Friday, August 30, 2013

The Pianists of Today - the Inexorable Ways of History; Or, Should I Be In Disagreement?...

I have expressed some thoughts  about the issue of piano performance by a number of today's pianists, in brevity,   in one of my blogs recently. So I thought today that I should discuss this aspect more thoroughly with you:
During the past year or so, in listening to countless recordings made by contemporary pianists, the  reactions I have undergone, in incremental fashion, have resulted in a kind of coruscation; namely, that: First, I am hearing  many examples  of rather fantastic piano playing - pianists with gargantuan techniques and the  powers of shading and plasticity that are positively riveting to my senses. And; Secondly , I am rarely  moved emotionally by the sounds being created.
Of course, throughout the years one has heard performers who are virtually incapable of playing a wrong note and at  the same  time  doing nothing with or for the notes that they play so brilliantly.
But there is a factor I cannot yet measure in so much of today's performer. I am consistently "moved" by the totality of mastery in the fingers coupled with a commensurate mastery of wonderful sounds emanating from the piano, but that ONE ultimate 'something' that  brings the term  'greatness'  into existence  is simply not there.
What has come to mind is that there was a period directly after Liszt's  unprecedented  playing  ended that resulted in a kind of  quasi-circus of fantastic performers;  one after the other, very few of whom have emerged as great musicians. For example, try to get hold of any of the Vorsetzer recordings of Busoni, done during the first decade of the 20th century. It is, of course, known that Busoni was one of the most brilliant pianists of that period - but (for me at least), I find his interpretations rather naive and superficial. It  appears  that the likes of a Lhevinne or a Rachmaninoff emerged to re-position  the priority  of  that  indescribable  'integrity' that only the true artist can fuse to the music, which  results in what we call "greatness."
Invariably, when I move back in time  to a Rubinstein, or a  Lipatti, or  a Serkin or Arrau performance,    I am immediately transported into their cosmos.
So! A mystery?? I am in the middle of a space that has yet be turned  into an argument -  or an assertion - or anything else  I can measure into some identifiable!
Am I simply hearing elemental changes along the road of history that, very simply, are reflections of the realities of a period I cannot comprehend, having come from another generation?
Or is this another "post-Lisztian" period, which will, one day, be measured as such?
A statement made by one of the truly great pianists of our time, Leif Ove Andsnes, was, perhaps, in the form of a complaint;  when he remarked that so many of the young pianists today are not listening, or listening enough, to pianists of the preceding generations -
Is THAT what I'm trying to say?
I just do not know...


Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Composer Octavio Pinto - Obscure and Delightful...

In preparing for a performance this Fall, I decided to add to the music I had chosen,  some encore material. A collection of pieces by the Brazilian composer, Octavio Pinto, seems to be just the right ticket, as they are, in my view, charming and clever pictures dealing with  memories of one's youth. They are, in fact, titled "Memories of  Childhood." It's almost as if Pinto had  decided to answer Schumann's masterful "Scenes from Childhood" one century later, though I find no evidence that Pinto had specifically  thought about the issue in those specific terms.
Titles such as "Run Run",  "Hobby-Horse", and "Sleeping Time" will give you  clear evidence of the direction that Pinto takes these little gems.
Pinto was a highly successful architect, known throughout his native Brazil, and composed out of sheer love for music. In actuality, he was gifted enough musically to have studied with the giant pedagogue Isidor Phillip, one of the last great teachers of the late 19th century. Phillip actually lived into his late nineties, and was a legend in the first half of the 20th century. It may be of some interest that both one of my teachers at Eastman School and I were students of Phillip a couple of generations apart.
Pinto may just be known to some of you simply because his wife was one of the truly great Brazilian musicians of the 20th century, Guiomar Novaes. She was generally considered as one of the century's leading pianists. Do listen to the magic of her message; her seemingly effortless and fluid manner for which she was known world-wide. I do believe that Pinto's "Memories of  Childhood" were written for her.
At any rate; for those of you who play the piano - why not get a copy of  these delightful and imaginative "gum-drops?"


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Lesser Known Female Singers of the 20th Century...

