18th International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Hunter College
July 30th, 2016
Schumann: Andantino de Clara Wieck
From Concerto sans orchestra (Grande Sonate) in F Minor, Op. 14
Brahms: Sonata No. 2 in F-Sharp Minor, Op. 2
Schubert: Sonata in B-Flat Major, D. 960
Alexander Kobrin is a powerful, confident pianist. Nothing ever sounds difficult for him, and, admirably, he commands a very wide range of dynamics from very loud (without banging) to impressively soft. Everything he does sounds carefully planned, and well thought out.
The first work he played, based on a theme by Schumann’s wife, Clara, is the third movement of what is known as the Schumann Concerto Without Orchestra. It is familiar to people who know Horowitz recordings. Starting slowly, in a ruminative manner, at other times it surged forward, and had moments when it came across as playful and spontaneous. And it featured the aformentioned excellent control of a wide dynamic range.
The Brahms Second Sonata, like the First, is relatively unknown, even among pianists, as only the Third Sonata has become an oft featured part of the “standard” repertoire. In the first movement the exposition featured power, yet also delicacy, the development was sensitive and thoughtful, and was then followed by the tumultuous recapitulation. The second movement was searching and very expressive, later becoming loud and insistent. The fascinating third movement has a forceful, yet humorous theme in B Minor, a contrasting upbeat trio section in D Major, and finally a return to the Scherzo theme, this time sounding more elaborate and triumphant. The last, remarkable movement began with a slow introduction which was followed by various themes with contrasting moods, what seemed like a witty hint at a Hungarian dance, and later a hymn – like religious sounding section and some trills, before concluding with several loud chords. Mr. Kobrin’s performance was strong and convincing throughout.
Schubert’s last Sonata is the opposite of the Brahms in that everyone knows it, plays it, has heard it many times, and compares new performances with the best versions one has already heard. Which is not surprising as it is one of the masterpieces of the literature.
There are different ways to approach the first movement, which is very long, especially if one does the repeat, as Mr. Kobrin did. A slow tempo seems to hint at profundity but sometimes adds even more “heavenly length” than is ideal, even while illuminating numerous interesting points. Indeed, Mr. Kobrin took the first theme at a very spacious tempo, though he played much of the movement very beautifully, and brought out many interesting features, such as modulations after rests. He went, without pause, into the second movement, which moved very well. His transition into the A Major section was very effective, and he caught the magical moment at the top of the last page of the movement where Schubert takes us into C major.
The third movement was fast and fleet and the B-Flat Minor trio was playful, with nice shadings, and those interesting off beat accents. The last movement began in a surprisingly slow and serious manner. The F Minor section was strong, but always featured a beautiful tone, and the conclusion was brilliantly played.
Mr. Kobrin played one encore, Der Dichter Spricht (The Poet Speaks) from Schumann’s Kinderszenen. It was very fine, lovely and thoughtful.
A Thrilling Revelation of Multiple Perspectives: Xiayin Wang at The Kaye Playhouse
When Leopold Godowsky wrote of his sensational Berlin debut in 1900, he noted that every pianist and piano instructor in the city was in attendance. So it must be in New York, for a performer at the International Keyboard Institute and Festival, a yearly two-week-long feast of classical keyboard musicianship and education held at Hunter College. This night, the penultimate to feature headlining performers at the Kaye Playhouse, Xiayin Wang pleased immensely both pianistic elite and ordinary classical music lover alike.
Beethoven: Sonata in E Flat Major, Op. 31 No. 3 “Hunt”
Richard Danielpour: Bagatelles (World Premiere)
Schumann: Fantasiestücke, Op.12
Ravel: Gaspard de la Nuit
Pianist and scholar David Dubal, with IKIF headliner Alexander Kobrin, presented a pre-concert program discussion with musical illustrations played by Mr. Kobrin. With Mr. Dubal’s words fresh in our minds, our ears were on the hunt for the musical depictions to come, as Ms. Wang appeared on stage with her long black hair down and her slate-gray gown nearly flowing over painted toes peeking through golden slingback sandals.
The Beethoven “Hunt” sonata was both a bracing and heartening introduction to the program. Ms. Wang set an eager tempo to the Allegro and Scherzo movements. She played the Minuetto in a serene and relaxed rhythm, disavowing a fixation on velocity while disproving the notion that this sonata lacks a slow movement. In the Presto, the chase was on. And whose perspective was depicted? As the movement unfolded and I began to visualize exhilarated pursuers, I noticed Ms. Wang’s foot had shed its golden sandal and was pedaling bare. Was this a show of allegiance not to the spur-shod huntsmen but to the velvet-pawed vulpine quarry?
At the hands of Ms. Wang, this spark—of perspectives and personalities in contrast—flickered, ignited and exploded throughout the program, not least with the next offering, the world premiere of Richard Danielpour’s Bagatelles. On the printed program, the Schumann had been scheduled for next in the order and Bagatelles third, following the intermission; but at the start of the concert a swap was announced. To the audience, this held the advantage of affording a few moments for reflection following the hearing of a striking, new composition. With Mr. Danielpour in attendance, Ms. Wang revealed the first Bagatelle with a searching and serene feel. Following were movements alternating between raucous and tranquil, insistent and reassuring, and containing contrasting emotions warring in the same movement. The effect was thoroughly modern, including enticements to all listeners (not only the pianists in the audience) with melody and tonality, and an abundance of excitement and of love. The final Bagatelle was my favorite, with echoes of the introduction to Mahler’s 9th symphony, but unlike with Mahler we had a complete movement in which to savor the euphoric sensation brought on by Mr. Danielpour’s lovely descending motive. The force of reason, through loving persistence, emerged victorious. What an honor if I am the first reviewer of a public performance of Bagatelles! Please listen to a recording of this piece if it becomes available, especially if performed by Xiayin Wang, but even if by an artist not in such close collaboration with the composer.
An attendee arriving after the intermission (and the program announcement), might be forgiven for hearing Fantasiestücke and taking it for Bagatelles, so closely in structure do the Schumann and Danielpour works align. The general audience aside, to the reviewer, the program switch added a challenge of tracing the conflicting-personality spark back 179 years to Fantasiestücke, the clear precursor to Bagatelles by its similar structure, as underscored by the pieces’ side-by-side inclusion in the program.
In preparation for the concert, I have been listening intently to recordings of the Fantasiestücke in order to take in the performance with an informed ear, and to set a course at last toward a love of the works of Robert Schumann. Ms. Wang gave my progress along this course a vigorous and heartfelt shove. Schumann wrote this work as an illustration and personification of his conflicting emotions, which he named Eusebius and Florestan, the former embodying his thoughtful and spiritual side and the latter the passionate and lascivious. Writing at age 27, he dedicated the work to a beautiful 18-year-old piano student to whom he would later become engaged, before ending their relationship abruptly. Eusebius took the first turn, with Ms. Wang’s gorgeous rendition of Des Abends (In the Evening), a lovely and tranquil introduction. Following was the voice of the passionate Florestan in Aufschwung (Soaring, an “upward swing”). Eusebius, the eventual victor, returned in the nick of time, just as I was again noticing Ms. Wang’s bared foot, she having left her sandals backstage at the intermission.
Bare feet were most appropriate for the start of Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit with the first movement named after and depicting Ondine (Wavelline), the water nymph who (as David Dubal had primed us), on being spurned in love by a mortal, sprays everything in sight as she departs with malicious laughter. How vividly did Xiayin Wang portray the playful mists and angry jets that Ravel wrote in the score! Ms. Wang then proceeded with the second movement, Le Gibet (Gallows), with its fateful bells tolling the turning corpse, reddened by the setting sun. With that imagery, accented by bright red toenails, Ms. Wang bade us turn away from the gallows and led us to the place, termed by Mr. Dubal the climax, the “red badge” of impressionistic piano virtuosity, the home of the demonic Scarbo. It was a thrill to see Scarbo played live, proof that a mortal human truly is capable of summoning the demon lying in this score. Under the control of Ms. Wang, Scarbo was terrifying to the audience, but not so terrifying to Ms. Wang, as she proved by gently touching her nose during a particularly hair-raising right-hand run—how can any recording capture such a moment? As Scarbo finally flickered and met his precipitous and twinkling end, our hands erupted in tumultuous applause for Ms. Wang.
The audience insisting on an encore, Ms. Wang played Oblivion by Clint Edwards, a romantic piece that seemed to have been composed to sing with lyrics, except during its wild and exciting middle section.
All being made well in the world, if only for a few hours, my own feet were floating just a bit as I made my way from the hall toward home, with reverberations in my mind of the beautiful and commanding performance of Xiayin Wang.
18th International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Hunter College
July 27th, 2016
Haydn: Sonata in B Minor, Hob. XVI:32, L. 47
Chopin: Sonata No. 2 in B-Flat Minor, Op. 35
Rachmaninoff: Variations On a Theme of Corelli, Op. 42
Liszt: Consolation in D-Flat Major, S. 172
Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, S. 244/2
George Li is a very busy young pianist who somehow manages to be a student at Harvard while traveling all over the world playing concerts. He has won many impressive prizes and awards, including the Silver Medal at the 2015 International Tchaikovsky Competition, a 2016 Avery Fisher Career Grant, First Prize at the 2010 Young Concert Artists International Auditions, and the 2012 Gilmore Young Artist Award. He has a remarkable technique – nothing seems too difficult for him, a beautiful tone, and a nice Romantic sense which always gives color and shape to the music he’s playing.
I liked very much his performance of the Haydn Sonata, which sounded like a surprisingly modern work in his hands. The first movement was warm, beautifully inflected, and thoughtful. The second movement was graceful, with elegant, precise ornaments, and the last movement sounded threatening, despite its sotto voce beginning. It featured one of the evening’s first displays of Mr. Li’s dazzling finger work.
The Chopin Sonata was very finely, and dramatically played. The first two movements were quite fast, indeed, though it was interesting how much slower he played the G-Flat Major middle section of the second movement. The third movement was appropriately solemn, and funereal, but the middle section in D-Flat Major moved along beautifully. In the last movement, one of the strangest, most abstract pieces ever written by Chopin, Mr. Li focused on the repetition of several rhythmic patterns. It seemed like a menacing whirlwind in the distance.
The Corelli Variations of Rachmaninoff began in a slow and spacious manner. It was alternately playful, athletic and powerful, and at all times played with technical brilliance. Some people might prefer for the time between variations, as well as the huge range of tempo changes between variations to be a little bit less, but it all “worked,” and Mr. Li held one’s attention the entire time. The coda, and soft ending were particularly effective.
After offering a lovely, moonlit, yet intense Consolation, Mr. Li launched into the Second Hungarian Rhapsody with swagger. This time one had the feeling that he was pushing his technical abilities to the max, and this was terribly exciting. As he played a very interesting coda which even a noted expert on such matters could not identify, one may assume it was by the pianist himself. In a somewhat different style, yet compatible with the Rhapsody, it led to a very fast, and exciting conclusion to the printed program.
Mr. Li’s first encore was the Liszt transcription of the Schumann song, Widmung, which he played in a lovely, sensitive manner.
The final encore was Horowitz’s transcription of the Carmen Variations. There are several performances of Horowitz playing it on Youtube, and at least three different versions that I’ve noticed. My “standard” for this work is the 1968 Carnegie Hall concert which was recorded for television. I’m not ready to say that I prefer Mr. Li’s version over Horowitz, though he’s sometimes more accurate (such as in the last E Minor section, into which Horowitz throws himself at kamikaze speed) but it was very brilliantly done. Indeed, only a real virtuoso would attempt this music. And that Mr. Li certainly is.
A Century of Musical Culture in New York
A Century of Musical Culture in New York: The Legacy of Damrosch, Mannes, Godowsky and Gershwin
Jerome Rose, David Dubal – Speakers
Steven Mayer, Daniel Berman – Pianists
This event was not exactly a lecture, nor a concert, but something in-between, with significant audience participation.
Jerome Rose began the meeting by pointing out that this is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Mannes School (now the Mannes College of Music at the New School), and paid tribute to the accomplishments of the Damrosch and Mannes families, which were related by marriage. Members of these families were responsible for founding the Institute of Musical Art, which later became the Juilliard School, the Mannes School and the Oratorio Society. Leopold Mannes and Leopold Godowsky II, friends who were both musicians, did research on improving the quality of film for many years, and in 1935 patented Kodachrome, which made them both wealthy. Leopold Mannes contributed much of this new wealth to the support of the Mannes School. Another interesting relationship which was discussed was the marriage of Leopold Godowsky II to Frances Gershwin, the sister of George and Ira. Their son Leopold Godowsky III, a pianist and composer was thus heir to two pianistic traditions: that of his grandfather, Leopold Godowsky, and of his uncle, George Gershwin, and he maintained a lifelong interest in the legacies of both.
Most of the discussion part of the progrm had David Dubal leading a talk about the incredible number of important musicians who lived, and were active in New York since Carnegie Hall was opened in 1891, with Tchaikovsky conducting. Gustav Mahler, who was Musical Director of the New York Philharmonic, and whom Otto Klemperer considered the greatest conductor of all time, was also mentioned at length. After that, innumerable other composers, pianists and teachers from that time to this were mentioned, some by Mr. Dubal, some volunteered by the audience. often followed by witty and/or enlightening comments by Mr. Dubal. The centrality of the piano in musical life a century ago was described by Mr. Dubal, who said that in 1911 375,000 pianos were manufactured in this country.
Steven Mayer, whose performances are always full of pianistic brilliance, and who is the son of a composer, described growing up in a home where jazz, as well as classical and contemporary music were all influences. He spoke of Art Tatum, whose playing he described as a combination of Horowitz and jazz, and of Tatum’s mentor, Fats Waller, and played one work of each in his usual, high energy(!) style.
Daniel Berman gave a lovely, yet intense reading of the Rachmaninoff G-Sharp Minor Prelude. Later he gave an exotic, dreamy performance of Godowsky’s Gardens of Buitenzorg, followed by two Godowsky transcriptions, the Swan, which was particularly idiomatic, and Richard Strauss’ Ständchen, which featured, among other things, a sparkling right hand accompaniment, and an explosive climax. Mr. Berman is known for playing Earl Wild transcriptions of Gershwin’s music (I believe he gave the first performances of some of them) and offered Embraceable You, which showed how he clearly revels in the sound of the piano, and Summertime, which, despite all the elaborate ornamentation, conveyed the sleepy sense of summer time in the deep South. Mr. Berman’s last performance was of Willam Bolcom’s wonderful Graceful Ghost Rag, which sounded folksy and sentimental, yet had a lovely swing to it.
Schubert: Sonata in G Major, D. 894
Schumann: Kreisleriana, Op. 16
Jeffrey Swann is a very likable musical personality, as well as a very fine pianist. He always makes some brief and insightful comments on the music he’s about to play. This program consisted of a major work each by Schubert and Schumann. Mr. Swann said that, to 19th Century thinking, genius was related to suffering. Schubert, of course, lived only 31 years and was incredibly productive to the end. Mr. Swann said he considered Schubert’s victory over suffering that he “captured time,” ie. stalled its motion forward. And there were beautiful moments, especially in the first movement of the Sonata, where one could see Mr. Swann’s point.
The G Major is one of the very big Schubert sonatas, “sprawling” as David Dubal described it in his pre-concert lecture. Mr. Dubal also mentioned that he once asked Alfred Brendel if he thought some of the Schubert sonatas were too long. “Oh no!” said Mr. Brendel. “They are not long enough!”
The first movement, marked Molto moderato e cantabile, is a very atypical beginning for a sonata, but this is Schubert, who did not necessarily follow the traditional “rules” of sonata writing. What one really needs to do is gently “plant” the first chord, then set a spell with the first two measures, and then sustain it for a very long time (especially as Mr. Swann, unlike many other pianists, took the repeat!). He began the movement at what seemed a worrying slow tempo, but with great sensitivity, charm and an understanding of interesting modulations, made it work. The second movement was actually a bit faster than the first (the opposite of the usual relationship of the first two movements of a sonata) but was beautiful, played with warmth and love. The outbursts in the B Minor section were dramatic, and the coda was eloquent.
The third movement was brisk and jocular, and Mr. Swann brought out the quiet magic of the B Major trio section. Some noteworthy features of the performance of the last movement, which started at a leisurely pace, included the increased intensity when the dance step in C Major enters, the joyous moving up to E-Flat Major when it later returns, the “seriousness” of the C Minor section, which resolves to C Major, the thrilling move into B-Flat Major at the beginning of the coda, and the amazing, and highly unusual ending. Mr. Swann’s performance of this sonata was an “experience.”
Kreisleriana is a dark and bizarre work, often alternating between frenzied movements in G Minor and slow movements in B-Flat Major. Mr. Swann plunged headlong into the first movement, then reveled in the loveliness of the middle section in B-Flat Major. The second movement was lyrical, but quirky. The turbulent third movement was followed by the dreamy fourth. After the troubled fifth movement came the slow, and deeply introspective sixth. Changing the pattern, the seventh movement appeared to be in C Minor, but ended at a slow speed in E-Flat Major after a bracing fugato section in C Minor, which Mr. Swann played as fast as possible. Finally there was the eighth movement, which creeps in mysteriously in G Minor, then passes through some odd transformations, made more so by syncopations, and by a passionate D Minor section, before returning to G Minor and quietly, as Mr. Swann said, “dancing off into madness.” An impressive interpretation!
Mr. Swann played one encore, the A-Flat Waltz of Chopin, Op. 42, which was fast and frisky, yet sensitive, and ended with bravura.
Magdalena Baczewska - IKIF
18th International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Hunter College
July 20th, 2016
Chopin: Prelude, Op. 45
Chopin: Mazurkas, Op. 59
Szymanowski: Mazurkas, Op. 50, Nos. 15 and 16
Szymanowski: Etude in B-Flat Minor, Op. 4, No. 3
Chopin: Ballade No. 3 in A-Flat Major, Op. 47
Mozart: Sonata in A Major, K. 331
Brahms: Klavierstücke, Op. 119
Magdalena Baczewska’s recital came on the fourth evening of the International Keyboard Institute and Festival, at Hunter College. One of New York’s major cultural summer happenings, now in its 18th year, it begins with a recital by Festival Founder Jerome Rose, which is followed by two weeks of recitals by artists at all different stages of their careers, plus lectures and master classes. It has something for everyone who loves the classical piano repertoire, and I try to attend as many events as time allows.
Magdalena Baczewska is a magnificent Chopin player! She does not play this music in the manner of Rubinstein, Friedman, Horowitz or anyone else. She has her own unique voice, and stylistically never falters. Her rubato is always natural, and she brings out wonderful changes of color during modulations. She never has the need to “shout,” or bang, yet always brings off high points successfully.
The Prelude with which she opened her program was elegant, and demonstrated her wonderful control of soft dynamics. The first Mazurka was playful and gracious, the second had charm and lightness, and the third was earthy, yet ended with an eloquently played coda. Equally impressive was the Third Ballade, with which the first half ended.
Of the three Szymanowski works Ms. Baczewska played, only the B-Flat Minor Etude, one of his most famous pieces, was familiar to me. It began with passion, but sounded emotionally spent by the end. Yet, as she plays this music as well as she does Chopin, I felt I knew the two Mazurkas, the first exotic and fantastic, the second very agitated with somewhat bizarre rhythms, very well after hearing her play them. This pianist’s technique is always there, her sound always beautiful and unforced, and her idiomatic understanding of this music is complete.
There was much to admire about Ms. Baczewska’s performance of the Mozart Sonata; original ideas and shaping of phrases, fine finger work and emotional engagement. But some people might prefer rhythms, especially in the first movement, to be a little straighter, and more “classical.”
One had the same feeling about the first Brahms Piece. Yes, it’s spiritual and ethereal, but perhaps does not need quite so much tempo fluctuation. The other three Pieces were very fine, the second with its lovely middle section in E Major, the third with its warmth and charm, and the fourth, displaying power, and drama.
Ms. Baczewska’s encore, the Chopin Nocturne in F-Sharp Major, Op. 15, No. 2, confirmed all my previous impressions of the pianist as a wonderful Chopin player, all the way to the exquisitely played coda.
Bright lights, big festival
Both participants and listeners will find something special at New York City’s irrepressible and irreplaceable International Keyboard Institute and Festival, as founder Jerome Rose tells Inge Kjemtrup.
The interview appears inside Pianist Magazine’s April/May issue (No 89) 2016.
Talk to Jerome Rose, pianist and founder of the International Keyboard Institute and Festival, and he will give it to you straight: ‘The festival is in its 18th year, and we’re a staple of New York City musical life.’ This might sound like brash New Yorker attitude, but he’s probably right: critics and audiences seem to have taken this two-week long festival of all things piano to their hearts. The International Keyboard Institute and Festival (IKIF) is a ‘perennial favorite among piano aficionados’ said the New York Times, while the New Yorker pointed up the IKIF’s ‘tantalizingly, innovative and robust concert programs from a variety of international virtuosos, up-and-comers, and local heroes.’
Indeed, by all reports, a large part of the appeal of the IKIF is this annual coming together of established performers, the young-and-up-and-coming (several recent competition winners, such as George Li, who was a laureate in the Tchaikovsky, will take part this year), amateurs and general piano nuts. The variety of ages helps too, ranging from 12 to 80, says festival director Julie Kedersha.
It’s Kedersha’s challenging job to keep tabs on the 125 participants and 20-30 teaching staff, who collectively take over the music department of New York City’s Hunter College every July. Her task must be made harder by what Rose calls the ‘open door policy’ of the IKIF. ‘You’re not assigned to any teacher, you can study with anyone,’ he explains. ‘You can walk in and out of a room if you want.’ Though presumably not in the middle of your lesson.
Rose claims his programming comes from telling the guest artists, ‘play better than you did at Carnegie Hall and play whatever you want’, an approach that does lead to some diversity – and some playfulness. Rose persuaded concert pianist Dmitry Rachmanov to present a programme about Sergei Rachmaninov (no relation) and he put together an orchestral ensemble for the festival and dubbed it the Jäger Meisters Chamber Orchestra (‘Jäger’ means ‘hunter’ in German). I’ll drink to that.
More seriously though, Rose is keen to fête the great keyboard masters of the past and present, including those whose careers have, perhaps, deserved more attention. This year the IKIF features the French pianist Philippe Entremont, 75 years and basking in the light of a long career of French music and Chopin. Rose also has tributes to past keyboard masters such as Paderewski and Gilels.
Entremont’s recital (23 July) will be heavy on Chopin and French works, including Ravel’s Sonatine and ‘Alborada del gracioso’ from Miroirs. Geoffrey Burleson, who is recording Saint-Saëns’s piano music for Naxos offers a diverse recital with music by that composer. Other confirmed recitals so far are from Stanislav Khristenko, Jeffrey Swann and Magdalena Baczewska, with Rose himself on opening-night spot.
Rose has had a distinguished teaching and performing career (as a youngster in California he studied with Adolph Baller, mainly recalled now as Menuhin’s pianist). He was a young man when the idea of the festival came to him: ‘When I was 17 going on 18, I had a transformative experience going to Marlboro [the famous Vermont chamber music festival], played with Casals and Sascha Schneider, and I wanted to create a similar thing in the piano world.’ Rose, it seems, is in his element with IKIF.
If the concerts and classes aren’t enough, Rose adds, there are also the ‘beautiful acoustics’ of the Hunter College concert hall, the many available practice rooms, the Yamahas and Bösendorfers on tap, and the interesting lectures. By the end of my phone call with Rose, I’m nearly ready to reserve my place on his big city, big passion piano fest.
The Brazilian-born pianist, Arnaldo Cohen, won First Prize at the Busoni International Piano Competition in 1972. He has had a long career teaching at prestigious conservatories, such as the Royal Academy of Music in London and the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, as well as a distinguished performing career. But he still plays with the strength and energy of a young man, and his recital last night was a very rewarding, as well as an invigorating experience. (Indeed, after getting up to bow following the demanding Bach/Busoni Chaconne, he was ready to sit down right away and continue with the even harder Handel Variations, but first had to rise again to acknowledge continued applause.)
Mr. Cohen’s playing of the Chaconne had an improvisatory quality, with more tempo fluctuation than one sometimes hears, but this was always organic and convincing. He produces a big, ringing, but always beautiful sound.
The Handel Variations began at a brisk tempo and, indeed, there was an athleticism to much of his playing. It was very satisfying to hear the power he brought to such highpoints as the last Variation before the Fugue. Yet, he always brought out contrasts, with the softer, sensitive parts played just as expressively. And, like a musician’s musician, there was always at least a subtle change in the expression of loud or soft variations when he played the repeats.
Mr. Cohen is a very fine Chopin player. One never thinks about his rubato, as it’s so natural. He plays with strength and virtuosity when needed, but always makes a convincing transition to the slow and gentle sections. Interestingly, he chose to play the Scherzi in an unusual order, ie. 1-4-3-2.
In the first Scherzo one noticed the power and ease with which he played, the beauty of the middle theme, and the Horowitzian interlocking octaves at the end. In the fourth Scherzo there were wonderful, splashing right hand figurations, and a hush of anticipation before the final return to the main theme. The third Scherzo had muscular octaves, whirlwind arpeggios, and a dizzying coda. The second Scherzo was also brilliantly played, at the end of which (pianists must have noticed this), Mr. Cohen did not take an extra split second before nailing the final cross hand jump.
Following an enthusiastic response, Mr. Cohen played one encore, a fast and puckish reading of Chopin’s Minute Waltz.
Last night’s program began with a disappointment, as well as a pleasant surprise. The disappointment was that Yuan Sheng would not be appearing. I had been looking forward to hearing him play a Bach Partita, as he is a wonderful Bach pianist. The pleasant surprise was that his place was taken by Dmitry Rachmanov, who performed a Scriabin group. Mr. Rachmanov is known for his performances of that composer, and, indeed, I heard him play an all-Scriabin recital last season at Zankel Hall. His playing of this music was very cultured and refined, yet strong, and always convincing.
Nina Lelchuk, as one could tell from the audience reaction, is a highly respected pianist and teacher. She is an assertive and idiomatic Chopin player. Her performances of the first and last Mazurkas were particularly fine.
Mykola Suk is a very individual pianist who reminds me, in some ways of Robert Goldsand. He has unusual ideas about pacing, and played parts of the 12th Hungarian Rhapsody of Liszt at remarkably slow tempi, yet got the piano to “roar,” and produced great excitement at climaxes.
José Ramos Santana gave a warm, elegant and loving performance of the three works from Iberia. One wonders if the atmosphere of a country could be expressed any better than that of Spain in this work?
I always get a kick out of Steven Mayer’s performances because of his innate musicality, combined with terrific technique and a high energy level. The lovely, flowing Silver Spring gave way to the jazzy (sarcastic? neurotic?) Masque from Bernstein’s Age of Anxiety and that, in turn, led to Hold That Tiger, which was a wonderful romp. If Mykola Suk reminds me in some ways of Robert Goldsand, Steven Mayer makes me think of Earl Wild, in whom virtuosity, popular themes and high culture all came together.
Gesa Luecker and Gabriele Leporatti gave a performance of the Messiaen work which was spiritual yet intense, and exotic, with beautiful, subtle shadings.
The final work on the program was the Wilberg arrangement of Themes from Carmen, played by Ms. Luecker and Mr. Leporatti, plus Claire Huangci and Eduard Zilberkant. With some added harmonies, it was played with great spirit and energy, and the ensemble was excellent. Perhaps the only way to hear this music with even more strength and electricity would be to hear the recording of Horowitz playing his own transcription at the famous Carnegie Hall televised concert!
David Dubal Lecture - Richter and Wild
In honor of the hundredth anniversary of the births of Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997) and Earl Wild (1915-2010), pianist, author and radio personality, David Dubal gave a talk about them, and included recordings of some of their performances.
Mr. Dubal said that Richter (whom he once hoped to interview, but never did meet) played in movie houses when he was young to make some money. His original aims were to accompany singers, and conduct. Then, surprisingly late, he heard the Chopin F Minor Ballade, and started to learn the solo piano repertoire. Despite this unusual start he produced a staggering legacy in recordings, covering a huge repertoire.
Mr. Dubal finds in Richter a "dark quality in a lacerated soul."
Glenn Gould, who admired Richter, said Richter's recordings were uneven because he didn't know how to go about organizing a recording, and offered to produce a Richter record. Probably to head this off, Richter said he would let Gould produce one of his recordings if Gould, who no longer performed EXCEPT in the recording studio, would play a live concert which Richter would arrange.
Among other things, Mr. Dubal said:
Richter refused to perform the Emperor Concerto of Beethoven because his teacher, Heinrich Neuhaus, played it so well.
In later years he performed in the dark, so that the audience would focus on the music, not the performer.
He almost never played transcriptions.
He refused to teach.
Richter was the dedicatee of Prokofiev's Ninth Sonata, and performed the Sixth, Seventh and Eighth.
In addition to seeing a film in which Richter plays Franz Liszt, we heard recordings of him performing:
Moussorgsky - Great Gate of Kiev, from Pictures At An Exhibition
Liszt: Feux Follets
Liszt: Transcendental Etude No. 10 in F Minor
Haydn - Sonata No. 50 in C Major, last movement
Rachmaninoff: Prelude in B-Flat major, Op. 23, No. 2
Rachmaninoff: Prelude in C Minor, Op. 23, No. 7
Prokofiev: Gavotte from Cinderella (excerpt)
Beethoven: Sonata No. 23 in F Minor ("Appassionata"), Op. 57, last movement (excerpt)
The Great Gate of Kiev showed the strength and solidity for which Richter was famous. Feux Follets, which, like the previous recording was from his famous 1958 Sofia recital, was fast and fearless or, as Mr. Dubal, described it "Mendelssohn turned diabolical!"
The Liszt Transcendental Etude was staggering (the fastest there is, said Mr. Dubal), and the Rachmaninoff Preludes were similarly impressive.
Interestingly, Richter's favorite composer, according to Mr. Dubal, was Haydn, the last movement of whose 50th Sonata we heard.
In contrast to Richter, Earl Wild was someone David Dubal knew well, and many of us remember him from his many New York appearances, including recitals at this Festival up until 2005. Mr. Dubal played large sections of an interview with Wild made that year, in anticipation of Wild's 90th birthday.
As there were more than a few technical problems, and because of time considerations, the Wild section of the program was a bit shorter than the Richter.
Concerning famous people he encountered, we learned that Wild sometimes substituted for Oscar Levant playing Rhapsody in Blue, that he knew Gershwin (Wild: "Gershwin, at a party, sat at the piano as if it was a throne!"), and that he enjoyed his lessons with Egon Petri, especially when they improvised for each other.
Mr. Dubal referred to Earl Wild's almost 900 page autobiography A Walk On the Wild Side, which was released after his death (and reviewed by me for the Classical Music Guide on September 7th, 2011). It did seem ironic that one thing Wild told Mr. Dubal was not to be jealous of other people, as that book was seen by some as a last chance to get even with MANY people (including several people I knew well!).
His sense of humor, and his generosity were also mentioned. Regarding the former I recall a master class in which Wild imitated a woman playing a Chopin Etude with all the expressivity in her body language, and none in the sound coming out of the instrument. Regarding the latter, Mr. Dubal once asked Wild if he had the Schumann Fantasy and the Liszt B Minor Sonata currently in his fingers? "Yup" he answered both times. Would Wild be willing to come play for a class at a school for the blind where Mr. Dubal was going to speak about those works? "Sure" said Wild. And he did.
We listened to recordings of Mr. Wild play:
Chopin: My Joys
Gershwin/Wild: the Man I Love
The Tambourin was delightful, and My Joys was particularly beautiful, almost magical. The Man I Love was passionate and absolutely gorgeous.
It was good to have a chance to hear, and think more about these wonderful musicians from the recent past.
Jeffrey Swann is a natural-born entertainer, as well as a very fine pianist. Before playing each work, or group, he picked up a microphone and told stories about the composer whose music he was about to play, the works themselves, or both, swaying gently to and fro as he spoke. His comments were informal, informative, and anything but dry and academic.
Mr. Swann's approach to Mozart includes playing all the repeats, often adding, or changing ornaments in the repeat, and bracing tempi for fast movements. Thinking, I suspect, in operatic terms, he also uses more rubato in this music than most pianists, which can be seen as expressive, or a bit excessive, depending on your point of view.
The Beethoven Sonata was very effective. The first movement had a lovely flow and the second movement was played with great spirit, and a wide dynamic range, as was the last movement, in which he threw himself into the knotty sections with particular enthusiasm.
As he played so much music with many notes on this program it was indeed interesting to hear the sensitivity with which Mr. Swann played the short third movement. It was so good I listened to it later on the webcast, principally to hear again the perfectly graded diminuendo in measures five and six. The ability to do that is one sign of an artist I'd like to hear again.
The second half of the program was all-Liszt, and Mr. Swann began with the 12th Hungarian Rhapsody, played with great energy and dash. He played the last section terrifically fast, which may not be the easiest (and certainly not the safest!) way to get all the notes articulated, but was wonderfully exciting.
The Historical Portraits, which are probably unknown to most people, are a group of seven pieces dedicated to Hungarian patriots, most of whom apparently met a tragic end. They are, appropriately, dark works. Mr. Swann played three of them, in a quasi-sonata manner, ie. with the quietest one in the middle. The first Portrait was full of foreboding, then later turned absolutely wild. The second one began with a four note motive which was moved all over the place, then developed. It seemed to show a mood of searching, and had later moments of grandiosity. The third Portrait sounded threatening and tortured, but faded away to a delicate ending in D Major.
The Spanish Rhapsody was excellent. The pianist savored the contrasts in this brilliant work, playing calmly, or in the grand manner and with great passion as the various sections demanded, and the audience reaction at the conclusion was enthusiastic.
Mr. Swann played one encore, the F-Sharp Major Nocturne of Chopin. It was elegant and spacious, and ended gorgeously.
Marc-André Hamelin Connects Past and Present
The revelation of the pianist Marc-André Hamelin’s perfectly conceived recital on Sunday evening at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College didn’t come in one of the Liszt or Chopin pieces. It was the contemporary work sandwiched between them: Yehudi Wyner’s “Toward the Center,” a solo written in 1988 to commemorate the retirement of a longtime teacher at the Yale School of Music.
It begins with a brazen, almost stentorian flourish that’s left to resonate before the pianist proceeds, as if with caution, and then suddenly dives again into thickets of activity. Contrasts emerge, but subtle ones. The mood grows reflective; fragments of melody keep coming to subdued endings, after which the music seems unsure how, or even if, it should proceed.
