Friday, December 27, 2013

Vronsky and Babin - Pianistic Legends in Their Time...

As a child, I was consistently in awe of and overwhelmed by the sum  total of pianistic magic produced by Vitya Vronsky and her husband Victor Babin. I later got to understand that these two musicians were thought of by many to be the leading piano duo of the 2oth century.
While studying  at Eastman, I was given a copy  by my beloved teacher Jerome Diamond, of Babin's transcription for piano solo of the Coronation Scene music by Moussorgsky, from his opera Boris Godunov. I got to love playing it, and got to play it for as many people as I could corral to sit down and listen to it.  Babin's more famous transcription for two pianos of this piece was played countless times in recitals all over the world by  this piano duo.
For those of you who like piano music for four hands, and may not know of these two marvelous pianists, may I suggest your  listening to some of their recordings? Or go to YouTube - I'm quite sure that some of their  wonderful performances are available there.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Amparo and Gaby - These Two Pianists Should Be Remembered...

The name Jose Iturbi is well remembered as one of the eminent pianists of the twentieth century. His candent  readings of the great Spanish composers and his uncanny technical prowess formed  his historical trademark.
How many of us know of his sister, younger by about three years? Amparo was a stunning pianist in her own right, and established a world reputation alongside her brother -they played countless recitals together, performing many of the masterpieces for four hands over a period of years. She may, in terms of speculation, be a 2oth century reincarnation of Mozart's sister Nannerl, who was considered a genius at the piano, but historically placed in secondary position in notoriety due to the unprecedented level of genius given the world by brother Amadeus.
Do listen to Amparo - there are recordings...
Robert Casadesus was one of the more exquisite piano greats of the twentieth century, with wondrous luminosity emanating from his Mozart readings, and his regal attachment to Bach and other composers of the Baroque - then listen to his St.  Saens! A wonderful pianist and musician.
But what of his wife Gaby?  Both  she and her famous husband formed the Casadesus Duo, playing music for four hands throughout Europe. As  a unit, they were probably the most famous piano duo of the day.
Do listen to Gaby - By the way, their  son Jean became a very highly respected keyboard artist as well...


Saturday, December 14, 2013

We Know Andre Previn - Was There a Previn Before Him?

Although Andre Previn was born in Germany, he is pretty much considered to be one of America's most eminent musicians. He is not only a world-class pianist, but a talented composer and really fine conductor. As an example, one video in my collection is that of Previn conducting with the legend Artur Rubinstein in a scintillating performance of the Grieg piano concerto.
And what a great musical base the man Previn possesses! Have you heard him play jazz? And I have a brilliant reading  that Previn does of the charming "Twinkle, Twinkle' variations of Mozart for piano solo.
Not to mention the really clever jazz pieces  of Previn that I have taught to various students over the years.
And if you haven't heard Previn's crackling recording of  Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, you might just take a listen - I think that it should be placed among the top recorded performances of this  defining work.
But how about the Previn "dynasty?"
Andre's  great uncle is not so well known to the present world  audience. Charles Previn was born here in America (Brooklyn, to be exact),  and became a power on Broadway and wrote many scores for movies, some of which are classics.
Universal  Studios was under his guidance and leadership, as regards the musical aspects, for a number of years, and during the forties and a portion of the fifties Charles Previn  was  much better known to the world of music than he is now.
Why not look into Uncle Charles sometime? He was the true beginning of the Previn saga...


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Vladimir Horowitz and the Star Spangled Banner...

For those of you who may not know of the recital that the legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz gave at the White House in 1978, you may find the event quite defining.
And for those of you who are indeed aware of this event, do you still recall the significance of his playing of the American national anthem before the program began?
You can acquire the video of this recital, or watch  the pianist play the Star Spangled Banner on YouTube.
At any rate, my reason for writing about his playing of the anthem is due to the powerful connection that Horowitz had with this music.
First of all, do be reminded that  President Carter invited the maestro to play at the White House to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the American debut of Horowitz; an event so sensational that shortly thereafter the esteemed music critic, Olin Downes wrote of  Horowitz, as "the greatest pianist, alive or dead."
Horowitz, as you may know, first established his position as an artist  of importance in Europe, before coming to America. His rather harrowing escape from the tyranny of his native Mother Russia, with "money hidden in my socks'" as he put it, was an experience he never let go of, especially as he began to absorb the reality of what Freedom held for him, and the subsequent love he held for the new culture he now was part of. Horowitz attained American citizenship, and on many occasions spoke of the greatness of his newly acquired  home. His vaunted performance of the Tchaikovsky piano concerto, with his father-in-law Arturo Toscanini on "I Am An American" day  during the middle of World War II is an example of the attachment that had been formed, spiritually, between him and America. Listen to the performance, and you will feel the electric form of his newly found nationalism, let alone great talents.
Which brings me around to his playing of the anthem at the White House - do watch his performance, and you will quickly develop a sense of the depth of spirit that Horowitz gives in his connection to the music; music bare of any competition with the Chopin that is to follow.
Horowitz played the anthem before almost all of the  recitals he gave in America during the World War II  period. As a child, I recall hearing him play it several times, whenever he came to our city. And as young as I was, I distinctly recall that it had a different meaning than the way we sang it in school - what the difference was, I could never have explained, as I was too young to understand the momentous events surrounding us at that time.
At any rate, do watch Horowitz play the American National Anthem - it may just pull you into his orbit of the feelings he was undergoing during those times, a generation before during the world conflict.


Friday, December 6, 2013

Walter Gieseking - A Pianist Who Defied the Impossible...

During my high school years, I recall carrying an album which bore the performance of the Grieg piano concerto. I was on my way to one of my friend's home for the purpose of introducing him to this particular performance, done by the great French/German  pianist Walter Gieseking. What still comes back to me were the glittering passages, like solar waves of wonderfully wrought molten forms of an energy that I had not experienced before in my young years.
And from that defining day, through my schooling and developmental mid years, to this moment, I have listened to and studied the ways of this artist.  I continue to marvel at the sounds that this man was able to cajole out of an instrument that belongs to the percussion family. How was this man able to venture so far away from the reality that his fingers  were striking keys, which in turn struck strings - how was he able to conceal the 'striking' aspect of the pianistic process as no other  pianist has been able to achieve so much of the time, especially in the playing of Debussy?
One cannot experience the  sounds that this man could produce by going to youtube, or through some postage-stamp sized speakers. In order to be able to glean the uniqueness of tonal production that Gieseking gives is to hear the recordings through large, top-quality speakers, and at room-volume level; that is, at the same volume level as if a live piano was  being played upon in the same room.
Then - listen to a miracle, especially in hearing something like "What the West Wind Saw" by Debussy.
The playing of Mozart, Beethoven or Brahms by this man is wonderful, indeed- I remember owning the complete solo piano works of Mozart as done by Gieseking, and they are a revelation.
However, it is in his playing of  the music of Debussy and Ravel, wherein the piano must assume a new position in its golden history - this is the Gieseking that should not be overlooked, less forgotten.
Michelangeli, for me, with his quicksilver sounds, is the one more recent  pianist who most successfully  approached the kinds of sound production that Gieseking produced in the music of Debussy.
But the enormous sense of intuit need to create the colors that Walter Gieseking  produced is still one of my great experiences as a listener of some experience...