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MICHAEL PONTI

Michael Ponti’s parents were American, his father being in the diplomatic service; and although born in Germany, Ponti was raised in Washington DC in the United States. Having begun his piano tuition with his father, Ponti continued with Gilmour MacDonald and at the age of eleven performed Bach’s Das wohltemperierte Klavier in public. His parents returned to Germany in 1955 where Ponti continued his studies at the Hochschule in Frankfurt with Erich Flinsch who had been Emil von Sauer’s assistant for many years at the Vienna Conservatory. During this period Ponti made his first concert tour and attended master-classes given by Arthur Rubinstein and Robert Casadesus. Ponti was placed at various competitions and, after three attempts, won first prize at the Busoni Competition in Bolzano in 1964 which launched him on a successful career. He made his debut in Vienna not long afterwards with five performances of Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch.

In the early 1970s, preceded by his new LP recordings, Ponti made his debut in New York and London. Although he played in New York in January of 1972, his official debut in that city was given in March at a three-hour recital in which he played nine encores. At his London debut in June of the same year he played an early Beethoven sonata, Brahms’s Variations on a theme of Paganini Op. 35, Chopin’s Piano Sonata in B minor Op. 58, some Scriabin and Blumenfeld, then ended with Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka. Although Ponti revels in technically demanding works of the nineteenth century, and particularly less familiar ones, he concentrates more on the technical aspects than the musical ones. As Joan Chissell wrote of his London debut, which she noted lasted two hours and fifteen minutes before the encores started, ‘He brought off some amazing technical feats and plainly has a sensitive soul. Yet, oddly, the recital just fell short of the artistic experience it could have and should have been… But of nothing in the programme could it be said that the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.’ The programme of his London recital the following year demonstrates Ponti’s fascination with the technical in that it consisted of six of Liszt’s Études d’exécution transcendante, Chopin’s Études Op. 25, Schumann’s Études Symphoniques Op. 13 and Toccata Op. 9, and ended with Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 4 Op. 30. ‘A simpler programme could have shown him in a far better light,’ wrote one reviewer. However, when he played a programme of Schumann’s Piano Sonata in G minor Op. 22, Rachmaninov’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor Op. 36, Chopin’s Variations on Là ci darem la mano Op. 2 and Liszt’s Don Juan Fantasy in London in 1983, Geoffrey Norris was impressed. ‘Mr Ponti’s energy seems boundless. For him the formidable technical demands of such music apparently hold no fears.’ Ponti has played with the Suisse Romande Orchestra, Buenos Aires Philharmonic Orchestra, Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and the Orchestra of the Academy of Saint Cecilia of Rome with conductors including Georg Solti, Sixten Ehrling and Stanisław Skrowaczewski. He has toured extensively throughout Europe, Greece, Egypt, Scandinavia and South America and played in Tokyo, Moscow and Warsaw; and in 1977 formed a trio with violinist Robert Zimansky and cellist Jan Polasek.

Ponti’s first LP for Vox/Turnabout was of the technically demanding Piano Concerto in F minor Op. 16 by Adolf Henselt. This began a long association with the label for whom he recorded a huge amount of forgotten music of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by composers including Moscheles, Tausig, Thalberg, Scharwenka, Rubinstein, Alkan, Moszkowski, Raff, Clara Schumann, Bronsart, Goetz, Stavenhagen, Sinding, d’Albert, Hiller, Berwald, Medtner, Glazunov, Balakirev, Liapunov and Litolff. At the time, these were generally the only recordings of these works. More recently, much of this repertoire has been recorded by Hyperion in their Romantic Piano Concerto Series with various pianists. Also for Vox, Ponti recorded the complete piano music of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Scriabin. Unfortunately, many of the Vox recordings are hampered by a harsh recorded piano sound and Ponti does not possess the beguiling charm of a pianist like Shura Cherkassky in this repertoire. For Deutsche Grammophon, Ponti accompanied baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in an LP of songs by Charles Ives. In 1984 Ponti recorded Liszt’s Études d’exécution transcendante d’après Paganini and Brahms’s Variations on a theme of Paganini Op. 35 and the following year recorded the same composer’s Variations and Fugue on a theme of Handel Op. 24 and Liszt’s Variations on Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen and the Fantasia and Fugue on B-A-C-H for Naxos. In the mid-1990s the now defunct Dante company apparently issued at least seven compact discs of ‘un-edited live recordings’ of Ponti in works by Rachmaninov, Chopin, Beethoven, Liszt, Brahms and Schumann and some recordings of Ponti’s Trio; this ensemble also appeared on the Accord label in 1997 playing the two piano trios by Saint-Saëns.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).


Albums featuring this artist are available for download from ClassicsOnline.com
Role: Classical Artist 
Album Title
Catalogue No  Work Category 
BRAHMS / LISZT: Handel - Bach Variations Marco Polo
8.220399
Instrumental
BRUCKNER'S DECISION (Film, 1995) (NTSC) Arthaus Musik
101369
Classical Documentary
LISZT / BRAHMS: Piano Variations Naxos
8.550408
Instrumental
LISZT: 12 Etudes d'execution transcendante, S139/R2b Marco Polo
8.223126
Instrumental
NISHIZAKI, Takako: Fritz Kreisler Edition, Vol. 2 Naxos
8.557868
Chamber Music
NISHIZAKI, Takako: Fritz Kreisler Edition, Vol. 7 Naxos
8.557873
Chamber Music





 
 
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5:42:34 PM, 22 December 2014
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