There’s a section dogged by a sober three-note motif, and then pristine scales, like descending staircases made of ice. Near the end, the music starts shyly to swing, softly moving toward the keyboard’s heights before resolving in a light tolling, growing ever fainter.
The piece is a little masterpiece, quiet and glowing, and Mr. Hamelin, with his preternatural clarity and control, qualities that in him don’t preclude sensitivity and even poetry, was an ideal interpreter on Sunday, when he appeared as one of the highlights of the 16-day International Keyboard Institute & Festival. When the performance ended, and Mr. Wyner was called to the stage, he bowed not to the audience but to Mr. Hamelin, giving gratitude where it was due.
“Toward the Center” wasn’t just thrown into the recital, a nod to contemporary music. Its changeable emotions seemed to emerge organically from the five Liszt works on the first half of the program, and its lyrical impulses led sensibly into Chopin’s Sonata No. 2 at the end.
Those Liszt pieces were divided into two sets: first, three delicate studies and then two of his deliriously virtuosic arrangements of operatic themes. Mr. Hamelin more than meets the technical requirements of this second group, but the colors he brought to the quieter pieces were even more impressive.
The first from the set of three “Apparitions” (S. 155) began with haziness in the left hand, cut with crystalline precision in the right. Mr. Hamelin drizzled unexpected curls of ornamentation into the regularity of “Waldesrauschen” (S. 145, No. 1). These pieces pointed not just to Mr. Wyner’s work, but also to Debussy’s glittering “Reflets dans l’eau,” played as an encore.
Mr. Hamelin’s restraint, even when he’s ferocious, gave Chopin’s “Funeral March” sonata a particularly somber cast. In the third movement, which gives the work its nickname, the lullabylike interlude was more earthly than spiritual, an evocation of what we leave behind.
The 17th International Keyboard Institute and Festival is now underway at its new home, Hunter College. Filling the second half of July with nightly recitals, lectures, master classes and more, it is a mecca for those who love the piano and its repertoire. Two new features this year are a lecture by David Dubal before each recital, and the streaming of these lectures and the recitals. This new technology and the speed with which programs are assembled for online viewing is remarkable. Already the entire programs of the first two evenings can be viewed at the Festival's website (http://www.ikif.org).
Opening night followed IKIF tradition with a recital by Festival Founder and Director Jerome Rose. Last night it was the turn of Marc-André Hamelin to take the stage.
A Hamelin recital is an "event." He is one of the great pianists of the day. Not only a stupendous virtuoso who can play the big works of composers like Liszt and Rachmaninoff, he also has a probing intellect that leads him to perform less often heard works, ie the music of CPE Bach and Janacek and many others, as well as challenging contemporary pieces. Mr. Hamelin also continues the tradition of virtuosos who compose music. With such a command of the instrument, as well as a penetrating yet sensitive understanding of the works he plays, one can appreciate them in a rarefied state, as Mr. Hamelin has apparently surmounted the struggle to play even the hardest ones with apparent ease.
The first three works on the program were played without pause. Waldesrauschen and Un sospiro are well-known pieces but I had not heard Apparitions before. Does one usually notice the beauty of Liszt compositions, or just their brilliance? Apparitions emerged from very close to silence, and was quite lovely; far from "scary" as the name might suggest. This, and the following two pieces were gorgeously played. One was aware of Mr. Hamelin's wonderful finger work at times, simply because it made the music possible, not for its own sake.
By contrast, he went to town with the two operatic paraphrases. Mr. Hamelin played with great power, and often at terrific speed. In the Reminiscences de Norma there were sections that were wistful and tender. In other sections, with certain melodies and fast octaves underneath, and later, with a melody, bass line and fantastic figurations all at the same time, the effect could be hair-raising.
"Toward the Center," by Yehudi Wyner, is a 17-minute work which might be thought of as Romantically inspired with a contemporary harmonic language. Parts of it were pulsating, others poetic. It had some lovely, melodic material but also some dramatic outbursts. Mr. Hamelin, who, interestingly, turned pages for himself, practically dared his audience to not pay attention near the end by gradually diminishing the volume to almost nothing. The region between that, and no sound at all is so small, but, oh, how impressive it is when a pianist can successfully negotiate it!
One listens to the Chopin B-Flat Minor Sonata, which any pianist has heard dozens, if not hundreds of times, to hear what new ideas a performer brings to it. One couldn't help but notice the incredible drama at the end of the first movement (which led some people to applaud) or that the first two, fiendishly difficult movements did not have the sense of struggle in them that one often hears in the hands of a lesser pianist. In the last movement, perhaps the strangest work of Chopin, which sounds like it was composed in a later era, Mr. Hamelin focused on a few motives while surging forward with the rest of the material. But what particularly captured my interest was the way he played the D-Flat section in the middle of the funeral march movement. It was slower, wondrously expressive and deeper than in most performances.
Mr. Hamelin played one encore, a lovely (appropriately) flowing reading of Debussy's Reflets dans l'eau.
Haydn: Andante and Variations in F Minor, Hob. XVII:6
Federico Gardella: Invenzione del Margine (2014) World Premiere
(dedicated to Massimiliano Ferrati)
Beethoven: Sonata No. 21 in C Major (“Waldstein”)
Chopin: Andante Spianato e Grande Polonaise Brillante, Op. 22
Daniele Bravi: Solo (2008-11)
Prokofiev: Sonata No. 7 in B-Flat Major, Op. 83
Massimiliano Ferrati has a very likable musical personality. He plays with passion, commitment and ideas, and he always produces a beautiful tone. Most of this recital was very fine, indeed, and his audience listened, and reacted with great enthusiasm.
He opened with the Haydn Andante and Variations, which is sometimes rather blandly played. Mr. Ferrati’s performance had the best of both classical and romantic elements. Against a rather strict rhythm he did everything he could with expressive possibilities, such as playing repeats with a different inflection, bringing out changes of color and interesting modulations, showing off the rhythm of the syncopated variation, and playing on a large, dramatic scale.
The Gardella Invenzione was a highly kinetic work, and seemed to consist of several motives, one of which hit the keyboard running and headed for the hills (actually, the opposite ends of the instrument), a second having a soft splash of notes in tone clusters, and the third being simply a low note or two.
Mr. Ferrati had a bright and buoyant approach to the first movement of the Waldstein Sonata, with a lovely musical lead in to the second theme, big swirly arpeggios in the development, and a dramatic “drumroll” leading into the recapitulation. The main theme of the last movement was beautifully floated and had just the right amount of pedal, fortunately not imitating many pianists who, forgetting that the pedal on Beethoven’s piano sustained much less sound, create musical “mud” there. He went for the jugular in the C Minor section, and had a great “massing of forces” leading into the coda, which was wonderfully fast.
The Andante Spianato was one of the high points of the program. The tone was gorgeous, there were numerous subtleties of sound, phrasing and rubato, and it was played lovingly, and with great spirit. The introduction to the Polonaise was appropriately fast and lively but there were some problems with focus and memory in the Polonaise. Also, the music sometimes seemed to plow on a bit long without a change of sound. Still, there were some wonderful ideas and moments, and the end was strong.
The Bravi work, Solo, was a conversation between several different motives with interesting pedal effects, which eventually slowed, giving an almost mesmerizing effect, repeating over and over, I believe, the notes E, D, C#, E#, G#, F#.
The first movement of Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata marched vigorously ahead, except in reflective moments, and was finely executed with impressive clarity. The main theme of the second movement was beautifully played, and the soaring middle section was very dramatic and effective. Mr. Ferrati launched into a propulsive reading of the last movement, briefly had some memory issues, then recovered, staged a finely gauged, but eventually huge crescendo near the conclusion, and ended in brilliant fashion. The audience reacted with cheers, and a standing ovation.
Schumann: Fantasy in C Major, Op. 17
Takemitsu: Rain Tree 2
Nocturne in F Major, Op. 15, No. 1
Nocturne in B Major, Op. 62, No. 1
Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23
Waltz in A Minor, Op. 34, No. 2
Tarantella in A-Flat Major, Op. 43
Ballade No. 3 in A-Flat Major, Op. 47
Scherzo No. 2 in B-Flat Minor, Op. 31
A wonderful exponent of the grand Romantic style of pianism is the Japanese pianist, Akiko Ebi, who performed last night. Though she is capable of pulling out all the stops in big dramatic works, what impressed me over and over during this program was the incredible subtlety and beauty of her playing in soft and intimate music.
Although her performance of the first movement of the Schumann Fantasy began, appropriately, with the grand gesture, it was the gentle parts of much of the rest of the movement that particularly drew my attention. The second movement was alternately assertive and playful, and the pianist did not take the easy way out when it came to the difficult coda; she played it fast, and still got all the difficult jumps. As if preparing to tell a tale, Ms. Ebi played the introduction to the main theme of the third movement, and then the theme itself with heartfelt expression. She stretched out the coda so effectively that one was, indeed, loath to part with this music. At the conclusion of this first work the audience greeted Ms. Ebi with the first of many “Bravas!”
Ms. Ebi concluded the first half of the recital with Takemitsu’s Rain Tree 2, a lovely, lyrical and exotic miniature which ended with (as the artist played it) an astoundingly soft low D.
Ms. Ebi was in her element in the second half of the program, playing works by Chopin. She does not sound like any other pianist, but, by definition, a Romantic pianist is a unique individual. And her understanding of the style of this music is such that her interpretations were always convincing, particularly concerning her use of rubato. Often she was all over the place, rhythmically, but always where she SHOULD be! A few high points:
The aforementioned rhythmic flexibility and gorgeous playing of the B Major Nocturne’s theme, when it returned with continuous trilling, and the coda.
The lively playing of the Tarantella, and the way she poured on the intensity and speed at the end.
The manner in which Ms. Ebi handled the poetic aspects of the last two big works, then ended powerfully.
But If I had to pick one piece, the performance of which was more “special” than any other, it would be the A Minor Waltz. I was reminded of the great Chopin pianist, Moritz Rosenthal, not because Akiko Ebi sounds like him, but because he interpreted everything in the score. That does not mean he imposed anything on the music, but that he found something to say with, or through every bit of it. There was no “down time” or filler space in his interpretations. Likewise, as Ms. Ebi played this Waltz there was constantly something beautiful, even magical happening. Quite amazing!
Ms. Ebi played two encores, also by Chopin, the Berceuse, and a particularly expressive Aeolian Harp Etude.
The audience reacted with enthusiasm, affection and admiration.
Beethoven: Sonata No. 13 in E-Flat Major, Op. 27, No. 1
Rachmaninoff: Morceaux de Salon, Op. 10
M. C. Graves: Currency
Chopin: Twelve Etudes, Op. 25
Before this concert started IKIF Founder and Director Jerome Rose came to the stage to give his usual reminder to turn off cellphones and electronics, then added some news the audience was clearly happy to hear: That despite reports to the contrary, it is the intention of the management to hold the Festival again next summer, though the location has not yet been determined. (Mannes College will be moving next year, and apparently will not be able to provide space for the IKIF in the summer of 2015.)
The young Russian-American pianist Alexandre Moutouzkine makes one aware of how inadequate stereotypical expressions are when describing some of the remarkable young musicians before us today. As we have learned not to make assumptions about pianists necessarily having a proclivity for the music of composers of their own ethnicity, so, too, we see more and more that describing pianists such as Mr. Moutouzkine as “serious musicians” versus “virtuosos” makes no sense. Mr. Moutouzkine is a sensitive, thoughtful pianist who never plays a note outside of a musical context. And one hell of a virtuoso, too!
The opening of the Beethoven Sonata had a lovely, natural flow, and the dynamic contrasts in the second movement were well displayed. Most impressive, for me, was that I heard the second and fourth movements with a clarity I hadn’t heard before because of the pianist’s astute gauging of fast, but not excessively fast tempi, minimal pedaling and, of course, those wonderful fingers of his.
The Morceaux de Salon are not Rachmaninoff’s best pieces. Only one or two of them were familiar to me. But I enjoyed these performances, which were given with a consummate understanding of the composer’s idiom. The ruminative Nocturne, the Barcarolle, which had a shimmering accompaniment to a theme which seemed to express longing, the nostalgic Melodie and the smoldering Romance contrasted with the frothy Waltz, the controlled wildness of the Humoresque and the high spirited Mazurka.
The pianist addressed the audience before playing Currency, by his friend, Michael Christopher Graves, who was present, but said he would not reveal exactly what the piece represented. This mystery will be revealed, it seems, when he plays it again at his upcoming recital at Merkin Hall. If I heard clearly, it seems to be based on a motif of four notes, all within the distance of a major third, which is then turned around, played against itself in another voice, and later develops further with very brilliant passagework. Mr. Moutouzkine performed this enormously complicated work from memory, and played with remarkable clarity while pummeling the instrument.
Chopin expanded the technical horizons of the piano as well as the repertoire with his etudes. But an audience is not interested to hear the struggle of the obstacles the performer faces. It wants to hear the obstacles overcome with grace, ideas, imagination and artistry. Which Mr. Moutouzkine did. With apparent ease.
Among the highlights:
The sotto voce playing of the fourth (A Minor) etude, with several original touches.
The more serious approach to the fifth (E Minor) Etude than the “happy frog jumping about” Rubinstein interpretation (though I liked that, too), and with a particularly gorgeous playing of the melody in the middle section.
The ease with which Mr. Moutouzkine played the thirds etude, allowing him to do lovely things with the accompaniment despite the great speed.
The speed with which he played the 10th Etude (faster than Lhevinne), his bringing out (as he also did in other etudes) of interesting middle voices, and the increasing intensity with which he approached the end of the series. One item which might have been a bit more effectively gauged was that he was already playing so loudly in the last etude it was impossible to get any louder in the final C Major section.
If I had to pick one etude which impressed me the most it would probably be not one of those already mentioned, but the seventh, in C-Sharp Minor. Mr. Moutouzkine wrung all possible expressivity out of it with a huge range of dynamics and sometimes extreme, but always effective rubato. A high point of the concert, indeed.
The recital concluded with Lecuona’s delightful and exuberant Mazurka Glissando.
This is an pianist I’d like to hear again!
David Dubal Lecture - Great Performances
Pianist, author and radio personality David Dubal believes that America is a great country but that no one is interested in art anymore; that we are in need of “artistic evangelism.” He also says that pianists are his favorite people.
In a lecture of almost two hours he played many examples of great performances, told many stories, and expressed more than few provocative opinions. One was never bored. Below is a description of some of what we heard.
The first pieces we heard were the Preludio and the Second Etude from Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes, brilliantly played by Jerome Rose.
There were several performances of Rachmaninoff and Hofmann. Nobody but nobody has fingers that can play like them today, said Mr. Dubal, adding that Horowitz told him “I don’t know what kind of a tree I would be, if I were a tree, but Rachmaninoff is a REDWOOD!”
We heard both Rachmaninoff and Hofmann play Mendelssohn’s Spinning Song. The tempi were similar but Rachmaninoff’s performance was patrician, with that slightly odd pause before the return of the main theme, whereas Hofmann’s was more quirky, bringing out interesting voicing and accents.
David Dubal maintains that one could write a book about how Rachmaninoff plays the Chopin C-Sharp Minor Waltz. This performance, which lacked nothing, included a marvelous bringing out of an inner voice in the thumb, the ultimate in grace and precision, plenty of rubato, though never too much, and the right expression and feeling in each section. Indeed, Rachmaninoff didn’t play it in a “straightjacket,” as happens too often today, said Mr. Dubal.
Jerome Rose asked Mr. Dubal how Chopin might have played this work. Mr. Dubal replied that a Chopin performance would have been very soft, brought out more voices, and would have included a lot of pedaling.
Before a dizzying version of Chopin’s Minute Waltz by Hofmann, we heard Clara Schumann’s student, Fanny Davies, give a slow, throbbing and quite deep account of the second piece of Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze.
Next, came the classic performance of Paderewski playing his G Major Minuet, courtly and dignified in the main theme, surging and powerful elsewhere.
Mr. Dubal contrasted the performances of Chopin’s Etude in Thirds by Lhevinne and Friedman, and also played for us the alternately quivering and blazing Liszt transcription of Schumann’s Frühlingsnacht. The sound on the Friedman recording was not very good at all, typical of many Friedman recordings. One wonders what someone with the ear and expertise of Jon Samuels or Allan Evans could do to improve it?
We heard Benno Moiseiwitsch (who Mr. Dubal claimed was Al Capone’s favorite pianist!) play Liszt’s la Leggierezza (using the Leschetizky coda, not the less elaborate original coda) with apparent effortlessness and incredible fleetness.
“Rhythm is respiration” according to Mr. Dubal. There followed a magical performance of Cortot playing his own transcription of the famous Brahms A-Flat Lullaby. Indeed, no one personifies the idea of rhythm as respiration better than Cortot, who was incapable of playing prosaically.
We listened to a recorded interview of David Dubal talking with Horowitz about Rachmaninoff and Scriabin, both of whom he met. Horowitz said that Rachmaninoff accompanied Horowitz on the second piano of Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto. (What one would give to hear that accompaniment!) And we heard Horowitz playing Rachmaninoff’s G Major Prelude, making of it a miniature, but very dramatic tale.
Horowitz played for Scriabin when he was 11 or 12 years old, just a few hours before Scriabin was to give a major recital, and the poor man was very nervous, in anticipation. According to Horowitz, after hearing the audition, Scriabin told Horowitz’s mother that her son would become a great pianist, but that he should also be a well-educated, and cultured man. Mr. Dubal pointed out that Horowitz later did a lot for Scriabin’s music, having played five of his sonatas, and other works. Horowitz did not disagree. We heard Horowitz’s recording of the C-Sharp Minor Etude of Scriabin, Op. 42, No. 5 in a reading that was wondrously expressive and passionate.
The program concluded with something I had never heard before, Scriabin’s own playing, in a 1911 Welte-Mignon recording, of his D-Sharp Minor Etude, which we know well from the playing of Horowitz, and other virtuosos. Though I am always suspicious of how accurately Welte-Mignon recordings represent pianists, having heard my teacher, Bruce Hungerford, say that such of a recording of his teacher, Ignaz Friedman, sounded not a bit like Friedman, Mr. Dubal believes this is a fairly good representation of Scriabin’s playing. Mr. Dubal thinks it’s even better than Horowitz’s famous interpretations. Most of it is slower than Horowitz plays it, though it ends powerfully, but better? I’m not sure I agree, and have to think some more about that.
But isn’t that the point of Mr. Dubal’s always interesting lectures? To present new performances and ideas to his audience, and get them thinking?
Gao Ping: Autumn Pond (2012)
Debussy: Twelve Preludes, Book 1
CPE Bach: Fantasie in F-Sharp Minor, H. 300, Wq. 67
Beethoven: Andante Favori, WoO 57
Beethoven: Sonata No. 21 in C Major, Op. 53 (“Waldstein”)
Yuan Sheng is a musician’s musician. He always plays with taste, power and refinement, a beautiful tone and an excellent understanding of the style of each composer. Though he is particularly well known for his playing of the music of JS Bach and Chopin he included neither of them on this concert, offering, instead, an interesting combination of standard and little-known repertoire.
Gao Ping’s Autumn Pond, the first work he played, is a lovely eight minute piece, reflective and nostalgic, with an “impressionistic” feeling. Despite the extensive use of fourths, and other harmonies that go rather far afield from where it starts, much of the work seems to be based in, or near, G Major.
Mr. Sheng’s playing of the Debussy Preludes was wonderful! Not just beautiful and sensuous, as one would expect, but deeply thoughtful as well. Among other qualities he excels at is very fine control of the lower end of the dynamic range. One noticed this particularly in the incredibly soft but controlled final chord of Voiles (Veils), and the way Le vent dans la plaine (The Wind on the Plain) simply evaporated at the end. He handled beautifully the contrast of the exuberance, and longing of Les collines d’Anacapri (the Hills of Anacapri) leading into the desolation of Des pas sur la neige (Footsteps In the Snow), which led, in turn, to the menacing Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest (What the West Wind Saw). And La cathédrale engloutie (The Engulfed Cathedral) was glorious, when it arose out of the deep.
The CPE Bach Fantasie includes some showy passagework, interesting modulations and declamatory gestures. Though Yuan Sheng played it very well I was not overwhelmed by the music.
By contrast, I was very taken with Mr. Sheng’s performance of Beethoven’s Andante Favori. Of course, there is much that is subjective, but when you hear someone play a piece and you get the feeling “That’s exactly how this should sound!” it means you’re really impressed! Lyrical, gracious, not metronomic but with subtle shifts in tempo (one was reminded of David Dubal’s comment the other night “Rhythm is respiration”) and a beautiful change in color where the piece briefly visits D-Flat Major, this interpretation was a happy experience for this listener. Plus, in the extended right hand octave section, which I heard no less a pianist than Bruce Hungerford play over and over and over, to achieve a perfect take for his recording, Mr. Sheng hit not a wrong note.
One had the sense that he might have been a bit tired by the time he got to the Waldstein Sonata, where he experienced some memory problems in the outer movements. And yet, it contained a lot of fine playing, with thoughtful tone and tempo adjustments in the first movement, an expressive second movement, and much lovely playing in the last movement, the final page of which went out in a blaze of glory.
Yuan Sheng played one encore, Liszt’s Liebestraum No. 3. It was brilliantly executed, and exquisite.
A Youthful Vigor, Flowing Through to His Fingertips
There is always a downside in describing a young artist like the brilliant New York-based pianist Conor Hanick as a champion of contemporary music. At 31, Mr. Hanick, who holds a doctorate from the Juilliard School, has won acclaim for his exciting performances of new and recent music with orchestras and ensembles around the world. On Monday night he brought his enthusiasm for contemporary music to the two-week International Keyboard Institute and Festival, at Mannes College the New School for Music, playing an engrossing and, in his own words, “unorthodox” program.
Still, describing Mr. Hanick as a contemporary-music champion can suggest that he is a specialist rather than a connected young artist with a natural curiosity about new music. Besides, during a typical season Mr. Hanick plays Mozart, Schumann, Debussy and such. The technical refinement, color, crispness and wondrous variety of articulation he brought to the contemporary fare played on this occasion would benefit works by any master.
Mr. Hanick began with “Stems,” by Alex Mincek, the founding artistic director of the Wet Ink Ensemble. The piece unfolds in a series of short, staggered, crunchy chords, though certain notes and sounds linger. Eventually the music erupts with spiraling, skittish figures. Mr. Hanick gave a rhapsodic yet eerily controlled performance.
He then spoke to his audience, offering witty and insightful comments to explain the concept behind his recital. All the pieces, he said, explored different dimensions of resonance in sound, as well as innovative ways to write for the piano. The program was framed by two works representing the “old and new garde of the New York avant-garde,” as Mr. Hanick put it, opening with Mr. Mincek’s recent piece, and ending with Morton Feldman’s “Palais de Mari,” written in 1986, the year before the composer died.
Mr. Hanick gave scintillating accounts of two daunting movements for solo piano from Messiaen’s epic 1974 work for orchestra, “Des Canyons aux Étoiles” (“From the Canyons to the Stars”). These two excerpts take Messiaen’s obsession with bird calls to the level of “aviary insanity,” as Mr. Hanick put it. His playing had the requisite ecstatic fervor, as well as effortless elegance.
The French-born Tristan Murail, who studied with Messiaen, wrote “Cloches d’adieu, et un sourire ...” (“Bells of Farewell, and a Smile ...”) as a memorial work to Messiaen in 1992, and Mr. Hanick conveyed the mix of homage and contemplative reflection in this restlessly dramatic music.
David Fulmer wrote “Whose Fingers Brush the Sky” this year for Mr. Hanick, who here gave the New York premiere. To play this engaging, mysterious work, Mr. Hanick switched to a second piano onstage that sounded like a few of its strings had been prepared, à la John Cage, and required him to lean in his lanky frame and pluck strings.
To end, Mr. Hanick played the 25-minute Feldman work, which he described as a masterpiece from the second half of the 20th century. He said that he was getting a little “perverse pleasure” from playing “Palais de Mari” in a piano festival, since it is almost “an anti-piano piece.” Like most of Feldman’s works, this soft-spoken composition uses minimal, spare gestures and notes: just gentle cluster chords and fragments. In the final section, a recurring rhythmic figure becomes almost like a cradle rocking, Mr. Hanick said.
To appreciate the music, you have to get into a “meditative slash vegetative state,” he said. This was easy to do while listening to his calmly assured and beautiful playing, a performance that displayed a different kind of virtuosity.
Chaotic Yet Pensive, Pounding the Keys
Villa-Lobos wrote his “Rudepoêma” — a 20-minute solo work sometimes described as “ ‘The Rite of Spring’ meets the Brazilian jungle” — as a portrait of the pianist Arthur Rubinstein, a friend who had championed his music. Villa-Lobos said he wanted to portray Rubinstein’s “true temperament” in the work.
It’s easy to understand why Rubinstein was taken aback when he saw the unremitting brutality of the score, as the pianist Marc-André Hamelin explained before performing it on Sunday evening at Mannes College the New School for Music. He said he hoped listeners wouldn’t report him to Steinway, referring to the pounding on the keys in the final moments.
Mr. Hamelin offered a typically virtuosic performance of the whirlwind, chaotic work, whose driving rhythms and cluster chords are interspersed with brief moments of pensive respite. After the Villa-Lobos, which concluded his concert at the annual International Keyboard Institute and Festival, Mr. Hamelin played a tranquil morsel by Godowsky: “The Gardens of Buitenzorg,” from the “Java Suite.”
The Keyboard Institute and Festival has become a perennial favorite among piano aficionados, who flock to Mannes to enjoy pianists of international standing, like Mr. Hamelin, as well as a strong lineup of lectures, master classes and concerts by young artists. Because of the college’s impending relocation to Greenwich Village, the festival will not take place next summer, but given its status as a vital event on the New York calendar, you certainly hope it will be reinstated after that.
Mr. Hamelin, who has resuscitated the works of many obscure composers, has just as strong a track record in repertory standards. He opened his program with a beautifully nuanced interpretation of Mozart’s Sonata in D (K. 576), played with a warm, pearly tone and exacting touch that rendered the yearning Adagio particularly gorgeous.
He brought an equally appealing warmth to Schubert’s Sonata in A (D. 664), playing with singing lines and soulful introspection. Also included on the first half of the program was a richly textured performance of the Allegro con strepito in A minor, the sixth piece in Liszt’s “Soirées de Vienne,” a set of nine pieces modeled on works by Schubert.
Mr. Hamelin has also championed the works of Fauré, a composer of elegant, enigmatic piano works that reflect the influence of Liszt, Chopin and Saint-Saëns. Here, he offered gracious, unsentimental interpretations of the Barcarolle No. 3, Impromptu No. 2 and the Nocturne No. 6.
David Dubal Lecture: Great American Pianists
David Dubal maintains that pianistic standards in America are as high as anywhere. Giving his apologies to many other distinguished pianists who, but for time limits, might have been included here, he produced a list of 20 great American pianists, and played brief excerpts of their work. One could write at great length about each of these pianists, and their performances. But lacking the time to do so, I will simply present the list, make a few comments, below, and recommend that people who have not heard these performances make an effort to do so.
Julius Katchen – Dohnanyi: Conclusion of Variations On a Nursery Theme
Earl Wild – Gershwin/Wild: Embraceable You
Claudette Sorel – Raff: The Spinning Girl
Art Tatum – Tatum: Tea For Two
William Kapell – Albeniz: Evocacion
Constance Keene – Chasins: Rush Hour In Hong Kong, MacDowell: To A Wild Rose
Byron Janis – Brahms: Two Waltzes
Sidney Foster – Weber: Perpetual Motion
Cliburn – Tchaikovsky: March (from the Seasons)
Paul Jacobs – Bolcom: The Graceful Ghost
Leon Fleischer – Weber: Trio from the Second Movement of the Fourth Sonata
Arthur Loesser – Field: Nocturne in E Minor
Murray Perahia – Chopin: Winter Wind Etude
Rosalyn Tureck – Bach: Recapitulation of the Theme from the Goldberg Variations
Jerome Rose – Schumann: Davidsbündlertänze, Pieces No. 2, 4 and 8
Leonard Shure – Schubert: Trio from the Third Movement
Seymour Lipkin – Beethoven: Sonata, Op. 10, No. 2, last movement
Eugene Istomin – Mendelssohn: Song Without Words - May Breezes
Raymond Lewenthal – Alkan: Last Movement of the Symphony
Andre Watts – Gershwin: Swanee
Six pianists on this list are still very much alive, and active.
Jerome Rose, of course, is the founder of the IKIF, which should garner him at least a serious footnote in the cultural history of New York, in addition to the product of his artistic endeavors.
Seymour Lipkin continues to be very active as both teacher and performer at an advanced age. The same is true of Leon Fleischer, in my opinion, one of the most distinguished pianists of his generation.
Murray Perahia and Andre Watts are still very much in the prime of their careers.
And Byron Janis is still with us, though I’m not sure if he performs much these days.
As expected, Mr. Dubal paid tribute to his teacher Arthur Loesser, author of the book, Men, Women and Pianists. Mr. Loesser’s performance of the Field Nocturne, albeit on a 19th century piano, was so sensitive and interesting that it led me to rethink my lack of enthusiasm for Field’s music.
Raymond Lewenthal was a virtuoso who had a difficult life, but was absolutely fearless in his choice of tempi for some of the hardest works in the repertoire, such as this Alkan movement.
While I was not astonished that Mr. Dubal included Constance Keene, whom (like at least several other pianists on this list) he knew well, it was a very nice surprise that the performances he played were from a live recital CD on KASP Records, which I produced.
It was also good to see Leonard Shure, who is better remembered as an important teacher than a pianist, included here. There is a resurgence of interest in his performances, led by Dan Gorgoglione, who was present for the lecture.
While Sidney Foster, Claudette Sorel and Julius Katchen may not be well remembered today, others on the list are, such as Earl Wild, who played at the Festival, and was interviewed by David Dubal there. So is Rosalyn Tureck who, as Mr. Dubal pointed out, was a grand lady who was convinced that no one could play Bach like her.
Would any classically oriented person expect Art Tatum to appear on this list? Probably not, but no one would argue that his was not great playing. Including Horowitz, who was very impressed with him.
Indeed, this lecture did much to increase one’s appreciation of the richness of the American contribution to pianism. One could imagine a book on this subject starting with the people on this list. Mr. Dubal: Do you have time for a new project?
The Recorded Legacy of Vladimir Horowitz
A talk on this subject with Jon Samuels and Joseph Patrych at City College was reviewed for the Classical Music Guide (http://www.classicalmusicguide.com) by me in the “Classical Chatterbox” section on October 18th of last year. Sunday’s presentation also included David Dubal, as well as performances by three very fine young pianists, because the event at which they were to perform was rescheduled, or canceled. Although it did seem a bit strange to include them here, as they weren’t even born when Horowitz died, and only one of them performed a work in Horowitz’s repertoire, it was good to hear some live performances, and to be reminded again of the talent that is attracted to the Festival. To begin with them:
Salome Jordania gave a shimmering, pulsing, muscular interpretation of Chasse Neige, the twelfth of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes.
The Chromatic Etude of Debussy purred along ominously in the hands of Ting-I Lee.
Reed Tetzloff gave a fine, intense version of Scriabin’s Vers La Flamme, a work Horowitz played, though, according to Mr Dubal, he was “afraid” of it.
The bulk of the program dealt with talk about Horowitz and his recordings, very familiar to all three of the gentlemen discussing this. Mr. Dubal, of course, knew him very well personally, and visited him every week for over three years. Every time but once, during all those visits, Horowitz played for him. Mr. Samuels, a noted recording engineer and producer, did the monumental job of producing the new huge, SONY box set of Horowitz At Carnegie Hall Recitals (described at greater length in my previous article on the subject). Mr. Patrych is a well-known recording engineer and producer. And like the other two, extremely knowledgeable about historic recordings.
A long list of Horowitz performances at Carnegie Hall made between 1948 and 1966 was provided in the program, but there was only time, amidst the free-wheeling conversation, to hear a fraction of them.
Among other things, we heard that many composers and transcriptions were never again played by Horowitz at Carnegie Hall after his 1953-65 retirement from the stage, and that he is only known to have played the Stars and Stripes transcription 13 times ANYWHERE. Another fact, which I recall from the City College lecture, which gives an idea of what we are missing, is that Horowitz performed the Prokofiev Eighth Sonata at one of his several 1945 concerts at Carnegie Hall, of which no tape seems to exist. And he never recorded it.
David Dubal quoted some of the many pianists whom he interviewed for his book, “Remembering Horowitz,” and he said that Horowitz “cared about the performer at the center of it all,” as opposed to the idea that the performer is only the humble messenger of the score.
It was explained that Mr. Samuels “unedited” some of these performances, meaning that where several performances of the same work were spliced together, he restored unedited, and often thrilling if imperfect performances.
Very impressive, in showing how an old recording can be restored, was a demonstration of how Mr. Samuels dramatically improved the sound of Horowitz playing the Liszt Sonetto del Petrarca, No. 104. In explaining how he was able to do this he said that he had listened enough to the playing of Horowitz to have a sense of what the pianist was trying to do even when the original recording didn’t have the right sound, such as to add more bass when the bass was clearly weak (by Horowitzian standards).
The first two pieces we heard were the last two movements of Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition, and included what some of Horowitz’s detractors called the “graffiti” (lots of extra notes) which he added at the end. One was instantly reminded of the amazing energy, intensity and power for which the pianist was known.
A movement of Prokofiev’s Cinderella, which he never recorded otherwise, was absolutely delicious, and charming.
The 1966 version of Schumann’s Blumenstück was quite different from the 1975 version which was played at the City College lecture, yet equally “free-range” tempo-wise, and with beautiful sound, expressive, and emotionally surprisingly deep. In Horowitz’s hands, said Jon Samuels, this relatively small-scale piece is “a masterpiece.”
Balakirev’s Islamey, in Horowitz’s transcription (including what sounded like his trademark interlocking octaves near the end) was exotic, and presented in all its wildness and complexity.
The one piece which was also played at the earlier City College lecture was the Chopin B Minor Mazurka, a wonder in its huge scope of dynamics and emotion, which impressed me as much as last time.
