Thursday, October 27, 2016

Piano Wizardry - Sviatoslav Richter... an Enigma?

He was a big man, with massive hands. He created the illusion of  'surrounding' the piano.
First thing you do after reading this blog, go to YouTube and enter Horowitz playing the C# minor Etude (Opus 10, No.4), of Chopin - then follow by entering Richter playing the same piece  - look at the performance marked "9 years ago" -   you will then understand what is meant by 'surrounding'  the piano.
There are those who question his approach to at least some of the masterworks he played. I include myself among them; however, no one in my memory made this huge instrument appear so small.
He was known for, arguably, possessing the largest repertoire of any of the reigning soloists. There were seasons during which he had, by memory, 15 different recital programs available on demand. He himself remarked that "I had about 80 programs in my head at one point."
During his teenage period, he played for any group that he could find; opera or ballet organizations especially. His sight reading abilities were the source of countless conversations.
A documentary made in Europe is titled (and available) "Richter-an Enigma."
Personally, I think of the producer of this documentary as perhaps a bit  too dramatic in his title.
There is no question about the private man that Richter was. He built a road with room only for him and   his eye-on-the - prize; specifically, his fusion with "that wonderful Yamaha" he preferred over other pianos, and the quest to uncover as many ways he could enter dialogue with -  through, arguably, the most arcane  language  available to us.
At times I am in controversy with this man.
But ALWAYS in awe...


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Viola and Berlioz, in the Eye of the Storm...

We know that the powerful composer Berlioz used opium at least part of the time during which  he wrote his legendary "Symphonie fantastique." The lurid nature of a marvelous orchestral technique is much in front of our senses as we continue to be in awe of this composition, even though the  greater part of two centuries has passed since its writing-  such as with the alcoholism of Moussorgsky enhancing  the message of "Boris Godunov" and "Pictures at an Exhibition," or the coming mental/emotional instability of Van Gogh giving better rise, quite probably, in my view, to the increasing power of message, especially  in his latter paintings.
A rather curious lack of anguish is extant, curiously, in the unique combine of viola and symphony orchestra titled "Harold in Italy." Throughout this wonderful creation replete with lush color and a rather contemplative portrayal of human emotion with no specified forms of anguish, a different  mode  of dialogue  is given over to a solo instrument and orchestra. And yet  "Harold" is not a concerto for viola and orchestra; rather, a symphony with an elemental form of marvelously fusing 'meanderings' represented by the viola,  woven into the fabric of a kind of 'chamber' view of  what can be given to a full symphony orchestra.
In the third decade of the 19th century, a coruscating view of orchestral writing -   even Paganini, the greatest violin player of his and, just perhaps,  ANY time, who talked Berlioz into writing something important for the viola(he had just gained ownership of a viola, and wanted something written for it) was disappointed, at first flush, in "Harold in Italy." Later on, Paganini altered his view of this composition, and became one of its principal enthusiasts.
During my school days, the playing of the viola part by William Primrose, was one of my great memories, and I practically wore out the recording of it - I believe the conductor of the recording was none other than Toscanini himself.
And the performer, William Primrose - well; how many violists played the Paganini Caprices on the viola?? Well, HE did... Yes, indeed; a violist with an enormous technique...
To hear the viola in an unforgettable pose, see if you can get  hold of Primrose doing Berlioz.
Above all, the combine of Primrose and Berlioz is  a rarity to experience...


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Two Pianists - Tragedy and Triumph...

