Classical Music Guide - Wednesday, July 25, 2018 - Written by Donald Isler

Massimiliano Ferrati

Massimiliano Ferrati - IKIF

20th International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Hunter College
July 24th, 2018

By now I know that when I hear a recital by Massimiliano Ferrati (whom I interviewed the other day) it will be a happy experience, and that even when his ideas about the music differ from mine there will be much to respect, and at least a few things to learn.

He began with a wonderful reading of the C Minor Fantasy of Mozart, K. 475. Though I think Ferrati's greatest strength is as a Romantic pianist he reminded me what a Romantic composer Mozart was! Everything was played in perfect taste, yet with great warmth. Both his slow tempi as well as the fast, brilliant sections sounded natural, and there were many fine details to be enjoyed, such as an exquisite diminuendo just before the return of the original C Minor theme.

When it comes to performances of Beethoven's Op. 111 some people (ie. me) are very hard to satisfy. Perhaps that makes us come across like religious zealots, and perhaps I am then expressing my own limitations, not those of the pianist I'm hearing. But, in fact, this may be the great musical masterpiece of which I've heard the fewest performances I've really liked. I will readily admit that the ones that come closest to my ideal are the Schnabel and Hungerford interpretations. These versions feature spell-binding concentration, an unearthly profundity, and an unbelievable intensity that makes one feel that LIVES HANG IN THE BALANCE!

While Ferrati's performance was not on this level it was much more than just pianistically well-played. There was, indeed, much to admire, and a lot of beautiful, thoughtful playing.
The allegro of the first movement was fleet, indeed, virtuosic. And the coda was appropriately threatening in nature. The long second movement was not as slow as one sometimes hears it, but very expressive and well-thought out. The beautifully played theme was followed by two sensitively played variations, and then the "jazz" variation, which was certainly fast and lively. The variation after that was effectively played with some meaningful "stresses" in the left hand. The rest of the movement was quite gorgeous. There were the celestial scales up to C Major, the worrisomely pulsing E's in the A Minor section, the brilliant triple trills, and the gritty leadup toward the end. And then came the final statement of the theme with trills accompanying it (this was particularly well done) and the subdued conclusion.

Both the beginning and the end of the second half of Mr. Ferrati's program brought to mind great Chopin pianists of the past.

The performance of the two mazurkas reminded me of Moritz Rosenthal because, like Rosenthal, Ferrati never just "plays the notes" but has everything thought out, and planned. Thus, these relatively small pieces have more substance than they might otherwise, and come across as legends. The G-Sharp Minor Mazurka was particularly expressive, and the B Minor Mazurka included a very effective modulation back to B Minor after the B Major section, and a beautiful diminuendo at the end.

In the often played B-Flat Minor Scherzo Ferrati's innovative ideas included playing the A Major section very softly the second time, and becoming very quiet, indeed, before the first theme returned.

The A-Flat Major Waltz was played with charm, elegance and sweep. One of Ferrati's novel ideas here was to play one of the middle sections first with lots of pedal, and the second time with much less. I had never heard this effect before.

And then, without pause, he launched into the Prokofiev pieces, I suppose because the first one is in the same key as the Waltz. One began to feel he was a bit tired by now. And yet, there was much to enjoy here, including the vigorous Mercutio, the dreamy and flirtatious Young Juliet, and Montagues and Capulets, with a theme that seems almost violent, yet also includes a laid-back trio section built on the same motive.

If any people left after the Prokofiev, I'm sorry for them. Because the encore was the most perfectly played moment of the program.

Those with an interest in historical piano recordings will know the 1936 recording of Ignaz Friedman playing the big Chopin E-Flat Nocturne, Op. 55, No. 2. Some consider it the greatest ever recording of a nocturne, and some even think of it as the greatest Chopin recording, PERIOD. Every time I return to it I'm overwhelmed.

The C-Sharp Minor, Op. Posthumous Nocturne which Ferrati played is on a smaller scale than the big E-Flat Nocturne. But Ferrati did with it what Friedman did with the other. I cannot imagine it better played! It would have been a perfect take, had this been a recording session. After the foreboding chords at the beginning, he spun out the long-lined, gorgeously ornamented melody, and later played it in a hushed manner when it returned after the middle section. A wonderful end to the evening!

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