Tuesday, August 30, 2016
While Mozart’s favorite string instrument was the Viola, it is clear that he created a whole lot of works for the piano. This includes concerti, solo sonatas, an chamber music. Compositions such as piano duets are less well known, and that is why I will tell you about a new recording featuring this music. On this new CD we hear the following selections: Bach, J C: Sonata in A major for two pianos Mozart: Sonata for Piano duet in C major, K521 Sonata for Piano duet in D major, K381 Sonata for Piano duet in B flat major, K358 Performed by Julian Perkins (fortepiano) and Emma Abbate (fortepiano) Pianists Julian Perkins and Emma Abbate have come together to record the first of two volumes of the complete piano duets of Mozart on original fortepianos. Some of Mozart’s lesser-known works, his piano duets span most of his active life, with the earliest written at the age of nine. Often delightful and lyrical as well as humorous and exciting, these works are given an authentic interpretation on period instruments. Included on this first volume is a duet by Johann Christian Bach. The two original fortepianos used in this recording form part of the Richard Burnett Collection of early keyboard instruments: a grand fortepiano by Johann Fritz (Vienna, c. 1815) and a travelling piano by Anton Walter (Vienna, c. 1805). Here are Martha Argerich and Evgeny Kissin in Mozart’s sonata for piano 4 hands, KV 521:
You may remember that last year I reviewed a film called "La calle de los pianistas" ("The pianists´ street") about the particular relationship of a family of pianists who live in Brussels next door to Martha Argerich´s house. It centered on the dialogues of a mother, Karin Lechner, and her daughter, Natasha Binder, plus interventions of the teenager´s uncle, Sergio Tiempo, and of Argerich. All of them are inhabited by music and the piano, and have been so since they were almost babies. Let me introduce some personal notes, for their past mingled with mine in two periods. This is the dynasty founded by Antonio De Raco, one of our best pianists, and Elizabeth Westerkamp, pianist and teacher and still alive at 102. They had two children and one of them was Lyl De Raco, a talented pianist who oriented her life to teaching of a special kind: children, including her own. When she was eighteen she had a friendship with my sister and played at our Pleyel. Afterwards she married Jorge Lechner, an admirable pianist who was an important repetiteur at the Colón, and their daughter was Karin. Antonio De Raco then lived at the same Palermo building of my mother, and Karin was about seven when she became inseparable with my niece, who lived with my mother; forty years later they are still close friends. Lechner had an untimely death, and Lyl remarried, with the diplomat Martín Tiempo (son of the writer César Tiempo). He was posted to Venezuela, and it was there that Sergio Tiempo was born. And of course, he too was a pianist. And then Karin grew and married; Natasha Binder was born and followed the same road as her mother, grandmother and uncle. And Lyl took Natasha as a special pupil. Karin and Sergio, either separately or together, made frequent tours to BA. And then came the surprise: Natasha Binder, nine years old, inaugurated seven seasons ago the BA Phil´s subscription series with Grieg´s Concerto, amazing the audience. Now she is sixteen and her career is launched. Enrique Arturo Diemecke, in his twelfth year as Principal Conductor of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, had the idea of giving all five Beethoven piano concerti with different pianists. Two veterans played Nº 1 (Philippe Entremont) and Nº4 (Bruno Gelber). And in the Colón concert of August 25 we heard Nº2 with Binder, Nº3 with Tiempo and Nº5 with Lechner. For some reason the half-brothers interchanged concerti, for Sergio was supposed to play Nº5 and Karin Nº3 ; Diemecke announced it. This concert was an interesting experience, for it allowed the public to appreciate three Beethovenian compositional styles, but also because three players of formidable technical ability and of the same family gave very diverse readings. As the aforementioned film makes clear, there´s great love between mother and daughter, but Natasha has strong temperament and in the final analysis, although she hears the wise counsel of Lyl and Karin, she plays what she feels. By the way, Nº 2 is a favorite of Argerich and she played it last year with Barenboim. Contrary to what many say, it has little influence of Mozart and is already unmistakeably Beethoven, although it was written when he was in his late teens (the big cadenza was certainly added much later; it is in the dramatic style of the "Pathetic Sonata"). Natasha was firmly in charge fron the very beginning, with clean strong playing, perhaps too assertive but always musical. She managed the cadenza with bravura. The slow movement was sensitive, with delicacy of touch. But I differ with her very fast tempo for the final Rondo, marked Molto Allegro, not Presto as she played it. With so much speed the music lacks air and the orchestra has a hard time. Sergio Tiempo has immense technical ease and shines with authors like Liszt, Ravel or Prokofiev, but his very modern and idiosyncratic ways go against the grain of Beethoven´s requirements. Yes, Nº3 is dramatic and powerful, but not willful, and that´s what we heard: a constant adding of extemporaneous accents, rushing, disregarding the score. He calmed down in the slow movement, where he showed his fine toucher. It was an oasis before the final Rondo; after leaving no space between second and third movements (ugly harmonic clash), a headlong run, dazzling but empty. It remained for Karin to put things right and she did, in a beautifully balanced