Music for Pedal Piano and Pedal Harpsichord - a rarity brought to London audiences

Music for Pedal Piano and Pedal Harpsichord - a rarity brought to London audiences

Thanks to the generous patronage of the Slovenian Government’s Ministry of Culture, the Royal College of Organists was able to present a highly unusual concert of music for pedal piano and pedal harpsichord performed by the Slovenian keyboardist Dalibor Milkavčič at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, London W1 on Tuesday 14 December.

Mr Miklavčič studied organ and composition at the University of Music & Performing Arts in Vienna with Hans Haselböck and Alfred Mitterhofer, and subsequently specialized in early music in Milan with Lorenzo Ghielmi.

He won several prizes at European organ competitions, including the European Organists Competition for Youth in 1989 and 1992, and has performed in numerous international masterclasses. In 2007 he was elected assistant professor at Ljubljana University's Music Academy. He has been organist at the St Stanislaus College, Ljubljana since 2000 and was also Professor of Organ at the State Conservatoire in Ljubljana for some years, after which he went to Graz, Austria as Visiting Professor for Organ, 2006-2009.

The pedal piano and pedal harpsichord, although rare nowadays, were instruments much used by organists for practicing in the days before the possibility of powering the wind supply to organs by electricity.

Some composers became interested in the instruments in their own right and wrote original music for them. Foremost among these was Robert Schumann whose Canons, Sketches and Fugues on BACH, all originally written for the pedal piano, are much played in arrangements by organists.

Hearing two of the Canons and all four of the Sketches performed on the pedal piano in this, the 200th anniversary year of Schumann’s birth, was, under Mr Miklavčič’s hands and feet, a revelation. Tempos were generally faster than we are used to hearing on the organ, and phrases were shaped with the elastic range of dynamics and sophisticated colouring of texture which are beyond the possibility of the organ. Many of the organists in the audience who were sitting in sight on Mr Miklavčič’s feet were impressed by his control of the ankle muscles which gave as much subtle control of dynamic in the bass as elsewhere. All this whilst also operating the sustaining pedal!

The concert continued on the pedal harpsichord with pieces by two Slovenian composers, Iacobus Handl-Gallus (Slovenia 1550–Prague 1591) and Joannes Baptista Dolar (Slovenia c1620–Vienna 1673). This was music of great interest which deserves to be better known.

After these rarities, the highly familiar (Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major, BWV 564) was given a new twist in a performance of great imagination on the pedal harpsichord. In the Toccata and Fugue we heard tempi faster than are possible on the organ, which splendidly brought out the display nature of the Toccata and the gigue-like dance quality of the Fugue. The Adagio was transformed into a beautiful ensemble of plucked lute-like chords in the left hand, pizzicato bass, and captivatingly ornamented yet naturally evolving cantilena in the right hand. It was as if a small instrumental ensemble had suddenly entered the room to perform for us.

Mr Miklavčič’s programe ended with a return to the pedal piano with an element of fun introduced by a performance of Lefébure-Wély’s Bolero de Concert op. 166, before ending with the entirely appropriate and beautifuly simple Christmas Chorale Pelude, Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen by Brahms, inflected as only a pianist can.

Mr Miklavčič regularly teaches at international masterclasses on interpretation and improvisation and from time to time gives lectures in Germany, Sweden, Slovakia, Norway, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Slovenia, Latvia and Romania. We hope that in October 2011 he will be able to add England to this list as the intention is that he should return to lead study sessions for the highly prestigious RCO London Organ Forum on the repertoire for pedal piano and pedal harpsichord as it relates to that of the organ.

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