Tuesday 20 May 2014

A notable debut for Italian winner of the 2012 Leeds International Piano Competition, Federico Colli, in works by Beethoven, Scriabin and Mussorgsky on a new release from Champs Hill Records

Federico Colli www.federicocolli.eu was certainly a worthy winner of the 2012 Leeds International Piano Competition www.leedspiano.com in a final that must have been the closest for a long time. He gave a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto that had a wonderfully sprung lightness and an underlying tension that brought out a real Beethovenian feel. His was a performance that was beautifully poised and shaped. 

Of course, in order to form a complete judgment, one has to hear all the preliminary rounds of which I was only able to hear extracts from the recital rounds of the six finalists. Amongst his recital round pieces Colli gave a performance of Scriabin’s Tenth Sonata that brought out the strange rhythms but, perhaps because I did not hear this in the hall, it seemed that much of the colour did not emerge. Certainly this was a very individual view of the sonata.

Federico Colli’s debut recording for Champs Hill Records www.champshillrecords.co.uk also features Scriabin’s Tenth Sonata along with Beethoven’s ‘Appassionata’ Sonata and Mussorgsky’s Pictures from an Exhibition.

Colli brings a light, thoughtful touch to the opening of the Allegro assai of Beethoven’s Sonata in F minor, Op.57 ‘Appassionata’ contrasting the drama that follows exceptionally well. This is a finely paced performance, with Colli, nevertheless, showing a sudden fire in his playing when the music demands it. He certainly holds the attention with playing of great contrasts and, indeed, of great power. There are moments of beautiful restraint and tension with some lovely delicate playing, Colli showing his fine touch.

He keeps the tension for the Andante con moto, slowly and subtly moving through each variation, following every mood.

The Allegro ma non troppo – Presto is finely controlled, full of stormy passion and with a lovely rubato. In the brief quiet, middle section this pianist takes the opportunity to provide much poetry before leading back to the stormy nature of this music. Again there is playing of much power in such well thought out, controlled playing. Yet Colli doesn’t hold back as he heads for the coda where there is a terrific display of virtuosity as he hurtles to the end.

After hearing his Leeds performance, I particularly wanted to hear what Federico Colli would make of Scriabin’s Sonata No.10, Op.70. He brings the same fine sense of control that he shows in his Beethoven to this, one of Scriabin’s most advanced creations, holding the structure together well and responding to Scriabin’s sudden impulses with flair and understanding. He displays an often silken touch and, as the sonata progresses, he again shows how to give an underlying tension. Colli often brings a feeling of instability to the music and, as he builds to the passionate climax, he reveals how advanced some of Scriabin’s ideas were.

This is a very fine performance that, again, gives a very individual view of this work. Champs Hill’s fine recording allows us to hear all of Colli’s superb colouring.

Mussorgsky’s much recorded Pictures at an Exhibition is a work that gives pianists a surprisingly large number of opportunities to bring a distinctive touch.

The opening Promenade in Colli’s hands is clear and direct, leading beautifully into The Gnome, with phrasing and rhythm that accentuate Mussorgsky’s phrases. Again Colli seems to highlight the radical elements of Mussorgsky’s creation. After a gentler, more thoughtful return of the Promenade theme Colli gives a rather pensive opening to The Old Castle bringing a withdrawn quality and a haunting atmosphere. The short return of the Promenade, faster and bolder, is followed by a light and playful The Tuileries before The Ox Cart where Colli’s direct approach in the bold, rhythmic chords certainly brings some impressive sounds, if a little lacking in depth.

A delicate, withdrawn Promenade theme leads to the Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks which here is full of life with delicate, vibrant playing, extremely well done. There is a crisp rhythmic opening to Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle before the melancholic theme that follows, with nicely controlled dynamics and fine phrasing, bringing out much of the emotional edge to this music. After the final return of the Promenade theme Colli brings out the atmosphere of a chattering, busy market in The Marketplace at Limoges in this brilliantly played section.

With The Catacombs (Sepulchrum romanum) Colli’s phrasing adds much to the depth that he brings to this music, a feeling of weight and desolation whereas in Con mortuis in lingua mortua he provides a detached calm. When The Hut on Fowl’s Legs (Baba Yaga) arrives, the old witch has all the terror you could want with playing of great bravura as well as quiet control in the central section. The Great Gate of Kiev brings some lovely rich chords, fine bell like passages as well as a lovely melancholy middle section with beautifully limpid playing. As the main theme returns, Colli provides some massive chords, very Russian in character.

Federico Colli brings many fine, individual touches to Mussorgsky’s much loved work.

With a very fine recording from the Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex, England and informative booklet notes this is a notable debut for this fine pianist.

For reviews of the 2012 Leeds International Piano Competition click on the following links:


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