Alexander Toradze represents the great traditions of Russian pianists. His interpretation of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 was ranked the best ever by the International Piano Quarterly. The early symphony by the cosmopolitan Italian composer Alfredo Casella, performed here for the first time in Finland, breathes the same air as the symphonic works of Mahler and Richard Strauss.
“A conductor” is what Donato Renzetti (b. 1950) replied when asked in junior school to name his future dream occupation. To make his dream come true, he studied composition and conducting at the Verdi Conservatory in Milan and took part in – and won – prizes in many competitions, culminating in gold in the 1980 Guido Cantelli Competition of La Scala, Milan. This victory brought fame and work opportunities literally overnight. His first big guest appearance was conducting the Verdi Requiem at the Salzburg Festival the very next season, and over the years, he has conducted practically all the great opera and symphony orchestras, from the New York Metropolitan to the Buenos Aires Philharmonic and the Bavarian State Opera. Most of all he has, however, been kept busy by the Italian theatre and opera houses. Not only is he one of Italy’s greatest conductors; he is also widely respected as a teacher. One of his pupils has been Gianandrea Noseda, who will be conducting the HPO in January 2020. Renzetti has also served as Chief Conductor of several Italian orchestras.
Alexander Toradze (b. 1952), a veritable titan of the keyboard, creates a stir wherever he goes. One of the secrets of his success has been doing things in his own way rather than following the well-trodden paths. He is said to make great works sound even greater, and his performances of Prokofiev’s third piano concerto have been possibly the most lastingly memorable. The International Piano Quarterly voted the disc he made of it with Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra “historically the best”. The roots of Toradze’s respect for the music of Prokofiev lie deep in his childhood. He once said in an interview, “You would say that Shostakovich would be the body of Russianness, Stravinsky would be the brain of Russianness, but I like the description of Prokofiev as the soul of Russianness in music.”
Resident in the USA since 1983, Alexander Toradze has performed in Finland many times and was most recently the soloist with the HPO in 2013. The multi-national Toradze Piano Studio founded by him has developed into a worldwide touring ensemble.
Sergei Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major
“There is still so much beautiful music to write in C major,” said Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953), enfant terrible of the St. Petersburg Conservatory. He was arrogant and eccentric, wrote chords that horrified the conservatives, bashed away at the keyboard, popped “wrong notes” into beautiful tunes and cared nothing at all for “good taste”. Between 1911 and 1913 he planned to compose three piano concertos but actually produced only two. The first was labelled “musical mud” and the second caused a scandal.
By the time he finished the third in 1921, Prokofiev had, however, become known as a composer of neoclassical clarity and romantically-inclined melodies. Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major is, though ostensibly traditional, neither light nor conventional in the classical sense and allows the soloist great liberty to let rip and bring out the dissonances. Reluctant to waste good ideas, even if they did not in any way fit organically into what he was writing, Prokofiev made the habit of using such contrasts one of his strengths. The result was head-on collisions between episodes in different styles that brought about some surprising reactions and became a distinctive feature of his music.
Alfredo Casella: Symphony No. 2
Alfredo Casella (1883–1947) was the most cosmopolitan member of the 1880s Italian composer generation. At the Paris Conservatoire he studied with Fauré, in the same class as Enescu and Ravel, moved in the same circle as Stravinsky, Debussy and de Fall, and knew Mahler, Busoni and Richard Strauss. In 1939, he revived interest in the music of the Baroque by holding a Vivaldi Week. He wrote his Symphony No. 2 while a student in Paris, and the voices of all the leading conductors and composers of that time can be heard in every bar. There are obvious references to Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony, the French premiere of which Casella had organised only a week before that of his own symphony (in 1910). Unfortunately, he became branded as a Mahler fan, and the German style was not palatable to the French, and in the 1930s he displayed fascist sentiments, which did not help his reputation. Not even the following advertisement managed to save his works from gathering dust for 80 years to come: “Two solid symphonies for sale, written in the German, Strauss-Mahler tradition. Thorough workmanship. Unoriginality guaranteed. Offers to Alf. Cas. Box 724, Rome.”