Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Two Historic Recordings in the Year 1957 - If Only Rachmaninoff Could Have Heard...

One of a handful of young pianists whom Vladimir Horowitz chose  to work with was the American Byron Janis.
This singularly gifted pianist achieved international recognition rather quickly, and performed both in recital and with many of the great conductors, receiving the highest praise by both critics and audiences wherever he appeared. It is indeed fortunate a reality that Janis produced a number of recordings that attested to his greatness before  the scourge of arthritis put a temporary halt to his career  at the height of his successes. Fortunately, he was able to recover enough to perform once again. 
I think of two such defining performances, both recorded in 1957; namely, the first and third Concertos of Rachmaninoff.
The first Concerto was done with the legendary Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony; the third Concerto with  Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
The restored versions of these recordings were processed, as I recall, around 1997, and brilliantly convey to us the magnificence of Janis' readings and his wonderfully balanced assessments of the two great conductors he worked with in what I consider to be two of the more important  readings of  these works that are available to us.
Do listen to these recordings, and see if you agree with me that the sweep and  the swirl of the idiosyncratic ways of Janis give Rachmaninoff a kind of meaning that is simply not expected, and yet embraced.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Rachmaninoff, the Man from Cuba, and Edinburgh, Scotland - a Historic Master Class...

In 1986, the Irish pianist Barry Douglas won the coveted first prize at the Tchaikovsky  Piano Competition.
This was the culmination of years of assiduous toil at the keyboard, and it constituted  the beginning of  a run of  international performances and ultimate recognition as one of the young lions of his time.
Before this victory in Mother Russia, young Douglas was one of six chosen to participate in a Master Class at Usher Hall in Edinburgh; the others chosen were promising aspirants from the USA(2), Brazil, Germany and Great Britain. The Master Teacher was the legendary  pianist from Cuba, Jorge Bolet. The music prepared by all six was the 3rd Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto.
I have a  copy of that master class, and it is one of my personal treasures. These six young hopefuls were, all of them, superbly prepared and highly gifted players of the piano. Of course, at this level, playing the piano superbly is only the gateway to the next and most vital aspect of reality; namely, -what do we do with the notes learned? Bolet was riveting in his dissection of the music, and the attending pursuit on his part to convey to these young pianists the innermost aspect of the language lurking somewhere within these notes that were being played. I must say that these six musicians had dealt with, in preparation for the Master Class, to an admirable level the issue of the core meanings of the written notes, as they perceived them. Bolet took these budding musicians on a journey with him to reveal  the world that lay before them, and the  widening eyes and increasingly parting lips of these musicians were proof of the genius Bolet possessed as a communicator, let alone as an artist.
Of the six,  Barry Douglas has ascended to the upper rungs of that ladder all artists must climb, and we can obtain recordings of this singularly gifted  pianist.
If you can, look for Barry Douglas in his recording of Moussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition."  For me, it is a thrilling foray into the architecture of the music; almost as if  Douglas had  found a way to "re - paint" the works of Hartmann, the artist who inspired Moussorgsky, onto  the keyboard, with fingers instead of the brush.
Now into his 55th year, Barry Douglas is a force that we just might become more aware of...


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Another of the Musical Dynasties...

I've already written about great musical  dynasties, the most enduring   being, of course, the Bach family, which prevailed from the late sixteenth through the beginning of the nineteenth centuries.
And History gives us such musicians of world recognition  as Charles and Andre Previn;  Henri, Robert, Gaby and Jean  Casadesus; Rudolf and Peter Serkin.
How about the name Kipnis?
Alexander Kipnis was a Russian  vocalist, known for his legendary bass voice and his readings of nineteenth century Lieder, especially of Brahms and Wolf. His performances, let alone his wondrous instrument had been compared with the legendary Russian singer  Feodor Chaliapin, known as perhaps the supreme incarnation of Moussorgsky's  "Boris Godunov."  Kipnis, sadly, has been pretty much consigned to the dusty shelves of forgotten artists.
His son, Igor, was one of the top harpsichordists of the twentieth century, let alone a  brilliant pianist.
His reputation in mid-century was enhanced by his singular harpsichord  performances in not only the Baroque, but also by way of his forays into Jazz as applied to the harpsichord; playing not only Bach and his contemporaries but also works written by Dave Brubek, the legendary Jazz composer and pianist, who as a student, learned from  none other than Darius Milhaud, who was teaching on the West Coast at that particular time.
Why not look into the Kipnis Experience? There are recordings available.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

On Another June 4 - So Much to be Saved...