The performance that blew me away more than any other on this occasion, and which Jon Samuels said justified this enormous project on its own, was Horowitz’s playing of Chopin's Grand Polonaise, Op. 22, from a 1950 recital. It had unbelievable energy, charm and imagination, remarkable spaciousness during cadenza-like passages, and yet other runs capable of producing whiplash. The playing of a “panther,” as David Dubal, described him.
Mr. Dubal also said that Horowitz’s sound lives on in his dreams.
Recitals That Linger...Alexander Schimpf and Alon Goldstein
On most days of the two-week International Keyboard Institute and Festival, a popular annual venture sponsored by Mannes College the New School for Music, there are two piano recitals each evening. So it was on Wednesday, the third full day of the festival. For the early-evening Prestige series, which mostly presents exceptional younger artists, the award-winning 32-year-old German pianist Alexander Schimpf played a varied program culminating with Beethoven’s mighty “Hammerklavier” Sonata. Later that evening, the Israeli pianist Alon Goldstein, admired for the refinement and imaginativeness of his performances, played a formidable program on the Masters series. The recitals were presented at the intimate concert hall of the Mannes College building on the Upper West Side, which seats just 275.
The institute draws student pianists who participate in workshops and master classes and, naturally, attend almost every recital. But this festival, now in its 16th season, has long attracted lots of concertgoers who love piano music and piano playing. I was not the only person who took in Wednesday night’s doubleheader.
As it happens, this could be the last festival. Mannes’s longtime building has been sold, and the college is relocating, starting in the fall of 2015, to a newly renovated space in Arnhold Hall at the New School in Greenwich Village. Next summer, the institution will be in the process of moving, so the keyboard festival will not take place, and its future is uncertain. This would be a loss to audiences in New York.
The recitals on Wednesday were fascinating. Mr. Schimpf, who won first prize in the prestigious Cleveland International Piano Competition in 2011, began his program with a vibrant, articulate account of Bach’s Toccata in E minor. He followed with the American premiere of “Augenblicke — eine Sammlung,” a 2008 work by the German composer Adrian Sieber. This rhapsodic, restless eight-minute piece veers between outbursts of hurtling, thick, dissonant chords and contrasting passages of somberly reflective, more lyrical music. In a swirling, seductive account of Debussy’s “L’Isle Joyeuse,” Mr. Schimpf conveyed exactly what kind of joy the visitors to the island of the work’s title were indulging in.
Beethoven’s late Sonata No. 29 in B flat (Op. 106), “Hammerklavier,” is the longest, most audacious and difficult of his sonatas. It is always an event to hear it performed, and there was much to admire in Mr. Schimpf’s account. He brought a light touch, bright sound and bracing energy to the monumental first movement. Still, he took a quick tempo that he had trouble controlling, which led to some rushed and jumbled passages. The same problem affected the scherzo. He was at his best, though, in the searching slow movement, played with magisterial elegance and sensitivity. And he reined in the tempo of the daunting final fugue just enough to let the tangle of crazed counterpoint come through and sound, well, excitingly crazy.
Mr. Goldstein, who is enjoying an international career, began his recital with a curiously cool, even careless, at times, performance of Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata, though he brought rippling allure to the work’s mesmerizing finale. He seemed a different pianist, though, in the next work, Beethoven’s “Les Adieux” Sonata. Here was a beautifully balanced approach to the score, refined yet impetuous, noble yet spirited.
After intermission, he excelled in two pieces by Liszt, the seldom-heard Paraphrase on Themes From Verdi’s “Aida” and the better-known Concert Paraphrase After Verdi’s “Rigoletto.” Liszt’s fantasies on operas are not just clever showpieces. Here is a great composer reveling in excerpts from two Verdi operas while also exploring the potential lying within the music. Mr. Goldstein played both works with brilliance and imagination, qualities he brought to Ravel’s “Une Barque sur l’Océan” from “Miroirs.”
He also played Three Études (2012) by the Israeli-born composer Avner Dorman, inventive and aptly demanding works. In the first, “Snakes and Ladders,” a rush of passagework in spiraling triplets is punctuated with stabbing, staggered chords. During the performance, the pages of Mr. Goldstein’s score on the piano’s music stand kept turning ahead on their own: The culprit seemed to be an overhead air-conditioner duct. Mr. Goldstein had to start over. When he finished, the audience broke into applause, and he took the occasion to comment on the work’s intriguing title. He said that he could detect lots of snakes in the music but no ladders. He also said that he had asked the composer whether these three pieces were études “for the piano or against the piano,” referring to their difficulty.
His comments were charming and helpful. He should speak more when he next plays in New York. This being perhaps the last Mannes summer festival, that future appearance will probably not be at this valuable event.
Bach: Toccata in E Minor, BWV 914
Sieber: Augenblicke – eine Sammlung (2008) – US Premiere
Debussy: L’isle Joyeuse
Beethoven: Sonata in B-Flat major, Op. 106 (“Hammerklavier”)
Although yesterday was only the fourth day of this year’s International Keyboard Institute and Festival, the recital by the young German pianist, Alexander Schimpf, was already the sixth recital of the always interesting annual concert series. Filling up the second half of July with more than enough programs to keep piano aficionados in New York City happy (as well as master classes and lectures) the Festival includes programs by pianists at all different stages of their careers, usually at least one or two major “headliners,” such as Marc-Andre Hamelin, and many, many artists of quality worth hearing.
Lang Lang may be a sensation all around the world, but I would not miss the annual recitals at the Festival of another Chinese pianist, Yuan Sheng (in my opinion an artist of greater depth), to hear him. Similarly, I look forward to hearing several other pianists whose previous performances at the Festival I admired, including Akiko Ebi and Massimiliano Ferrati.
All of the above is presided over by pianist Jerome Rose, the Founder and Director of the Festival, whose recital opens the series every year, and Festival Director Julie Kedersha.
One notes the passing of time from year to year at the Festival, such as the people who are no longer with us. Two important musicians who were always there in the past, but have left us during the last year, are Harris Goldsmith and German Diez. Harris was one of the most knowledgeable of critics, with whom I always enjoyed discussing, or debating the virtues of whichever pianist was performing. And Mr. Diez was a much beloved pedagogue, who always had the answer when I asked him “What was that last encore?” or “In what key is that piece?”
Alexander Schimpf, who has won numerous prizes and performed a lot both here and in Europe, made a very favorable impression from the beginning of the Bach Toccata, with finely nuanced and well-thought out dynamics. It was anything but dry! Though one could imagine the fugue being played a little slower, for slightly more clarity, one enjoyed the gusto with which he pulled it off.
The work of Adrian Sieber (the English title of which is “Moments – a Collection”) was a study in contrasts, from defiant outbursts to lugubrious hallucinations, though sometimes the one gradually developed into the other. One assumes there are very specific dynamic markings throughout the score. In any case, Mr. Schimpf played it with much seriousness of thought, and intensity.
The beginning of L’isle Joyeuse was fast, impetuous and playful but the following A Major section was appropriately slower, and sensuous. Transitions between sections were logical and effective, and he built up to a huge sound near the end. The audience reacted with great enthusiasm.
The second half of the recital was devoted to Beethoven’s longest, most difficult sonata, and Mr. Schimpf got through it impressively. The first movement was played at an ambitious tempo. With fine control he took us through the tricky passagework, the darting octaves, the gruff and sometimes awkward fugato in the development section and the odd conclusion, where Beethoven builds up tension by getting softer and softer until the final, loud chords.
Mr. Schimpf had just the right feel for the beginning of the second movement, very fast and light, but since one could not always hear the rapidly changing alto voice, one missed a bit of the effect. The long, slow movement was very fine, sensitive and expressive. It is not easy to hold it together convincingly, but he succeeded.
The rather bizarre introduction to the last movement, which, perhaps, gives us an idea of Beethoven improvising, was effectively and dramatically played, and led into an impressive performance of one of the most miserably difficult things the composer ever wrote, the concluding fugue. Mr. Schimpf played it with remarkable clarity, again mastering the tricky leaps, octaves, trills and other obstacles Beethoven constructed for (or perhaps one should say, against) the pianist. The contrasting, slow D Major section was reverently played and, together with all the Sturm und Drang of the rest of the movement, convinced one that this performance was that of a very fine artist.
Key Krazy: Notes from a Piano Extravaganza
Jerome Rose presides over the annual piano extravaganza at Mannes College. More formally, this extravaganza is the International Keyboard Institute & Festival, or IKIF. Rose is its founder and director. IKIF takes place in the second half of July. And, every year, Rose gives the opening recital.
This year, he played four sonatas of Beethoven, all of them having nicknames: not “Moonlight,” “Pastoral,” “Tempest,” and “Hammerklavier,” but “Pathétique,” “Waldstein,” “Les Adieux,” and “Appassionata.” All 32 of Beethoven’s piano sonatas are special, really, but those with nicknames are thought to be extra-special. This is not entirely without reason.
Rose plays with utter confidence, knowing what he wants to do, and going ahead and doing it. He also plays with due emotion. Recently, a musician friend of mine said to me, “My father says that music ought to be played with feeling. We don’t use the word ‘feeling’ much. We’re a little afraid of it, I think. Or we may look down on it. But my father’s right, you know.” Yes, he is.
Moreover, Rose plays with a big, fat, virile sound. You may not get Mitsuko Uchida-like delicacy from him. But the bigger playing has its compensations. When this pianist’s fingers stumble, he simply plows ahead, heedless, pursuing his musical purpose. Daniel Barenboim has this quality as well. Rose is a big-picture man, and if some of the details fall by the way, so be it.
On the stage at Mannes, he was especially good in Beethoven’s slow movements. The one from the “Pathétique” was blessedly unlagging, a proper Beethoven song. And the one from the “Waldstein” was superbly lush and full. The sonata ended with a charge, provoking a roar from the audience.
IKIF is celebrating its 15th year, a veritable institution here in New York. It is appreciated, and attended, by pianists and piano cognoscenti all over town, and from out of town. There is nothing else like it. Students get taught. Professionals give recitals. And the vast piano repertory is explored. True, Rose played four canonical sonatas. But IKIF typically gives you music from way off the beaten path.
Take the recital by Steven Mayer, who, like Rose, is an American. He began with a piece by Thalberg—Sigismond Thalberg, a piano virtuoso born near Geneva in 1812. This was his Fantasy on Themes from Rossini’s Mosè. Mayer continued with a piece by a famous and great composer: Schumann. But the piece was a relative rarity, Schumann’s Sonata in F-sharp minor, Op. 11.
In my judgment, we would never hear this piece at all if it were not by a great composer. If it were by, say, a Robert Schumacher, rather than Robert Schumann, it would be in the dustbin, and understandably so.
The second half of Mayer’s program was all-American—beginning with Silver Spring, by William Mason, whose dates are 1829 to 1908. This is not an immortal piece (though it is still being played in 2013, isn’t it?). But I’m glad to have heard it. And where else could you, besides IKIF?
Mayer then played two pieces of Louis Moreau Gottschalk, the first of them being his Pasquinade, a purely American piece, snappy and delightful. The second piece is much different: The Last Hope, ethereally beautiful. Mayer played it just this way. Incidentally, someone made Gottschalk’s melody into a hymn: “Day by day the manna fell . . .”
Speaking of hymns, Mayer then played the third movement of Ives’s “Concord” Sonata, which incorporates a hymn we know as “Missionary Chant.” Mayer played this music with maturity.
And he ended his printed program with “solos”—treatments, arrangements, versions, improvisations, call them what you will—by Art Tatum, the jazz great. The first of these was one of his most famous: Humoresque. What Tatum did with Dvorak’s ditty, Dvorak would love, I think. Did Mayer play the Tatum pieces with the limpidity and charm of the master himself? That is an unfair question. It’s enough that Mayer pays homage, and pays it well.
He gave the audience an encore: It was, if I understand correctly, a Fats Waller treatment of “Ain’t Nobody’s Business,” otherwise known as “Tain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do.” The piano repertory is wide and wonderful, and Jerome Rose’s festival reminds a person of that fact.
A Pianist With 176 Keys to Play With
Some major recitalists seem to arrive at marquee status overnight, their fame achieved — or thrust upon them — in a heated rush. For others, renown comes more slowly, built up through glowing reviews and word of mouth. The French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, who performed at Mannes College the New School for Music on Saturday night, is a fine example of this second way.
Touted as the conductor Georg Solti’s last great discovery after an Orchestra of Paris debut in 1995, Mr. Bavouzet had played New York two years earlier, in a Young Concert Artists recital. By 2005, he could fill the Frick Collection’s intimate concert chamber with cognoscenti. Now his buzz is blossoming into something substantial. He plays in major halls and appears with top-rank orchestras; his Debussy and Haydn recordings for Chandos have reaped impressive awards.
This week, Mr. Bavouzet returns to the Mostly Mozart Festival, where he will play Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto with the festival orchestra on Tuesday and Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, he will present Debussy’s second book of Préludes in the Kaplan Penthouse, for the popular series A Little Night Music.
As a preface to those engagements, Mr. Bavouzet performed Beethoven and Debussy at Mannes, in the final recital of the International Keyboard Institute and Festival. That he had been booked for the finale of a series that appeals to demanding pianophiles seemed significant, and the hall was filled.
Before the concert, Jerome Rose, the festival’s founder and director, announced that Mr. Bavouzet would be playing two instruments: a Yamaha for the Beethoven, a Steinway for the Debussy. With the Sonata in D minor (Op. 31, No. 2, “Tempest”), Mr. Bavouzet offered a Beethoven sharply projected and deftly contrasted, abetted by the Yamaha’s penetrating tone.
He missed a few notes early on, but settled quickly into security for an Adagio first haunted, then affectionate, followed with a frolicsome Allegretto. In the Sonata in C (Op. 53, “Waldstein”), his tempo for the opening Allegro con brio was brisk, yet brilliantly controlled, with thundering climaxes and an affirmative tone. As a gracious Adagio molto segued into an animated Rondo, you were reminded not just of how revolutionary Beethoven once was but how idiosyncratic and personal his music remains.
The darker, warmer tone of the Steinway suited Mr. Bavouzet’s rendition of Debussy’s Préludes, Book 1, in which a painterly range of tones and phrasings evoked illumination and fancy without sacrificing integrity. I can’t recall a more gripping performance of “La Cathédrale Engloutie” (“The Submerged Cathedral”), the high point of an account both exacting and spontaneous. A rousing ovation earned a single encore: a sparkling “Feux d’Artifice” (“Fireworks”), from Debussy’s second book of Préludes.
Full Range of Heat at Summer Festival
Of the many concerts presented by the International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Mannes College the New School for Music each summer, the performances of the pianist Marc-André Hamelin are invariably among the most highly anticipated. Accordingly, this year’s Hamelin recital, on Wednesday, drew an overflow crowd of enthusiasts.
Mr. Hamelin’s career path has been unusual, geared more toward connoisseurs than to big audiences. He took a sort of backdoor to widespread recognition, developing a huge repertory and technique on — or outside — the margins of the canon, tirelessly seeking out big bravura works by Romantic and 20th-century composers who were important to the history of pianism but remain somewhat obscure today.
Perhaps the most elegant and least ostentatious of virtuosos, Mr. Hamelin produces prodigies of sound seemingly without effort or concern. He has found his way into more conventional repertory in recent years, showing in particular a welcome interest in Haydn, but he remains a Romantic at heart.
He opened his program here with Haydn’s Sonata in C minor (Hob. XVI:20), and Haydn came off as a proto-Romantic, with fluid pedaling in lyrical moments and dramatic tension in pauses and changes of direction. Not that Mr. Hamelin imposed himself on Haydn. To the contrary, knowing the power Mr. Hamelin was holding in reserve, you had to be impressed — as in his Haydn recordings — with the extraordinary restraint in this nonlabor of love.
Mr. Hamelin was thoroughly in his element in Scriabin’s Sonata No. 3 in F sharp minor, providing a full range of colors and, even before the Presto con fuoco finale, a blazing intensity.
But it was in Schubert’s Sonata in B flat (D. 960) that Mr. Hamelin showed the fullest mastery, giving an epic cast to the first movement and showing a tender sensibility in the second. You knew from the outset, with Mr. Hamelin stressing the separation of the last note of the opening phrase from the slurred notes before, that this would be a gently activist interpretation and reconsideration, and it brimmed with subtleties throughout — little accents of timing, acute attention to harmonic shifts.
But one harmonic shift was far from subtle: the hushed lurch into C sharp minor at the start of the first-movement development seemed positively epochal, appropriately so in Mr. Hamelin’s grand concept of the movement. Many similarly stunning moments stood out from the subtle ones.
The discerning audience, standing and shouting, all but begged for an encore. None came.
Massimiliano Ferrati Recital
Massimiliano Ferrati, a prize-winning pianist who has performed throughout Europe, the United States and Israel gave a delightful and impressive recital last night.
He does a few unusual things. For instance, he sat down at the beginning to play the Schubert Moments Musicaux, and never got up to bow, or receive applause till the conclusion of the first half of the program. He used the end of the last Schubert work, in A-Flat Major, as a dominant to go straight into the Chopin Nocturne, which is in D-Flat Major. And from there, with only a brief pause, he moved directly into the Second Scherzo of Chopin, in the relative minor key (B-Flat Minor) of the Nocturne. All of which was unorthodox, but harmonically effective. He also makes a lot of faces (presumably expressing suffering, ecstasy, etc.) while performing.
But the playing is wonderful.
One could tell from the way that he threw the opening phrase of the first Schubert piece up in the air that this is a musician whose playing is lyrical, and who understands pacing. Several friends commented on his beautiful tone. High points of the Schubert, for this listener, included the dark color in which he played the G Minor part of the middle section of the first piece, the way he made the third piece sound both quirky and stately, and his heartfelt playing in the last piece, which displayed his masterful control of subtle dynamic shadings.
Mr. Ferrati’s performance of the Chopin Nocturne was impassioned yet sensitive, and he dazzled his audience with the run that all pianists listen for in the middle of that work. The B-Flat Minor Scherzo, in the wrong hands, sometimes becomes sectionalized. Not so with Mr. Ferrati, who kept it continuously afloat with his drive and enthusiasm, luxuriating in the beautiful melody which is first heard on the second page, and flying through the E Major section.
Mr. Ferrati’s playing of Pictures at an Exhibition was powerful and dramatic, yet full of subtleties, owing to his wonderful ear for color (he often tries to control tiny little gradations of sound, and usually gets them), and his aforementioned understanding of pacing. The recurring Promenade always set the tone for the next “exhibit” and there was a huge range of sound, resulting from his fine musical instincts, and pianistic ability. The Old Castle sounded exotic and far-off, Tuilleries was charming, the Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks was very fast, light, even funny, and the Catacombs was slow, indeed, and spooky. Baba Yaga was dramatically, though not tonally brutal, and Mr. Ferrati played the octaves, and jumps with ease. The theme of the Great Gate of Kiev was played surprisingly softly the first time, yet led, of course, to the dramatic ending, featuring, as always, Mr. Ferrati’s big, bronze tone.
For an encore Mr. Ferrati played the Rachmaninoff Etude-Tableaux in E-Flat Minor, Op. 33, No. 5. It was highly animated, and Mr. Ferrati wrung every bit of drama from it.
This is a pianist I would happily hear again.
David Dubal Lecture - Verdi and Wagner: The Operatic Piano
The pianist, author and radio personality David Dubal, a man so turned on by the arts and so turned off by technology that he sometimes remembers his email address as being at G Major, rather than GMail dot com, has been a lecturer at the IKIF since it started. Frequently, the subject of his annual lecture is a composer whose bicentennial is being observed. Thus, he spoke this time about the very contrasting figures of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner. The program included brief excerpts of recordings of their music, and some terrific live performances as well.
We were told by Mr. Dubal that the ever selfish and egotistical Wagner declared himself the greatest poet of the 19th century, and W.H. Auden called Wagner the greatest genius who ever lived. Indeed, his toxic blend of myths, mysticism and exotic (not to mention erotic) harmonies led Wagner to have an enormous influence over the art of his time, and many artists had what Arthur Rubinstein called "Wagneritis."
Verdi, on the other hand, considered Shakespeare the central god of the human race. He loved the land, and he loved art, especially the creative process. He was very active in working for the unification of Italy.
And whereas Wagner derided Verdi, Verdi respected Wagner's gifts. The two men, incidentally, never met.
Mr. Dubal quoted Verdi as saying "No opera can be sensible, because no one sings when he feels sensible!". Mr. Dubal also said that we can understand nations better through the operas they produce.
Mr. Dubal warned us to beware of the failed artist. He said that Hitler gave up painting after he heard Wagner's opera, Rienzi, and that the score of Rienzi was found in the bunker where Hitler committed suicide.
Following a bit of a recording of the Ride of the Valkyries, from Die Walküre of Wagner, we heard Maria Callas sing, with incredible agility and charisma, Sempre Libera, from Verdi's La Traviata, with Giuseppe di Stefano. Later, we heard the unique timbre of the voice of Luciano Pavarotti, in an aria from Aida, and still later, the gorgeous voice of Zinka Milanov, singing Pace, Pace Mio Dio, from La Forza del Destino.
All of the live performances were very fine, indeed.
Joseph Smith played the C Major Album Leaf of Wagner, which was lovely. The piece is very much Wagnerian, if on a smaller scale than we hear in his operas, with virtually continuous ornamentation and restlessness, and an almost endearing (Can one call anything of Wagner's endearing?!) resistance of simplicity. It also reminded me of the beautiful recording of Wagner's Albumblatt Sonata in A-Flat Major by my teacher, Bruce Hungerford. The two pieces have some resemblance to one another, though Mr. Smith later told me he thinks the Sonata is too long.
Aviva Aranovich gave a powerful performance of the Miserere from the Liszt transcription of Verdi's Il Trovatore. Though she pummeled the bass to great dramatic effect, she never produced a harsh sound, and her command of the complicated passagework was always assured.
Jeremy Jordan, a 21 year old student of Mr. Dubal from Chicago, played his own transcription of the Immolation Scene from Götterdämmerung. It was brilliant, ingenious and, one could say, neo-Lisztian, ranging, emotionally and dynamically, from a bleak, end of the world mood to a huge sound, and using every technical device available to the virtuoso.
The final performer was Anna Shelest, playing the Wagner/Liszt Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. She was sensational! One couldn't imagine this music played any better. It was powerful yet sensitive, passionate, but with gorgeous, ethereal sections filled with that "drugged" calm that is often part of Wagner's music.
What will be the subject(s) of Mr. Dubal's lecture next year? The 100th anniversary of the birth of Irving Fine? The 150th of Richard Strauss? The 300th of CPE Bach and Christoph Willibald Gluck? Mr. Dubal will certainly come up with something. Then, of course, in 2015 it will be time for the Earl Wild Centennial!
Program in Honor of David Dubal
David Dubal is a well-known pianist, teacher, author, artist and radio personality. He currently has two weekly radio programs about the piano, and he has probably known, heard and interviewed every pianist of any importance who has come through New York in the last 30 or 40 years. He has won both the Emmy and the Peabody Awards for his writings. On this occasion he sat on stage with his long-time friend, pianist Jerome Rose, talking about his life, and his experiences dealing with so many different pianists. As usual, at the Festival, the audience consisted of numerous pianists, pedagogues, critics and music lovers. The daughters of Artur Rubinstein could be seen sitting down the aisle from the granddaughter of Artur Schnabel.
Mr. Dubal grew up in Cleveland, in an unmusical family. His first teacher was not very good, he said, and he later studied with a lady whose name I did not catch, but who was an interesting personality, and at whose house he found writings of the famous critic, James Huneker. (Mr. Huneker, incidentally died on February 9th, 1921, the date on which the pianist Constance Keene was born.)
Later, Mr. Dubal studied with the pianist Arthur Loesser, who had the most brilliant mind Mr. Dubal says he has ever encountered. In addition to being a wonderful pianist (Mr. Dubal features him quite often on his programs) Loesser had other talents. He was a chemist, and, as a major in the army during World War II, he decoded Japanese messages. Mr. Dubal described him as kind and generous.
The visual arts have also been important to Mr. Dubal all his life, and he said he struggles to get his students at Juilliard to visit museums, and become more widely cultured, though they say they have no time; they must always practice more! But, in fact, art was important to some very important pianists, including Horowitz, who collected art, and Rubinstein, who loved to visit museums when he travelled. This also reminded me of a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art when I was a teenager with my mother and Ross Parmenter, the long-time Music Editor of the New York Times, and a close family friend, who confirmed my suspicion that, yes, that man studying that statue over there was indeed Mieczyslaw Horszowski.
A visual display of some of Mr. Dubal's many paintings was shown on the screen, accompanied by his playing of music by Schubert, John Field, and a particularly charming performance of a Glazunov waltz. Later in the program we also heard Mr. Dubal's recordings of two works of Dohnanyi, a strong and elegant reading of his Postludium followed by a bravura performance of La Pluie des Perles.
From Cleveland Mr. Dubal came to New York to study with Josef Raieff at the Juilliard School. One of his first teaching jobs was at the School for the Blind on Pelham Parkway in the Bronx, where his boss was a feisty but beloved musician and teacher named Elizabeth Thode, whom I also had the pleasure of knowing.
After that Mr. Dubal got into radio, spending 20 years at WNCN, including during the difficult time the station was temporarily replaced by a rock station, and later at WQXR and other stations, such as WWFM. His reputation was at least partially gained by his wide knowledge, and some of that from his staying late at work, studying scores. This extensive study also explains why, as he said, he loves so much repertoire.
There were some interesting ideas tossed back and forth between Jerome Rose and David Dubal about what great pianists have in common, and what they are seeking. Mr. Dubal: "Great pianists all have ambition, talent, vision and they work hard." Mr. Rose: "Pianists are aiming for a life transcendant, and hoping to create something transcendental."
Illuminating excerpts from Mr. Dubal's interviews with Claudio Arrau and Alfred Brendel were heard. but much of the last segment of this two hour program was devoted to the subject of Vladimir Horowitz, whom Mr. Dubal knew well, and visited weekly for some years. We heard Horowitz, in his inimitable voice (and accent) read a preface to Scarlatti's works, written by the composer, and also express his opinions on playing Scarlatti on the piano. And then Mr. Dubal read an extensive section of his latest book about Horowitz, describing the first time he met the great pianist, in 1979, arriving with two colleagues to tape an interview.
People who do not remember those days may not know what a reputation Horowitz and his wife, Wanda had. When one had an "audience" with them, it seems, one had to appear exactly on time, dress in a certain manner (including a tie and jacket for men) and guests were on tenterhooks about displeasing them in any way, for fear of the consequences. It was quite hilarious to hear Mr. Dubal read the story of this first meeting.
Although he did not wear a tie, Mr. Dubal was not thrown out. But there were other problems that could not be foreseen.
Horowitz didn't want the tape recorder in a place where he could see it, so it had to be hidden away.
Both of the Horowitzes regularly made strange noises with their throats, which Mr. Dubal realized, would all have to be painstakingly edited out of the interview.
At one point they discussed Horowitz's having just learned the Schumann Humoreske. "Not bad for an old man!" bragged the 76 year old Horowitz.
"But Volodya!" said Wanda. "Everyone knows you learned that piece in 1933!"
This exchange would also have to be edited out.
It got worse.
When Mr. Dubal thought he had finally gained the upper hand in controlling the interview Mrs. Horowitz sniffed, and said "Volodya! Did you step in dog doo on your walk today?" After which there was inspection of everyone's shoes!
Near the end of the session, Mr. Dubal expressed the idea that Beethoven was "the greatest single comprehensive artist on the planet" and that the piano is "the most fantastic shrine to the human spirit."
Afterwards, Mr. Dubal, who enjoys promoting his books, and art, moved to the lobby, to autograph books for his fans. But he did so in a relaxed, friendly manner. It occurred to me that he had probably not taken a course in more aggressive, targeted marketing from another pianist he knew and interviewed, Abram Chasins, who, his weak back notwithstanding, was capable of hauling a large crate filled with copies of his latest book into the living room, where his wife was holding a master class.
Tomorrow evening David Dubal will give a lecture entitled Verdi and Wagner: The Operatic Piano. I am sure it will be entertaining, enlightening and provocative, just the way David Dubal likes it.
Jed Distler Lecture
Jed Distler is an impressive and versatile composer and pianist. Also a highly regarded critic whose articles appear in Gramophone and Classicstoday.com, he is very knowledgeable about historic recordings of pianists, and the connection between composers and pianists is something he's thought about from at least several points of view.
For instance, he spoke of a work for toy piano which he wrote for Margaret Leng Tan, and which she recorded. At a later time he was to perform it himself, and took along her recording to rehearsals, to keep certain things in mind. Then, at one point, he said to himself "Wait a minute! I wrote that!" And he realized he was, of course, not bound by her way of playing it. (He also told a story of Rachmaninoff, in 1939, preparing to record his own D Minor Piano Concerto and asking what tempi Horowitz had used for his recording!)
In a very entertaining and easy-going manner Mr. Distler played excerpts of many recordings, and took some questions. To the question "Does a composer necessarily play his own music the best?" the answer seemed to be: Not necessarily. (This listener would quickly agree, preferring the Horowitz interpretation of one of Medtner's Fairy Tales to that of the composer.)
Naturally, Rachmaninoff, of whom Mr. Distler said "his creative and recreative gifts performed on a high level of equality" had to be part of such a program. He was heard performing his own Etude-Tableaux in E-Flat Major, Op. 33, No. 7, and in the C-Sharp Minor Waltz of Chopin, the latter played with nobility and elegance throughout, displaying a remarkable combination of freedom and discipline.
The longest ago born composer heard on this program was Camille Saint-Saens (born 1835), playing, at the age of 84, the beginning of his Second Piano Concerto with an ease, and technique that would be impressive at any age.
But the oldest recording played was a 1903 reading of Edvard Grieg (born 1843)playing the Minuet movement of his E Minor Piano Sonata. The 110 year old performance had a real feeling of spontaneity, a very free use of rhythm and a grand ending.
Two composers were heard playing parts of Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata, Nicolai Medtner and Frederic Rzewski, the latter of whom inserted an improvisation on an Italian resistance song into the middle of his performance. (Mr. Distler cautioned students that this is NOT a good idea to imitate at auditions!)
The 27 year old Leonard Bernstein was heard in his first recording, as piano soloist and conductor in a very spirited reading of the Ravel G Major Concerto with the Philharmonia Orchestra.
Three performances not yet mentioned particularly impressed this listener.
We heard the C Minor and then the C Major Three-Part Inventions of Bach played with great clarity, warmth and beauty of sound. Mr. Distler asked the audience to guess which composer was the artist. The correct answer was Lukas Foss.
A wonderful though incomplete recording of Chopin's C-Sharp Minor Nocturne was played, in 1939, by Bela Bartok, whom Charles Rosen described as "a 20th century composer and a 19th century pianist." Achingly slow and expressive at the beginning, with such 19th century habits as hands not always played together, it was all but spell-binding through to the unfortunate moment where it ended, because of lack of space on the disc on which it was made.
One thinks of the Godowsky transcriptions of the Chopin etudes as super-brilliant showpieces, which they are. But the last recording Mr. Distler played was more than that. We heard Robert Helps' performance of the Godowsky Study No. 45, based on one of the Nouvelles Etudes, transposed to E Major. In addition to bringing out fascinating inner voices this work, in the middle, became amazingly spacious and expressive, and, one would even say, deep.
It was a most enjoyable, and educational session.
Mykola Suk Recital
Mykola Suk is a Ukrainian-born pianist who was the First Prize and Gold Medal winner at the 1971 International Liszt-Bartok Competition in Budapest. He received his doctorate from the Moscow State Conservatory, has since performed on four continents, and now lives in Las Vegas, where he is in charge of keyboard studies at the Music Department of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
His style of playing, in Brahms, at least, seems somewhat freewheeling and spontaneous, though tonally understated much of the time. Understated to the point that I occasionally wondered about the voicing of the treble of the instrument he played. (I had not heard that particular piano at any of the previous concerts this week.) And yet, he could sometimes produce a lovely and robust tone in treble melodies, so perhaps he just chose to emphasize them less than other pianists.
The two Rhapsodies were powerful, with the rhythm of the second played a little straighter than that of the first.
The D Major Variations were played in a reverent manner, yet with dark colors and outbursts where appropriate.
The three Intermezzi of Op. 119 had some lovely, sensitive ideas, though this listener would have preferred less fluctuations in tempo.
Mr. Suk's performance of the Handel Variations was neither the cleanest nor the most powerful presentation of this work though, in this case, his occasional holding back of tempi produced powerful, and dramatically effective results.
For an encore Mr. Suk played the B-Flat Minor Intermezzo, Op. 117, No. 2, which this listener considered the most impressively played piece on the program. Expansive, and with full-bodied tone, it was a lovely way to conclude the concert.
Yuan Sheng Recital
Which model should one use for playing Bach on the piano? Edwin Fischer? Samuel Feinberg? Dinu Lipatti? Glenn Gould? Rosalyn Tureck? How about Yuan Sheng?
Yuan Sheng is a young Chinese and American trained artist whose annual recitals at the Festival I never miss. One of the impressive aspects about him is his versatility. Last year he gave a ravishing program of Debussy and Ravel. In other years he has played excellent recitals dedicated to the music of Chopin. And his program two years ago, consisting of the Bach Goldberg Variations, has to count as one of THE memorable experiences in my many years of attending concerts.
He has technique, he always produces a good tone (and he makes one think that this music was written for the modern piano), he has ideas and he has ears, so that the music always has motion and direction, even when he's playing very slowly. These days he's playing some movements without any pedal, and doing a bit more ornamentation than before. Some people may prefer a bit less of the latter, though I enjoyed it. Perhaps the most striking example of his creative ornamentation was in the return to Menuet I of Partita No. 1, where he changed to a triplet rhythm. Like the fine musician he is, any repeat always included some slight, interesting shift, in dynamics, expression or even phrasing. His daring was made clear in the wicked speed at which he played the concluding Gigue.
Partita No. 3, perhaps less known to some people than Partita No. 1, featured a beautifully played Sarabande (actually that could be said of how he played all the Sarabandes). He notched up the speed in each of the last three movements, from the rollicking Burlesca, through the spirited Scherzo, and finally in the Gigue, which was played with wonderful clarity.
Mr. Sheng held one's attention throughout the C Minor Toccata from the declamatory opening through the countless, though never boring repetitions of the fugue motive (he used an especially lovely sound color when it went into E-Flat Major), to the shocking F Minor chord on the last page, and then to the brilliant ending.