and played Nº5 ("Emperor"), scrupulously faithful to the score and immaculate. She even gave a perfect reading of the strange galloping rhythm of the final Rondo. In fact, her Fifth has my vote as the best performance of the whole cycle. Diemecke adapted himself to the contrasting styles of the performers and conducted solidly the extensive orchestral introductions, notwithstanding some poor solo playing (e.g., the bassoon). It is a curious thing that Karin and Sergio have very different styles playing separately, but are completely unanimous when they give two-piano programmes. Both look much younger and have a playful disposition. It was a nice idea to give us as an encore, along with Natasha, four-hand Ravel: "Les entretiens de la belle et la bête" ("The conversations of beauty and beast") from "Ma Mère l´Oye" ("Mother Goose"), displacing each other from the stool in a funny way, for all three played in turns, and beautifully. For Buenos Aires Herald
Royal Albert Hall, London Marin Alsop led the São Paulo Symphony in bright, idiomatic performances of the Brazilians Nobre and Villa-Lobos, but there were longueurs elsewhereMarin Alsop has raised the standards and profile of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra to new levels in recent years, but this Prom, midway through a short European tour, sometimes felt like a date too far in a crowded schedule, which also included a late-night Prom of Brazilian popular music.Alsop’s energy on the podium is unflagging and her driving performance of the Brazilian composer Marlos Nobre’s crisply rhythmic Kabbalah was a promisingly idiomatic start to the evening. But with both Alsop and the soloist Gabriela Montero making unduly heavy weather of the Grieg piano concerto, things sagged. Montero’s tendency to slow the phrasing, particularly obvious in the opening movement, was the chief culprit, but it added up to a performance that never really took wing. Anyone who heard Martha Argerich re-energise another warhorse concerto, Liszt’s First, in the same hall last week could hardly fail to notice the contrast. Montero’s encore, a witty improvisation on Land of Hope and Glory, had the panache that her playing of the concerto had lacked. Continue reading...
Lang Lang is certainly the most mediatic pianist in the world. As you read the biography in the hand programme, you find precious little about music, but plenty of kudos about his influence; and he´s only 32. He played at the 2008 Beijing Olympics for four thousand million people; he collaborated with pop dancer Marquese "Nonstop" Scott, Julio Iglesias and Herbie Hancock. He is a Messenger for Peace of the United Nations and he has his own Lang Lang International Music Foundation with stress on giving children access to good music through education. Steinway even designed the Lang Lang piano for China. He is a staple in presentations before Presidents and is chosen for commemorative concerts such as the one for Queen Elizabeth II´s Diamond Jubilee at Buckingham Palace. He was one of the Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum (a musician!). But no mention is made about his training or his recordings or his early appearances. Lang Lang has been coming regularly during the last decade, so he seems to find the Colón attractive. In this recital of the Abono Verde (Green Subscription Series) the audience was quite varied, for apart from music lovers you had the mediatic seekers. The premices were full and increasingly enthusiastic; by the time the encores were played, the response was almost delirious; and he, as the showman he also is, saluted with charm and signed programmes. It helps that he is personable and very cordial. Now to the music. Lang Lang is realistic and he only squeezes small Chinese pieces in the encores. I have often wondered about the Oriental capacity to adapt to the Occidental world, for it doesn´t work the other way around. From this artist´s teens critics have recognised his amazing dexterity with something of the acrobatic mixed in; well, the best acrobats are Chinese. Apparently he can play faultlessly anything written for the piano, no matter how difficult. That´s the dazzling side, always present. But of course style matters and the success of the interpretation depends on it. In the same piece with Lang Lang you can hear a beguiling passage and seconds later a distorted view of the score, though note-perfect. That has been so in every visit, and there´s no sign that the problem will disappear. Nevertheless, the experience of hearing him is always interesting and worthwhile, and a good many minutes will be of very high rank. His recitals have always brought different programmes and sometimes his choices were intriguing. E.g., being such a virtuoso, why choose an easy Mozart sonata? He can also bring over some beautiful music very rarely heard, as he did this time with Tchaikovsky´s "The seasons". And he can disconcert playing it before, not after, Johann Sebastian Bach´s "Italian Concerto". "The seasons" is a misnomer for what should be called "The months". It was the result of monthly pieces written for a Saint Petersburg music magazine, afterwards edited by Jurgenson as Op.37a (Op.37 is the Great Piano Sonata in G). Beginning of course in January, an intimate piece called "Close to the chimney", each month has different character and title, sometimes brilliant and fast ("Carnival", "The Hunt") but more frequently melodic in the inimitable tchaikovskian way ("Barcarolle", "The lark´s song"). The last two are November ("Troika") and December ("The salon waltz"). In my long years of concert going I had never heard the whole suite in one concert, and Lang Lang is to be thanked for this discovery, though of course there are recordings (Ashkenazy, Bronfman, Pletnev; Ilona