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Two Concerts at Royal Festival Hall

César Franck: Pastorale in E, Op.19
Efram Podgaits: Sonata No.1 for accordion
JS Bach: (attrib.) Fantasia and Fugue in A minor, BWV.561
Brahms: Hungarian Dance No.5 & Jewish folk tunes a
rr. M. Levickis & McWilliams

Martynas Levickis accordion
Abraham McWilliams violin

An exceptional evening at the Festival Hall with two great soloists and another very good one !

Martynas Levickis is a fresh faced and curly haired young piano accordionist from Owen Murray's RAM stable, who'd already been reviewed at Wigmore Hall by Musical Pointers*, but was new to me.

Experienced on the media, he was unfazed by the largest early evening audience I'd encountered at the Royal Festival Hall. Most signficant was the sonata by Efram Podgaits, a truly original Russian composer to look into (try his The Strange Dancing for bassoon & piano duet !). Lighter pieces were accompanied by his violinst friend who had collaborated in the arrangements.

Responding to applause which wouldn't stop, Martynas shyly said he wasn't sure whether encores were allowed, then launched into Vivaldi's Winter; seen above playing it 5 years ago, presumably in his bedroom...

Britten: 4 Chansons francaises for soprano & orchestra
Mozart: Piano Concerto No.21 in C, K.467 Interval Gustav
Mahler: Symphony No.4

Philharmonia Orchestra/Ashkenazy
Tamara Stefanovich
piano Elizabeth Watts soprano

RFH London 24 February 2013, 6:00pm & 7.30

The second concert of the evening brought the Philharmonia in top form under Vladimir Ashkenazy in an inspired account of Mahler IV.

Elizabeth Watts was ideal in her simplicity for the symphony's faux-naive last movement (after a long wait before her unobtrusive appearance on the platform). It was good sense to have begun with her in some little known orchestral songs by the 14-yr-old Benjamin Britten, who already showed his early literary predelictions, setting poems of Hugo & Verlaine.

But, memorable though that was, my chief memory of the concert will be the perfect rapport with the beautiful Tamara Stefanovich in a concerto that Ashkenazy will have played often. Her touch and phrasing were breath-taking, and in ideal balance with the reduced orchestra, all augmented by her involvement with the orchestra even whilst she was not playing. My only query was with a few bars of the first movement cadenza, which seemed to have come from a later virtuosic era?

It is long since I have enjoyed a Mozart concerto on a Steinway so completely, having become a devotee of period pianos.

Ashkenazy, admired as a leading international pianist for many decades, has become a sensitive conductor, a pleasure to watch and one whose concerts are not to be missed.

Peter Grahame Woolf

*Martynas Levickis (accordion) on 4th November 2012 gave a stunning performance at the Wigmore Hall with J.S. Bach, Fantasia and Fugue in A minor (BWV561) – a work with extraordinary virtuosic arpeggio passages leading to a dance like fugue - followed by Efrem Podgaits Sonata No 1 for solo classical accordion, a large work of three contrasting movements which makes huge demands on the performer; its extreme pitch ranges to produce orchestral effects and its quintuplet bellow shake in the final movement make it exciting and accordionistic. Martynas demonstrated an obvious delight in his mastery and projection of this work which delighted the audience who gave him a wonderful response - - [Roland Williams]