Mr. Sheng fought his way through some slight memory problems in the first movement of the Overture in the French Style, despite which it came off as an invigorating romp. The rest of this work was wonderfully played. Especially notable was the charm of the Gavottes, his presentation of the contrasting Passepieds, the expansiveness of the Sarabande and the last movement, the Echo, in which he would switch back and forth between two different levels of sound, sometimes in mid-melody, but always in a logical manner.
Mr. Sheng's encore was the theme of the Goldberg Variations. Played with seemingly spontaneous pacing (probably achieved by having practiced it a million times), every nuance filled with color and deep expression, it left nothing to be desired.
One must assume that Rosalyn Tureck, with whom Mr. Sheng studied, would be proud.
2 Pianists, One Low-Key, One Fiery
The pianists Andrew Tyson and Ilya Yakushev don’t look all that different when they sit at their instrument. Both bow their heads a bit toward the keys and keep their hands on the flattish side.
While any physical distinctions between their postures are in minor details — Mr. Yakushev’s hands are perhaps slightly more arched — they have little in common as presences. Calm, boyish and lanky, Mr. Tyson seems to murmur to himself as he plays. Mr. Yakushev, more solid-looking and intense, with close-cropped blond hair and a goatee, smiles, sometimes broadly.
The effects of their respective artistries, too, were quite different at Mannes College the New School for Music on Monday, when they shared the bill on the second evening of the International Keyboard Institute and Festival.
Marking the 15th anniversary of its founding, the two-week festival includes twice-daily recitals in addition to lectures, master classes and a minicompetition. The Prestige Series of concerts, at 6 p.m., features rising artists, and the Masters Series, at 8:30, presents more established pianists.
Comparing Mr. Tyson (who had the earlier slot) and Mr. Yakushev, then, is more or less arbitrary. They were presumably paired on the same day for no reason other than scheduling convenience. But it is only natural to look in tandem at two recitals performed back to back, particularly two that were so different in mood.
Mr. Tyson’s technique is basically secure. But while his playing on Monday in a program of Chopin’s music was carefully considered and flexible, with ample rubato throughout, that well-calibrated moderation sometimes felt like blandness. He often fell somewhere between cool and hot, particularly in a series of five mazurkas and a rendition of the Scherzo No. 4 in E in which the contrasting moods could have been more sharply defined.
The Sonata No. 3 in B minor, which followed the intermission, found him at his best, with the third-movement Largo benefiting from his restraint; he gave a sense of the music’s big tidal phrases, fading and reconstituting. But even in that work, I wanted more of a feeling of relief, of return, at the recapitulation of the theme in the first movement. His modesty — an unusual quality in a concert pianist — extended to his encore, an unassuming Chopin prelude that lasted less than a minute.
No one would confuse Mr. Yakushev for bland. He cultivates a fiery, impetuous persona, beginning pieces before the applause has died down and leaping to his feet before the final note has ended. His tone was authoritatively even in the first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata, and his control seemed to wane only slightly in the work’s finale, when the beat should underlie even the most furious passages.
He was aided by a Yamaha instrument that sounded mellower than the Steinway used by Mr. Tyson and was able to withstand the crashes of Prokofiev’s First and Second Sonatas without blaring. Mr. Yakushev played with both energy and brash humor, and in Schumann’s “Carnaval” collection, he was febrile, ready to pounce but delicate in the gently fluttering “Reconnaissance.”
Nikolai Demidenko Recital
It's a wonderful thing when a recital begins with two works played so beautifully that you'll be content if you never hear them done any better. Nikolai Demidenko, a tall, thin gentleman in his fifties with a beard, and a professorial demeanor lives and breathes these works of Medtner with such naturalness that everything seems exactly as it should be. He plays with ease (he never seems to struggle with the instrument), produces a warm and gorgeous tone, and conveys the Russian wistfulness, poignancy and every other emotion inherent in this music.
The Corelli Variations of Rachmaninoff were played a bit slower than one might hear them in other performances. This seemed to be a rather "classical" performance of a great Romantic work, rhythmically rather straight, and having great clarity, yet finding interesting elements on which to focus, such as the play between two voices in one of the earlier variations, a sense of brooding in another, and great swells of sound in a third.
In the Berceuse of Chopin I was reminded of something I had been less consciously aware of in the Medtner. Which is that in successful performances of the music of either, and especially Chopin, there is a poetry to the beat, a uniting of rubato with the basic pulse, so that the beat is neither a chaos nor a prosaic "ein, zwei, drei." The real challenge of the Berceuse is not playing the fast filigree passages, which anyone who is now a pianist can easily do, but in finding a pacing which is natural and convincing. This Mr. Demidenko did wonderfully. That he found other lovely details to emphasize, such as little bells when playing A-Flats and C-Flats on the last page, added to the magical, almost weightless effect.
The Polonaise-Fantasie, which Mr. Demidenko chose to play immediately after the Berceuse, without a pause, received a strong performance with many shadings, and a feeling of spontaneity in the quasi-recitative sections. The B Major middle section received a spacious, stately reading.
The B-Flat Minor Sonata reminded one what a fine Romantic as well as individual pianist Mr. Demidenko is. He is not trying to out-horowitz Horowitz. Which is refreshing. His tempi for the first two movements were a bit slower than that of other pianists, but perfectly convincing for this listener, full of deep feeling, beautiful tone and natural flow. The Funeral March had some interesting effects. Mr. Demidenko chose to lean on fourth beats, perhaps to shove on into the next measure. And in the D-Flat middle section, instead of using lots of pedal, and playing the left hand as an accompaniment to the right, he played the two hands rather as a duet, using hardly any pedal. In the last movement, perhaps the strangest, most abstract piece Chopin ever wrote, Mr. Demidenko stayed within a fairly narrow frame of volume but succeeded in giving shape to something which seems almost formless.
Warmly received by the audience, Mr. Demidenko played two encores. He first gave an absolutely smashing (though with beautiful tone) reading of Medtner's B Minor Fairy Tale, Op. 20, No. 2, and then played a surprisingly perky performance of the Bach/Busoni Wachet Auf.
Jerome Rose Recital
It's the middle of July, which means it's time for the International Keyboard Institute and Festival, a very welcome feature of summer for lovers of the piano and its repertoire. Featuring two weeks of two recitals almost every day given by wonderful artists at different stages of their careers, masterclasses, lectures and a competition, it is a significant cultural event in the life of New York City.
Many of the people who attend the Festival are people of major accomplishment in music, teachers, performers and critics. So are some of the students who attend the masterclasses. I met one such "student" before this evening's recital, who came here from England. He has already recorded the Chopin Piano Concerti, will soon perform or record all of the Rachmaninoff Concerti and already has an international career playing recitals. This, to me, sounds like the description of a finished artist, as I am sure this young man (whom I have not yet had the pleasure of hearing) already is.
And then there are the fans of the Festival. At the recital this evening I sat next to a gentleman whom I met last year. He came here again from Colorado because he said, he "wouldn't miss" the Festival. He also said he is a big fan of Jerome Rose, the Founder of the Festival, because he so successfully shows what "wild and crazy guys" Beethoven and Schumann were. (Schumann was the featured composer on Mr. Rose's recital last year.)
As an aside, hearing Mr. Rose, a distinguished member of the piano faculty of Mannes College, perform a Beethoven recital at Mannes reminded me how many other members of its faculty have also been important Beethoven pianists. One thinks of Richard Goode, Claude Frank, Bruce Hungerford.....
Mr. Rose, a student of Adolph Baller, Leonard Shure and Rudolf Serkin, has been before the public for over 50 years. He is a strong musical personality, still has remarkable physical strength, and he never takes the easy way out. Though there was some rushing in this program there was a great deal to admire. Mr. Rose knows these difficult works very well, and whether everything was technically perfect or not the shape of phrases was always clear, as was the architecture of each movement. Some highlights:
In the last movement of the Pathetique Sonata one could appreciate the playful as well as the threatening elements, and the beautiful A-Flat chorale theme.
In the first movement of the Waldstein Sonata the drumroll leading to the recapitulation was very exciting, as was the way Mr. Rose "lassooed" the end of the C Minor section of the last movement.
Notable in Les Adieux were the noble, dignified playing of the introduction, in the first movement, the pensive mood of the slow movement and the exuberance at the end of the last movement.
The first movement of the Appassionata successfully conveyed feelings of urgency and even ruthlessness, though as usual, Mr. Rose's tone was never harsh. The slow movement was beautifully played, and was followed by a dramatic transition into the last movement, which piled one climax upon another to the end. It was also noteworthy what a huge sound Mr. Rose produced at the conclusions of the first and last movements.
A gracious and flowing performance of the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata served as an encore, with Mr. Rose thanking the capacity audience for coming, and inviting them to attend the Festival's many other events.
Jerome Rose Recital - IKIF
Brahms – Rhapsody in E-Flat Major, Op. 119, No. 4
Schumann – Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6
Schumann – Kreisleriana, Op. 16
The hot place to be this evening was at Jerome Rose’s piano recital at Mannes College, and not only because of the hall’s non-functioning air-conditioning system. Mr. Rose gave a powerful performance of music which no one who’s not a terrific pianist would even think to present.
Mr. Rose’s recital always opens the two week International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Mannes College, which he founded. With two recitals almost every day given by pianists at all different stages of their careers, masterclasses, and a competition, the Festival comes along in the second half of July, a traditionally “slow” time in New York for concerts, and fills it with a wide array of delights for those who love the piano, and the classical piano repertoire.
Also featured are special programs in memory of great pianists, and composers for the piano. At least one of these will be devoted this year to Claude Debussy, who was born 150 years ago, and another to Arthur Rubinstein, born 125 years ago. (Indeed, it is hard to believe that the two were only 25 years apart in age, as so many of us still have happy memories of hearing Rubinstein, whose career ended with his retirement in 1976 at age 89, whereas Debussy died in the last year of the First World War.)
Mr. Rose, a student of Adolph Baller, Leonard Shure and Rudolph Serkin, has been before the public for more than 50 years but still plays with great strength and passion. He never takes the easy way out by playing slowly or “carefully.” He gives “full-throttle” performances, yet plays with sensitivity and lyricism, and he never makes an ugly sound. And he certainly understands late German Romanticism.
The Brahms Rhapsody, with which he opened the program, was big and brooding, and even the awkward right hand runs in the middle section were impressively executed.
Of course, if one considers those runs challenging, how much more so is much of the Davidsbündlertänze?! Running at, minimally, half an hour in length, especially with the repeats (all of which I believe Mr. Rose observed) it’s a fantastical riot of extreme contrasts of emotion, and ferociously difficult to play. In addition, Schumann is frequently inconsiderate enough to put one almost impossibly fast and complicated movement right after another (ie. nos. 8 and 9, and nos. 15 and 16). Mr. Rose got through it in fine shape, not neglecting the slower movements, and made the return of the theme from the second piece, near the end, a touching moment.
If the Kreisleriana is, perhaps, a little more pianistically written, it is also a terrifically demanding, yet rewarding work. Mr. Rose tore into the first piece with abandon and rarely came up for air, yet, without neglecting the slower movements. (Actually, even his slow movements are never all that slow.) Some of the highlights of this performance, for this listener, included the beautiful way he floated the melody in the second half of the fourth piece, the firm rhythmic pulse in the C minor section (“Im Tempo”) of the sixth piece, the blistering pace at which he played the fugato section of the seventh piece, and his wonderful bringing out of the syncopated rhythms, and his powerful reading of the middle section of the last piece.
Mr. Rose is to be saluted for his performance this evening, as well as for his contribution to musical life in New York by creating this Festival.
Inside the lobby of Mannes College the New School for Music, dozens of people lined the stairs leading to the school’s intimate concert space, the line stretching all the way back to a far hallway. The occasion (July 26) was another recital by Marc-André Hamelin, whose appearances in recent years have closed the International Keyboard Institute and Festival on high plateaus, drawing a serious, eager crowd for whatever he chooses to play. Inside the hall, one noticed the wisps of charged conversation, pairs of piano students comparing notes, discriminating fans sliding their chairs an inch or two left or right to refine the viewing angle—Hamelin’s recitals are events.
Given his bent for the unusual, the menu this time took few chances. Yet the pianist found good reasons to renew acquaintance with old friends, starting with C.P.E. Bach’s Sonata in E minor, Wq. 59, No. 1, H.28, which loped along like an easygoing hound. After the second movement (little more than a bridge between the outer ones) the Andantino was slower than one might expect, with a delightfully abrupt ending that caused a shimmer of laughter before the applause. For some the highlight was the Janáček, seven of the thirteen pieces from On an Overgrown Path. Chosen from the first book, Hamelin’s set began with the homey “Our evenings” and the gusts of “A windblown leaf,” ending with the peacefulness of “Good night.” One friend thought these were the best of the night, and was struck by the pianist’s honesty in transmitting the composer’s unique cadences.
It could be argued, however, that the greatest transcendence came at the close of the first half, with the first book of Debussy’s Images. The heartbreaking surge-and-retreat of “Reflets dans l’eau” was precise beyond all expectations, and Hamelin’s ability to control and sustain dynamic shadings was at its peak in “Hommage à Rameau.” During the final “Mouvement” I wrote in my notes, “One sits in meditative bliss, entranced, as all that is unimportant fades into the background, the horizon growing ever fainter.”
Even the Brahms Third Sonata that followed seemed to carry the crowd into a different realm. Using a huge sound, Hamelin sculpted a narrative—a craggy landscape—and after the peaks and valleys of the first movement, the second (“Andante espressivo”) came like a flashback, as if telling the story of a swashbuckler’s early life. The third movement had both swagger and twinkle—including a galumphing barroom waltz—perhaps the protagonist’s stormy teens. In the “Intermezzo,” some of the opening returned, before the finale, with its dazzling thickets bringing the journey to its close. Only then, did the quiet, rapt audience begin applauding.
Looking a bit weary, Hamelin nevertheless obliged with two encores, starting with a mellow Rachmaninoff G-Sharp Minor Prelude. But the prize went to Chopin’s “Minute Waltz,” with Hamelin’s own uproarious “wrong-note” refinement. When the familiar main theme returned, after the interlude, it did so with (apparently) each note of the right-hand melody welded to one of its half-step neighbors—whether up or down, I couldn’t quite tell. Hilarity aside, I can’t imagine the difficulties involved in learning the piece with all these new skin grafts, but Hamelin is an unusual—not to mention entertaining—surgeon.
Notes from a Palooza
In a recent issue, I referred to the International Keyboard Institute & Festival as a “piano-palooza.” Every July, there are some 25 recitals presented at Mannes College, on W. 85th St. The festival is directed by a distinguished pianist and Mannes teacher, Jerome Rose, and his better half, Julie Kedersha. I have often quoted a saying Rose taught me: “You play who you are.” I reminded him of this saying the other day. He said, “As far as I’m concerned, it gets truer every year.”
Traditionally, he gives the opening recital, as he did this year. This latest recital posed a special challenge: The air conditioning broke down, on a very hot night. That gave the audience a sense of solidarity and adventure, as hardship can.
One benefit of this festival is that a patron has a chance to hear music that is hardly ever played during the regular season. You hear little-known pieces by well-known composers. This year, we had Scriabin’s Sonata No. 5, for example, and Hindemith’s Sonata No. 3. You also hear composers who are themselves little known. This year, we got Levko Revutsky, a Ukrainian who lived from 1889 to 1977, and Héctor Campos-Parsi, a Puerto Rican who lived from 1922 to 1998.
And then there are our old friends transcriptions—arrangements of songs, orchestra pieces, and the like for piano. When I was growing up, these were considered old-fashioned and embarrassing. None of the cool kids played them. But they never went entirely away, because so many of them were so skilled and so enjoyable. This year, one festival pianist played Liszt’s transcription of Chopin’s song “The Maiden’s Wish.” Someone else played Liszt’s transcription of Weber’s Konzertstück. The Konzertstück is old-fashioned enough on its own, believe me. But in the Liszt transcription? Positively transgressive!
Daria Rabotkina, a young Russian-born pianist, began her recital with Schumann’s Humoreske in B-flat Major. This is not a rarity—but you hear it a lot less than you do, say, Schumann’s Carnaval. You hear it about as often as you do Papillons. And the Humoreske is a formidable, mysterious piece. It’s no joke, put it that way. Rabotkina played it in an athletic, extrovert, headlong manner—decidedly Romantic.
She next played a rarity, Busoni’s Variations and Fugue on Chopin’s Prelude in C Minor. This is the same prelude on which Rachmaninoff wrote variations (but no fugue), years later. The Busoni piece is dark and stormy, to quote an opening line. Passionately Romantic, it is a long way from Busoni’s last work, the modernist opera Doktor Faust. Rabotkina played the Variations and Fugue with commitment and command.
She closed her recital with a piece by Marc-André Hamelin, the Canadian pianist—who played his own recital on the same stage about an hour later.
The following night, HaeSun Paik, a native of South Korea, played a recital beginning with bird pieces—pieces by Messiaen, the birdiest composer since Byrd. Paik started with the prelude called “La Colombe” (“The Dove”), then continued with “Le Loriot” (“The Oriole”) from Catalogue of Birds. According to Paik, who gave remarks from the stage before she played a note—often a concert-killer—the catalogue takes about three hours to play. Is this love, on Messiaen’s part, or obsession? They’re often close cousins, love and obsession.
Regardless, it was a pleasure to hear the two bird pieces, which spring from the Impressionism established by Debussy and Ravel. HaeSun Paik played them with care.
The world of the piano, you will agree, is a wonderful one—all that repertoire. Is it the best repertoire there is? You could make an argument for the song repertoire—but fortunately, none of us has to choose.
Rabotkina and Hamelin
Schumann: Humoreske in B-Flat Major, Op. 20
Busoni: Variations and Fugue on Chopin’s Prelude in C Minor, Op. 22
Prokofiev: Ten Pieces from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 75
Hamelin: Etude No. 3 (d’aprés Paganini-Liszt)
Daria Rabotkina is a young Russian pianist who received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Mannes College, and won the 2007 Concert Artists Guild International Competition. Her programming is ambitious and original, and the results are impressive.
The final work on the recital (not counting an encore written by her husband, William McNally, the lovely and wistful Hill Springs Rag) was an etude by Marc-André Hamelin, based on La Campanella. A typically brilliant and complicated Hamelinian tour-de-force, she played it (as she played everything else) with apparent ease. It was somewhat astonishing to discover, afterwards, that she had learned it within a month.
Ms. Rabotkina began the recital with Schumann’s long, strange but wonderful Humoreske. Her warm and noble phrasing in the slow sections, particularly the opening, contrasted with the athleticism and power she brought to the fast parts.
Busoni’s Variations, in which one hears the melody of the theme before the original Chopin version of the piece appears, was fascinating, and included what sounded like both a waltz, and a concluding toccata. Ms. Rabotkina, who likes to speak to the audience about the music, mentioned that Busoni varies the key, rhythm, and I think, other parts of the structure in this difficult work, which, most likely, few people even in this pianophile audience had heard before.
Perhaps most impressive, technically, musically and in every respect, was her performance of the Prokofiev Pieces from Romeo and Juliet. One doesn’t want to stereo-type, ie. assume that a Russian artist should play Russian music well but, nevertheless: Daria Rabotkina is a fantastic Prokofiev pianist! Nothing one could have wished for was missing from this performance. She “acted out” all the parts of this work, showing the work’s lushness and elegance, jagged edges, and youthful ardor. She never missed a coloristic opportunity. And it all sounded effortless.
This listener would be happy to hear her again.
C.P.E. Bach: Sonata in E Minor, Wq. 59, No. 1, H. 281
Janacek: Seven Pieces from On An Overgrown Path
Debussy: Images, Book I
Brahms: Sonata No. 3 in F Minor, Op. 5
Marc-André Hamelin occupies a unique place in the world of pianists. Without question he is one of the greatest virtuosos now before the public. Never content to just play the Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Brahms concerti, and solo works of similar difficulty, he has searched out unusual repertoire, plus he has composed some astonishingly complicated and effective pieces. And, in his non-egotistical, non-flashy manner, as a musician who also has much to say when the notes are not flying by, he is something of a hero to the audience at the IKIF.
C.P.E. Bach’s little-known E Minor Sonata caught one’s attention immediately with its volatility in the somewhat disturbing first movement, enhanced, of course, by the terrific evenness of Mr. Hamelin’s passagework. The slow movement seemed rather like an improvisation, whereas the third movement was quirky, with a surprise, sudden ending.
Before playing the Janacek Mr. Hamelin asked the audience if the program listed the names of the individual movements of which it is comprised. (For the record, they are: Our evenings, A windblown leaf, Come with us!, They chattered like swallows, Words fail!, In tears, and Good night.) These are wonderful, warm late Romantic pieces, ever so slightly reminiscent of Bartok, but in Janacek’s unique idiom. I don’t know how literally the composer meant these titles, or if they were just after thoughts to add a coloration to the listener’s thoughts. But one wondered what the meaning of the resolution to the major at the end of They chattered like swallows could signify. There was much turmoil to be heard in Words fail. In tears showed how powerful emotions can be expressed very softly. And one felt that surely there was some conflict, some unresolved business at the end of Good night.
Mr. Hamelin’s performance last year of Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit came across as an artwork in which everything was perfectly in place, and nothing could be improved upon. His playing of the first book of Images this evening made a similar impression. Reflets dans l’eau was sensuous, without having (or needing) the huge dynamic range we heard in the Michelangeli recording at David Dubal’s lecture the other night. Hommage à Rameau was pensive, and Mouvement was terrific, with Mr. Hamelin’s perfect execution of the difficult jumps, plus the great wash of sound and the outbursts that are all part of it.
The Brahms Sonata, which occupied the second half of the program, received a serious (though not solemn) and deeply felt reading. The first two movements were a bit slower than some people may play them, but effective, and thoughtful. There were many examples of Mr. Hamelin’s sensitivity to color, and his ability to do beautiful voicing. Also impressive was his playing of the chorale in the middle of the third movement.
Mr. Hamelin played two encores. The first was a poetic reading of the Rachmaninoff G-Sharp Minor Prelude. After making some amusing comments about people who wonder if the Minute Waltz of Chopin can be played within a minute, he gave us his latest “take” on this work. First he played a lovely “serious” and spacious account of the theme and the middle section. He then returned to the main section, adding the most outrageous and brilliant chromatic counter-melody to the theme. When asked, after the concert, if perhaps George Antheil might be the inspiration for this new version, Mr. Hamelin shrugged, grinned and said “Maybe!?”
Yuan Sheng Recital
Debussy – Suite Bergamasque
Debussy – Estampes
Debussy – L’isle joyeuse
Ravel – Sonatine
Ravel – Le Tombeau de Couperin
On arrival at Mannes College this evening I learned that two upcoming recitals this week are already sold out. This one should have been, too.
I first heard Yuan Sheng about nine years ago, playing an all-Chopin recital. I subsequently heard him play an all- Bach recital, and several programs with mixed repertoire. He returned to Bach at his IKIF recital last year with a performance of the Goldberg Variations which made a profound impression on his audience.
This year, perhaps with the 150th anniversary of the birth of Debussy and the 75th anniversary of the death of Ravel in mind, he turned to French repertoire. And, as usual, his interpretations were convincing and impressive.
Because, I think, he has the sensitivity and sophistication to get into the sound world of whatever music he’s playing and, without imposing himself in an egotistical way, make his conception of it work. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t be played differently. But one doesn’t argue with him. One readily accepts the way he plays the music.
Having heard David Dubal’s program on Debussy a few nights ago, which included voluptuous and overwhelming recorded performances by Gieseking and Michelangeli, I was nevertheless reminded of yet another aspect of music of this genre by Yuan Sheng this evening, namely an almost classical quiet and restraint that can sometimes tug at the heartstrings. One heard this often, as well as the great swirls of sound in other places, ie. the whirlwind in the last movement of the Ravel Sonatine, and the frenzy, and huge sustained sound at the end of the Toccata from Le Tombeau. And everything in between.
Mr. Sheng has a very big dynamic range, and the musicianship to hold one’s attention, either through the senses or the intellect, or both. He will not, for instance, play a phrase with rubato without subtly altering the rubato when it comes around again. Not surprisingly, when he played an encore, Debussy’s The Girl With the Flaxen Hair, it was more interestingly and expressively played than usual. And, with no trouble at all, he went from a quasi-religious Japanese sensibility in Pagodes to a longing, romantic Spanish atmosphere in La soirée dans Grenade.
This is an artist who seems to play everything well, and certainly deserves greater recognition.
Showing Spirit and Restraint in Equal Measure
Virtuosity of the flashiest kind is the usual currency at the International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Mannes College the New School for Music. But the Russian pianist Alexander Kobrin had different priorities on Tuesday evening, when he played Mozart and Schumann as his contribution to the festival.
It was not as if fireworks were beyond him. You cannot win a major contest like the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, as Mr. Kobrin did in 2005, without knowing how to dazzle. But here he seemed more intent on projecting clarity of texture and line.
That worked best in Mozart’s Sonata in B flat (K. 333), where a light touch and crisp articulation suited the style. That is not to say that Mr. Kobrin mimicked the sound of the fortepiano. He surrendered neither the smoothness nor the dynamic fluidity that the modern piano allows, and he gave his sense of fantasy free rein, using a shapely bass line to suggest drama in the opening Allegro and creating an almost confessional spirit in the central Andante cantabile. The finale, though certainly playful, could have been more so, but Mr. Kobrin clearly had a notion of how he wanted the work’s contrasting sections to be balanced, and he made his point clearly.
Clarity may not be the main quality a listener seeks in Schumann’s “Waldszenen” (Op. 82) and “Carnaval” (Op. 9), the two pieces that shared the rest of the program, but there was something to be gained from taking Mr. Kobrin’s unusual readings on their own terms.
In “Waldszenen” Schumann leads a listener through a forest packed with both commonplace and otherworldly visions, pointing out hunters, flowers, haunted corners and friendly bowers, all captured in richly characterized vignettes. Mr. Kobrin was a fastidious guide. The hunting scenes were suffused with swagger; a sentimental quality lay within sweeter movements like “Herberge” (“Wayside Inn”) and “Abschied” (“Farewell”). And if his account of “Vogel als Prophet” (“The Prophet Bird”) seemed unusually tame, it hinted at this odd creature’s arresting eccentricity.
If Mr. Kobrin seemed more inclined to paint Schumann’s forest in pastel hues than in vivid primary colors, he loosened up considerably in “Carnaval,” the composer’s magnificent parade of characters, real and imaginary. The portraits of Chopin and Paganini, particularly, were beautifully executed, as were the movements devoted to Schumann’s fictional antagonists, Florestan and Eusebius. And Mr. Kobrin was at his best in the spirited “Reconnaissance” and in the broad-boned finale, the “Marche des ‘Davidsbündler’ Contre les Philistins.”
David Dubal Program on Claude Debussy
Usually, David Dubal spends one evening each year at the International Keyboard Institute and Festival giving a lecture about a composer whose 200th birth anniversary is being observed. However, this year he devoted the program to the 150th anniversary of the birth of Claude Debussy. And, as usual, his program included music, both live performances and historical recordings.
Mr. Dubal has written numerous books on the piano and its literature, and has hosted radio programs for many years. His current program, The Piano Matters, is heard on many stations in this country, including WWFM (http://www.wwfm.org) in New Jersey and WFMT (http://www.wfmt.org) in Chicago. His lectures, which often include a great deal of humor, as well as comments meant to be taken not more than half seriously, are always based on a lot of reading and knowledge. As well as a great love for the subject.
In this case, he was dealing with a particularly unlovable man (based on his record of treating women!) who, however, happened to be one of the most original of composers, and was, in Mr. Dubal’s opinion, the greatest composer France has ever produced.
Claude Debussy, as Mr. Dubal put it, was someone who gave us a new way of hearing, someone who painted in tone. Debussy himself wrote that music speaks not in form but in “colors and rhythmicized time.” Claudio Arrau described Debussy’s music as being from another planet. Confident and determined already at a young age, Debussy argued with Cesar Franck, one of his professors at the Conservatoire in Paris, when told to add a modulation to one of his exercises. “Why” asked Debussy, “should I modulate when I’m perfectly happy in this key?!”
Debussy, according to Mr. Dubal, loved Chopin and Rameau, but didn’t particularly like Bach (quite unusual for a composer!) and hated Wagner. He did enjoy, and learned from Russian works, and composers. He was also an Anglophile, who loved Shakespeare.
Many pianists played for him, and his music, in a radically new idiom, became popular, perhaps, because it was considered modern but not “ugly.” The composer, Alfredo Casella, said that Debussy’s music seemed to be played with strings but without hammers and keys, resulting in pure poetry.
Many biographical details about the composer were given, from his birth, in 1862, to a poor and unmusical family, to his death in 1918, during World War I. He had cancer from 1909 on, and money problems, which led him to do projects he might not otherwise have done, such as editing all the works of Chopin for Durand. Already ill when the First World War began, he was jealous of Ravel and Satie, who were active in the war effort. Excerpts from the memoirs of the soprano, Mary Garden, were read, in which she described how she rebuffed Debussy’s romantic interest in her, and how she consoled one of the several wives he left.
The recorded performances that were heard included an impressive Feux d’artifice, with Krystian Zimerman, a biting, threatening version of What the West Wind Saw by Cortot, an incredibly sensuous reading of La Puerta del Vino by Gieseking, and a hugely dramatic Reflets dans l’eau by Michelangeli.
Three pianists played during the program.
Joseph Smith, who always seems to have something ready to play by any composer, gave a performance of The Snow Is Dancing, from the Children’s Corner Suite, that was notable for its clarity and delicacy.
The Engulfed Cathedral, as played by Jarred Dunn, was evocative and mystical, and both the buildup, as the cathedral rose out of the sea, and the descent, as it went back into the water, were impressively done.
Aviva Aronovich gave a powerful performance of the fiendishly difficult Etude for Eight Fingers and the Etude for Chromatic Steps. When, at the end of the program, Mr. Dubal said he hesitated to end on a depressing note, having just told the story of Debussy’s daughter’s tragic death, a mere sixteen months after her father’s passing, he called on Ms. Aronovich to come back and play the Etude for Eight Fingers again. A rather surprised Ms. Aronovich returned to the stage and played it again. Again, very well!
Speed and Sulfur - Dmitri Levkovich
For two weeks each year, the International Keyboard Institute and Festival (IKIF) creates a dream fortnight for piano lovers, drawn to wall-to-wall performances in the intimate recital hall at Mannes College The New School for Music. On July 23, the young Dmitri Levkovich sailed through a difficult program that might have flummoxed lesser talents. Originally from the Ukraine and the son of two concert pianists who later emigrated to Israel and Canada, Levkovich studied at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute before arriving at the Cleveland Institute of Music to work with the renowned Sergei Babayan.
As evidenced by his opening, Chopin’s Barcarole, Op. 60 and Sonata No. 2, Mr. Levkovich has no shortage of technique. The final two movements of the sonata were especially effective; the “Marche funèbre” had appropriate gravitas, and the treacherous unisons of the finale were executed with mind and fingers seemingly unfazed by the score’s difficulty.
But perhaps best on the first half was Scriabin’s Ninth Sonata, the “Black Mass,” which began delicately, even tentatively—giving no warning of the grotesque torrents that would come flooding in later. Despite the Ninth’s dense midsection, the pianist gave the inner lines their due. Overall the tempo seemed slightly quicker than usual, yet the pianist was still able to maintain a sulfurous mood. Barely pausing for breath, he tore into Beethoven’s Sonata No. 23 (“Appassionata”), ultimately giving it a monumental cast. The final Allegro ma no troppo - Presto was adroitly phrased, with carefully considered details.
To close the evening, the pianist plunged into Stravinsky’s Trois mouvements de Petrouchka, with the “Danse russe” at a stingingly fast tempo. “Chez Pétrouchka” and “La semaine grasse” were mercifully a tad slower, yet vivacious and packed with color. As a gentler encore, Levkovich offered a thoughtful, beautifully spun-out Rachmaninoff Prelude in G Major, Op. 32, No. 5.
David Dubal Program on Arthur Rubinstein
David Dubal Program on Arthur Rubinstein – IKIF
with guests Eva Rubinstein - photographer (daughter of the pianist) and
Jon Samuel – recording producer and historian
This program, which began by David Dubal reading part of a letter I had written him about an amusing comment I heard Rubinstein make on his way into Carnegie Hall, just before his last recital there in 1976, was very successful in bringing alive the spirit of the great pianist for those of us who remember him, and hopefully also, for those who were not yet attending concerts (or were not yet born!) then.
A big part of the discussion was about the remarkable 10 recitals Mr. Rubinstein gave in New York in 1961, when he was 74 years old, in which he never repeated a single work. That was an impressive achievement! And it was remarkably generous of him to donate all the proceeds from those concerts to various charities. Now, several hours of parts of those recitals are being released on CD for the first time. Jon Samuel, of SONY, discussed Rubinstein’s place in pianistic history, and the story of how a fresh look at this material led to a decision to produce these releases, a little more than 50 years later.
From Eva Rubinstein the audience heard many enlightening comments about her father. A very complex and also secretive man, he encouraged her in her artistic pursuits and he also increased her general cultural knowledge, among other things, because whenever the family travelled, they always visited art museums. She spoke of famous people her father knew (ie. Thomas Mann, Picasso, to name a few) and said that his two best friends were the violinist Paul Kochanski, and the composer, Karol Szymanowski, both of whom died young. Her father spoke about eight languages and, interestingly, did not let his practicing “interfere” with his life. He got it done, and out of the way, and then went on to whatever else he had planned for the day. No 10 hours a day of practicing, or exceptional bouts of stage fright for him!
David Dubal led the discussion in many directions, spoke of the famous “Rubinstein vs. Horowitz rivalry,” and told stories he heard from Horowitz. According to Eva Rubinstein, her father felt that Horowitz was the better pianist but that he himself was the better musician. Horowitz, who could be mischievous and provocative, once said to Mr. Dubal “David! Can you get me a copy of the Moscheles biography? Rubinstein STOLE it when he was here!” When asked if that was true, Mrs. Horowitz replied “Of course not!”
But perhaps the biggest surprise of the afternoon was how much Arthur Rubinstein, who was born 125 years ago, and has been dead for almost 30 years, “stole his own show,” through recordings of his playing which we heard, as well as excerpts from a lengthy interview with Martin Bookspan. His conversation, witty and knowledgeable, and familiar to many of us, drew one in, as he discussed music, composers in or out of fashion (like Hummel, then out of fashion), and what people may have thought about him.
