Friday, June 3, 2011

Arcadi Volodos -A Study in Stamina...

With all of the technically daunting works that have been written for the piano, especially from Beethoven's time to the present, one aspect of the multifaceted world of pieces of great virtuosity is stamina.
It's one thing to deal with the problems of conquering the towering difficulties of this kind of work for the piano, such as how to make music emerge from the finger gymnastics which are dealt with first - this is a traditional perspective those of us who perform must encounter.
Another phase of reality, which may at times be secondary, in linear terms, is the question of that second wind, which if called upon, is a natural product of pure unadulterated stamina.
I think of such unremitting pieces as the Toccata, or the third movement of the seventh sonata by Prokofiev. Or some of the Horowitz transcriptions, such as "Stars and Stripes Forever" etc.
Two works loom out at me at this moment; one is "Islamey" of Balakirev. Listen to the Pletnev or Horowitz recordings, and you will quickly be mesmerized at not only the fantastic difficulties of this piece, but also the stamina required to bring this monster into existence.
For me, however, one of the truly standout examples of the need for not just a great finger technique, but elemental stamina, is a transcription of the Scherzo from the 6th symphony of Tchaikowsy.
This transcription was written by a master pianist and teacher from Russia, Samuil Feinberg (1890-1962).
As you know, during this past century and more, Russia has been grinding out phenomenal pianists in astounding numbers. Many have also been great musicians, from Anton Rubinstein to Vladimir Horowitz and Evgeny Kissin.
Feinberg is not well known in our musical society, as he should be. Not only was he a luminary in performance and pedagogy, but he was a prolific composer as well, having written, for instance, twelve sonatas and three concerti. He was well known in Russia and in the world of musicology as a top grade writer of transcriptions, many of which he adapted from organ works of Bach, whom he played much and adored. Among other aspects of his writing are transcriptions of the last three symphonies of Tchaikowsky. There are recordings of Feinberg, if one should like to look for them. His tone and technique are memorable, and he can be considered a great pianist.
You know the scherzo from the sixth symphony of Tchaikowsky - just think of that piece reduced for piano solo, and a remarkable young pianist from Mother Russia, Arcadi Volodos, recorded this transcription a few years ago.
The technical requirements Feinberg inculcates, in order to capture the orchestral elements endemic to the piece, are enormous; however, every bit as transfixing is the stamina required just to get through this work, and Volodos tosses it off in a way that defies the imagination.
Do listen to this rarely performed transcription, and know what Stamina, in its purest form, can give us.

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