When I  wrote the blog last week putting forth a  short list of lesser known male singers of the 20th century, I promised an equally short overview of women who should  be better remembered  than they, seemingly, are:
In bringing up giants,  such as a  Maria Callas or Marian Anderson, the mantle of greatness can easily be instilled. And there are quite a number of female artists who sang whom we remember well.
There are, however, singular vocal talents whom we might have allowed to fall from our retentive grasps, such as  Patrice Munsel. Do listen to her voice, and know that she was, I believe, the youngest woman to debut  as a member of  the vaunted Metropolitan Opera - I believe  she was eighteen.
Rise Stevens also was possessor of a unique quality  in vocal artistry.  She was  extremely well received by the world of music. Incidentally, she and Munsel, like some of the men I discussed last week, did 'crossover' singing;  that is, pop or light opera work as well as the deep classics.
Another really great voice was that of the Brazilian  Bidu Sayao, who thrilled audiences all over the globe - listen to her, and I'm quite confident that you will  be  more than impressed. She, in my view, was a great musician who also had a voice to match her musical gift,
Toronto has given us Glenn Gould and Angela Hewitt. But this Canadian city  also was the birthplace of a woman who was given lavish praise by the legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini, who considered her as one of  top vocal  artists of the time. She was Lois Marshall, who became a great recitalist. Marshall would undoubtedly  have become a better known entity had she been able to enter the field of opera; sadly, childhood polio left her with a disability that  stultified any operatic hopes.
The above  constitute  just a fraction of some voices you may neither have heard, nor were very familiar with - why not investigate? You will come up with some treasured entities, be assured!


Thursday, August 8, 2013

American "Cross-over" Singers - Should History Continue to Shun Them?

It seems to me that a certain group of performers has pretty much been relegated to a lower rung  on the historical ladder, and perhaps these singular talents should be brought back into the field of recognition they deserve.
I will mention but a few at this time, concentrating on the male singers, with  intentions to deal with the ladies who belong to this group, at another time:
The names of James Melton, John Charles Thomas, Richard Crooks, Robert Merill and Jan Peerce appear on my mental blackboard at this moment, probably because they were part of my young years as a listener.
The primary reason for my bringing these names into focus is that they were performers who possessed wonderful voices, and  who sang both popular and serious music, achieving  considerable recognition and stature in both aspects of music. For the most part, these performers attained equal  distinction in, say, Broadway music and Grand opera.  To cite examples of reality about their gifts, one might sing an Irving Berlin tune on one radio broadcast, then be heard singing under Toscanini on another broadcast performing  Italian Opera. I know, for instance,  that John Charles Thomas would sing "Danny Boy" on a particular evening, then be heard with, arguably, the greatest Russian singer of the time, Feodor Chaliapin, just days later, in Grand Opera.
There are others I am not mentioning in this blog, be assured. It was a period, in the twentieth century, of some really glorious singing cloaked in  a wide view of opposing forms of musical styles.  I'm sure you can find  examples on your computer, and become witness to an engrossing period in the history of musical performance.


Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Mini-Compendium of Statements That Linger in the Memory...

I thought that a brief overview of remarks, made by both artists and other world figures during the past century, would serve as a vehicle of interest to the reader:
OSCAR LEVANT(after an especially deft performance of a Chopin Etude) - "See?? I TOLD you that I was the 2nd best pianist! I won't tell you who the best pianist is - it'll make a lot of guys really angry.
LUDWIG VON BEETHOVEN -"Handel - the greatest composer of them all ."  (I've often wondered about his choice of Handel, rather than Bach...)
FREDERICK CHOPIN(reportedly his final utterance) - "I was cursed with a short life and a long nose."
BELA BARTOK - "Competitions are meant for horses, not artists."
PETER TCHAIKOVSKY -" Just finished poring over the music of Brahms - that artless bastard."
ADOLF HITLER - "I trust that God will look upon me favorably concerning  the task I am about to undertake."
JOSEF STALIN - "Only the unborn are innocent."
JOSEF STALIN(part of an order disseminated to his military) - "Those who move forward; some may die. For those who take one step backward, they will certainly die."
STANLEY LAUREL JEFFERSON{on his deathbed) - "I'd rather be skiing." It's known that this legendary comedian did not ski. He is best known as Stan Laurel.
VICTOR BORGE(after a rather poor performance of a Rachmaninoff Prelude) - I don't know THAT one."
PABLO PICASSO(after a Nazi officer had asked him if he had actually done the mural Guernica, Picasso looked directly into the eyes of the soldier and said quietly, "No - YOU did."

Just a taste of a considerable number  of statements you can find, if you decide to hunt them down.