One recalls that, in his autobiography he remembered having mixed feelings as a young man, about making recordings, including being concerned how people might be dressed when listening to them (!). In this interview, made many years later, he wondered what “the man in Australia who is shaving” might think of his playing. Which reminded me that so very many people, in so many countries and over several generations were influenced by his playing. Including an Australian teenager, Bruce (then Leonard) Hungerford, who said that a recital of Rubinstein was one of two programs (the other was a Schnabel recital) that pushed him to decide on a career as a concert pianist.
The portions we heard of the 1961 New York recitals, including music of de Falla, and excerpts from Stravinsky’s Petrouchka and the first movement of the Brahms F Minor Sonata, had such unbelievable life and verve (especially for a 74 year old) that they practically jumped out of the speakers at you! (And I can’t help but remember seeing him literally run up the stairs onto the stage of Carnegie Hall as an 82 year old. Yes, one came up stairs to get onto the stage in those days, before the hall was rebuilt.)
At the end we saw a video of the pianist playing the last movement of the Grieg Concerto, conducted by Andre Previn, and made a year or so before he retired. Although he was 88 years old and had serious vision problems by then, he played it beautifully, at quite a decent tempo, and the audience at Mannes College applauded and cheered him at the conclusion.
Since we cannot go to hear him play concerts anymore it was wonderful to, so to speak, bring him and his playing back to life for an afternoon.
Inna Faliks and Akiko Ebi
Beethoven: Fantasy in G Minor, Op. 77
Beethoven: 13 Variations and Fugue, op. 35 “Eroica”
Rodion Shchedrin: Basso Ostinato
Ljova Zhurbin: Sirota, for piano and historical recording
Chopin: Polonaise-Fantaisie in A-Flat Major, Op. 61
Liszt: Harmonies du Soir
Chopin/Liszt: “Maiden’s Wish”
Paganini-Liszt: La Campanella
Inna Faliks is an attractive young woman and a strong pianist who agreed to give this recital on just a few days’ notice, after another pianist suddenly became unavailable. Her recital was not well-attended, but her audience was enthusiastic, and they heard a very fine concert. She certainly comes from an impressive musical background, with teachers who have included Ann Schein, Leon Fleisher, Gilbert Kalish and Boris Petrushansky.
Ms. Faliks began with the rarely heard Op. 77 Fantasy of Beethoven, which some people believe is the closest we may get to having an idea of what the composer’s improvising sounded like. With many short sections, and key and mood changes it is quite a strange work, indeed. And not an easy one to play. Ms. Faliks started with a dramatic flourish and gave a convincing account. She then turned her attention to the Eroica Variations, a wonderful, major work that is also not often heard. And is also treacherous! Ms. Faliks played the fast variations right up to tempo (even when temptation might lead one to slow down and play it safe, ie. Variation 13), the lighter variations had charm, Variation 8 was quite beautiful, and the fugue was focused, clear and impressive.
Shchedrin’s Basso Ostinato was one of the highlights of the program, gymnastic and suggestive with a wide dynamic and expressive range. Ms. Faliks played it to the hilt.
Mr. Zhurbin’s work, Sirota, it turned out, has nothing to do with the pianist Leo Sirota but with Cantor Gershon Sirota of Odessa, where Ms. Faliks was born. Composed for her just last year it ties in with her interest in music with Jewish themes, and Jewish composers. Ms. Faliks explained that Cantor Sirota, who died in Warsaw during World War II, was known as the “Jewish Caruso.” Perhaps there is a story line attached to this work which was not revealed to us beforehand. The piece began with an extended section in which the pianist plays a repeated pattern of D Minor arpeggios in the right hand while playing changing, expressive material in the left hand. Eventually the arpeggios disappear, replaced by more ominous-sounding material and then, all of a sudden, we are hearing a 1911 recording of Cantor Sirota leading a choir in prayers from the Rosh Hashanah service. And then, somewhat surrealistically, the pianist accompanies them. She is making music together with her spiritual and perhaps even her literal forebears from a century ago! Quite a wild idea! Though the effect was exciting, and the material is good, I suspect the timing of starting the recording was a bit off, and, for this listener, the piano was a little bit loud versus the voices, but that was probably not easy to judge from the stage, when playing with speakers that faced out into the audience.
The rest of the program was Romantic music, an obvious strength of this pianist. The Harmonies du Soir was rich and impassioned. The Maiden’s Wish, played a bit faster than one usually hears it, had high spirits. And Ms. Faliks' virtuosity in La Campanella was truly dazzling, reminiscent of great Liszt players like Minoru Nojima.
Ms. Faliks gave one encore, a lovely, poignant performance of the barcarolle, June, from Tchaikovsky’s Seasons.
Bach: Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 903
Schubert: Sonata in A Major, D. 664
Chopin: Scherzo No. 2 in B-Flat Minor, Op. 31
Chopin: Nocturne in F Major, Op. 15, No. 1
Chopin: Sonata No. 2 in B-Flat Minor, Op. 35
According to the program the Japanese pianist, Akiko Ebi, launched her international career in 1975 as winner of the Gran Prix of the International Marguerite Long Competition in Paris, where Arthur Rubinstein awarded her four special prizes. Martha Argerich has been her mentor, and her teachers have included Aldo Ciccolini, Vlado Perlemuter and Louis Kentner. It did not take long to realize why such important musicians have shown an interest in her, or why her audience responds to her with such warmth.
Ms. Ebi began the Chromatic Fantasy with great big swirls and shapes. It was invigorating! The fugue was wonderfully clear, but also showed her sense of structure, especially near the end where she piled on the intensity, and the volume.
Ms. Ebi’s performance of the Schubert Sonata was delightful, full of charm and lightness. It was almost startling to hear her move into music that is so different from what came right before it, and to do it so well. In the last movement of the Schubert Ms. Ebi had the first of several brief memory problems. However, if her memory wasn’t always perfect, her musical instincts were. And her technique is strong.
After concluding the first half with Funérailles, played with great drama, Ms. Ebi moved on to a very successful second half with music of Chopin. A friend had told me she was a fine Chopin player and he was certainly right! The Second Scherzo, which can sound hackneyed, had tension and atmosphere, and the ringing theme over the continuous arpeggios in the left hand was played so well it was like hearing it for the first time. And, isn’t that what musicians are supposed to do with music, especially well-known music, ie. play it so it comes across as a new, fresh experience?
The F Major Nocturne was wonderful, and just about perfect. The middle section surged with drama, and the ending was exquisite.
It was wonderful to hear a terrific artist like this play the Chopin B-Flat Minor Sonata for this audience. The complete silence between movements as the listeners, mostly pianists, awaited what would come next, was in itself impressive. The first movement had plenty of dash, drive and drama. Ms. Ebi’s phrasing and rubato are so natural and right-sounding that she always convinces. Though I’m told she has fairly small hands she played the difficult second movement effectively and, of course, she made something special of the middle section in G-Flat Major.
The silence before the funeral march was something special. The audience knew she would set a spell here, and she did. Even more impressive was the hushed manner in which she returned to it after the middle section. The concluding movement, perhaps one of the strangest things Chopin ever composed, with continuous, threatening parallel octaves leading to a great crash at the end, was powerful.
Ms. Ebi played two encores, a charming Sonata in F Minor by Scarlatti, and the Nocturne in D-Flat Major by Chopin.
Getting the Audience's Attention, and Keeping It - Cyprien Katsaris and Alexander Schimpf
The eminent French-Cypriot pianist Cyprien Katsaris had serious business on his mind when he took the stage on Monday night at Mannes College the New School for Music and signaled to the audience that he wanted to speak. After greeting everyone Mr. Katsaris said that he wanted to “address the pirates” in the audience. He sternly asked concertgoers to switch off “your little recording devices,” adding that he knew full well that some in the audience would not do so. He asked that those determined to record his performance anyway “please consider” that this act is “almost like stealing or raping.”
The audience seemed stunned into silence. A few people applauded. Then Mr. Katsaris began his program, presented on the first full day of the two-week International Keyboard Institute and Festival, which opened on Sunday night with a recital by Jerome Rose, the festival’s founding director.
In principle Mr. Katsaris was on solid ground. The illicit recording of a performance is a violation of an artist’s rights. And smartphones have made this piracy easier than ever. Mr. Katsaris’s large discography includes many live performances, including the complete Mozart piano concertos with the Salzburger Kammerphilharmonie. So it must be especially frustrating for him to see illegal recordings of his performances end up of the Web. Still, chastising your audience is not the best way to begin a recital.
Regardless, Mr. Katsaris, who played at this festival last summer, is an artist who requires some understanding. For all his pianistic skills and musicianly refinement, he can be an idiosyncratic interpreter.
He began with three late works by Schubert, the Allegretto in C minor and the first two of the Drei Klavierstücke, in performances that demonstrated both the alluring and the curious qualities of his artistry. He gave an undulant and searching account of the Allegretto, and brought rhapsodic flair to the restless first Klavierstück. But at times, in drawing expressive nuances from Schubert’s melodic lines or playing dotted-note rhythmic figures, Mr. Katsaris displayed a freedom that verged on casualness.
Turning next to Beethoven’s familiar “Pathétique” Sonata, Mr. Katsaris seemed unsettled at first. In the grave introduction to the first movement he played with somber restraint and deep, rich sound. But throughout the bustling main section little runs and dramatic timings seemed off.
When he finished the movement Mr. Katsaris, who is 61, turned to the audience and said, “Memory is not the best friend of getting old,” and playfully warned, “Watch out for memory, everybody.”
If memory was the problem, he had no similar trouble in the slow movement, played with glowing sound and lyrical poise, or in the final rondo, dispatched with delicacy, clarity and brio.
After intermission he spoke again, this time to read — most elegantly, first in the French original, then in an English translation — the poem by Alphonse de Lamartine that inspired Liszt to write his magnificent “Bénédiction de Dieu Dans la Solitude” (“The Blessing of God in Solitude”). His performance captured the mystical flights and teeming intensity of Liszt’s visionary work.
Mr. Katsaris, who is also a composer, concluded with his own arrangement of Liszt’s popular Piano Concerto No. 2 in A for solo piano. With the orchestral music folded into the piano part, some of the concerto’s combative David-and-Goliath drama is lost. The trade-off is that the concerto comes across as an integrated and colossal piano piece.
Some big climactic passages sounded cluttered and dense, like the episode where, in the original, the piano and orchestra join forces for a triumphant march rendition of the main theme. Still, making this bold arrangement was inspired, and Mr. Katsaris received a deserved ovation.
On most days of the festival there are two recitals. On Monday, as part of the earlier-evening Prestige Series, the fast-rising young German pianist Alexander Schimpf, 30, played an impressive program. He opened with Bach’s French Suite No. 5 in G in an exquisite performance that found a judicious balance between lyrical freedom and articulate, dancelike tempos and touch. He was equally fine in Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Sonata, Scriabin’s Five Preludes (Op. 74) and a beautifully colored, crisp and lively account of Ravel’s “Tombeau de Couperin.”
Mr. Schimpf did not speak to his audience. But during the intermission of Mr. Katsaris’s recital, he chatted amiably with audience members who had heard him earlier. The festival attracts many piano buffs, who eagerly take in two recitals a night.
Schubert – Allegretto in C Minor, D. 915
Schubert – Pieces No. 1 in E-Flat Minor and No. 2 in E-Flat Major, D. 946
Beethoven – Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 13, “Pathétique”
Liszt – Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude
Liszt/Katsaris – Concerto No. 2 in A Major for piano solo
Last year Cyprien Katsaris’ recital reminded me of Earl Wild’s ability to balance being an artist as well as an entertainer. This evening I was thinking, instead, of Shura Cherkassky. Cherkassky was probably best known as a wonderful interpreter of Romantic music. But he played everything, from Bach to Stockhausen. And he was a particularly fine Bach player.
The name of Cyprien Katsaris may also be most commonly associated with the music of Liszt, and the other Romantics. But he’s such a magnificent pianist, and such an incredibly musical man, that one is grateful he plays other music, too.
After coming on stage at the beginning of the evening and asking those who intended to make pirate (illegal) recordings of the concert to turn off their machines (“I know you may not do this, but thank you for considering it!”) he gave a very beautiful, almost chaste performance of Schubert’s C Minor Allegretto. And, already, he started to show off some of the unusual things he likes to do. Where Rachmaninoff liked to refer to the (melodic) “pinky soprano” he sometimes emphasized the “alto thumb.” Very effectively.
The first two pieces from the Three Piano Pieces of D. 946 were also impressive. Though he often seems to be impatient (ie. he likes to move quickly from one work to the next), when he finds a color or feeling he likes he lingers there lovingly, and time all but stops. The “Venetian gondola song” effect which he found in the A-Flat section of the first piece was wondrous. As was the return from the fast sections of the second piece to the calm, simple and comforting main theme.
His performance of the Beethoven Sonata was also very satisfying, if a bit unorthodox. He played the first movement at a terrific clip, but, especially as he did not need to slow down for the cross hand sections (which pianists often claim to do for expressive reasons, though they really do it to make things easier!) the effect was bracing. And, who in the audience, before hearing Mr. Katsaris play the slow movement this evening, knew that it contains a middle voice “trumpet call?” Probably no one. But Mr. Katsaris found one!
The last movement was a wonderful romp. At one point he played some phrases a bit louder just because, I think, he felt like it. And it worked. To tell the truth, his Beethoven playing is fresher, and often preferable to that of some Beethoven “specialists.”
Before playing Liszt’s Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude he recited the poem on which it is based in French from memory, and then read an English translation. Aside from easily handling all the challenges of this work Mr. Katsaris indeed conveyed its spiritual nature in sections that were calm, majestic, glittery, brilliant and, at all times, tonally gorgeous.
What can one say about Mr. Katsaris’ transcription of the Liszt A Major Concerto? It was an amazing tour de force, using, it seemed, almost everything in his huge technical arsenal. That, and, at times, a sound big enough to fill in for an entire orchestra, not surprisingly, led to the standing ovation which greeted him at the end.
Still not tired, the energetic Mr. Katsaris (who stood outside the building after the concert for quite some time, speaking with his admirers) played one encore, the lovely, rather Rachmaninoff-like Prelude Op. 33, No. 7 by Bortkiewicz. It was wonderfully played, and a fitting end to a most impressive evening.
Brahms in a New Light, Resembling the Weightier Liszt
You might have expected that this year’s International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Mannes College the New School for Music would be virtually a symposium on the work of Franz Liszt. The 200th anniversary of Liszt’s birth is being commemorated this year, after all, and he is the patron saint of the grand Romantic approach to keyboard virtuosity that this festival, now in its 13th season, has always celebrated.
He is by no means ignored: the two-week institute includes two sessions (a lecture and an interview) with the Liszt specialist and biographer Alan Walker; a lecture-recital by David Dubal; and Liszt-heavy programs by Gesa Luecker, Cyprien Katsaris, Mykola Suk and HaeSun Paik. But most of the nearly two dozen concerts include only a work or two by Liszt, and a few are Liszt-free.
One of those, surprisingly, was the opening recital by Jerome Rose, the festival’s founder and director and a Liszt interpreter of considerable repute. His program was all Brahms — the Rhapsodies (Op. 79), the Sonata No. 3 and the Fantasy Pieces (Op. 116). It was not until his only encore that Mr. Rose turned his attention to Liszt, by way of a graceful, sweetly lyrical account of “Consolation No. 3” that was all the more welcome for showing Liszt’s poetic side rather than his penchant for thundering octaves.
That said, Brahms was an interesting choice in this Liszt year because the composers, though contemporaries, were on opposite sides of a stylistic divide, with Brahms often painted as a traditionalist who held out against the innovations of Liszt, Wagner and the New German School.
Heard a century and a half later, and in light of the musical sea changes that have occurred since, the differences between them seem to have shrunk. Mr. Rose, in his muscular, often explosive readings, seemed intent on reconciling them by playing Brahms with a weight and volume more typically lavished on Liszt’s showpieces. Not that the works Mr. Rose chose resisted that approach. Brahms marked the rhapsodies “agitato” and “molto passionato,” and Mr. Rose took him at his word, giving each a big, viscerally powerful account that could sometimes seem overly incendiary for Brahms, yet never so much that the poetic side of his spirit was overwhelmed.
Mr. Rose’s conception of the Third Sonata was also forceful and urgent, but here he allowed greater nuance. The Andante espressivo second movement, for example, had a lovely, singing quality, though the sense of drive that propelled the fast movements was always just beneath the (comparatively) calm surface.
Mr. Rose was at his most varied and flexible in the Fantasy Pieces, in which his assertive renderings of the outgoing capriccios were offset by graceful, richly detailed playing in the more subtle intermezzos.
Romantic Temperament Applied to Monuments
The pianist Marc-André Hamelin is fearless. No successful performer can afford to show fear from the stage, but with Mr. Hamelin, fearlessness is something more: a positive attribute, a confident calm that he exudes even while unleashing volcanic eruptions of sound and emotion.
Mr. Hamelin came by his assurance rightly, having spent the early decades of his career slaying keyboard dragons of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, many of them obscure as much for the technical difficulty of their piano writing as for their occasional lapses into sheer display. But in recent years Mr. Hamelin has applied his prodigious gifts to more standard repertory — Haydn, Chopin, Albéniz — with exquisite taste and artistry.
His recital at Mannes College the New School for Music on Friday night shaped up as a fitting culmination of the 2011 International Keyboard Institute and Festival on its final weekend. And the overflow crowd, full of piano mavens, gave him a hero’s reception.
Mr. Hamelin opened with Berg’s Opus 1 Sonata, making it sound less a harbinger of modernism than a Romantic effusion mildly tinged with dissonance. Nor could Stockhausen’s Klavierstück IX, cosseted by Mr. Hamelin’s Romantic temperament and fluent command, have riled even the most hidebound listener as it made its way in fits and starts from repeated, fading dissonant low chords to a dissipating flurry of activity at the top of the keyboard.
What did bother some in the audience was music coming from elsewhere in the building during what should have been eloquent decrescendos and silences in this music (as well as immediately before and after the Berg). Not to disparage the normal work of a conservatory, but shouldn’t such a high-profile public presentation be shielded from intrusions?
Mr. Hamelin then turned his attention to two monuments of the piano literature. His control in Ravel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit” was astounding, in sustaining the interlocking watery trills of “Ondine,” in the evenness of the B flat pedal tone anchoring “Le Gibet” and in the manifold difficulties of “Scarbo.”
And if none of that were scary enough, Mr. Hamelin concluded the program with Liszt’s daunting Sonata in B minor, which he recently recorded for Hyperion. He may not have plumbed the quasi-spiritual depths that Claudio Arrau and others have sometimes found in the choralelike episodes, but that’s what the later years of a career are for. The music was all there in its power and grandeur.
Saying that he hesitates to play an encore after the Liszt sonata, Mr. Hamelin played two: Ravel’s “Jeux d’Eau” and a prelude by one of those obscurities, Leonid Sabaneyev.
Friday Night at the IKIF - Rabinovich and Hamelin
6 PM Program:
Bach: English Suite No. 5 in E minor, BWV 810
Ravel: Daphnis and Chloe (arr. Rabinovich)
Brahms: Intermezzi Op. 119, No. 1 and 3
Stravinsky: Petrushka Suite
8:30 PM Program:
Berg: Piano Sonata, Op. 1
Stockhausen: Klavierstücke IX
Ravel: Gaspard de la Nuit
Liszt: Sonata in B minor
Roman Rabinovich is a young Uzbekistan-born Israeli pianist who studied at the Rubin Academy in Tel Aviv as well as in this country at the Curtis Institute and the Juilliard School. He already has a busy international career and is also a gifted painter who has won awards for his artwork.
One noticed several things as soon as he began his program with the Fifth English Suite of Bach. He played with very fine nuancing which, together with terrific fingers, made for wonderful clarity in multi-voice writing. He took rather fast tempi for some of the movements and used a bit more Romantic freedom than usual with the beat (some people might feel, a bit too much), but it was always interesting. He also had some nice creative ideas, such as playing the repeat of the theme in the second Passepied an octave higher.
In 1988, when Mr. Rabinovich was three years old I heard the almost 96 year old Mieczyslaw Horszowski play this English Suite at Town Hall. I wonder what Mr. Rabinovich would think of that performance? Horszowski obviously didn't have the energy (or tempi!) of a young man at that point in his life but there was a wisdom and a dignity and a calm in his playing that were wonderful.
In the first movement of Mr. Rabinovich's impressive arrangement of Daphnis and Chloe I first heard the repose I had occasionally wished for in the Bach. It was wonderful, and one especially couldn't help but notice the exotic beauty of the second movement. The fast movements were exhilarating, especially the fiendishly difficult concluding Danse générale.
Mr. Rabinovich's technique is strong, indeed. One never worries for him. I was reminded of Abram Chasins' comment to the exceptionally reliable Wilhelm Backhaus after the latter gave a recital: "But you never play wrong notes!" Replied Backhaus: "I don't practice the wrong notes!"
After the intermission Mr. Rabinovich played the slow Brahms Intermezzo in B minor and the jaunty C major Intermezzo with affection, and then launched into a blockbuster performance of Petrushka, which was hugely impressive! He caught all the changes of mood wonderfully from sprightly to ironic to coy to forceful. The clarity of voicing referred to before, plus his wonderful rhythmic sense (especially with syncopation) and his terrific imagination all worked to great effect.
Mr. Rabinovich played three encores, the first two by Scarlatti. He gave a lovely perfumed performance of the slow C minor Sonata, and then a lively, bouncy reading of the Sonata in D minor. After which, for a change of pace, he played the Rachmaninoff G Sharp minor Prelude, which was also very good.
A very impressive recital.
Then I spent the rest of the evening listening to one of the great pianists of our time.
Marc-André Hamelin, who will turn 50 this year, has been before the public for quite a few years and is now getting more of the recognition he deserves. He is greatly respected by serious musicians for playing not just the super-virtuoso pieces of the standard repertoire but also a great deal of neglected repertoire, and for his own compositions. He has always been a fine and refined musician but he is sometimes criticized, unfairly, for being brilliant but not warm or "individual" enough.
In fact, the foremost impression one gets today at a Hamelin recital is that one is viewing (with the ears!) a masterpiece, just about every piece of which has been put perfectly into place. Technically, musically and inspirationally nothing is missing. And if anyone can recommend a better live performance of Gaspard than the mind-blowing one we heard this evening I would love to hear it; such a thing seems almost unimaginable!
The Berg Sonata, a wonderfully expressive work "leaning into" the 20th Century was gorgeous.
The Stockhausen piece was familiar to me because Shura Cherkassky used to play it. I don't know if Hamelin plays it better or if I've finally heard it enough to "get it" but I was more impressed with the music this evening than formerly. After the repeated clashing chords at the beginning, which come back several times, there are some amazing sound effects, created by using both pedals, cryptic staccato "Morse Code" type passages, and at the end some intriguing soft but ever so slightly varied tones.
The aforementioned Gaspard, certainly one of the highlights of my musical year, featured an Ondine of unearthly grace, a slow, mesmerizing Le gibet and a Scarbo which was quirky, volcanic and fantastically sensual. Although the audience did not rise at the end of Gaspard it sounded like everyone was yelling "Bravo!" together.
The second half of the program was the Liszt Sonata. It was played brilliantly, with the fugato and octave sections near the end at a terrific speed. But I'll bet that equally impressive to this audience was the beauty with which Mr. Hamelin played the slow sections, leaning on the motive in an unusual manner, making maximum effect of changes of color, and always getting the pacing just right.
A loud, standing ovation greeted Mr. Hamelin at the conclusion of the Liszt Sonata and there followed two encores. The first was a ravishing performance of Ravel's Jeux d'Eau and the second was a short Prelude No. 5 in E major by a friend of Scriabin, whose name I could not hear clearly when Mr. Hamelin announced it. He said it was one of his many findings when looking for little known music. It was a lovely piece with which to conclude a recital most people in this audience felt privileged to hear.
A Pianist's Pensive and Fanciful Sides
The Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov has had quite a year so far. In May, two months after turning 20, he took first prize in the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv. In June he won the gold medal in the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.
Not surprisingly, there was a waiting list of people trying to get into Mr. Trifonov’s sold-out recital at Mannes College the New School for Music on Thursday night, part of the International Keyboard Institute and Festival. As advance word suggested, Mr. Trifonov has scintillating technique and a virtuosic flair. He is also a thoughtful artist and, when so moved, he can play with soft-spoken delicacy, not what you associate with competition conquerors.
These qualities came through in his opening work, Scriabin’s Sonata No. 3 in F sharp minor. Unlike the later, mystical Scriabin sonatas, this is a rhapsodic work with Chopinesque beauties. The first movement is like a lurching dance run through with a nonstop lyrical line. Mr. Trifonov balanced voices beautifully and, in a way, orchestrated the layers of sound. He played with pensive delicacy in the slow movement and a touch of bracing wildness in the stormy finale.
In four novelty pieces by Tchaikovsky he showed his fanciful side. What most moved me was his account of Chopin’s Barcarolle. Beneath its surface beauties, this is contrapuntally and harmonically complex music. Mr. Trifonov gave an unusually subdued performance, sometimes intentionally blurring the lilting barcarolle accompaniment figure to create a shimmering mist of sound.
Now and then details were indistinct, and a burst of impetuosity threw off the poise of his overall conception. Still, his deep involvement with the music came through in every phrase. Mr. Trifonov is a boyish young man who enjoys performing. But he becomes absorbed when he plays and is no showman. At the end of the barcarolle he looked spent.
He had reserves of energy, it turned out. Though his performance of Chopin’s Three Mazurkas (Op. 56) had a little too much Russian Romantic rhythmic freedom for my taste, he bent phrases with such tenderness that he won me over.
In Liszt’s brilliant “Mephisto Waltz” No. 1, Mr. Trifonov finally let out his inner demon virtuoso, which was fun to hear. His breathless tempos sometimes caused scrambled moments in his fiery passagework. Who cared? The audience erupted in cheers, and Mr. Trifonov played four encores, all Chopin, including three études.
Now what? His concert calendar for next season is crammed with appearances around the world, including a concert at Carnegie Hall in October with the Mariinski Orchestra, in which he will perform Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with Valery Gergiev conducting. He is quickly gaining attention and is all over YouTube.
Mr. Trifonov’s poetic nature needs more mentoring. Since 2009 he has been studying at the Cleveland Institute of Music. But will his touring life take over? It would reassure me if his repertory list had works by living composers. But it includes a few pieces he has written: an encouraging sign. I wish he had played one.
A Russian Who Ignores Those Old Stereotypes
It seems odd that a pianist as accomplished as Dmitri Alexeev does not perform in New York more often than he does. Now 63, Mr. Alexeev studied at the Moscow Conservatory and won a string of competition prizes in the early 1970s. But he has sidestepped the stereotypes of both Russian pianism (big, brawny and loud) and the international competition style (dazzling but risk averse). His recital on Wednesday as part of the International Keyboard Institute and Festival at the Mannes College the New School for Music showed him to be a thoughtful, poetic player willing to go out on a limb, interpretively, usually to superb effect.
In the first half of his program Mr. Alexeev concentrated on Schumann, beginning with “Blumenstück” (Op. 19), the inventive set of miniatures and variations that Schumann composed in 1839 with the idea of depicting aspects of love as a series of flower portraits. That is a lot to ask of a group of juxtaposed short pieces, but Schumann’s lyrical gifts served him well here. Mr. Alexeev capitalized on the sweet, changeable themes, playing with an almost vocal sense of shape and made the serenity of the work’s final passage seem surprising and magical.
“Kreisleriana,” which shared the first half with “Blumenstück,” is a tougher nut: Schumann’s imagination runs wilder here, and the demands that he makes on a pianist are greater, in both breadth of expression and pure technique. The work gave Mr. Alexeev an immediate opportunity to tap into the more tempestuous side of his style, but, more important, it let him play to one of his strengths: the ability to move with deft fluidity between extremes of agitation and elegance. And on the purely technical side a listener had to admire the evenness of Mr. Alexeev’s chord voicings and his supple balancing of the work’s themes and supporting figuration.
These same qualities, and an extra measure of gracefulness, illuminated “The Lark,” Balakirev’s sparkling fantasy on a gently warbling song by Glinka, which opened the second half. Mr. Alexeev’s flexible tempos and dynamics highlighted the mystery and intensity of Scriabin’s Four Preludes (Op. 22), and the decision to play a group of shorter Scriabin works and several Chopin mazurkas without pause proved oddly effective. By starting with a rubato-rich account of Scriabin’s “Quasi Valse” (Op. 47) and including the lyrical “Two Poems” (Op. 69) and Two Études (Op. 42), Mr. Alexeev suggested a connection in spirit, if not in substance, between the composers.
He closed the program with a feisty performance of Chopin’s “Heroic” Polonaise in A flat. The excitement of this animated, rhythmically freewheeling reading was in the way that Mr. Alexeev flirted with allowing the work to spin out of control, without ever losing its structural thread.
Dmitri Alexeev Recital - IKIF
Schumann: Blumenstück in D Flat major, Op. 19
Schumann: Kreisleriana, Op. 16
Glinka/Balakirev: The Lark
Scriabin: Four Preludes, Op. 12
Scriabin: Quasi Valse in F major, Op. 47
Scriabin: Two Poemes, Op. 69
Scriabin: Two Etudes, Op. 42
Chopin: Five Mazurkas
Chopin: Poloniase in A Flat major, Op. 53
Although he may not be a well-known artist here, pianist Dmitri Alexeev has performed all over the world and recorded for several major labels. He won awards at the 1969 Marguerite Long Competition in Paris, the 1970 George Enescu Competition in Bucharest, and the 1974 Tchaikovsky Competition before being unanimously awarded first prize at the Leeds Competition in 1975. He is a strong, confident and serious performer who sometimes seems just a bit frustrated when continuing applause keeps him from moving on to the next work.
The Blumenstück is a lovely work which is not heard often. It has some tempo changes marked, and of course one does not expect it to be played metronomically, as it was written by one of the most Romantic of composers. However, there was far too much of stop-go, red light - green light rubato in this performance, for this listener, at least. After awhile one could even predict how the rubato would go, which took away from its expressive impact. Even Horowitz, who played this piece, and was often accused of not being able to play "simply" did not exaggerate the pacing like this.
Mr. Alexeev's Kreisleriana, by contrast, had no rhythmic distortion and was very varied, powerful and effective. Particularly impressive parts of it included the fugato in the second to the last movement, played at a blazing tempo, and the chorale theme which followed, as well as the impassioned D minor section in the last movement.
Mr. Alexeev began the second half of the program with a wonderful performance of the Glinka/Balakirev Lark, which was, in turn, chaste, fluttery and brilliant.
He then turned to several groups of Scriabin works, all of which he played through without a break. There was never a false step here; Mr. Alexeev is a wonderful Scriabin player! He understands this composer's fantastical, quasi-psychedelic language and speaks (plays) it fluently. One appreciated especially the contrasting moods of the Preludes and the two Etudes, the first languid, the second having a restless tension leading eventually to a huge welter of sound.
In the Chopin Mazurkas I came to appreciate somewhat more than in the Blumenstück his approach to rubato. I was reminded of Moritz Rosenthal, not because Mr. Alexeev sounds like him but because Rosenthal never played a note which wasn't "interpreted." Every note and phrase had an intentional idea, an expressive context behind it. Nothing was played without thought. The same could be said, and appreciated, about Mr. Alexeev's interpretation of the Mazurkas. Although one could occasionally feel the use of rubato was again a bit extreme everything was meaningful, and played with beautiful tone, and color. I was actually sometimes convinced, to my own surprise!
Mr. Alexeev concluded the official program with a rousing performance of the Chopin A Flat major Polonaise. The playing was grand, the octave section was fast, and the audience reacted with great enthusiasm.
Four encores followed: a Chopin Mazurka in F minor, the famous Scriabin D Sharp minor Etude, the Rachmaninoff Prelude in G Sharp minor, and the E minor Waltz of Chopin. The Chopin works were delightful, the Rachmaninoff Prelude was very fine, and the Scriabin was fantastic!
HaeSun Paik Recital - IKIF
Mozart: Fantasy in D minor, K. 397
Schumann: Fantasy in C major, Op. 17
Liszt: Six Grand Paganini Etudes, S. 141
Last year Haesun Paik played a sensational recital, including the Schumann Humoresque and the Scriabin Fifth Sonata, at the Festival. This evening's program, though certainly well-played, lacked some of the energy and visceral excitement of last year's concert.
Ms. Paik is a true Romantic pianist, and one hears that in everything she plays. The Mozart Fantasy which began the program, was soulful and beautiful, though some people might prefer a bit less tempo fluctuation.
The Schumann Fantasy is a natural for someone with Ms. Paik's musical inclinations. The first movement was very fine. The second movement, with the fearsome coda, was more thoughtful than physical and she focused on bringing out interesting details, such as the dotted rhythms, before throwing herself into the last section. After which, though it's not the end of the work, her enthusiastic audience applauded her heartily.
The third movement had some wonderful moments, including the swirling arpeggiated modulations near the end, and some soft passages. She is often at her most expressive at the low end of the dynamic range.
Ms. Paik played the Liszt/Paganini Etudes with more strength, and they were all effective. Il Tremolo was large-scaled and dramatic. If her playing of the E Flat major Etude may not put the ancient Horowitz recording out of business it had the appropriate combination of fleetness, charm and bombast. La Campanella sizzled, and the two E major Etudes were delightful. The concluding A minor Theme and Variations were powerful, and again produced great enthusiasm, and a standing ovation from many of her fans.
Ms. Paik concluded with one encore, the popular Liszt arrangement of the Schumann song, Widmung.
We've got a little Liszt
Exploring 'the greatest life ever lived'
At least three times during of his July 18 International Keyboard Institute & Festival programme, writer and radio personality David Dubal said that Franz Liszt experienced the greatest life ever lived. I guess that’s true.
Imagine being in Liszt’s shoes, or, better still, having his hands, inhabiting his mind. Imagine taking the relatively new pianoforte to new levels of virtuosity and expression. Imagine being a sex symbol, superstar, groomer of young talent, inventor of the recital, masterclass, tone poem, and transcendental etude. Imagine having a harmonic sense that foams at the mouth and sends smoke out of your ears. And then dropping out of the concert arena to concentrate on composing, from the celebrated B Minor Sonata and undervalued Hungarian Rhapsodies to those bizarre late pieces. If anyone can “sell” Liszt, Dubal can. Dubal not only discussed Liszt’s multi-faceted musical world, but also drew attention to Liszt’s generosity of spirit and cultural curiosity. He was almost as prodigious a writer of letters as he was an indefatigable transcriber of orchestral works for the piano, and a seasoned art connoisseur.
