Friday, July 24, 2009

A Letter to a Great Pianist; the Subject, Rachmaninoff

Not terribly long ago, my wife informed me about an experience she had while driving.
She ended up pulling the car over to the side of the road while listening to a performance of the third piano concerto of Rachmaninoff. For her, it was such a compelling performance that she decided that it was safer to stop driving and simply listen to this recording.
When she arrived home, she related this experience, and asked if I had ever heard of this pianist.
I had not, but was so intrigued I investigated my favorite record store, and procured the disc for myself.
In the history of the existing recordings of the third concerto, it occurred to me that the only recording by a pianist under thirty years of age that was the most defining was that of Vladimir Horowitz, not yet thirty, recorded in London with the London Philharmonic.
Since I was a student, that particular recording had always been the paradigm of the unapproachable, when it referred, in my view, to any recording of this mammoth concert by anyone under thirty. To be sure, there were, and are wonderful recordings by many great older pianists, and during all those years I felt that no one would ever threaten the young Horowitz - until I heard this new recording, done by a pianist in his approximate mid-twenties.
The intrinsic connection with the multifaceted complexities embedded in this concerto enacted by one so young absolutely stunned me, and continues to wash over me whenever I hear this recording.
The young man (and he is still young, being in his late thirties) is Leif Ove Andsnes, the Norwegian pianist.
What remains uncanny to me is that veritably every recording I have of Andsnes bears the same power that convinces me that I am hearing the music for the first time, no matter how familiar.
He is the only pianist I know, for example, that thrusts the pyrotechnical difficulties of Liszt so deeply into the rear of the total incarnation that for the first time in music I have heard virtually all of my life, there is a new cosmos which has formed in the resulting message, especially in the better piano music of the composer.
And listening to his Mozart, especially the concerti - he has found a way to 'wrap' the orchestral sound around the piano (or, the other way around) like a cloth, making for a sound like a giant instrument of one.
I know of no other musician who is capable of transmogrifying my reactions to music in such a manner.

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