Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Music of Ron Goodwin - Don't Know Him? Read On...

Ron Goodwin was a British composer, who became well-known, especially during the latter half of the 20th century, in England. He actually took over for the eminent British composer William Walton, in the art of composing movie music. "Where Eagles Dare" comes to mind as one of his films.
Most notable to me is his music for four films dealing with Miss Marple, arguably the best known character created by Agatha Christie.
This particular series centers  around the delightful character actress Margaret Rutherford, who alters the persona of Jane Marple by way of comedic nuance rather than the classic, somewhat dowdy little spinster that the authoress gives to the reader in her many mysteries centering around Miss Marple.
The music that Goodwin attaches to these five films is quite perfect, in that it offers not a  particle  of depth, nor entrenched  drama; actually, not much more than a doff - of - the - hat to Paderewski's Menuet and the attendant "correctness" of social demeanor, regardless of the murder or mayhem that may flavor the story that Christie so masterfully promulgates.
So, unlike my doffing of the hat to Profundity and Power of Beethoven-like boundlessness, I  take my cravat off to Ron Goodwin, whose music in this series lends itself quite perfectly to Margaret Rutherford's version of one of literature's enduring characters.


Monday, January 14, 2013

A Unique Experience - The Performances of Roman Totenberg...

I had mentioned recently the release of two new CD's by the late violinist Roman Totenberg, and have just listened to these performances. To state that this was a  one-of-a-kind experience is to understate.
During my tenure as a member of the faculty of the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Ma., I was given the golden opportunity to work under Totenberg, who was then Director of the school.
I very soon became aware of the rare components of the chemistry that gave the world of music this singular musician. No one I have ever worked with during my years at Longy was more approachable, and at the same time as  genuine in artistic integrity and with undiluted empathy for his colleagues, than this man.
When the jewel we call Sonata in "A" minor of Bach appeared on the CD, an immediate recollection  of the innumerable times I would saunter by his office, over the years during his directorship,  and hear his violin  reaching out to me whenever he had a moment from his many duties simply to do what he loved to do the most. And quite often this particular masterpiece of Bach for unaccompanied violin would be wafting out to me. And as many times as  he would play for those relatively few moments, my impression was then as it was when I heard Totenberg play for me on this CD just the other day; that is, a kind of compounded form of Love would appear - a kind of love really quite impossible to describe by lowly and impotent entities we call words.
I suppose the only way I can even begin to describe what I feel when hearing Totenberg, knowing full well that there can be but one Heifetz, or Kreisler, or Francescatti when one thinks of the Kings of the violin that history has lent us; however, whenever I hear Totenberg, there is a singular form of love endemic to his sound - a love; for the love of the gift that made it possible to forge  the message he needed to share with any one person, or any one audience that was in the same room.
I do not expect to undergo a replication of this form of love from any other musician.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Death Onstage - Simon Barere

An unforgettable image took form on the stage of Carnegie Hall in 1951...
Imagine being one in the audience and  overwhelmed  with horror as a great pianist, only a few moments after he begins the Grieg Concerto, lies slumped and motionless between the bench and the piano.
Just minutes after he was brought backstage, he was pronounced dead. A cerebral hemorrhage took an immense pianistic entity away from a world that was just getting to know this man.
The Ukrainian pianist Simon Barere had been heralded as the equal of Vladimir Horowitz in raw pianistic powers, and recordings by  Barere  of music by Liszt, Chopin and Balakirev give us certification of  his immense natural powers as a player of the instrument.
Some ask why this man is simply not as well known as a Horowitz or a Volodos or Pletnev. He certainly could reach, even exceed  the speeds that Horowitz, for one, achieves in the "Islamey" of Balakirev, or the Liszt "Gnonemreigen", as performed by Claudio Arrau in an immortal performance. For me, the primary reason, perhaps,  that we do not attach the kind of recognition to Barere as one might expect, what with his gargantuan pianism, is that the width and power of his interpretive and stylistic languages  fall short of the accompanying technique that propelled the sounds formed by the notes. Be assured that I do not deter from my admiration of his overwhelming powers as a pianist. For me, however, the Opus 10, No. 4 of Chopin says more by way of Horowitz or Ashkenazy than the wonderfully glib way of Barere, as an example.
Nevertheless, the unforgettable horror of Barere's death onstage at Carnegie Hall bears the tragic reality of the loss of a singular and  marvelous giant of the piano.


Friday, January 4, 2013

Who is this Pianist? A Surprise, Perhaps...

I came across a stunning performance by a pianist whom I would not have contemplated playing this kind of composition.
It is the tenth Hungarian Rhapsody by Liszt, most assuredly written during his unprecedented performance period, and designed to 'wow' the audience with a kind of music and level of performance not known until this young pyrotechnician appeared on the scene in the early 19th century.
To be sure, the level of artistry is not the first priority Liszt sought to develop in the Rhapsody. The circus-like atmosphere pandemic throughout this incarnation, redolent with glissando passages and incredibly difficult shards of notes cascading from beginning to end, cry out for the likes of a Horowitz or Volodos to bring to life.
Amazingly, this particular performance is by Artur Rubinstein, whom we do not usually connect with this kind of sensationalism. The world has known Rubinstein primarily as a kind of poet and aristocrat with a tremendous repertoire.
But do keep in mind that the Rubinsteins or Serkins or Lipattis all possessed world-class techniques and could perform anything written for the instrument, and once in a while, such as in this case, one of these poets would and could unleash powers he chose not to uncover, for the most part.
Why not play a 'game?' Get the 1937 recording of this Rhapsody as played by Rubinstein; pretend that you do not know  who is performing; and ask "is this Horowitz??"
I think that you will be enthralled.