Dubal interspersed his comments with recorded examples. These included Horowitz’s galvanizing 1920 E-flat Paganini Etude and a live 1951 excerpt from the Sixth Rhapsody, where the octaves slowly gain momentum before engulfing Carnegie Hall in a tidal wave of sound. I must admit that I didn’t care for Simon Barere’s astonishingly accurate Gnomenreigen and La Leggierezza, which are quick on the draw but slow on the musicality. But at least Dubal played Benno Moiseiwitsch’s La Leggierezza too, which stands among the five greatest piano recordings ever made. An indefatigable promoter and nurturer of young keyboard talent, Dubal shared the platform to showcase three pianists (Wael Farouk, Benjamin Laude and Xu Han) in short Liszt selections.
Cyprien Katsaris’ July 20 programme found the brilliant, idiosyncratic pianist in a more settled mood than when he played in New York two months ago. He gave over most of the first half to a continuous mix culled from Liszt’s late pieces, played with three-dimensional dynamic scaling and focused intensity. While Katsaris’ fluent mastery cannot convince me that Liszt’s deadly dull Chaconne from Handel’s Almira is worth any pianist’s effort, it was wonderful to hear the Wagner/Liszt Liebestod taken as a brisk, long lined stroll rather than a brooding crawl, plus a glittering Fifth Rhapsody. If Chico Marx had the chops and the musicianship to play Haydn’s C Major Sonata No 35, that’s exactly what we heard from Katsaris. If his Chopin A Major Polonaise oozed vulgarity in the form of brash octave doublings, inverted dynamics, freakish inner voices, and mauled rhythms, at least afterwards Katsaris warned young pianists in the house NOT to play the Polonaise as he just did! Immediately following his deliciously slapdash rewrite of Gottschalk’s The Banjo, Kastaris offered an improvisation which turned out to be high-octane cocktail pianist renditions of classical music’s greatest hits. It was as if the Liberace Museum had never closed.
King of Virtuosos Is Weary Of His Crown
WHEN Marc-André Hamelin gave a piano recital at Le Poisson Rouge in September, he displayed all the hallmarks of a first-rate artist: a stellar technique, poise and probing musicianship. He did so in a program consisting entirely of his own compositions, a rare feat in an era when the composer-pianist is an increasingly endangered species.
Mr. Hamelin, who turns 50 in September, has recorded his own works alongside a vast collection of little-known repertory, making a name for himself with terrific releases of worthy obscurities on the Hyperion label. More recently he has also recorded excellent discs of work by mainstream composers like Haydn, Schumann, Chopin and Liszt.
On Friday evening at Mannes College the New School for Music, as part of the International Keyboard Institute and Festival, Mr. Hamelin will perform a program of 19th- and 20th-century music: Berg’s Piano Sonata (Op. 1), Stockhausen’s Klavierstück IX, Ravel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit” and Liszt’s Sonata in B minor.
Mr. Hamelin’s imaginative and soulful recording of the Liszt sonata is one of his latest releases on Hyperion. Among his many other notable recordings are several of music by Charles-Valentin Alkan, a 19th-century French virtuoso pianist and a friend of Chopin’s.
Mr. Hamelin finds the word “virtuoso,” which is invariably applied to his playing, a somewhat derogatory descriptive that implies mere showmanship, he said during a recent interview in a practice room at Mannes. But he wields his jaw-dropping technique, impressive even alongside the technical wizardry of many contemporary pianists, entirely in the service of insightful, passionate music making. There is nothing remotely flamboyant about his playing or his stage presence; he moves his upper body little. But the agility with which his hands fly over the keys is dazzling.
A virtuoso technique is imperative to make any sense of the thickets of notes in Alkan’s works. As David Dubal, the piano scholar and Juilliard professor, said in a telephone interview, virtuoso “is a term that has not since Paganini and Liszt found a resting place.”
“It’s a very wonderful thing to be a virtuoso,” Mr. Dubal added. “You can’t play the Godowsky études without being one.
“Mr. Hamelin has a marvelous stature in the world of piano in that he has brought back and explored many wonderful things that can give the piano a future. He is not afraid of anything. We’re talking about one of the only pianists with a more comprehensive outlook on the repertory, which can inspire young people to play beyond the restricted repertory that exists. That’s where his importance lies.”
Mr. Hamelin’s fascination with Alkan and other composers off the beaten track (he has recorded works by Nikolai Kapustin, Leo Ornstein, Nikolai Roslavets, Georgy Catoire and Xaver Scharwenka) began as a child in Montreal, where he grew up speaking French. His father, Gilles Hamelin, a pharmacist and an accomplished amateur pianist who died in 1995, was an avid collector of scores and recordings. He encouraged his son’s natural curiosity about a wide range of music. Mr. Hamelin’s mother, Jacqueline Hamelin, doesn’t play an instrument, he said, but is “a very keen listener.”
Mr. Hamelin enjoys unearthing rare scores in secondhand shops. But the demise of brick-and-mortar outlets has meant fewer opportunities to discover gems.
Some works, like Dukas’s mammoth Piano Sonata, Mr. Hamelin said, fell into obscurity because they were never promoted by a big-name exponent. Mr. Hamelin grew up listening to recordings by golden-age pianists, many of whom — like pianists in the 19th century — played their own arrangements and compositions.
Mr. Hamelin’s 12 Études, in all the minor keys, which he performed at Le Poisson Rouge in September (and which have been published by Edition Peters), were inspired mostly by 19th-century composers and writers. The poetic Étude No. 7 in E flat minor (“After Tchaikovsky,” for the left hand alone), for example, is modeled on Tchaikovsky’s “Lullaby” (Op. 16, No. 1). The Étude No. 3 in B minor (“After Paganini-Liszt”) takes its inspiration from “La Campanella,” and the Étude No. 8 in B flat minor (“Erlkönig, After Goethe”) mirrors Goethe’s famous poem.
Composing, transcribing and arranging are now mostly lost arts for pianists, Mr. Dubal said, praising Mr. Hamelin’s eclectic interests and talents. Composition, Mr. Dubal added, should be encouraged in conservatories to facilitate broader and more creative artistry, rather than the “robots culture, a mechanical culture” that exists today.
“Just because you can play the octaves of the Tchaikovsky Concerto,” Mr. Dubal said, “you can’t expect to be called an artist or a musician. I’m adamant about that. I teach many pianists at Juilliard, and it doesn’t mean they will ever be artists or even musicians.” To be a complete musician like Mr. Hamelin, “you have to learn how to compose, how to transcribe, how to arrange music,” he added. “It’s all part of a great tradition.”
That tradition has faded because of changes in conservatory training leading toward a system that encourages rote study and memorization of large segments of the mainstream pianistic repertory. “It’s much more important than many students realize to have a thorough grounding in harmony, counterpoint, theory and ear training,” said Mr. Hamelin, who studied at the École de Musique Vincent-d’Indy in Montreal and received undergraduate and graduate degrees in piano performance from Temple University in Philadelphia. “Without that you will be a very incomplete musician.”
Mr. Hamelin, who writes music by hand and never uses any of the popular computer tools, called composing “essential for many reasons.”
“It helps you not to take the composers you play for granted,” he said, “and it allows you to experience fully at first hand what they went through at the moment of creating the piece you are playing. It also helps you understand the system of notation. I’d be a very different performer if I didn’t compose.”
Mr. Hamelin’s ability to dissect a piece aurally is evident when he highlights multiple voices in even the densest of scores. His playing is notable for its clarity of texture and for its momentum, particularly in vast sonatas that can sound meandering in less capable hands.
Because of this focus on clarity, his interpretations have been called cold.
“Every concert I do is like a love offering,’ he said, “and I just want to give everything I have. But some people confuse clarity with coldness. Admittedly I’m not much to watch at the piano, which bothers some people.”
Mr. Hamelin, an affable, unassuming man with an explosive laugh, is going through a divorce. He lives in Boston with his fiancée, the pianist and WBGH radio host Cathy Fuller, to whom he dedicated his Theme and Variations. Mr. Hamelin doesn’t own a piano and practices on Ms. Fuller’s Steinway.
His actual time at the instrument varies.
“I practice 24 hours,” he said. “I’m not kidding,” he added with a laugh. “It’s not the time but what you achieve. There is also the factor that if you spend all of your days in the practice room, what are you hoping to express musically and emotionally, if all you see is four walls? You have to live and gather experience and go through the good and the bad.”
“You have to concentrate your work as much as possible,” he added, “and practice as little mechanically as possible.”
Simon Perry, the director of Hyperion Records, said he enjoys working with Mr. Hamelin “because he is just a straightforward guy with no airs and graces who is really fun to be around.”
“He is astonishing in the studio,” Mr. Perry added. “There are works he has recorded for us where you could imagine the strain and stress, but he seems to find it easy.”
Young performers who immediately want to record staples of the repertory, Mr. Perry said, “are asking for trouble, given that everything has been recorded umpteen times by the greatest performers in 50 years.”
Mr. Hamelin, even given his age, experience and prodigious gifts, is still waiting to record staples like the late Beethoven sonatas. “The presence of so many wonderful recordings,” he said, “makes me want to wait until I’m capable of realizing exactly what I want.”
In the meantime he has plenty to focus on, including two concerts at the BBC Proms in London this summer: a late-night Liszt recital on Aug. 24 and a performance of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales on Sept. 3. In October he will perform Szymanowski’s Symphony No. 4 for piano and orchestra (“Symphonie Concertante”) with the Berlin Philharmonic.
This is all music for virtuosos. “I play things that are outwardly flashy,” Mr. Hamelin said. “But if there were no music in it, I wouldn’t bother with it. If people only see the artifice, I feel that I’ve failed.”
For Liszt, Experimentation Was a Form of Greatness
In January, during my Top 10 Composers project, a two-week series of deliberative articles, blog posts and videos to come up with a list of the greatest composers in history, Liszt was never really a contender. Among comments from readers, there were surprisingly few calls to include him in this select group.
But if this exercise, an intellectual game played seriously, had involved coming up with the Top 10 musicians in history — those creative artists whose overall contributions had enormous influence on the art form — Liszt would easily have made the list. In fact, Liszt, born 200 years ago this Oct. 22, might have been my choice for the top spot.
One person who would agree is the musicologist Alan Walker. In his monumental three-volume Liszt biography and in two supplemental books, Mr. Walker makes a case for Liszt, who died in 1886, as the towering musical figure of the 19th century. Last month, during the International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Mannes College the New School for Music, Mr. Walker gave a lecture, “Liszt at the Keyboard,” focusing on that master’s contributions to the piano. But he began by describing the stunning breadth of Liszt’s accomplishments, which unfolded, he said, “simultaneously in six directions.”
First and foremost, Liszt was a colossal pianist, the most awesome virtuoso of his era, who in his playing and his compositions for piano pushed the boundaries of technique, texture and sound. As a composer, beyond his works for piano, Liszt was the inventor of the orchestral tone poem and an inspired songwriter, and he produced a body of sublime sacred choral works. As a conductor, he introduced seminal scores, including Wagner’s “Lohengrin,” in Weimar.
Liszt was the most consequential piano teacher of his time. He taught some 400 students over 40 years, in line with his notion of “génie oblige,” the obligation of genius, and never accepted payment for the lessons, much to the chagrin of rival pedagogues. Liszt was also, Mr. Walker emphasized, a festival organizer and an important writer of essays, program notes and criticism.
In this bicentennial year there has been a bounty of Liszt recordings. Culling items from the Universal Classics catalog, Deutsche Grammophon released a limited-edition, 34-CD boxed set, “Liszt: The Collection,” a comprehensive offering of Liszt’s music, including organ pieces, songs and sacred vocal works. There have been Liszt solo piano recordings by Marc-André Hamelin, Nelson Freire, Garrick Ohlsson and others, with more to come.
In his lecture Mr. Walker emphasized two facets of Liszt the pianist that are more relevant than ever. Liszt was a champion of knotty works that mystified the public: not only music by contemporaries but also older scores, like the late Beethoven and Schubert piano sonatas. Take Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata, a piece that during Liszt’s years as a touring virtuoso was widely considered an incoherent, unplayable creation of an old, deaf and eccentric composer. Liszt showed that here was an exhilarating Beethoven masterpiece.
After hearing Liszt perform the sonata in 1836, Berlioz wrote of Liszt’s impressive fidelity to the text in a review quoted in the first volume of Mr. Walker’s biography. If the “Hammerklavier” presented the “riddle of the Sphinx,” as Berlioz wrote, then Liszt had solved it, and “in such a way that had the composer himself returned from the grave, a paroxysm of joy and pride would have swept over him.” In making comprehensible a work not yet comprehended, Berlioz added, Liszt proved that “he is the pianist of the future.”
In addition, Mr. Walker said, Liszt essentially invented the idea of the piano recital, purposefully borrowing a literary term to indicate that a piano program should be not just a collection of interesting pieces but also a musical essay with a theme or narrative.
This is exactly what the brilliant pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard accomplishes in his two-disc album “The Liszt Project,” which will be released by Deutsche Grammophon in September. Mr. Aimard brings his consummate skills and musical insights to performances of Liszt’s formidable Piano Sonata and lesser-known later works. These Liszt pieces are juxtaposed with works by Berg, Wagner, Scriabin, Bartok, Messiaen, Ravel and the Italian composer Marco Stroppa.
As a composer, Liszt was often an iconoclastic adventurer, especially in works with fluid, diaphanous textures and sounds that anticipated Impressionism. In many of his late pieces he explores radical chromatic harmony and dissonance, sometimes cutting loose almost completely from tonal moorings. In one telling sequence in “The Liszt Project,” Mr. Aimard segues from Liszt’s short, spare-textured experimental “Nuages Gris,” composed in 1881, to Berg’s early Piano Sonata (Op. 1), written some 27 years later, and it seems but a short leap from late Liszt to Berg’s intense, one-movement work, nominally in a minor key but sounding almost atonal. Mr. Aimard’s point in this album is not just to show Liszt anticipating 20th-century modernism but also to place him amid giants like Berg, Bartok and Messiaen.
But if Liszt never lacked champions among master pianists, why is he not considered as important as other Romantic composers, like Schumann and Chopin?
The problem may be that “greatness” thing, which was, admittedly, the nebulous criterion for my Top 10 Composers project. Liszt’s music can be audacious, visionary, mystical, thrilling. If it does not seem “great,” perhaps this is because he was not striving to compose masterpieces in the manner of a Beethoven. He was too concerned with the immediate and experimental.
Also, even Liszt lovers must admit that he wrote lots of shamelessly flashy piano pieces. It may not help his reputation as a master composer that Lang Lang has a new album on Sony Classical called “Liszt: My Piano Hero,” featuring a cover image of himself in a digitized, flame orange swirling cape. It looks like something out of “Priscilla Queen of the Desert.”
In discussing Liszt’s devotion to the piano, Mr. Walker quoted an open letter the 26-year-old Liszt had written to musicians who had criticized him in advance of a world tour, arguing that Liszt should instead devote himself to becoming a proper composer of symphonic works and more. In his letter, really a manifesto, Liszt placed the piano at the “top of the hierarchy of instruments.” The piano could evoke “the entire scope of the orchestra,” Liszt wrote, the “harmony of 100 players.”
This letter sheds light on Liszt’s passion for transcribing songs, symphonic music and excerpts from operas into all manner of piano fantasies and paraphrases. The best of these works are much more than virtuosic stunts. Liszt’s piano transcriptions of the nine Beethoven symphonies are works of genius. Vladimir Horowitz, in a 1988 interview, told me that he deeply regretted never having played Liszt’s arrangements of the Beethoven symphonies in public.
“These are the greatest works for the piano, tremendous works,” he said. “But they are ‘sound’ works,” by which he meant pieces that explore the piano’s coloristic possibilities. “For me,” Horowitz elaborated, “the piano is the orchestra. I don’t like the sound of the piano as a piano. I like to imitate the orchestra — the oboe, the clarinet, the violin and, of course, the singing voice. Every note of the symphonies is in the Liszt works.”
In this Liszt year we are still coming to terms with his achievement. Top 10 composer? Maybe not. But what a monumental musician! And what a character: a combination of showman and genius, superstar and, later in life, devout cleric. He covered all the bases.
Yuan Sheng Recital - IKIF
Bach: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
This evening, at Yuan Sheng's recital, a respected colleague told me how lucky he still feels that the very first time he heard the Hammerklavier Sonata in concert the pianist playing it was Rudolf Serkin. Which made me think about when I had heard the Goldberg Variations performed before. I'd heard recordings of the work. I have read through all or most of it, and none of it sounded unfamiliar. But when did I actually hear it played before in concert? To my embarrassment I realized: Probably never!
So this was it! My first time!
It was an extraordinary experience, thanks to a composer whose greatness is beyond words, and a fabulously talented artist.
The amazing content of the music aside, I could not think of any work in the standard repertoire (before the 20th Century, at least) where a pianist sits and plays continuously for 77 minutes, the length of the Goldberg Variations when played with all the repeats, as we heard it this evening. Does the performer (especially when playing from memory, as Mr. Sheng did) feel after an hour the "wall" a marathon runner may hit around mile 20?
Besides sheer stamina there are at least a few other elements necessary to bring off this music successfully.
The most obvious one is technique. That one will get you quite far, this music being so complicated much of the time, but it won't give you depth or subtlety.
Another element is understanding the ornamentation of Bach's time. But that's not the whole story, either. I cannot forget the long-ago experience of a lecture given by a man who considered himself a Bach expert. He spoke about the ornamentation at length but then played the music with a sound quite lacking in the appropriate nobility and character.
One can sometimes feel that almost nothing new, harmonically or rhythmically, has come along since Bach. This is an exaggeration, but not such a very big one, considering how sophisticated and difficult the music is. So one also needs imagination.
Then, too the modern piano did not exist when Bach wrote this work. But, as I've noted at previous concerts he's given, Yuan Sheng makes one feel that this music was written for this instrument. The Chinese and American-trained master has all the other qualities needed to succeed with Bach's music, too.
He understands pacing, both within and between the Variations. He always does repeats with a different sound or dynamic, or by slight alteration of the ornaments. He has a wide tonal palette (yes, Bach on the piano should be in COLOR, not just black and white!) and he has both the intellect and imagination to keep this huge work alive and afloat for over an hour and a quarter. It should almost go without saying that he has a big technique, capable of creating moments of excitement and brilliance, but the technique is always there to serve the music, never to show off. The MUSIC does that!
This recital was truly inspiring.
More from the International Keyboard Institute & Festival
Discoveries at the IKIF
Hot piano playing and cool air conditioning have made the International Keyboard Institute & Festival (IKIF) an enticing proposition during these New York summer dog days. Piano mavens, professionals and students must feel the same way, since I see some of the same faces on successive nights, and have taken the opportunity to make new friends and reconnect with old ones.
For example, I caught up with Steven Mayer, whom I had not seen in quite some time. We first met 25 years ago when he had commissioned me to transcribe Art Tatum solos that he eventually recorded for ASV, and again for Naxos. Of course I’ve followed his other Naxos releases, such as the fluent, idiomatic Ives Concord Sonata, and a recent collection of Wagner/Liszt transcriptions. The latter disc is quite special, featuring performances that embody what I call the three “v”s. In other words, they are vivid, virile and variegated. Moreover, Mayer’s full-bodied tone and lyrical sensitivity are always present; it is obvious that he is as familiar with the Wagner originals as he is with Liszt’s gazillions of notes.
Steven and I sat together during Mykola Suk’s recital. Over the years Suk has cultivated a Liszt style that seems impressionistic on the surface, rounded rather than angular, with an emphasis on long lines and harmonic point rather than bravura and scintillation. He has a tremendous, effortless technique, yet he consistently channels it towards musical ends, and often throws away passages that others shamelessly flaunt. “Mykola really inhabits the Dante Sonata,” Steven said. What an apt comment for an extraordinary performance. Suk stretched out the softest passages for maximum harmonic and melodic expression and mood painting, while the endless octaves emerged with boundless colours and shapes.
For my taste, Suk’s sophisticated approach worked less well in Thalberg’s Moise Fantasy. This is flashy, empty-headed music and I think you have to play it for what it is, and be direct, flashy and drive the points home. After all, you wouldn’t accompany Elvis Presley singing “All Shook Up” with Bill Evans chord voicings! On the other hand, Suk’s style suits Silvestrov’s two-part Dedication to Franz Liszt heard here in its world premiere. The music is stark, tonal, and sad, often sounding as if Liszt’s more accessible late pieces had been submerged under water. Following the most elegant, curvaceous Hungarian Rhapsody No 12 performed on planet Earth that day, Suk similarly tossed off the F minor Transcendental Etude. Its refinement of detail and remarkable speed reminded me of television host Steve Allen’s comment about Art Tatum’s celebrated keyboard runs, and how they’re like looking at a Da Vinci painting while riding a bicycle.
Improvisation, as Well as Intensity
These days many performers in classical music speak to audiences to share insights and stories. But it is not often that an artist disavows a performance he has just given.
This happened on Wednesday night at the International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Mannes College the New School for Music, when the noted French-Cypriot pianist Cyprien Katsaris finished a ballistic account of Chopin’s “Military” Polonaise.
The bushy-haired Mr. Katsaris, 60, warned the many aspiring pianists in the audience never to offer an “ignominious” performance like the one he had just given for an exam or a competition; otherwise “the jury will ——,” he said, going silent. Then he made a gesture to slice his throat with his right hand. The audience laughed and applauded.
During this two-week festival the evening recitals mostly come in pairs. Earlier on this night, as part of the Prestige Series that presents younger artists, Gesa Luecker, a thoughtful German pianist, played works by Mozart, Liszt and Schumann.
Then, as part of the Masters Series, Mr. Katsaris, who has had a major, if somewhat unconventional, career and has not played often in America, offered lots of Liszt and Liszt transcriptions, as well as three Schubert-Liszt favorites. He also played works by Haydn, Chopin and his own finger-twisting arrangement of Gottschalk’s exuberant novelty piece, “The Banjo.”
If Mr. Katsaris’s Chopin polonaise was burly and clangorous, there was something compelling about it, if only because he had an extreme concept that he carried through, notes be damned. In a way, isn’t that the definition of a master? A master pianist may or may not be a role model. But a master has reached a point where he knows what he is about.
Mr. Katsaris gave some fascinating performances here, especially in his Liszt selections, played in honor of the 200th anniversary of that composer’s birth. In the murky, mysterious opening section of Liszt’s “Trauer-Vorspiel und Marsch,” Mr. Katsaris played with hushed dramatic intensity. The march section had the relentless force of his Chopin polonaise, but with the notes in place. The atmospheric, harmonically radical “Nuage Gris” sounded here like an anticipation of Schoenberg. In Liszt’s arrangement of the “Liebestod” from Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde,” Mr. Katsaris showed uncommon sensitivity for the orchestral textures the piano evokes.
He remains an individualistic and quirky pianist, even in his facial mannerisms (a few times he smiled at people in the audience while playing) and arm gestures (if his right hand is playing a solo melodic line, his left hand inevitably conducts it).
But in the midst of some curious performances, he showed himself capable of pianistic magic. As a break from the Romantics, he played a crisp, if somewhat too cute, account of Haydn’s Piano Sonata in C (Hob. XVI:35.) If you like Haydn crunchy, rather than smooth (to borrow terms from peanut butter), this was the performance for you.
For a long encore, he improvised, having explained to his audience that he regrets the decline of this honorable practice, at which Liszt, Beethoven and Mozart excelled. His improvisation folded familiar tunes (“The Merry Widow Waltz,” “Strangers in Paradise,” the Barcarole from “Tales of Hoffmann”) into paroxysms of piano sound that suggested updated Liszt and Scriabin.
Earlier Ms. Luecker proved a straightforward and sensitive pianist who brought lyrical grace and clarity to Mozart’s Sonata in C minor. Her artistry was at its best, rich with imagination and technical prowess, in works by Liszt, especially the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13. In Schumann’s popular “Carnaval,” a suite of character pieces, Ms. Luecker mostly showed rhapsodic flair and lovely colors, though sometimes her breathless tempos resulted in rushed and scrambled playing.
She and Mr. Katsaris could not have been more different. This festival is covering the gamut of approaches to the piano.
Cyprien Katsaris Recital - IKIF
Liszt: Trauer-Vorspiel und Marsch, S. 206
Liszt: Nuage Gris, S. 199
Liszt: Csardas Obsintée, S. 225
Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody No. "Héroïde-élégiaque," S. 181
Liszt: Chaconne from "Almira" (after Handel), S. 181
Liszt: Schlaflos, Frage und Antwort, S. 203
Liszt: La Lugubre Gondola No. 1, S. 200
Liszt: Richard Wagner - Venezia, S. 201
Liszt: Am Grabe Richard Wagner, S. 202
Wagner/Liszt: Liebstod from "Tristan und Isolde", S. 447
Haydn: Sonata in C major, Hob. XVI: 35
Schubert/Liszt: Der Müller und der Bach
Schubert/Liszt: Ave Maria
Chopin: Polonaise in A major, Op. 40, No. 1 (Military)
Chopin: Polonaise in E Flat minor, Op. 26, No. 2
Chopin: Larghetto from Concerto No. 2 (arranged for piano solo by Chopin)
Gottschalk/Katsaris: The Banjo
Earl Wild would have loved this.
Those readers currently engrossed in reading the late pianist's lengthy (over 800 pages) and controversial memoirs (he actually claims that a very accomplished musician I knew was a kleptomaniac!) know how well Wild appreciated the Romantic pianist's duel roles as artist and entertainer. Which is also a very good description of Cyprien Katsaris.
It is a pleasure to see someone who is as comfortable appearing before an audience as is Mr. Katsaris. He seems happy to be on stage (which he leaves only at the end of each half of the program) and he clearly loves playing the piano. If Mannes College did not close the building for the night after his recital he might still be there. He prefers not to have applause between certain pieces, so as to play them as a group, but he is happy to get up, bow, and make impromptu comments at other times. He finds it a waste of resources when he is playing with only one hand, so he conducts himself with the other. He is an exuberant but sensitive performer with a big technique, and he never plays a note without a musical idea and context behind it.
This was particularly impressive in the Liszt works he played on the first half. Poor Liszt playing can sound like noisy, hollow rhetoric, but that never happens with Mr. Katsaris. Every nuance is thought out, expressive and under control, and he has a wonderful command of dynamcs from very soft to pummeling the instrument into submission without ever making an ugly tone. The Csardas rhythm was obstinate indeed, and in Schlaflos, Frage und Antwort (Sleepless, Question and Answer) one experienced incessant tossing and turning. The Wagner pieces at the end of the first half were played with a wonderful understanding of color in harmonic modulation.
I don't think most pianists would play the Haydn Sonata in such a light, fast and Romantic manner as Mr. Katsaris, but it was nonetheless delightful, and it sure beat an overly serious and dry interpretation. Hearing such unusual things as Mr. Katsaris changing the voicing in repeats, sometimes bringing out the top of left hand chords instead of the melody, brought back happy memories of the late, lamented Shura Cherkassky hunting for middle voices in Mozart Sonatas.
The Schubert/Liszt pieces were wonderful, most especially the filigree lines in the Ave Maria which Mr. Katsaris wove while playing the melody nobly.
After playing the first Chopin Polonaise listed on the program he announced that, because of time constraints, he would not be playing the second one. He also warned students in the audience NEVER to play the first Polonaise in a competition as he had! Everyone got the point. It was so free-wheeling, tempo-wise, and he had such a good time playing it "his way" that it might not be "acceptable" to some people. One could argue that, though Chopin was one of the greatest Romantic composers, there is also a classicism in his music that is not necessarily improved by unlimited use of rubato. Much the same thing might be said about the way in which Mr. Katsaris played the slow movement of the F minor Concerto, in Chopin's own version for solo piano. But one could not say a word against it otherwise, for it was tonally gorgeous, and had every other element perfectly in place.
Mr. Katsaris concluded the official program with his verison of Gottschalk's Banjo, played at a blistering speed. Then, after making the very legitimate point that classical pianists no longer know how to improvise, he improvised. With shimmering passagework, octaves and other elements available in his large technical arsenal, he "dropped in on" what sounded like the Totentanz, the Ride of the Valkyries, the King and I, the Merry Widow, Tales of Hoffman, and probably a few other things I didn't recognize.
It was a wonderful, and quite unique evening!
Music Old Yet New
One of the ABT’s offerings last season was The Lady of the Camellias, which uses piano music of Chopin. (There is scarcely any other music by Chopin, true.) The company employed three pianists, all of whom played for each performance, and the outstanding one of whom was Koji Attwood, a young American. He played the slow movement of Chopin’s B-minor sonata in arresting, affecting fashion.
Some weeks later, he played a recital at the Mannes school, on the Upper West Side. This was a recital in the International Keyboard Institute & Festival, that excellent enterprise run by Jerome Rose, the pianist and teacher, and his partner Julie Kedersha.
On the first half of his program, Attwood played music of Schumann, Chopin, Scriabin and Bortkiewicz. Who? Sergei Bortkiewicz, a Polish-Ukrainian-Russian pianist and composer who lived from 1877 to 1952. Attwood has championed Bortkiewicz, who deserves championing: The man was a smart, gifted Romantic. He would not be in the least out of place in the mainstream.
Attwood played everything with maturity, sobriety and command. He combined strength and subtlety, heft and lyricism. He always obeyed—which is to say, followed—the musical line. And he always showed respect for the music. There was uncommonly little ego in this music-making. At the same time, it was far from retiring.
The second half of the program was dominated by a transcription that Attwood himself made, of Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” string quartet. Do we need a transcription of a Schubert quartet, given that there are many Schubert piano sonatas, some of which are underplayed? It is not a question of need. Attwood has made a fine transcription, one that sounds like a big Schubertian—or Beethovenian—piano sonata. My guess is, Schubert himself would approve.
For an encore, Attwood gave us a guitar piece, another of his transcriptions: Tárrega’s famous Recuerdos de la Alhambra. It expressed what I can only describe as a happy melancholy.
David Dubal Program on Liszt - IKIF
Last year David Dubal did a program at the International Keyboard Institute and Festival on Chopin and Schumann in honor of the two hundredth anniversary of their births. This evening he presented a very interesting and illuminating program about Franz Liszt, in honor of Liszt's bicentennial. Mr. Dubal, known by most pianists for his former radio program, Reflections From the Keyboard, and for his current program, The Piano Matters (heard on http://www.wwfm.org) is extremely knowledgeable about pianists, piano history, the history of the recorded piano, and has strong convictions about many things. He may be the only person who thinks of time not in terms of the Gregorian, Jewish, Chinese or any other ethnic calendar, but by how many years we have come since Cristofori's invention of the piano (which finds us, I believe, in the year 302!).
The program consisted of Mr Dubal telling us his thoughts about Liszt, and those of other people of note, performances by three wonderful young pianists, and listening to historic performances of Liszt's music, accompanied by Mr. Dubal's insightful observations.
Mr. Dubal reminded us of the importance of Liszt in creating the career of the concert pianist, and expressed the thought that Liszt's life was "the greatest life ever lived." Although he did not have the finest education Mr. Dubal said that Liszt was an intellectual who was interested in everything, that he was an art connoisseur, and a great letter writer. Also, doing the right and generous thing, especially as a teacher and benefactor, was of great importance to Liszt. Thoughts corroborating this were expressed in quotes from several of his most famous students. Arthur Friedheim wrote of his spiritual powers. And Moritz Rosenthal called Liszt "The most wonderful man I've ever known."
All of the live performances were impressive.
Egyptian pianist Wael Farouk's playing of First and Twelfth Transcendental Etudes (Preludio and Chasse neige) was sizzling and propulsive.
Benjamin Laude explored the murky harmonies of Nuage Gris and gave a delightful performance of the delicate but also frisky Bagatelle Without Tonality.
Xu Han played a lovely but little known Piano Piece in A Flat major, and then the Rigoletto Paraphrase which was, in her hands, in turn, lush, expansive, subtle and powerful.
Most of the historic recordings that were played were "to die for!"
Mr. Dubal expressed the thought that, had Lhevinne not recorded anything but that brilliant yet poignant reading of the Schumann/Liszt Frühlingsnacht-Traum, that alone would have ensured his immortality.
Mr. Dubal was a well-known FOH (Friend of Horowitz), and we heard that supersonic performance of the Paganini/Liszt E Flat major Etude that many of us grew up with. Something new, at least for me, was hearing a rare recording of Horowitz playing the last section of the Sixth Hungarian Rhapsody. Here one was reminded that speed was not everything for this master; finding the perfect speed at which the music logically "worked" was. The octave section was actually begun rather slowly but gradually "grew" via bassline accentuation, crescendo and acceleration into something fantastically exciting.
The great, and unlucky Simon Barere, who died in 1951 while playing the Grieg Concerto at Carnegie Hall, was heard twice on this program. Though he was an artist of great musical sensitivity and expressiveness he is most often remembered for his incredible control at high speed. (Bruce Hungerford once described how he and some friends listened to a Barere LP at a very slow speed to see if all the notes were actually there. They were!) Barere's Gnomenreigen was delightful, and later we heard his performance of La Leggiarezza, with which no flaw could be found.
Though after that Mr. Dubal gave us Moiseiwitsch's playing of La Leggiarezza, which was even more poetic and exquisite.
What historic figures will David Dubal celebrate in the future? Certainly 2013 will be the bicentennial year of Wagner, Verdi and Alkan. I'm not aware of any great musical figures born in 1812, but 2012 will be the centenary year of pianists Adrian Aeschbacher and Rudolf Firkusny, composer Hugo Weisgall and music critic Ross Parmenter. In any case, I am sure Mr. Dubal will come up with something!
Everything's coming up Rose
Jerome Rose opens Mannes College/New School for Music festival.
It’s another New York July, and for the first time in ages I can attend the International Keyboard Institute & Festival at the Mannes College/New School for Music auditorium on 150 West 85th Street, now in its 13th season.