These two performers come from different aspects within the cosmos of music; one, a jazz pianist - the other, one of the giants in the Classical  pursuit:
I first consulted YouTube to insure that you can see these two perform at their highest level, and I was gratified that both are available.
First(in the event that you are not familiar with this man), picture, if you can, a young man barely three feet in height, who either had to clamber onto the bench, or be bodily lifted onto the bench, especially toward the end of his career. Michel Petrucciani was born with a rare genetic disease that resulted in his having bone structure that would shatter almost a hundred times before he was twenty. His particular form of this disease also resulted in  his not attaining a height of much more than the length of a yardstick. He claimed that he was in constant pain, especially in his arms when in performance. His career, in Europe, then in New York, made him a celebrity during his brief time ( he was, I believe, about 37 when he passed away). His adventures with Duke Ellington's music were, for me, his signature. The Jazz was 'new,' if you will, and a number of you may not approve of this particular form within the Jazz idiom; however, do witness the prowess of this singular musician and experience, with this tragic figure, a unique and defining example of triumph over tragedy.

A large, lumbering man surrounded the piano he sat before, especially during the years of increasing corpulence. His attitude toward the world he resided in became one of increasing indifference or even  a strain of insouciance, as he moved further and further away from a place  he created with his enormous gifts, by way of unforgettable performances throughout the civilized world and especially in his beloved Great Britain, wherein  resided a number of critics who opined that John Ogdon, who passed away in his fifties, may well be the greatest English pianist of them all.
Was it what we now call Bipolar Disorder ? Or Schizophrenia?
I'm not really clear as to what took him away from his immense attainments in the world of performance. I  believe that Ogden was the first pianist after Rachmaninoff himself to actuate  the task of recording all of the piano works of the great Russian, and I believe he had gotten half-way through the project when he shut it down. He was one of the first to record all of the Scriabin sonatas. He also was one of very few who played the almost impossibly difficult piano literature of Alkan - and the list goes on...
Listen to his Beethoven, such as the sonatas opus 106 and 111 - I wrestle, from time to time, with the question "HAVE I ever heard more powerful Beethoven??"
Like Beethoven himself  -  triumph over tragedy.  Great art is always left behind; intact, whether it be after War or some other human catastrophe. 


Thursday, October 6, 2016

A Glance at Fusion in Music...

Sauter- Finegan  -
These two men  organized a group resulting in the form of a jazz band;  the result being, in mid-20th century, an aural display of experimentation in the combining of  classical music and jazz. But NOT in the same manner as given us by, say, George Shearing -  his wondrous creations are the placing of pop/jazz tunes in the styles of various giants such as Bach, Chopin, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff etc.
What Sauter and Finegan pursued was more subtle, if you will, by way of the use of inner constructions of sound emanating from the world of Classical music, rather than overt stylistic implementation. The results are profound, but one has to 'listen' in a more focused modality, rather  than  merely sitting back and hearing  a pop tune in the guise of Mozart. I am not stating that Sauter  - Finegan is 'better than' George Shearing, or Alec Templeton - listening to the Sauter Finegan band  simply requires a different listening posture.
Be reminded that the bases of these two men emanated from such places as the Paris Conservatoire and the music college of Columbia University.
Listen to a compelling example of  Sauter-Finegan, by going to a recording  performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by the legendary conductor Fritz Reiner, in a composition by the Swiss composer Rolf Liebermann; the Concerto for Jazz Band and Symphony Orchestra, written specifically for the Sauter-Finegan band.

Don Shirley -
This man held three PHD's, only one being involved in music. He knew seven or eight languages fluently, and  was intrinsically involved in matters of religion.
His instrument was the piano, and his language was an imagery of fusion not unlike, tactically, that of Sauter-Finegan. His creations range from the spiritual to the concerto, with the base of his myriad of ideas springing from jazz. As a young musician, I was entranced by his journeys  in Sound resulting from the melange of his ideas, and his language remained in my consciousness for some years. Few remember him today.

Keith Jarrett  -
He could play St. Saens at age seven.
If  you watch him perform, he will make you itch. His mannerisms are, essentially, orgiastic as he writhes and twists on the piano bench, especially if he is dealing with his world of Fusion based upon Jazz styles.
I once saw him play the Mozart Concerto K. 488 at Tanglewood. His physical stance during that event was one of , essentially,  asexual tranquillity.
HE is an event...
Agree with me? Let me know, by examining these examples  of the pioneering spirit...