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.)