Traditionally, founder and artistic director Jerome Rose gives the opening recital. He did so with an all-Brahms program, and, believe me, the man has never played better. Everything is coming together for Rose now. The music emerged with multi-levelled, thoughtfully contoured textures that were full-bodied, clear and cogent, rather than notey. Every piece told a story in sweeping paragraphs and long phrases that allowed Brahms’ cross-rhythmic operations their due, moving over the bar lines yet with unflagging rhythmic incision. You heard that in the two Op 79 Rhapsodies that opened the program, in the F Minor Sonata’s craggy first movement (Rose’s effortless, hair-raising octaves at the development section’s start stunned me), in a slow movement that ebbed and flowed, and a febrile, chance-taking finale that combined Rubinstein’s élan and Katchen’s nerve. Rose gave over the concert’s second half to the Op 116 piano pieces, and fused poetry with power, pushing the Yamaha grand’s immense dynamic range to the maximum, yet never, ever banging.
For an encore Rose played Liszt’s Third Consolation. The final bars are sparse and threadbare, and it was interesting how Rose deliberately drew them out to give them a stronger conclusive sense. This is but one example of how Rose’s musical choices are borne out of long experience and living with this repertoire. It’s been 50 years since he placed first in the International Busoni Competition, and I suspect this current stage of his long teaching and performing life will reap the most artistic rewards.
Indeed, lots of pianists evolve late in life, and wind up producing very special work: think of Rubinstein’s Indian summer, Bolet’s belated international career, the breadth and repose typifying Brendel in his early seventies, Horszowski flowering in his nineties, Earl Wild’s staggering Brahms F Minor Sonata at age 86, Egon Petri at 74 raising the roof as he made child’s play of Busoni’s Fantasia Contrappuntistica. To this stellar list, add Jerome Rose’s Brahms on July 17th, 2011. Will his recent re-recording of the F Minor Sonata be equally uplifting?
Jerome Rose Recital - IKIF
Brahms: Rhapsodies, Op. 79
Brahms: Sonata No. 3 in F Minor, Op. 5
Brahms: Fantasy Pieces, Op. 116
Toscanini's statement "Tradition is the last bad performance" notwithstanding there are some very GOOD traditions in the musical life of New York, and one of the finest is the International Keyboard Institute and Festival, which started its annual extensive series of programs all about the piano for the 13th time this evening. During the next two weeks those who come to Mannes College will be able to hear two recitals every day, performed by accomplished artists at all different stages of their careers, master classes and a piano competition. The audience consists of students, seniors and everything in-between. People greet fellow listeners they have met in previous years, and the audience includes some very distinguished musicians, including well-known teachers and critics.
One of the traditions of the Festival is that it opens with a piano recital by its founder, Jerome Rose. Last year he played an all-Schubert program and this time he gave us an evening of Brahms. The program notes indicate that Mr. Rose won the Concert Artists Guild award as well as a Fulbright to study in Vienna in 1961, but he is still full of strength and can make a tremendous sound at the instrument.
The Rhapsodies and the first movement of the Sonata were full of drama and passion. But when he got to the first D Flat major section in the second movement he really got into his "groove" or, rather, Brahms's. This was truly eloquent playing, and Mr. Rose had the rapt attention of his audience from then on.
He caught the rambunctiousness of the third movement Scherzo very effectively and played the chorale theme in the Trio with great feeling. There was suspense in his playing of the fourth movement, and one could imagine a premonition of impressionism in the way he handled the "floating" G flat dominant ninth chords. The last movement had plenty of excitement and dash; Mr. Rose never takes the easy way out, tempo-wise, in fast movements.
After the intermission, Mr. Rose played all of the Fantasy Pieces of Op. 116. Again, he highlighted the contrasts between the fast and slow pieces effectively. The A minor Intermezzo was particularly lovely. But for this listener the most impressive performance in this group was of the enigmatic E minor Intermezzo. Here, his playing was hushed, and revelatory.
Mr. Rose concluded with one encore, the Consolation No. 3 of Liszt, in honor of the Liszt Bicentennial. It was absolutely beautiful!
Jerome Rose Recital - IKIF
The 12th Annual International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Mannes College is underway, and not a moment too soon for classical piano aficionados. It would be a significant addition to New York cultural life at any time of the year, but as it always takes place during the last two weeks of July, when concert activity in New York slows down, it is particularly welcome. It features reasonably priced recitals by excellent pianists at all different stages in their careers, lectures, a competition and special events. Among these are a program dedicated to the memory of Earl Wild, who died earlier this year, and a day of tribute to noted pianist and pedagogue Leonard Shure (1910-1995) whose centenary is being celebrated this year.
The opening night recital is traditionally given by Festival Founder Jerome Rose. There are several composers with whom his name is particularly associated, among them Liszt, Beethoven and Schubert. This evening was devoted to Schubert, primarily to two of the great last three sonatas written at the end of the composer's much too short life.
Mr. Rose had barely begun the beautiful G Flat Impromptu, which seemed like an invocation, when he, and the audience were plagued with cellphone noises caused by people either too selfish, or incompetent to turn their electronics off before the program started, despite recording engineer Joe Patrych's reminder. Mr. Rose stopped playing, folded his arms and stared at the audience before starting over and playing perhaps even better. Other unmusical distractions of the evening included someone coughing right behind me during much of the first movement of the first sonata. It did not, unfortunately, occur to this person to leave the room.
Despite these annoyances, a full house was able to enjoy an evening of powerful and passionate playing by Mr. Rose, who was in very fine form.
His teachers included Adolph Baller, Mr. Shure (who was a Schnabel student) and Rudolph Serkin, so he is heir to several pianistic traditions. Serkin and Schnabel, though very different in many ways, were both proponents of a fearless approach to piano playing. Serkin, I am told, would not allow changes and substitutions to make things easier (such as using both hands at the beginning of the Hammerklavier Sonata) and Schnabel disparaged what he called "emergency rallentandos!" Similarly, Mr. Rose does nothing to make his life easier if it will lessen the musical effect. Fast movements are played fast, and highpoints are played full-strength, yet always with a fine, round tone.
The C minor Sonata is the least played of the last three sonatas. Mr. Rose's performance emphasized its drama and intensity, even in the Menuet, which is sometimes seen as more light-hearted. (Also, in both sonatas, he did the repeat of the first movement exposition, which is often left out in these long works.) Particularly effective were the threatening chromatic runs just before the recapitulation in the first movement, and the sforzando outbursts in the second. The tarantella-like last movement was also very exciting. Fast, treacherous and featuring some of Schubert's most remarkable modulations (at one point coming to rest in B Flat major, pausing for two measures of silence, then starting a magical new section in B major) it takes a certain amount of courage as well as control to bring it off well, and Mr. Rose certainly succeeded.
The A major Sonata is such a wonderful piece of music I can't get over it! Though, like the other sonata, it has drama and brilliance, it also has wonderful areas of lyricism and sublime beauty. In the first movement, Mr. Rose's playing of the last statement of the main theme before the concluding arpeggios was gorgeous, as was his handling of the short C Sharp major section leading into the recapitulation of the F Sharp minor theme in the second movement. The Scherzo movement was played with great charm, and the last movement with particular warmth.
Mr. Rose played one short, but lovely encore, the second movement of Schumann's Davidsbündlertänze, in memory of Leonard Shure, with whom he studied that work.
It was a very fine evening of music-making on a high level.
A Teacher’s Legacy, Celebrated at the Piano
The International Keyboard Institute & Festival at Mannes College the New School for Music devoted Saturday to commemorating the centenary of Leonard Shure, a pianist who made sterling recordings well into his 70s, and who died in 1995, at 84. Some of Saturday’s activities looked at Shure’s work directly, through a videotape of a master class, for example, or an examination of his recordings.
But Shure was more of a pianist’s pianist than a household name, even at the height of his career, and his greatest legacy was probably his teaching. Having studied with Artur Schnabel, he passed along Schnabel’s tradition of Austrian classicism and intellectual clarity to several generations of American pianists: among them, Jerome Rose, who directs the institute; Ursula Oppens; Beth Levin; and the composer David Del Tredici.
Those pianists, along with Victor Rosenbaum, Edward Arthur Shure (one of Leonard’s sons), Neal Stulberg and Phillip Moll, played a recital in tribute to their teacher on Saturday evening, and the Mannes auditorium was packed for the occasion.
It was not always easy to tell what Shure’s influence on these pianists was. It has been decades since they studied with him, and they have each found a distinctive interpretive path. The two most memorable performances were of works composed after Shure’s death.
Ms. Oppens extended her Elliott Carter franchise with “Tri-Tribute” (2007-8), a set of three short, sparkling works that she played with consummate clarity and zest. The third, “Matribute,” was composed in time for Ms. Oppens’s 2008 recording of all Mr. Carter’s piano music at the time, as well as a Tanglewood premiere that summer. Since then Mr. Carter has added the meditative “Fratribute” and the bright, swirling “Sistribute” — hardly enough for another disc, perhaps, but Mr. Carter is only 101.
Ms. Oppens also gave a dark-hued account of Mendelssohn’s F sharp minor Fantasy (Op. 28), which was closer in spirit to the other pianists’ performances. But Mr. Del Tredici exercised a composer’s prerogative of playing only his own music, the innocently melodic, light-textured “Three Gymnopedies” (2003).
Mr. Del Tredici and Ms. Oppens performed in the second half of the program. Earlier Ms. Levin gave a performance of Beethoven’s 32 Variations in C minor that concentrated on Beethoven’s gruff, muscular side. Mr. Rosenbaum played the four pieces of Brahms’s Opus 119 with a courtly, poetic elegance, and Edward Shure offered an interpretation of Schumann’s Fantasy in C (Op. 17) in which storminess and subtlety mingled.
For a slight change in texture, and a hint of the spirit of salon performances of times past, Mr. Stulberg and Mr. Moll closed the first part of the program with vibrant accounts of Dvorak’s Slavonic dances in their original duet versions: those in C minor (Op. 46, No. 7), A flat (Op. 46, No. 6) and C (Op. 72, No. 7). And Mr. Rose, ending the concert, brought his characteristically large but concentrated sound to Chopin’s A minor Waltz (Op. 34, No. 1) and a beautifully phrased reading of the Ballade No. 3 (Op. 47).
New York event pays tribute to Leonard Shure
Most people who knew Leonard Shure felt that he was one of America’s two greatest pianists, says Jerome Rose.
Along with William Kappell, Shure had a performing and teaching career of tremendous impact. His legacy will be celebrated today, when his students and fans come from all over the world for a series of master classes, concerts and events as a part of the International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Mannes College the New School for Music, where Shure once taught.
“Many of the events will basically mirror, elucidate and resuscitate the brilliant career of the artist in his centenary year,” says pianist and IKIF founder-director Jerome Rose.
Shure, who died in 1995, appeared with virtually all major national orchestras and conductors — for example, the Boston Symphony Orchestra with Serge Koussevitsky. He was the first piano soloist to perform at the Berkshire Music Festival, Tanglewood’s precursor.
He studied with Austrian piano demigod Artur Schnabel and become his assistant, and later taught acclaimed pianists like Leon Fleisher, Gilbert Kalish and Rose. During today’s event, listeners can experience his teaching style through a three-hour film of his lessons.
“He will completely come alive with his voice, his expression and his pianistic prowess,” says Rose. “He was a man who demonstrated constantly. He would play everything.”
Shure’s recordings will be played as well, and his students will gather to pay tribute. Those appearing include Rose, Ursula Oppens, composer David Del Tredici, Victor Rosenbaum, Phillip Moll, Neal Stulberg, Beth Levin and Edward A. Shure. The repertoire encompasses Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Dvorak, Del Tredici, Carter, Mendelssohn and Chopin.
Shure’s influence manifests in the successes not only of his students, but also of their students. Many pianists Rose has taught in his own 50-year career — the “grandchildren” of Shure’s teaching methods — will play at IKIF.
For Shure, art was sacred — not entertainment, but a lifestyle.
“He treated the text of the music with religious dedication,” says Rose. “There was always the intent to find the profound in any phrase that was played and I would say that he lived a transcendental life in the way he approached music.”
Rose studied with Shure from 1956 to 1960 at Mannes. Memories of his teacher are with him always, whenever he hears music.
As he describes his lessons, “You were working with the supreme master hoping to achieve true mastery over your art.
“You were learning all the time so there is absolutely no way that the influence is not with you constantly. There is not a day of my life as a musician, pianist and artist that the subconscious memory is not being constantly revived.”
Athleticism and Warmth at the Keyboard
Popular media sometimes transmit highbrow culture, and Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, with its frenetic, tail-chasing character, has been used in several cartoons. But there is nothing funny about its demands on the performer.
The Korean pianist HaeSun Paik blazed confidently through the triple salchows and back flips of this vigorously athletic workout, which ends with a cascade of prestissimo octaves. The rhapsody, played here with a cadenza by Rachmaninoff, concluded Ms. Paik’s recital on Wednesday evening at Mannes College the New School for Music, part of the college’s lively International Keyboard Institute and Festival.
Her program, in the festival’s Masters Series, opened with an elegant, sweet-toned rendition of Beethoven’s Rondo in C (Op. 51, No. 1), followed by an unmemorable performance of Schumann’s “Humoreske” in B flat, whose title refers to the four humors of Hippocratic medicine. Schumann, whose bicentennial is being celebrated this year, wrote to Clara Wieck, his future wife:
“All week I sat at the piano composing, writing, laughing and crying, all at the same time. You will find this beautifully illustrated in my Opus 20, the massive Humoreske.”
After intermission came an excellent (if occasionally bangy) performance of Scriabin’s Sonata No. 5, which heralded the evolution of his Romantic ethos into a more atonal style. Ms. Paik also gave a thoughtfully considered rendition of Liszt’s “Consolation” No. 3.
As her first encore, she offered a poetic interpretation of Chopin’s Nocturne No. 20 in C sharp minor, the same piece played by Michail Lifits as an encore after his recital earlier on Wednesday evening in the Prestige Series, geared toward emerging artists.
Mr. Lifits, a native of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, proved himself a distinctive performer in his finely wrought approach to Beethoven’s Sonata No. 1 in F minor, which opened the program. He played with a cleanly articulated touch and beautiful phrasing. Particularly in the second-movement Adagio, he provided warmth, intimacy and a singing tone.
The Mozartean hues of that early sonata were contrasted with the epic grandeur of the Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Beethoven’s final work in the genre. It has fugal elements, like his other late-period sonatas, and a stormy first movement, like others of his works in C minor. Mr. Lifits offered an exciting performance of the turbulent opening section and a deeply musical Arietta.
The program concluded with the Sonata No. 3 by Chopin, who admired Beethoven’s Op. 111. Mr. Lifits sailed through the virtuosic finale with aplomb.
Recital by Students of Leonard Shure - IKIF
Today's activities at the Festival were devoted to the memory of the American pianist and pedagogue, Leonard Shure (1910-1995.) Earlier in the day a film of Mr. Shure giving a master class was played, there was a lecture about his life, and students discussed his legacy. The last program of the day was the recital by some of his finest students, which I attended.
Beth Levin's performance of the Beethoven Variations was not severe, but romantic in conception, dramatic and powerful, using a particularly wide range of dynamics. Her ability to sustain a line during the slow variations was especially impressive.
Victor Rosenbaum favored very slow tempi for the first and third of the Four Brahms Pieces, though the first one was quite beautiful and ethereal in nature. There was obvious thought behind everything he played.
Edward Arthur Shure, the youngest son of Leonard Shure, struggled a bit with the last movement of the Schumann Fantasy, but showed he knew his way around this work with his understanding of its drama, a sense of spontaneity to some sections that really made them sound fresh, and some nice touches such as setting up the introduction for an effective entrance of the first melody.
The Slavonic Dances of Dvorak, as played by Neal Stulberg and Phillip Moll, were delightful, full of charm and humor.
Some of the most interesting performances of the evening were of the 21st century compositions played just after the intermission. And if modern works were always played as well as this, just about everybody would like them!
David Del Tredici's playing of his tonal Gymnopedies was romantic, in turn beautiful, explosive and lyrical. He played with intensity, and the last piece, entitled My Loss, was particularly effective, with great masses of anguished sound.
Ursula Oppens' way with the Elliott Carter work (composed in his 100th year!) was terrific! The first piece had spatterings of fast notes that sounded like code. The slow, second piece was very beautiful and expressive. The third piece was fascinating, featuring, at times, what seemed like fragments of atonal melody with "comments" and ornamentation around it. Then she played the Mendelssohn Fantasy, and why not? It's all music, and there seemed nothing strange about segueing from one into the other. Indeed, it is all too rare that we hear most of Mendelssohn's piano works. (And some of the even less often played works than this one will be featured in Sontraud Speidel's Monday evening recital.)
Do you have any idea how hard it is to play at the end of a long concert (at 10:30!), at the end of a very long day?! One had to feel sympathy for Festival Founder Jerome Rose who, nonetheless, concluded the program by playing the Chopin A minor Waltz with warmth and charm, and then gave a deeply felt and poetic reading of the A Flat Ballade.
I think Leonard Shure would have been very proud of what we heard this evening!
HaeSun Paik Recital - IKIF
As a member of the panel that selected Haesun Paik as one of the winners of the Bruce Hungerford Memorial Award at the Young Concert Artists auditions in 1991 I was very interested to finally hear her again, especially as her program this evening included the Scriabin Fifth Sonata. Although she has a very busy international career, I had somehow not heard her again in all this time. But I remembered she had played the Scriabin at that audition, and that I was impressed with her flair and sense of drama. And after 19 years, I thought, it should be at least as good, or better! (Actually, 19 years is not such a long time to have a piece in your repertoire. When I read Rubinstein's memoirs I realized that some of the works I heard him play late in his career had been in his repertoire for 60 or 70 years!)
Ms. Paik began the evening with a reading of the Beethoven Rondo that was warm and sensitive, though having a bit more rubato than one often hears in Beethoven.
And, with that, I will end my "criticism."
This was a fabulous concert, and Haesun Paik should be a big name!
We are, of course, long past the days when people took seriously the idea that the nationality of the performer should guarantee success in music by composers of the same background, ie. that a Pole should be expected to play Chopin well, or that a German should be good at Beethoven. However, were that notion still considered valid, this evening might have been used to support the premise that Schumann, Liszt and Scriabin were all Korean, so great was the pianist's identification with their idioms!
What makes Haesun Paik such a terrific interpreter of Romantic music? Several things come to mind.
She has both power and subtlety. She understands pacing, one of the most important and least talked about aspects of music. And she is, so to speak, an actress. No, she doesn't impose herself upon the music; rather, she finds and reveals the drama within the music, which is what playing "classical music," even of the Romantic era, is all about.
There are myriad changes of color, mood and everything else in Schumann's strange and wonderful Humoreske. Ms. Paik missed not one of them. Just a few of the noteworthy details included hearing the beautiful and sensuous G minor theme, marked Einfach und zart, as it shifted into the tumbling Intermezzo, and how the section marked mit einigem Pomp was played strongly, yet leaving room for an even more rousing sound in the final Allegro.
The Scriabin Sonata was fantastic! Having an even greater emotional range than the Schumann (if that's possible) it went back and forth between lush, languid phrases with gentle palpitations and lurching great eruptions of sound, sometimes resembling whiplash. This was as impressive a performance as I've heard of this work. And I've heard Horowitz.
The Liszt Consolation seemed, in a way, a sort of Liszt equivalent to a Beethoven slow movement, in that it's not easy to sustain the line, so sensitive pacing and phrasing are all important, not just fine fingerwork.
The Hungarian Rhapsody was dazzling. Ms. Paik never takes "careful" tempi, and plays fast sections with great energy and abandon, never, however, neglecting attention to the other parts, such as the exquisite E major theme. The Rachmaninoff cadenza, new to me, seemed mischievous and a bit odd. (After the program I suddenly had the peculiar idea to imagine what a Schnabel cadenza to this Rhapsody might sound like, but was informed by my seat mates, who should know, that it is not likely one will be found!) A standing ovation from almost the entire audience followed.
Ms. Paik's first encore, the C Sharp minor posthumous Nocturne of Chopin, was gorgeous, especially the winding down at the end. And the famous Liszt arrangement of Schumann's song Widmung (Dedication) was also wonderfully played.
It seems that, with Romantic music especially, this pianist can do no wrong. Go hear her!
Sontraud Speidel Recital - IKIF
Sontraud Speidel is a refined, sensitive and confident pianist, as well as a highly respected teacher in her hometown of Karlsruhe, Germany, and in Korea and many other places. Everything is under control and she never gets carried away with herself, though her tendency for speeds which are on the slow side sometimes lessens the visceral excitement one expects in fast movments.
Ms. Speidel spoke before each group on the first half of the program, and her comments were enlightening. She told us of Schumann's disappointment with an unfavorable review of the Kinderszenen. Her performances of these short works were very fine. In particular, Träumerei was beautiful and dreamy, and the last section of Kind im Einschlummern was wonderfully effective. (She has a beautiful tone and excels in controlling the piano in very soft dynamics.)
The Mendelssohn Sonatas, despite the high opus number of the latter, are early works, written when the composer was 12 and 13 years old. One would be happy to hear them performed more often. Noteworthy was the bluster and good humor of the first movement of the second sonata, which was followed by a dreamy slow movement, and then a witty presto.
Ms. Speidel spoke about the unequal treatment of Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805-1847), Felix's elder sister. Though her early education was the same as Felix's she, as a woman, was not allowed to have a career as an adult. She continued to compose and perform at concerts at her home, which were attended by the elite of her day. Though her family did not encourage her to continue with her work, her husband did. Ms. Speidel expressed the opinion that Fanny was just as talented as her brother. (I wonder if she has heard the story I heard at a lecture some years ago in which the speaker told of Felix visiting the then young Queen Victoria, who liked to sing. He offered to accompany her in any of a group of songs he had brought along. After they had done several of them he said "Would your Majesty be willing to sing one of my songs, too? Those were my sister's songs.") The Saltarello Ms. Speidel played was charming and had energy, though one could imagine it might have had even a little more "spice" if played a bit faster.
The second half of the program was devoted to Schumann's Kreisleriana. This work, in Ms. Speidel's conception, lasted 40 minutes, somewhat longer than usual, as the fast movements were played in an unhurried manner. Ms. Speidel seems to favor lyricism over passion, and there was much to admire in her performance, especially the expressive way she played the themes of the first two movements in B Flat major, the interesting voicing, the clarity of the fughetta, and the syncopation in the last movement.
Ms. Speidel gave one encore, Mendelssohn's Spinning Song, which percolated nicely.
The Left Hand’s Chance at the Right Hand’s Spotlight
It’s not unusual that the most poignant and intimate moments in solo recitals come in the encores, when the artist is fully warmed up, any nerves have dissipated and a comfortable rapport has been established with the audience. Performers often feel free to choose simpler, less showy pieces after demonstrating their technique during strenuous programs.
The three encores performed by the Spanish pianist Joaquín Achúcarro on Wednesday evening at Mannes College the New School for Music were the highlight of his recital, part of the Masters Series in the annual International Keyboard Institute & Festival, a magnet for piano buffs that features recitals by veteran and emerging musicians, lectures and master classes.
Mr. Achúcarro began his encores with Scriabin’s Nocturne for the Left Hand after telling the audience that his right hand would go on strike if not given a rest. Next came a dreamily evocative rendition of Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” and a poetic, introspective performance of Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat (Op. 9, No. 2)...
Recitals in the Masters Series follow Prestige Series events, which feature emerging artists. On Wednesday the young Chinese pianist Jue Wang, the recipient of numerous competition prizes, began his recital with elegantly conceived performances of Ravel’s Sonatina and Miroirs. But it was in the second half, playing Liszt, that Mr. Wang really shone. In the Transcendental Études No. 9 “Ricordanza” and No. 10 in F minor he coaxed an impressive range of colors from the instrument with virtuosic and expressive ease.
Liszt’s “Bénédiction de Dieu Dans la Solitude” received a similarly impressive interpretation, the magisterial melodies unfolding with serene grace.
Joaquín Achúcarro Recital - IKIF
Joaquín Achúcarro's recital was one of the events I was told not to miss, especially as I had not heard him before. Everyone spoke of him with great respect. And, indeed, he was received with special warmth by this evening's audience, which included such prominent pianists as Gary Graffman and Yefim Bronfman in addition to the many musicians of the Festival community, and other music lovers.
A vigorous white-haired Spanish gentleman who juggles teaching at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and in Italy, with his concert schedule, his career took off after he won the 1959 Liverpool International Competition and has taken him to, so far, 59 countries.
Mr. Achúcarro has a wonderful understanding of the Romantic idiom that includes an unfailingly beautiful tone, and a naturalness to his phrasing. One does not sit there wondering, as with some pianists "What does this mean?" or "What is he trying to say?" He makes everything clear.
Also, his is not an egotistical approach to performing, as is sometimes associated with this music. He does not seem to be out to impress us with how fast or loudly he can play, or how great he himself is. Rather, he is taking us on a trip, and showing us all sorts of lovely and impressive things along the way, so we can enjoy them with him.
There were many memorable moments in this recital, including particularly expressive playing in the posthumous variations, and real drama in the last section of the Symphonic Etudes.
Among the highlights of the second half of the program was the Barcarolle, which had a natural flow, yet also a different sound for each section of the boat's journey. The B minor Waltz was played with special sensitivity, charm and warmth. And the dramatic Scherzo was played with wonderful energy and sometimes, such as in a phrase which begins in E minor about two thirds through the work, great eloquence.
Three encores followed. The first was the Scriabin Nocturne for the Left Hand. It was exquisite, and I couldn't help but think about how rarely a pianist is called upon to play such filigree passages with the left hand.
Mr. Achúcarro next played Debussy's Clair de Lune, which was simply perfect. Then, as the audience wouldn't let him go yet, he concluded with a lovely reading of the Chopin E Flat Nocturne, Op. 9, No. 2.
David Dubal Program on Chopin and Schumann - IKIF
David Dubal used the 200th anniversary year of the births of Chopin and Schumann as the basis for his program this evening, which included live and recorded performances of works of those composers, and his comments about the composers, and many other matters that he thought important.
The pianist in New York who doesn't know who David Dubal is has much in common with the Tea Party member who is an Obama supporter; he/she probably doesn't exist. Mr. Dubal is extremely knowledgeable, as well as thoughtful, deep, and outrageous, perhaps in equal parts. As one who was several times fortunate to enter, as he called it, the "pantheon" of performers on his unique program "Reflections from the Keyboard" I was quite upset when it went off the air, with the reorganization of radio station WQXR. So I was delighted to learn it has been recreated with the new name The Piano Matters, and can now be heard at the same Wednesday evening time as before online.
Mr. Dubal spoke of the very contrasting lives and circumstances of Chopin and Schumann, and of the difficulties they faced, particularly Schumann, whose musical and pianistic background were weak. Mr. Dubal said Schumann "willed himself a great composer." And he described Chopin as the "great spiritualization" of the piano.
He also read poetry, and other thoughtful words from Tennyson and Goethe to Basho and Lao-Tze and railed, as he often does, against over-mechanization and materialism.
An interesting concept he spoke of, which is rather in contrast with what many people think nowadays, is the idea that the performer is just as important as, and an equal partner with the composer. He wants performers to be thought of as transformers, or "co-creators" rather than (mere) interpreters of the composer's wishes.
Four pianists performed during the program. Dongning Yang played two Chopin etudes, and Mirian Conti gave us two mazurkas. Joseph Smith played a Schumann fugue which may have been based on one of the
Chopin Nouvelle Etudes, and a quirky (Schumann) fughetta. Inna Faliks gave a particularly beautiful and expressive performance of the theme from the Symphonic Etudes, and several of the posthumous variations.
The recordings of pianists of the past included one artist whose playing I had never heard before, Clara Schumann's student, Fanny Davies, in a 1930 recording of one movement of the Davidsbündlertänze. We also heard another movement of it, plus an awesomely expressive version of one of the Chopin Nouvelles Etudes with Cortot. Mr. Dubal even made a convincing case that the brilliant Lhevinne recording of the Thirds Etude is not quite up to the level of the brilliant AND more poetic Friedman performance. The great "sleeper" of the evening was Sirota's wondrous playing of the F minor Etude from Op. 10. Why he isn't better known as a great Chopin interpreter is a mystery to me.
Mindful of the structure of his presentation, and with his eye on the clock, knowing that the building had to be vacated on time, Mr. Dubal concluded by asking if we thought the two composers ever met one another, and then read to us about the happy occasion in 1836 when that happened.
IKIF: Stars of the Festival
11th International Keyboard Institute and Festival
New York City
August 1st, 2009
Haydn: Sonata in E-Flat Major, Hob. 16/52
Chopin: Ballade in A-Flat major, Op. 47
Albeniz: Evocación and El Albaicin from Iberia
José Ramos Santana
Gottschalk: The Banjo
Liszt/Horowitz: Rákóczy March
Ravel: La vallé des Cloches (from Miroirs)
Scriabin: Sonata No. 2 in G-Sharp Minor (Sonata-Fantasy), Op. 19
Liszt: Vallée d'Obermann
Liszt: Mephisto Waltz
This last concert at the Festival was originally supposed to be a recital by Olga Kern. But Ms. Kern was unable to appear, so five of the pianists who had already performed recitals at the Festival divided up the evening. And, whereas it can be a fascinating experience to spend an evening with one pianist, getting to know the various facets of his or her artistic personality, it can also be a pleasure to hear a group of fine artists, and appreciate the contrasts they present.
Mr. Kobrin sounded at all times very calm and controlled. He seems happy to play very quietly a good deal of the time. Some other details of his performance seemed unusual to me, ie. I have never heard the beginning of that Chopin Ballade played so slowly. And yet, his conceptions of the music were always interesting, and convincing. And some things, such as the slow movement of the Haydn, were particularly beautifully played.
Mr. Ramos Santana's playing of the pieces from Iberia were right on target, full of fragrance, sensuality and the uniquely Spanish feeling, and (especially in El Albaicin) rhythmic character.
As anyone who has heard Steven Mayer before (as I have) knows, he's a pianist with huge power and technique. His performance of the Gottschalk Banjo was terrifically exciting, played at both top speed AND volume (which is not easy!). With all the extra notes, octaves, and other challenges Horowitz added in his transcription of Liszt's Rákóczy March, one can't help wondering how many pianists can successfully play it. Well, Mr. Mayer left no doubt in anybody's mind that he can!
A complete contrast to that mood was offered by Ms. Baczewska's calm and beautiful playing of Ravel's Valley of Bells. Her performance of the Scriabin Sonata was also very effective, displaying both the stormy and hypnotic aspects of the first movement, and maintaining great clarity amidst all the swirls of notes in the second.
Jerome Rose did not reach his stride in the Vallée d'Obermann; he started in it right from the first note. This was some of the finest playing I've heard from him, passionate, virtuosic, and totally in the idiom of this music. He followed it, and finished the program, with an impressive performance of the Mephisto Waltz.
One looks forward to the twelfth season of the Festival!
Demonstrating the Power of the Piano, First Thunderous, Then More Subtle
The International Keyboard Institute and Festival has an embarrassment of riches this summer. With twice as many recent competition winners and established pianists as there are days in the festival, the recitals at Mannes College the New School for Music are offered in nightly pairs: one at 6 and a second at 8:30, both full-length programs.
The juxtapositions can be a bit odd stylistically. At the early performance on Monday, Sofya Gulyak, a Russian pianist who won the William Kapell International Piano Competition in 2007, played a varied program — Bach-Busoni, Clementi, Brahms, Schumann, Liszt and Shostakovich — all in a thundering, steel-tread style in which virtuosity is almost everything, and subtlety is an occasional footnote.
Yuan Sheng, the Chinese pianist who played the late show, addressed a more constricted group of composers: just Bach, Schubert and Chopin. But he created a distinct sound world for each, and he shaped the works at hand so thoughtfully that his program seemed kaleidoscopic.
Ms. Gulyak began promisingly. The Bach-Busoni Chaconne benefited from the style of solid, assured pianism that she brought to it, and there was something appealing about the apparent ease with which she sailed through this difficult, monumental score.
In Clementi’s Sonata in C (Op. 33, No. 3), you could convince yourself, briefly, that Ms. Gulyak was intent on presenting this largely overlooked Romantic as a fire-breathing proto-Liszt, decades ahead of his time. But Clementi’s music does not sustain that approach, and even when Ms. Gulyak shifted down, in the almost Mozartean central slow movement, the explosive spirit of the opening Allegro con spirito lingered.
Her approach to Brahms’s Fantasies (Op. 116) and Schumann’s Intermezzi (Op. 4) were also hard-driven. Even Liszt’s arrangement of Schumann’s bittersweet “Widmung” was transformed into a brisk, almost breathless showpiece. Occasionally — in the quiet section of the prelude from Shostakovich’s Prelude and Fugue in D flat (Op. 87, No. 15), for example — Ms. Gulyak showed a capacity for delicacy and introspection. But those moments were fleeting.
Mr. Sheng brings considerable power to his playing, too, but he husbands it carefully. His opening pieces, the A major and A minor Preludes and Fugues from Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier,” Book 1, were models of clarity, balance and proportion. That is not to say that they were straightforward or unmediated: Mr. Sheng made the A minor Prelude into a fiery drama, with the equally energetic but stunningly voiced Fugue as an otherworldly rejoinder.
The qualities that made Mr. Sheng’s Bach so appealing were also present, though configured differently and with a more Romantic brand of elegance, in Schubert’s Sonata in G (D. 894). Mr. Sheng knows how to make a Schubert theme sing, and when Schubert packs his textures with several melodies at once, Mr. Sheng’s ear for balance is unfailing.
In the Andante, for example, he created the illusion of a three-dimensional space in which themes and counterthemes, each with its own dynamics and coloration, appeared to move at different distances from the listener.
If the cerebral and the dramatic found common ground in Mr. Sheng’s Bach and Schubert, the prevailing passion in his Chopin, to which he devoted the second half of his program, was impetuousness. But as he demonstrated in his six selections, impetuousness comes in many forms.
In a stormy account of the Ballade No. 1 (Op. 23) it was an insistent swirl that pulled you in; in the Berceuse (Op. 57) it was a gentle fleetness. In two dances — a Mazurka (Op. 30, No. 4) and a Tarantella (Op. 43) — the attraction was entirely visceral. And in the Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise (Op. 22), Mr. Sheng revisited all those qualities and ratcheted up the fire as well.
