Friday, June 29, 2018

Felix Mendelssohn and Emil Gilels - a Change of Mind Like No Other I Know in the History of Recordings...

One of  the Mendelssohn  Songs Without Words, titled "Duetto," is among my favorites of the piano music of Mendelssohn. The theme is, for me, one of the most ravishing creations carved into existence by this composer, supported by the magic of Mendelsson's unmatched view of harmonic simplism and clarity of direction as a combine. The story of a soprano voice, answered by its own echo in the tenor region, is a story redolent with absolute beauty for an instrument that becomes the medium for a superb example of true, unvarnished Dialogue. I think that it ranks among the supreme examples of what Mendelssohn could do with a few notes.
Now there is a performance by one of  the  preeminent  Russian musicians, who happened to choose the piano in order to prove his  points - the name is Emil Gilels. As a young man the better part of a century ago, Gilels made a recording  of the Duetto, and it is a clear example of the promise of the  greatness that Gilels , through the years, has given us. It is a great reading of the music at an early age.
He made another recording of the Duetto over a generation later, toward the end of his career, that  is a revelation in the world of Interpretation, which in a recent blog I said was, perhaps, another word for Opinion. The transmutation is enormous -  listen to these two recordings, and ask yourself  if you have ever heard such a change of opinion by the same musician playing the same music.
The change in tempo will be the catalyst through which the meaning of the thematic significance is totally altered , and the story line becomes totally different.
For me, what remains a kind of mystery, is that I have come to embrace the two totally divergent
views by Gilels. What do you think?
On YouTube, key in:
1. Young Gilels plays Mendelsson Lied Ohne Worte
2.Gilels plays Mendelsson (


Friday, June 22, 2018

On Another June 22 - A Defining Event That Changed the Direction of History, and Gave Us Musical Masterpieces...

On June 22, 1941, a long-standing plan of  Adolf Hitler came into being - approximately three million  German troops  crossed a nearly 2000 mile border and invaded Soviet Russia.  A war of extermination had begun, ending in May of 1945 in Berlin after  a war of unprecedented carnage - a war which included such horrors as the Siege of Leningrad, which lasted  some 900 days, with approximately  one of every three of the city's inhabitants dying. A war which included the ravaging of  thousands   of Russian villages and hundreds of its museums, small and large. A war which changed the face of Europe;  a Europe transformed into a geopolitical shape that remains today a direct result of that conflict.
Out of that unparalleled period of darkness comes a number of  statements without words, one being a statement created by the great Russian composer  Dimitri Shostakovich  he titled "Leningrad,"  his  7th symphony, which originally was meant as a statement directed as glorification of Vladimir Lenin. However, that statement thereafter   became a musical  expression  of unbridled hate of the Invader and a tribute to those who defended the city. It remains, arguably, the most powerful musical statement by a Russian composer to emerge  from the Horror of 1941-45. It is even today performed in modern Russia  as a reminder of the titanic struggle and  subsequent  victory  over Nazi Germany.
Another reigning composer from Mother Russia, Serge Prokofiev, wrote three major works for solo piano  which were titled the War Sonatas, numbers 6,7 and 8,  during this time period. The most often played, no.7,  produces  a third movement containing a merciless isorhythmic forward thrust with every measure comprising  of  seven beats, which brilliantly describes the unremitting tragedy and  overpowering asymmetry of the meaning of War. Vladimir Horowitz recorded it shortly after Prokofiev had completed these works, and this performance remains one of the great pianist's most enduring contributions.
Today there remains a number of music historians who believe that these compositions remain the most meaningful expressions of the world's greatest conflict, given us by these Soviet composers.
Do listen, especially, to the "Leningrad" Symphony  and the seventh Sonata. For me, these two compositions  remain among  the most powerful  manifestations of the impact of human history...


Saturday, June 16, 2018

A CD Box Set Like No Others - Read On...

