Federico Colli plays Mozart, Schubert and Prokofiev at QEH

Fantasia in C-minor, K396; Fantasia in C-minor, K475

Fantasia in F-minor, D940 [arr. Maria Grinberg for solo piano]

Visions fugitives, Op.22
Peter and the Wolf Suite [arr. Tatiana Nikolaeva]

Federico Colli (piano)

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 23 February, 2023
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

The Italian and 2012 Leeds competition winner Federico Colli was back at Queen Elizabeth Hall for a rather left-field recital of five works, only two of which were originally intended for piano. Colli has form when it comes to idiosyncratic programming; here it verged on the maverick – and was a great success.

Mozart’s K396 Fantasia started out as a violin sonata but somehow made it into Köchel’s catalogue as a keyboard piece completed by Maximilian Stadler. The K475 Fantasia was as Mozart wrote it, but the Schubert Fantasia – a much-loved piano duet – was here given in a version for piano solo. Colli altered Prokofiev’s sequence of the Visions fugitives to provide a stronger close, and then gave the arrangement by Nikolaeva of Peter and the Wolf as a piano suite with no narrator and a reordering recalling the famous Morecambe and Wise wisecrack of ‘all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order’.

In the first Mozart piece, Colli emphasised its expressive potential – think C. P. E. Bach in full mannerist flight – until the pips squeaked. Colli has an astonishingly supple and minutely geared technique – one moment he is producing a glorious full sound, the next he is exploring gaps between notes you might not have known were there. If you think Mozart, especially slower, minor-key Mozart, is all about line, Colli’s process of dissection and reconstruction took some adjustment, but it did make you listen afresh – which is worth the risk of eccentricity and mannerism. On a purely taste level, I’d heard him do the inordinately long-held unison C at the start of the K475 before; second time round it sounded self-indulgent and I wondered what his point was. However, in what followed, notes may have been isolated, but somehow expression and fluency – especially if you shut your eyes so has not to see him doing weird finger pirouettes and shapely hand conducting – were strengthened rather than compromised.

In nearly all the performances I’ve heard, professional and amateur, of the Schubert duet, I have always wanted a bit more alacrity in the faster passages and more of a natural, song-like rubato in the slower sections which doesn’t sound contrived and applied. Here Colli scored highly. His voicing of the gloomy opening was full of atmosphere, the drama was gripping rather than melodramatic, he produced a huge sound as required, the faster music had an impetuous fury to it, and the work’s orchestral potential hovered like alchemist itching to work his magic.

Prokofiev’s Visions fugitives suited Colli’s pianistic ‘fach’ more reliably, the music’s quirks, the attention he gave to just one idea in these highly condensed, terse miniatures – are they studies or preludes? – and his control of touch that made Prokofiev’s accents and phrasing register with extraordinary clarity. Peter and the Wolf introduced another element – humour. Colli revisited Peter’s adventures with irresistible affection, with plenty of sly, cartoonish characterisation.

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