Two Pianists: A Virtuoso and a Philosophizer
It can be deeply affecting to encounter the artistry of gifted young musicians who exude artistic seriousness. Yet during a program of formidable piano works by Liszt and Ravel on Wednesday night at Mannes College the New School for Music, the 21-year-old Russian virtuoso Vitaly Pisarenko was so serious in his manner and musical approach that he seemed unhappy.
His program, sponsored by the college’s International Keyboard Institute and Festival, a two-week offering of concerts, lectures and master classes, was part of its Prestige Series, presenting emerging pianists in daily recitals at 6 p.m. Mr. Pisarenko played with prodigious technique, myriad shadings and scrupulous accuracy. His account of Ravel’s “Miroirs” had wondrous delicacy and moments of tender sensitivity.
But when accepting applause, Mr. Pisarenko, a slight and shy-looking young man, appeared to be miserable. A certain reticence, even stiffness, in his otherwise impressive performances suggested that playing the piano is a somber discipline for him.
The contrast could not have been greater when, later that evening, in the festival’s Masters Series, the American pianist Jeffrey Swann, well known to New York audiences, presented a program called “The Philosophical Piano,” playing the “Emerson” movement from Ives’s “Concord” Sonata, Liszt’s Sonata in B minor and Beethoven’s Sonata No. 32 in C minor. Mr. Swann, 57, may not have technique to burn like Mr. Pisarenko. But he is an accomplished and resourceful pianist who obviously loves playing his instrument, sharing music with audiences and talking about the pieces he has chosen, something he does with avuncular charm and insight.
I was eager to hear Mr. Pisarenko, who took first prize last year in the International Franz Liszt Piano Competition in Utrecht, the Netherlands. His account of Liszt’s Polonaise No. 2 emerged with punchy rhythmic vitality and, when this evocation of a Polish dance turns unexpectedly frenzied, with demonic fervor. And it was refreshing to hear Mr. Pisarenko’s serious-minded performance of Liszt’s exuberant Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. In his hands the spiraling passagework, thick with pungent cluster chords, anticipated the harmonies of a much-later Hungarian master, Gyorgy Ligeti.
Still, it was hard not to worry a little about this immensely gifted pianist. His program bio stated, almost as a point of pride, that starting the morning after his victory in the Liszt Competition, Mr. Pisarenko began an extensive international touring schedule. The pace seems not to have let up. Does he have opportunities to work with mentors, to mature, to participate in a summer chamber music festival or even to take time off?
What a difference from Mr. Swann’s recital. When the affable Mr. Swann appeared onstage, he could hardly wait, it seemed, to tell us about the philosophical resonances of the pieces he had selected. The fitful, searching “Emerson” movement from the “Concord” Sonata is Ives’s musical description of a philosophical state of mind, Mr. Swann said, whereas Liszt’s B minor Sonata, inspired by Goethe’s “Faust,” is a metaphorical depiction of a great philosophical work. But Beethoven’s Sonata No. 32, his last, Mr. Swann suggested, is “itself philosophical.”
Mr. Swann’s account of the daunting Liszt sonata lacked some virtuosic dazzle and sonic power. He somewhat mangled a few passages of octave outbursts and leaping chords. And his fingers got a little tangled in the fugal episode in the first movement of the Beethoven sonata.
Still, he played all three works with musical authority and pianistic flair. During each performance I kept thinking about how astonishing these pieces are. If a pianist can convey this, he is a master in the ways that matter most.
Summer Arts Highlight
As summer closes, I like to take a look back and savor the summer’s highlights. I’m a ’summer person’ so I have to say goodbye to every summer. Take a deep breath and savor, so I’ll never forget.
There’s no arts event in New York I enjoy more than the Summer Keyboard Festival at Mannes School for Music, that is, the International Keyboard Institute & Festival (ikif.org) Gracing the last two weeks of every July, IKIF hosts a torrent of music activity–piano recitals, master classes, and the Dorothy MacKenzie Piano competition. All wonderful enough, but it’s the social energy among piano music lovers that sets IKIF apart for me. Festival-goers are the welcome guests of arts impresario Jerome Rose and Festival Director Julie Kedersha. International means exactly that. All around the lobby and concert hall, old friends from Russia (Israel, China, Korea …) exclaim in delight as they run into each other for the first time in ages. You’re likely to run into friends of your own, and meeting new friends is as easy as asking ‘what did you think of the Beethoven?’ Everyone there loves the piano repertoire. ‘I heard Serkin play that piece . . . Yes, yes, Berman does it best.’ And everyone has an opinion: ‘The largo was a little too largo.’
Pianists say how much it energizes them to play for an audience that listens closely. The atmospheric charge of focused listening is palpable in the concert hall at IKIF. Believe me, no one here falls asleep in the slow movement. The audience knows the repertoire intimately; many have played the pieces themselves. I’d bet a quarter of the audience are master level students or performing pianists. Look around the room, there’s Hamelin, there’s Kobrin, there’s Leslie Howard. There’s Dubal, there’s Shakin, there’s Leyatov. And when something truly special happens — like Ukrainian Mykola Suk staking a daredevil’s claim on the Liszt Sonata — it’s the talk of the Festival for days. Might I add that something special happens often at the Keyboard Institute.
There’s a touch of The Magnificent Seven about Mannes. Night after night, another world class virtuoso rolls into town and throws down at the keyboard. One night the Appassionata, the next night, Four Chopin Ballades, the next the Schumann Carnival. Momentum and excitement build from one night to next, and there always seems more to come.
Then there are the Master Classes at the Keyboard Institute. Running all day, every day, our next generation of grand prize winners and Alice Tully debutantes take intense instruction from the Institute faculty and festival artists. So how’s this for excellent? Van Cliburn gold medalist Alexander Kobrin teaching the Rachmaninov 2nd Sonata to a brilliant Russian prodigy, for whom the technical demands of the piece are less than an afterthought. (Master and student were kind enough to conduct the lesson in English for my benefit.) I heard Mykola Suk teach the Liszt Sonata before exemplifying his insights in his own revolutionary performance. But two summers ago it was the same, Chinese Master Fou T’song illuminating Mozart’s Rondo in A Minor phrase by phrase, after performing the masterpiece in his recital–simply delicious. Then its Jerome Rose coaxing a young competition medalist, who plays her Chopin Sonata ‘too perfectly’, to the next level of artistry. And as these developing stars debut at Lincoln Center in a few years–be assured, they have and they will–you can say you heard them in the Master Class at Mannes.
I’ve come to appreciate very much the contributions of artists like Jerry Rose, Julie Kedersha, David Dubal, and so many others who create events that bring music lovers together to share our passions. There’s always a concert to go to, but arts events like IKIF, with that extra dimension of musical community, especially enrich my enjoyment of the masterworks we cherish.
New York Chronicle
IKIF was founded by Jerome Rose...and he invites a slew of his fellow pianists, for master classes, recitals, and other events. One of his invitees was Menahem Pressler, long of the Beaux Arts Trio...Pressler's general mastery was unquestionable; and so was his extraordinary love of music. Jerry Rose once said to him, "Menahem, you love playing so much, you should pay me to listen to you."
Another invitee was Philippe Entremont, the French star...he can still play, as he proved at the Mannes School...Entremont was his elegant, tasteful, very musical self - particularly in the French rep (Debusssy, Ravel).
The last recital was given by a sort of Frenchman - Marc-Andre Hamelin, of Montreal. The biggest piece on his Mannes program was the "Concord" Sonata of Ives. This is a vast, sprawling, quirky work, and Hamelin played it with technical brilliance and idiomatic understanding.
From a Veteran at the Keyboard, a Mozart Staple and a Finger-Busting Ravel
In the 1950s, when the French pianist Philippe Entremont emerged on the international scene, he was hailed as a distinctive artist who combined Old World French refinement and youthful virtuosity. His recordings of concertos by Rachmaninoff, Saint-Saëns and Ravel were big sellers.
In the 1970s Mr. Entremont shifted his focus to conducting, taking posts with the Vienna Chamber Orchestra (for nearly 30 years) and the New Orleans Philharmonic Orchestra, among others. Opinion was divided about his conducting. I recall some quite ineffective concerts he presented with the Vienna Chamber Orchestra during the 1980s, when his work both as conductor and pianist, leading Mozart concertos from the keyboard, was mannered, listless and overly plush.
Now 74, Mr. Entremont gave a piano recital at Mannes College the New School for Music on Wednesday evening as part of the International Keyboard Institute and Festival. Jerome Rose, who directs this annual event, has made a point of including veteran artists who have been out of the loop for a while. The auditorium was packed, evidence of the regard Mr. Entremont built up as a pianist during a long career.
He opened the program with Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A (K. 331), the piece that ends with the “Turkish Rondo,” a staple of the student pianist’s repertory. As Mr. Entremont began the main theme of the first movement, some fudged passages and blurry pedaling seemed worrisome signs. But he soon settled down and played with poise and sensitivity. By taking his time, making the most of each lyrical turn of phrase and observing all the structural repeats, Mr. Entremont had this single movement, a theme and variations, seeming like a significant 15-minute piece unto itself. The Menuetto was hardy and jocular. He played the rondo with dash, delicacy and whiplash articulation of the rolled left-hand chords that evoke the Turkish drums and cymbals.
Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata might not be the wisest choice for Mr. Entremont, given his diminished technical resources at this stage of his career. His finger work, for the most part, was nimble and clear, but leaps and bursts of fortissimo chords gave him trouble. This was a rather atmospheric account of music usually mined for its rhythmic intensity and sudden dynamic contrasts.
The all-French second half offered works by Debussy and Ravel. There were curious moments at which Mr. Entremont’s playing of surging passages in Debussy’s “Images,” Book 1, especially the middle section of “Reflets Dans l’Eau,” turned clangorous and steely. But mostly he played with an ear for intriguing inner voices and hazy colorings, as well as effortless glissandos in his exuberant account of Debussy’s suite “Pour le Piano.”
If a phrase here and there was muffed in Mr. Entremont’s performance of Ravel’s finger-twisting “Alborada del Gracioso,” it was enjoyable to hear him cutting loose to relish the piece’s snappy dance rhythms and sultry harmonies.
For an encore, Mr. Entremont played Chopin’s Polonaise in C sharp minor, conveying both the burly vigor and the ruminative tenderness of this mercurial work.
Yuan Sheng, Piano Recital
To give you an idea of how highly Yuan Sheng is regarded, let me begin by saying that, at the end of his recital, Harris Goldsmith and I were agreed that he can play anything. We just had not come to a complete understanding on whether it's because of his wonderful technique, or his excellent musicianship.
I had heard Yuan Sheng, who studied both in China and in this country, and now teaches at Beijing University, twice before. I was particularly looking forward to hearing him play Bach again, and was not disappointed.
Yuan Sheng makes one believe that Bach actually wrote these works for the modern piano, so "just right" do his interpretations sound. There is thought and meaning behind every note, and a consistently beautiful tone. The Prelude and Fugue were surprisingly dramatic, and the Partita, though it included every repeat, never seemed too long, because he always knew to change the volume, or the nuance, or SOMETHING in the repeats. The audience responded with exceptional enthusiasm at the end of this large work.
One of the things I noticed this evening was the extent of his dynamic range. It's not unusual for pianists to enjoy playing LOUD, but not many play so softly and so expressively at the soft end of a tonal palette.
A rousing performance of the Chopin Barcarolle was followed by two very interesting, and contrasting works by composer Ping Gao, who was born in 1970. Just A Moment was quite lovely, and had as a motif something that sounded like a tone cluster in which the notes are played separately, not together.
Night Alley was longer, and more dramatic. Its main motif sounded like a Morse Code signal, which gets elaborated upon. However, many other things also come in during the course of this work, including fragments of a Chopin Waltz, which, played at the very low dynamic level he uses so well, seemed like a delusion at first.
La Valse, which concluded the official program, was a tour de force, with, at different times, charm, elegance, and terrific power. A standing ovation marked its conclusion.
But Mr Sheng wasn't finished. Two encores followed.
The first was the Poeme, Op. 32, No. 1 of Scriabin, and it was another highlight of the evening. At times simple, at other times psychedelic, but always wondrous and tonally gorgeous I couldn't imagine this piece being played any better.
Mr. Sheng ended the concert with a piece Josef Hofmann was known for playing, Moszkowski's Spanish Caprice. An already fearsome piece, featuring interlocking chords and complicated repeated note sections, he played it at top speed, and with great flair.
A Time to Play and a Time to Talk
Jeffrey Swann is sometimes billed on his recital programs as both pianist and lecturer, but even when he is billed as merely a pianist, as he was on Thursday evening, he does a good deal of talking between pieces. Lecturing is something performers need to think about seriously before embracing: too much chattiness can try an audience’s patience if the musician doesn’t have the talent for it or hasn’t prepared.
Mr. Swann doesn’t have that problem, partly because he assembles his programs imaginatively, often with an extramusical theme that connects seemingly disparate works, but also because his comments, however lengthy, are packed with both obscure and commonplace information and are clearly prepared carefully, even though they give the impression of being off the cuff.
Mr. Swann’s program on Thursday, an installment of the International Keyboard Institute & Festival at Mannes College the New School for Music, was called “Music of Ghost Stories, the Fantastic, the Bizarre” and looked at the ways composers grappled with the otherworldly, mostly of the demonic variety that captured the imaginations of 19th-century authors and composers.
He began with a perfect example: Schubert’s “Erlkönig,” performed here in Liszt’s solo piano arrangement. In Schubert’s vocal version, the macabre text and the darkly rippling piano line share the work of evoking horror, but Liszt’s transcription creates the terrifying atmosphere on its own, even without the tale of death pursuing a sick child as his father tries to carry him to safety. Mr. Swann’s forceful, sharply accented reading brought its own electricity to the score.
Two less frequently heard Liszt works — the thunderous “Unstern!” and the light-textured “Mephisto Polka” — were of only modest interest but were reminders of Mr. Swann’s technical versatility. That quality had an ample workout in Schumann’s “Kreisleriana,” an eight-movement portrait of a musical eccentric by a composer who could certainly empathize. Mr. Swann avoided overstating the contrasts between extroverted, speed-demon passages and quieter, ruminative ones, letting Schumann’s writing take its own weird twists. But in the final movement — Schumann’s evocation of a descent into madness — Mr. Swann wisely abandoned restraint.
After the intermission, he played another rarity, Smetana’s “Macbeth and the Witches,” a study in contrasts: the witches cavort wildly, painted in almost Impressionist harmonies, with interruptions for occasional glimpses of Macbeth, a distant, saturnine silhouette. Ravel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit” closed the program, its three panels — the chromatic shimmering of Ondine, the water sprite; the eerie swinging of the hanged corpse in “Le Gibet”; and the zesty, hard-driven depiction of the goblin Scarbo — each illuminated by the clarity and virtuosity of Mr. Swann’s nuanced interpretive style.
Thunder and Lightning on the Keys, With Some Intermittent Sunshine
By any measure, the International Keyboard Institute & Festival is the grandest offering in the procession of hybrid seminars and concert series that make up the summer schedule at Mannes College the New School for Music. It runs two weeks, more then twice the length of the other institutes. Its daily schedule is packed with master classes (four most days) and concerts (two every evening), as well as a competition.
This year’s installment began on Sunday evening with a recital by Jerome Rose, the institute’s founder and director. Mr. Rose is a pianist who never met a triple forte he didn’t like or couldn’t make just a bit more thunderous, and he favors repertory that rewards this preference.
Why not? He has the fingers, the power and the sense of color and drama to present the barnstormers of the Romantic repertory in a fiery light. At times during his account of Liszt’s “Mephisto Waltz” No. 1, which closed his program, the ambient haze produced by strings of fortissimo chords suggested the sulfurous cloud that Liszt might have imagined surrounding his protagonist.
That isn’t to say that muscularity and outsize gesture were all Mr. Rose had in his arsenal. The gentler sections of Schumann’s “Humoreske,” if never quite supple, were elastic enough to touch on Schumann’s tender side, if only briefly between more impetuous outbursts. Parts of Beethoven’s Sonata in A flat (Op. 110) were enlivened by phrasing that suggested an almost improvisatory ebb and flow, and in the work’s closing fugue, clarity and proportion were as crucial to Mr. Rose’s high-energy reading as tension and drive.
Other comparatively graceful moments took root in the descriptive passages of Liszt’s “Vallée d’Obermann” and the more meditative strands of his “Sonetto 47 del Petrarca.” But these moments seemed not to engage Mr. Rose nearly as much as the feistier, flashier ones, and in retrospect, most seemed less like poetry than like glorified placeholders: instances of contrasting calm between waves of forceful, broad-boned piano sound. Those waves could be thrilling in a purely visceral way, particularly in the Liszt works. But it was hard not to feel the lack of something more enduring.
Festival’s King of Keys Kicks Off With Haydn
To the ardent pianophiles who flock to the International Keyboard Institute & Festival at Mannes College the New School for Music every summer, the Canadian virtuoso Marc-André Hamelin is royalty. Never mind that he played in New York most recently in late March, or that he will make his debut at the Mostly Mozart Festival next week. The line of patrons waiting to hear him in the Mannes Concert Hall on Saturday extended down a staircase, across the lobby and through a locker-lined hallway.
The concert began with two Haydn sonatas featured on a delectable recording Mr. Hamelin recently issued on the Hyperion label. The precision and clarity he brought to the brisk outer movements of the Sonata No. 23 in F suited the music’s scampering gait; in between came an exquisitely molded adagio, during which time seemed to stand still. Mr. Hamelin’s phrasing in the Sonata No. 41 in B flat underscored the bold peculiarity of Haydn’s syncopated rhythms and unpredictable melodies.
“Sonata in a State of Jazz,” composed by the French pianist Alexis Weissenberg in 1982, offered formidable Cubist allusions to popular forms. A tartly dissonant tango in three-quarter time was punctuated with glimmers of nostalgic melody; a spiky Charleston emphasized sharp-edged rhythms. Dense harmonies in a blues-inspired movement suggested a young Schoenberg brooding over the keys in an after-hours Harlem joint, while complex lines in the closing samba section swayed like a drunken mathematician.
An account of Chopin’s Barcarolle, Op. 60, was a thing of breathtaking beauty, every texture and transition sensitively judged. But despite a tender introduction and passionate conclusion, some passages in the Ballade No. 3 sounded starched and curt.
Mr. Hamelin performed two works of his own devising. The Etude No. 8, “Erlkönig,” was a vivid, Lisztian setting of a Goethe poem. (In his introductory comments Mr. Hamelin noted that the melody closely adhered to the German verse; a shame that printed texts were not provided.) The Etude No. 7 was a skillful arrangement for left hand of Tchaikovsky’s “Lullaby.”
Godowsky’s Symphonic Metamorphoses on Johann Strauss Jr.’s “Wine, Women and Song” concluded the program on a note of flamboyant excess. Far more charming — and far gentler to its source — was Mr. Hamelin’s sole encore: “En Avril à Paris,” a selection from the obscure Belgian album “Mr. Nobody Plays Trenet.” The Trenet in question, of course, was the French singer Charles. And Mr. Nobody? That turned out to be Mr. Weissenberg.
From Russia With Buzz: A Pianist Inspires Passion
The scene at Mannes College the New School for Music on Friday night was one of mild urgency, if not exactly chaos. The occasion was a recital by the Russian pianist Olga Kern, presented by the school’s invaluable International Keyboard Institute & Festival. Near the appointed hour the Mannes Concert Hall was filled to near capacity. But a sizable number of would-be patrons lingered in the lobby, hoping to be squeezed in.
The festival’s chief attraction is a series of evening concerts that allow the public to hear pianists in a room large enough to hold some 300 patrons yet intimate enough to qualify as a chamber-music setting. Demand increases sharply when a bona fide star is on hand; a recital by the Canadian virtuoso Marc-André Hamelin scheduled for Saturday sold out quickly. To judge by the mild frenzy, Ms. Kern, a gold medalist at the 2001 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, is becoming that kind of star.
She is undeniably an exciting player despite her taciturn stage presence. She demonstrated abundant power in Chopin’s Sonata No. 2, at times threatening to fly off the rails during the opening movement. The opening of the scherzo lacked clarity, but there was a supple beauty in the way she lingered over the movement’s wistful second subject; it was less a waltz than a narcotic recollection of one. The dolorous Funeral March was well judged; the finale, a rousing but indistinct blur.
Chopin’s Bolero in C (Op. 19) was a marvel of gamboling rhythms and precise articulation. But Ms. Kern’s phrasing in the Polonaise in A flat (Op. 53) seemed choppy and mannered, even at the breakneck tempos she chose.
A change of gowns for the second half elicited a gasp of pleasure from audience members. Ms. Kern brought a suitably lyrical touch to Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 2, including gracious descending cascades in the opening allegro agitato. What was missing was a sense of continuity; the work sounded like a series of disconnected episodes and bone-rattling climaxes. Still, it drew lusty shouts of approval.
Ms. Kern was at her best in Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, here outfitted with a tricky Rachmaninoff cadenza. Freed of rhetorical demands, her playing danced and stomped. She offered three encores: an elegant Scarlatti Sonata in D minor (K. 9), Rachmaninoff’s flashy transcription of the gopak from Mussorgsky’s “Sorochintsy Fair,” and Moritz Moszkowski’s scintillating étude “Sparks.” Each showed an amiability that had been in short supply during the main event.
Composers by the Sextet From a Pianist at a Festival
Writing a history of 20th-century music is best done by one of those Hindu gods with many arms. Too much happened at the same time. All of it different.
Talking and playing the piano Tuesday night at Mannes College the New School for Music, Jeffrey Swann offered six composers, none of whose music really had much to say to any music around it. The concert was part of the International Keyboard Institute & Festival, an annual convocation of performing, teaching and lecturing.
Mr. Swann brought along the Berg Sonata and its umbilical connections to Wagner, the Stravinsky Sonata with its cool appraisal of Baroque bounce and ornament, and excerpts from Hindemith’s ardent, erudite and yet curiously businesslike “Ludus Tonalis.” After intermission came gee-whiz theatrics from the first volume of George Crumb’s “Makrokosmos,” David Del Tredici’s strange yet somehow touching retreat to the Chopin of the 1840s and the unclassifiable beauties of Ligeti’s Etudes for Piano, here two examples from Book I.
As a pianist Mr. Swann is a very satisfactory musical polyglot. He also speaks well about historical contexts, although given his audience of students and professionals he was probably talking to the already initiated. He feels the melodic tensions of the Berg, and where others find a smaller, more intimate piece, he emphasizes the Sonata’s grandness. Touching too was how touched Mr. Swann himself was by the lyrical impulse that Hindemith insists on, even in the midst of his highly organized writing.
Mr. Swann seemed to have a good time with Mr. Crumb’s extracurricular strummings inside the body of the piano and his spoken and shouted bits of texts. An important wing of 20th-century music was its community of inventors, entrusted with finding new instruments and new applications of old ones. If patents for innovative sonorities existed, Mr. Crumb would hold a few of them.
Mr. Del Tredici’s “Virtuoso Alice” is well described by its title, with great flurries of scales and arpeggios commenting on sweetly melodic music. At the end came Ligeti’s “Arc-en-ciel” and “Automne à Varsovie,” their layers of irreconcilable time schemes making this music a pleasure for the ear and a nightmare for the performer. Mr. Swann dealt very well with them.
The Pianist Marc-André Hamelin Goes Beyond Technical Wizardry in Pieces Rare and Familiar
Unusual physical skills at the piano make good things happen, but they function as stigmas as well. The start of Marc-André Hamelin’s public career carried with it a reputation for extraordinary fluency, a technique that could bring Balakirev’s “Islamey,” Albéniz’s “Iberia” and other horrific tests of virtuosity to their knees. Maybe Mr. Hamelin’s musical mind and heart have emerged from behind that blur of flying fingers and crashing octaves. Maybe they were there all the time, and we just didn’t pay enough attention.
Mr. Hamelin’s appearance on Saturday at Mannes College indulged his taste for the big and the florid (Paul Dukas’s E-flat minor sonata) but also returned to one of the repertory’s sacred gospels, the Schubert B-flat sonata from the composer’s last year. This was all part of the International Keyboard Institute and Festival, which finished yesterday. The college’s modest upstairs auditorium was packed with students of the instrument young and old.
Dukas lived his musical life alongside Ravel and Debussy but did not write a great deal, occupying his time early on with music criticism and later with academia. What survives in memory 71 years after his death are the vocal and instrumental pieces, so the piano sonata from the turn of the 20th century arrived on Saturday as a minor revelation to many. Its four movements are products of a culture that had more time, more love of rhetoric, and a patience to sit back and to absorb it.
The heart then was fixed perhaps more prominently on the sleeve, and with no microphones to be had, the loud voice was a medium of choice. The piece is filled with little surprises: unexpected changes of key, sudden loud-soft shifts and, at the end of the Scherzo movement, a particularly interesting series of comic doodles and silences.
Elsewhere there are a lot of notes, all handily digested by Mr. Hamelin. It was a fine opportunity to hear a piece other pianists don’t play, but I wonder how many in the audience would jump at the chance to repeat the experience. There is the hint of a swayback in this long, effusive and ambling war horse. Maybe if we had more time, maybe if we were less in a hurry. …
In 1828 the Schubert sonata sat on a line separating the Classical tradition of Mozart and the open Romantic abandon about to be let out into the world. Performers can go either way and do it legitimately.
Mr. Hamelin chose to look ahead, with generously formed phrases, tempos unafraid to bend and contract, big modern-piano effects and rhetorical silences. Here was virtuosity well used: a performance as scrupulous and considered as it was deeply felt.
One of the less-mentioned wonders of this wondrous piece is not the first movement or the second, but the gap between the two. To come unwarned upon the C-sharp minor chord that begins the Andante, and to do so with the lingering B-flatness of the first movement still in the ear, adds a dimension of mystery like no other I can think of.
Fou Ts’ong Brings His Relaxed Precision to the International Keyboard Festival
Fou Ts’ong, a British pianist by way of Shanghai, was something of an international presence 40 years ago. We hear less of him on this side of the Atlantic, but he is still active as a player and competition jurist, and he showed up at the International Keyboard Institute and Festival at the Mannes College on Tuesday night. At 72, Mr. Fou commands a technique that is restrained but functioning. Most of his program was chosen for its musical interest rather than its technical challenge, this being as much by necessity as by good taste. Chopin’s F-minor Ballade at the end sounded more like laborious negotiation than free-flying virtuosity. He was more interesting in Haydn’s A-flat minor Sonata, music with a surprise around every corner, and in Mozart’s Fantasy in D minor (K. 397), operatic in declamation but with physical difficulties well within the reach of a reasonably gifted child.
Mr. Fou’s playing has characteristics of an older point of view, one that favors freedom over scrupulosity and coherence. A collection of Chopin mazurkas was improvisatory in style, and sometimes in fact. Mr. Fou likes to separate the hands slightly for melodic emphasis in the old-fashioned way, and he always has time to draw out phrases and create pregnant silences.
His tendency to sever Chopin’s linear writing in midflow and then leave it to dangle in musical space borders on the eccentric. The Mozart group, which included the Baroque-like Gigue in G and the great Rondo in A minor, worked better by being a little less free. In Chopin’s Berceuse Mr. Fou tried assiduously to disguise the monotony of the left-hand rhythm, when perhaps monotony was what Chopin intended.
Steven Mayer Channels Art Tatum, but Adds His Own Flourishes at Keyboard Festival
One of the most awestruck fans of the jazz pianist Art Tatum was the classical pianist Vladimir Horowitz, who heard the nearly blind Tatum play live in New York jazz clubs and collected his records. Like Duke Ellington and Oscar Peterson, Horowitz was inspired and intimidated by the inventiveness and sheer virtuosity of Tatum’s playing: the intricate rhythmic riffs, the constantly shifting harmony, the hypercharged keyboard-sweeping runs. “I wish I had a left hand like Art Tatum’s,” Horowitz once said.
Tatum, who died in 1956 at 47, has another admirer from classical music in the pianist Steven Mayer, who has transcribed by ear, note for note, numerous Tatum improvisations and recorded them to acclaim on a Naxos Classical release. On Tuesday at Mannes College of Music in Manhattan, Mr. Mayer concluded a varied recital program, part of the school’s two-week International Keyboard Institute and Festival, with three of his transcribed Tatum solos.
Though you can question the point of trying to replicate Tatum’s ingenious improvisations, you have to be impressed by Mr. Mayer’s devotion to the music and his technically brilliant playing. Actually, Mr. Mayer adds his own touches to Tatum’s solos. Still, his renditions are amazing facsimiles. Tatum took the Harlem stride style of Fats Waller and reinvented it, pushing it harmonically, polyphonically and pianistically beyond anything imagined.
Yet, though Tatum sometimes repeated his solos almost exactly in different performances, the pieces emerged as improvisations and always sounded fresh. For all the ferocity of his playing, there was a devil-may-care quality to his style, a seemingly impossible mix of intensity and impishness. Though Mr. Mayer plays Tatum with admirable panache, inevitably his performances sounded somewhat practiced and dutiful.
Mr. Mayer is a musician with wide-ranging interests who has played standard concerto repertory with major international orchestras. He began this recital with a boldly expressive account of Mozart’s Rondo in A minor, followed by a rhapsodic performance of Schumann’s early Sonata in F sharp minor, a technically awkward, sometimes intractable yet noble, haunting and fantastical work that is too seldom heard.
He was at his best in Ives’s “Celestial Railroad,” an astounding essay in color, texture and energy that sounded more radical than ever in Mr. Mayer’s compelling performance. He also gave engaging accounts of two works by Gottschalk and, as a warm-up to the Tatum, more of his transcriptions of early jazz piano pieces: James P. Johnson’s “Blueberry Rhyme” and Jelly Roll Morton’s “Frances.”
It’s reassuring to see classical pianists of Mr. Mayer’s accomplishment thinking outside the box. Still, even Horowitz, a renowned transcriber, never took on Tatum.
With Contagious Romanticism, Jerome Rose Opens Mannes Keyboard Festival
The International Keyboard Institute and Festival is the biggest of Mannes College’s back-to-back schedule of summer programs. It runs for two full weeks, with master classes, lectures, demonstrations and recitals open to the public every day from 9 a.m. to about 10 p.m.
Audiences are usually packed more tightly into Mannes’s concert hall for the keyboard event than for the college’s other festivals (which examine Beethoven, contemporary music and the classical guitar). There is even an official T-shirt (for $20) in the lobby.
Jerome Rose, the festival’s founder and director, gave the opening recital on Sunday evening in a program calibrated to his strengths, which include the sonic heft, broad gestures and grand scale of Romanticism.
Even so, Mr. Rose began with two works from outside the Romantic repertory, which isn’t to say that he recognized such a distinction. He played Mozart’s Sonata in C minor (K. 457) as a full-fledged Romantic score with a big, strong tone that made its textures sound thicker than they are. With that tonal weight established, proportions of all kinds inevitably change. So while Mr. Rose’s dynamics were essentially those of the score, their effects was magnified to Lisztian proportions.
Paul Schoenfield’s “Intermezzo” (2002) is a graceful, slowly building rumination in a language so conservative that it could almost pass as a lost Chopin work. That was how Mr. Rose played it, and it was an approach that worked once you accepted that Mr. Schoenfield, always an eclectic composer, was intent on pursuing an unequivocally nostalgic notion here.
Mr. Rose closed the first half of the program with a thundering account of Schumann’s G minor Sonata (Op. 22) that put the music’s audacious outbursts into high relief, but didn’t skimp on its gentler qualities, like the singing melody line in the Adagio. Similar qualities — with a greater emphasis on poetry and lilting themes than on thunder, though there was some of that as well — enlivened the four Chopin Ballades, which Mr. Rose played after the intermission.
Our Last Romantic
Every generation has its "last Romantic," a pianist who captures, to an extraordinary degree, the windswept spirit of the late 19th-century Lisztian camp. Josef Hofmann was the first last Romantic, bringing into the 1930s and '40s the wisdom of the previous century. A decade later, Vladimir Horowitz followed suit. The 1960s brought Artur Rubinstein, who learned from masters who learned from masters of the original stripe. And in more modern times, the last Romantic was the cult figure Shura Cherkassky.
Jerome Rose might be considered the last Romantic of our own age. A Liszt specialist, he was known in his youth as a formidable advocate for the golden age's most virtuosic piano music. Later, he became a scholar and eventually founded the annual International Keyboard Institute & Festival at the Mannes College of Music. The festival, which features no less than 28 concerts over two weeks, opened Sunday evening with a recitalist none other than Mr. Rose himself.
His appearance did not go unnoticed: The hall was bursting. Fans sat on the floor, stood at the back, even perched cross-legged atop some of the spare pianos in the room. All was in place for a superb recital. But the recitalist started off on the wrong foot. The leonine Mr. Rose presented the opening work, Mozart's Sonata in C minor, K. 457, as if it were written by some minor acolyte or epigone of Liszt. Stylistically anachronistic, the performance was also surprisingly inaccurate: Entire passages were seemingly uttered extemporaneously and fingered cavalierly. I feared it was to be a bumpy night.
Thankfully, Mr. Rose righted the ship immediately thereafter. With the following work, the world premiere of "Intermezzo" by Paul Schoenfield, the pianist employed both printed music and a page-turner, and appeared to reproduce the score, even the occasional minor second that rendered this otherwise melodious music discordant, faithfully.
Once Mr.Rose plunged headlong into the Romantic, he was in steady waters. Curiously, there appeared to be a direct ratio between the degree of technical difficulty and Mr. Rose's facilities with a particular piece. This unique recitalist soundly traversed Robert Schumann's notoriously devilish Sonata in G minor, Op. 22. He made child's play of many of its most difficult passages, producing a limpid and powerfully drawn rendition.
For better or worse, everything about Mr. Rose — his aesthetic, his style, and his sporadic shortcomings of dexterity — came together for a memorable reading of Chopin's Four Ballades. Yes, all four were played in order, even though the composer never intended for them to be offered as such. How Mr. Rose chose to perform these magnificent essays will certainly create controversy, and that is a good thing for music that depends so much on its frisson. He insisted on living on the edge throughout, creating generous slathers of rubato, heart-stopping pauses, big dynamic contrasts, and runs and trills begun just slightly after their downbeat.
If hearing all the notes in their proper place is your cup of tea, then you will probably not care much for Jerome Rose. But if the tingling sensation of the unexpected in your spine is the reason you come to hear such emotional music, then you could do much worse than a program by this necromancer who celebrates the Romantic pianist as the kissing cousin of that other emerging artist of the 19th century, the circus performer. For me, these daring experiments were mighty as a rose.