Pianist to play rarely heard ‘masterpiece’

Ariel Lanyi will perform a piece by Franck at the Wigmore Hall


Pianist Ariel Lanyi (Photo: Kaupa Kikkas)

It was a schoolboy error which led to pianist Ariel Lanyi stumbling across a piece of music which he describes as “a work of transcendent beauty”.

“I was about 15 and studying Franck’s Prelude, Chorale, and Fugue, which is one of his best known pieces, at music school in Jerusalem. I had forgotten the score, so I went to the library and stumbled upon Franck’s Prelude, Aria et Final. I was astonished by how great it was. I knew I was going to play it one day. It was just a matter of when.”

That time came for Israeli-born Lanyi two years ago when he was 24, and next Wednesday, he will be performing “the underrated masterpiece” at the Wigmore Hall.

“When I started to study it, I was so overwhelmed by its power. When I first performed it, I even had trouble physically playing some of the sections. Franck was a composer who was very much in touch with the dark side of things, but this is probably the most positive piece he has ever written.

“All of its movements are in a major key. It starts and finishes on notes of tenderness and love, but in very different spheres in the beginning and at the end. It’s this which makes the piece so moving.”

Speaking from his home in Hendon, north-west London, Lanyi said that the piece was usually played as part of a collection of pieces by Franck, “but I think that it deserves to be heard on its own.”

The Franck composition may have left a deep impression on Lanyi, but it is Beethoven, Schumann and Haydn whose music resonates most with him. “Playing their music feels essential to me. I feel that I can’t do without it. All three manage to communicate on a level of utmost intimacy with both the performer and the listener. I am pushed to emotional extremes when I encounter their music.”

Lanyi will be performing pieces by Beethoven and Schumann alongside the Franck next week. It won’t be the first time the pianist, from Jerusalem, has played at the Wigmore Hall. The graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, who moved to London six years ago, has also performed at venues in Europe, South and North America.

Although neither of his parents were musicians – his Transylvanian-born father and Russian-born mother are both writers, editors and translators - Lanyi grew up steeped in classical music. “My parents are ardent music lovers, and music was always nurtured in my home.”

When he took his first piano lesson at the age of four “it felt natural to me”. At the music and dance high school he attended in Jerusalem, he received “a very holistic musical education. My strength has always been the piano, but I also studied violin, composition and jazz. This helped me develop a bird’s-eye view of the language which is music.”

He is aghast that spending cuts have meant that music lessons are now considered a luxury in many UK schools. “Music is of paramount value in schools. Music is one of the greatest achievements of humanity and the closer we can get to this language, the more it enriches our thinking.”

Despite still being near the beginning of his professional career, Lanyi has been praised for his “extraordinary intensity, sensibility, and expressive maturity” in his playing and was the recent recipient of the coveted Prix Serdang.

Preferring not to be drawn into how he has been affected by the terrorist attacks in Israel and the ensuing war in Gaza, except to say “I haven’t been impacted personally or professionally”, Lanyi simply says that music “is there to remind us that we should - and we can - be connected to something greater than ourselves”.

Ariel Lanyi will be preforming at the Wigmore Hall on December 27 at 7.30pm

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