Varsi started studying the piano at the age of four, making her first public appearance just three months later. The first disc in the set includes recordings made by the five,- ten- and fifteen-year old pianist. Until 1961 her career was in South America, but in that year she played with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (having been heard by their musical director when he conducted in South America), further studies in Europe followed and in 1967 she won the Clara Haskill Competition in Lucerne and this effectively launched her international career. She was signed to the Phillips label and made eight discs for them. Her core repertoire was the main Romantic and Classical composers, with a sense that Chopin was dear to her.
This relaxation had a physical origin, when playing she sat bent slightly forward but with her back straight. She said, 'everything must be rooted in the spine because it supports the entire body. Only then can one’s playing be truly free. This looseness is important for the sound. Because if you tense your arms or shoulders, the harmonics of the other strings don’t come out so well. But if you’re relaxed, then the keyboard, right up to the mechanics, is a natural extension of the arms. Then the sound and the piano itself simply blossom.' For anyone who has studied Alexander Technique, this sounds like something remarkably similar.
It is easy to emphasise the musical qualities, but it should be remembered that when she came to Europe she had a very full and rounded education including an enthusiasm for the novels of Dostoyevsky. And she successfully managed her own finances through her career, she bought early shares in Yahoo!
A couple of quotes from Varsi herself are illuminating, they are taken from an interview which is published in the CD booklet. On being asked to whom she owed her skill at the piano and technique, her response was, 'Phew, that‘s a long story. First I studied in South America with Sarah Bourdillon. She was a follower of the French school, she had studied at the Ecole Normale in Paris. Then I came to Paris to continue studying in this direction, that is, the Cortot method. Then I went to Géza Anda in Switzerland. I was a lot in Germany, I listened to many of the old, very great, German pianists, in other words, Kempff and Backhaus and Schnabel and so on and then I had some of my own ideas. So it really is a mixture; I couldn‘t say that I represent one school or another.'. Then when being asked which artist she admired she said it wasn't a pianist, 'although I have very high regard of many, but for me Maria Callas is the ideal of how one should make music. I can’t take anything from her directly because she sings Verdi and Donizetti and she is not a pianist. And yet, this attitude of expressing the maximum, that is something one can adopt. For me, she is my musical paragon.'
The boxed set includes a substantial book with timelines, copious photographs, examples of Varsi's scores with her notes, and some very long articles covering her piano playing, her life and much else besides. It is quite an absorbing read.
There is a website devoted to the pianist (http://www.dinorahvarsi.com/eng/)
Elsewhere on this blog:
- Virtuoso drama: Pergolesi's Adriano in Siria from Opera Settecento - opera review
- Engaging discovery: Salieri's Trofonio's Cave from Bampton Classical Opera - opera review
- Lyric melancholy: Ian Venables Song of the Severn - CD review
- Brought to life: Anne Boleyn's Songbook performed by Alamire - concert review
- Monteverdi's L'Orfeo from Jordi Savall - CD review
- Exploding with joy: Choir of Gonville and Caius College at Kings Place Festival
- The passions are the same: My encounter with Christophe Rousset - interview
- Handel survey: Handel in Italy from Bridget Cunningham - CD review
- Charm and delight: The Cunning Little Vixen from British Youth Opera - opera review
- Technology and class in the development of opera and concert-going - feature article
- Missed opportunity: Prom 65, Alice Coote in Handel - concert review
- Colour and Drama: Mozart and more from Anneke Scott and Ironwood - CD review
- An Avila Diary: My adventures singing triple-choir music by Victoria and Vivanco under Peter Phillips in Spain - feature article
- Serious, independent, fascinating: Music by Edward McGuire from Red Note - CD review
- Charm: Wolf-Ferrari's Suite Veneziana - CD review
- Undeservedly forgotten: Music by Roger Sacheverell Coke - Cd review