Michael Ponti
piano | Germany, °1937
 
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, he 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 he 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 he made his first concert tour and attended master classes given by Arthur Rubinstein and Robert Casadesus. Michael 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, Michael 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.

Michael 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.

Michael 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.

For Deutsche Grammophon, Michael Ponti accompanied baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in an LP of songs by Charles Ives. In 1984 he 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.
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