On this date in 1944, a rather unusual incident took place during history's greatest conflict:
The city of Rome was awaiting American troops after the long and bitter battle, which finally drove the German troops out of and to the north of the Eternal City.
But before the eagerly awaited troops entered, a number of American planes flew over the city and dropped  thousands of leaflets which contained a message to the civilians beseeching them to prevent Rome from being destroyed by Scorched Earth vengeance.
The Nazis did indeed  declare Rome to be an Open City; nevertheless,  there was great fear that the threat of destroying the city and the immeasurable treasure in the forms of the core of Roman Catholicism, let alone  Man's art,  in countless incarnations,  still existed - there was still a vivid, horrid memory of the destruction of the ancient monastery at Monte Cassino, which  still haunted those who were involved with that tragic event.
Happily, no such dark action took place in Rome, and American troops marched into the city the following day, greeted by thousands of deliriously happy citizens who, the day before, were eerily quiet amid the leaflets that were falling upon them.    


Monday, June 2, 2014

The World of Imagery - What Does the Composer "See?"

After listening to a recorded performance of my most recent work by the renowned violinist and educator Ricardo Odriozola, which he did on May 8 of this year,  some thoughts flashed through my mind as I sat reflecting upon that which I had just heard:
Should I make an attempt to describe the process I undergo when writing music? I then realized that I might well bore the reader to a point of "why read more? I have more important things to do."
I then deflected my thoughts, and remembered some of the meager evidence left to us by the likes of Mozart and Beethoven. Sadly, Mozart's widow destroyed a large number of sketches and  quite possibly some actual words written down by Amadeus; fortunately, some 300 articles dealing with the more intimate aspects  of his immortal incarnations  remain, and an  acknowledged  specialist on this aspect, Ulrich Konrad, gives us valuable insight into this material:
One of the most compellingly interesting ways Mozart used to describe his dealing with the creative process was his use of two words -  in both conversation and in letters he uses the word "composed" to describe what is already  complete and waiting, in his mind, for release onto manuscript later on. He uses the word "written"  to describe that which is indeed actually written down.  One should be reminded that in one of his letters, his answer to an often  asked question was "the music? It's already here, just waiting to be written down."
Many times his music would appear in the form of bass and melody, with the rest of the music to be filled in later. I believe that at his premiere of the "Prague" symphony, he  sat down at the piano and improvised for a considerable length of time.  It is known that on several occasions  Mozart improvised sections of  various  piano compositions in actual performances , before finishing the music in written form afterward. The possibility of a 'photographic' memory is actually somewhat more hazy, as it pertains to Mozart, than the proof  we have of the unparalleled gift of musical imagery that flowed through him and into the world the remainder of us reside in. Do remember that some letters refer, without a trace  of ego to "how can I create such things? Why me?"
Beethoven wrote often about his being directly affected, in his creative process, by his overwhelming connection with and  love of nature. He walked almost daily  through  the countryside, no matter where he happened to reside, and many times reflected  upon the parallel created by the titanic force of creative powers that gave us his language, and the reality of his being seduced by the colors, smells, and, for a short time, the sounds of the world he strolled through and made communion with.
He often mentioned that he would hold an idea  before his mind's eye for a considerable length of time in order to consider the possibilities that would emanate from it. Then he would write. Therein, perhaps, is the reason that by age 31,he finishes the first  of his nine symphonies. Do then look at Mozart, who by age 31, had completed all but the last five or  six of his forty one symphonies.
I could go on; however, I may well have overstayed my visit by now...