When Anton Rubinstein launched a new program at the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1861 dealing with pedagogical  methodology pertaining to the piano, he established the so-called Russian School, which continues with unabated success to this day. Rubinstein's  particular attachment to Liszt and his unprecedented legacy is the catalyst which brought this gargantuan contribution to the piano into being. And this particular box set of ten CD's is a lexicon which represents the results of the Russian School in the most comprehensive view I know of that comes out of the recording industry.
I believe that this collection was produced in Mother Russia in or around 1995, and is a collection of recordings that represent the astounding accomplishments of  products  of the School during the better part of the past century. The performers are:
Alexander Goldenweiser
Heinrich Neuhaus
Samuil Feinberg
Maria Yudina
Vladimir Sofronitsky
Sviatoslav Richter
Emil Gilels
Lazar Berman
Mikhail Pletnev
Evgeny Kissin
Names like Richter, Gilels, (possibly)Berman,  Pletnev and Kissin leap out at us due to their fame as reigning pianists. Pletnev and Kissin remain powers well-known to us, as contemporaries.
However; how many of us are familiar with most of the remainder on the above list?
Due to  the nature of an authoritarian state, both race (some were Jews who were restricted much of their time from leaving Russia) and other personal issues, a number of the remainder had not performed outside of the country much, if at all.
But listen to these performers, and you will become aware of their stature as world-class pianists in their own right. All of these lesser known pianists became well known as teachers, which has helped to maintain the magnificent continuum of the Russian School to this day.
How about a couple of names not listed above who were also results of the Russian Piano School?
How about Rachmaninoff? or Horowitz?
Need I go on?...

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Friday, June 1, 2018

A Deeper Look Into the Phantasmal Imagery Created by Pianist Art Tatum...

It has been related to us that on an occasion when a conversation took place between Art Tatum and the brilliant jazz pianist Bobby Short, Art Tatum, with a smile,  replied to a statement made by Short "look, you come here  tomorrow, and anything you do with your right hand I'll do with my left."
Now, to me, it is irrelevant as to whether this statement is or is not apocryphal  - the power of these words was  indeed discussed among musicians during this period primarily because of the pandemic nature of awe that performers possessed of the indescribable attainment of Tatum's technique. For instance; in the nature of the "left hand" in jazz performance, the usual arrangement is for the majority of activity, both melodic and improvisational,  to be borne by the right hand, with the left hand supplying the rhythm, harmony  and occasional passage work. In short, we hear most of what we call 'technique' being represented by the right hand. In the case of Tatum, however, we hear, essentially for the first time in pop playing, a dramatic increase in the role of the left hand to a point where it is recognized that Art Tatum possessed a technique that was equal in both hands. Just listen to a few of the Tatum recordings primarily to observe the role the left hand has in the arrangements, and it becomes a reality that Art Tatum did in jazz what we expect and receive in the music and performances of the great classical pianists since the 1700's.
Stride piano - you know ; the "oom-pah" activity done in real earnest from "Fats" Waller right on through today- namely, that one lower  note struck first, followed by a chord both in  the left hand, usually at a moderate to fast tempo, depending upon the nature of the tune involved... Well, in the case of Art Tatum, we hear, from time to time, a stride piano consisting not of that first single lower  note, but a complete chord of three or four notes, followed  above by that  now second  chord, all in the left hand, at times at a dizzying pace of  up to several chords per second. Tatum applied this technique from time to time(listen to his "Tiger Rag") for short periods, before returning to the traditional method of Stride Piano. No other pianist could do this . It takes the level of the playing of Oscar Peterson, in our time, to replicate this staggering height of physical technique, and is but one of a series of achievement levels  that attracted the likes  of a Horowitz, or a  Rachmaninoff, or  a Toscanini, let alone other great classical artists.
To encapsulate: listen not only to the  obvious brilliance we attach to a Tatum performance, but do 'peer' behind the curtain of this giant to listen for more of what he left us, which has, in my opinion, not yet  been equaled...