His first offering was Beethoven's A major Sonata Op. 101 which was played with aristocratic poise, temperament, intellect and, in accordance with the composer's own pronouncement, with deepest feeling. Next came Debussy's Children's Comer, a work which I came to realise is very dear to him. This was quite evident as he produced more colour and shading from my piano than I thought the instrument was capable of. It was simply exquisite and it became clear to me that Julian Saphir is the kind of musician who makes no distinction between playing in a full concert performance on stage or in a private meeting on a one-to-one level - the music just radiates from him the moment he touches the keys.
His deepest connection is with the music of Rachmaninov most particularly the Preludes. From his earliest memories Julian told me he can remember listening to his father's old reel-to-reel tapes of Rachmaninov most notably in the hands of Moiseiwitsch and he recounted a charming anecdote of a meeting between Moiseiwitsch and Rachmaninov concerning their differing insights into the great B minor Prelude. Julian began studying the preludes back in his early teens (which he admits often got in the way of the stuff he was supposed to be studying!) and after a decade or so completed the cycle.
The years of devotion to these 24 masterpieces have resulted in a gloriously rich and profound interpretation. I asked him to play me the B minor prelude and just as I expected he played it with the same passion as he would have done in concert. Julian also played one or two of the lesser known preludes most particularly the A major Op.32 No.9 and A flat major Op.23 No. 8. Once again I was stunned at his sheer range of tone and colour from soaring cantabile to great bell-like sonorities, which made each prelude so individually characterized.
To conclude our meeting, Julian lightened the tone with some of his famously crowd-pleasing showpieces all of which blew me away! You would have thought by now he would be getting tired but he only seemed to be getting more energized. A twinkle had appeared in his eyes and a grin on his face as he deftly tinkled out a lovely little transcription of the Dance of the Cygnets from Swan Lake. This arrangement I had never heard before and found out that it was penned by the great American virtuoso Earl Wild. I was thrilled and excited when Julian played me the legendary Arabesques on Themes from the Blue Danube by Schulz-Evler. This masterpiece of pure pianism has sadly slipped out of fashion in today's puritanical age. Julian's rendition was absolutely scrumptious as it sparkled like tinsel and fairy lights while the octaves were dazzling as they both danced and thundered.
I tentatively asked him if he had encountered Arcadi Volodos as his style and musical qualities put me in mind of this Russian virtuoso whom I had recently heard. Julian gave me a wry smile and sheepishly confessed to me that he was already quite a fan of Volodos and would dearly love to meet him and talk serious piano - perhaps even do the Rachmaninov suites for two pianos with him! Like me, Julian discovered Volodos when he listened to his CD of transcriptions (Sony Classical) and was so taken by it that he decided to work out by ear Volodos' own arrangement of the Turkish March that concludes the disc. I thought he was just joking at first but when he slightly self consciously offered to play his efforts to me I could hardly refuse. I have to be honest - it was utterly mind blowing. To play it at all is something but to have worked it out by ear with such amazing accuracy is quite something else. I was staggered.
Julian Saphir is an absolutely must-hear pianist. His sheer virtuosity, profound musical integrity, fresh approach and humility delighted me and delight audiences everywhere.
Ivory Artists Management 2003