrilling. I love this duality.

JD:  What repertoire is really you, and why?

AV: I feel very at home with the Romantics, but generally I love any music that is overtly expressive by nature. Mood and atmosphere can be just as potent as emotion.

JD: Who did you study with and who do you consider are your chief influences?
AV: In Melbourne, my first proper teacher was Stephen McIntyre (who was himself a pupil of Michelangeli). Also at the Victorian College of the Arts Technical School, I studied with Alexander Semetsky (a pupil of Gilels). From the age of ten, I started collecting LPs, not only of any Classical pianists but of opera singers and conductors. Before long, I was buying the same concertos and operas but with different artists. I was very keen to understand what set them apart.

JD: Who do you like listening to and what type of playing do you love the most?

AV: After listening and collecting recordings for so many years and then working at Tower Records I realized how extraordinary it was that one could revisit these old recordings repeatedly and always find something 'new' in them. Recently after I became engaged I had further cause to rediscover and share these old treasures with my fiancee, herself a sensitive amateur pianist.

When I first heard the playing of greats such as Horowitz, Richter and Cziffra, I became extremely curious of their predecessors and hungry to understand why they played the way they played. I guess it didn't take long to notice how highly faceted and multidimensional these artists were...

JD: Name a few favourite piano recordings and state why you have chosen them.

AV: Ignace Tiegerman's rendering of Chopin's 4th Ballade is miraculous, as is the heaven storming performance of the same work by Josef Hofmann. I am constantly amazed, no matter how many times I revisit these marvels.They are so different and yet so Polish' in their unique way.

Same goes for Ervin Nyiregyhazi's Liszt 2 Legends. He seems to not only underline the Hungarian elements in Liszt's music but also the metaphysical and visionary aspects to the point where a critical response becomes engulfed by an emotional one.

Walter Gieseking is largely remembered for his Ravel and Debussy ,but I find him at his most telling in Schumann especially in works like the 'Davidsbundlertanze'.Here we have a moving example of intensely overt lyricism juxtaposed with a striking personal intimacy :Tragic heartache beneath a cloak of sublime dignity and resignation...

JD: What are your plans now?

AV: To not drive the neighbours crazy with my Dante Sonata!

Here is Angelo playing Franck's Prelude, Chorale et Fugue. As you'd imagine from someone who names Tiegerman and Nyiregyhazi as favourites, this is not exactly usual playing. (Three parts.)