Prunyi plays them very nicely). Exciting but exaggerated in the fast ones, Lang Lang showed the subtility of his touch in the melodies, molded delicately and phrased with taste. His memory always seems excellent, you never see or hear a hesitation; you may disagree with some of his decisions, but he never improvises: he is sure of himself at all times. Bach´s marvelous Italian Concerto (called thus although written for one instrument) is of course a staple of the repertoire of harpsichordists (preferable) and pianists. Lang Lang uses the full resources of the modern piano but he doesn´t abuse the pedals and he has the sort of total independence of hands needed to keep the constant counterpoint clear. So, although slightly fast, he kept a steady rhythmic pulse. The four Chopin Scherzi are among his most important creations, wholly his in conception and technique, and equally mature from op.20 to Op.54. They all have a main Presto and a contrasting slow, moody melody. They can be played quite fast but not willfully, such as Orozco, Argerich or Rubinstein did; but Lang Lang suddenly sprints off when he resumes the Presto material at a double-fast clip not asked for by the composer, and the balance deteriorates. The perfection of the playing survives, but not the spirit. However, how lovely and contained were the quiet moments. In two of the encores he was at his worst: a wild, brutal "Fire Dance" from Falla´s "Love the Magician" ("El Amor Brujo") and a disheveled "Danza cubana" by Lecuona.(Listen respectively to Rubinstein and the author to know how they should sound). And in the middle, an inocuous slow Chinese melody, nicely done. Will he change in the future? I bet he won´t. He will remain fascinating and irritating. He likes things his way and that´s that. For Buenos Aires Herald
This is a sad review, for after calling the preceding concert (Barenboim/Argerich/WEDO) the event of the year, readers may expect a rather enthusiastic response to the last session of the Festival. But I went to the Colón in morose mood, for three facts were inexorable: the programme was too short; it presented the famous tenor in baritone repertoire; and it´s simply and irrevocably unethical to repeat a major score in the same subscription series. What drove me mad was the fact that the season programme, distributed in March, says: "we will present the dashing debut of German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, who will delight our public with the music of Richard Wagner, avid to know one the maximal lyric expressions of our time". And this is what we got: the Prelude to the Third Act of Wagner´s "The Mastersingers"; Gustav Mahler´s "Songs of a Wayfarer"; and Mozart´s Symphony Nº41, "Jupiter". I can accept the first item (it was the encore of Concert Nº5; the encore, not one of the announced fragments). But baritone Mahler? And the repetition of Mozart´s "Jupiter" (played in the initial concert along with Nos. 39 and 40)? Sorry, there´s a limit to arbitrariness, even coming from world figures like Kaufmann and Barenboim. About Mahler: was it the tenor´s wish? Or did he propose something else and Barenboim vetoed it? I don´t know, but I give you a piece of news: Kaufmann will sing in Santiago de Chile a programme of operatic arias from Italian and French composers: "Tosca", "Aida", "Carmen", "Cavalleria Rusticana", "Le Cid", "Andrea Chenier" and "Turandot". Mouth-watering indeed, although it has no Wagner. Two ways to have done a decent programme: a) change the Wagner symphonic pieces in the concert with Argerich with, say, Brahms´ Fourth Symphony, and play the same symphonic fragments around Kaufmann, singing arias from "Lohengrin", "Die Walküre" and "The Mastersingers" (he has just sung the complete "Mastersingers" in Munich). b) Do the same programme as in Santiago, adding symphonic opera music to round it off. I have perused the CD R.E.R. catalogue of 2000 in the entry: Mahler: "Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen" ("Songs of a wayfarer"). The character of the songs is clearly manly, but several ladies of great career haven´t resisted the temptation and have recorded the lovely music. But not one tenor risked recording it and for good reason: hear the young Fischer-Dieskau with Furtwängler and then recollect what you heard at the Colón with Kaufmann, and what a falling off! Is it an experiment and he decided to try it here? For I read that he has an even stranger idea: to sing both the tenor and the baritone parts in Mahler´s masterpiece "Das Lied von der Erde" (Song of the Earth"); and that lasts an hour! The voice sounded veiled and out of register, but the man is an artist and of course he phrased with expression and taste, splendidly accompanied by Barenboim and his WEDO (West-Eastern Divan Orchestra). Then came the very partial saving grace, after just 18 minutes of singing: the lovely "Winsterstürme", Siegmund´s aria from "Die Walküre". There his real voice appeared. And then, helpers moved the piano and Barenboim accompanied him in the Tristanesque "Träume", last of the Five Wesendonk Lieder: beautifully done, though he was poaching in soprano repertoire. At least in this case Kaufmann has two antecedents: Melchior and Kollo, but both with orchestrations not done by Wagner. Readers may remember that two years ago I wrote enthusiastically about his Alvaro ("La Forza del Destino") in Munich: even in a horrid staging there was no doubt about his exalted category. So he owes us a second visit singing opera and has shown bad judgment in his debut. I do hold great hopes for his forthcoming Lieder recital. It transpired that both Argerich and Barenboim were affected by the flu, markedly so when they repeated the fifth programme, in which there were no encores; and that Barenboim wasn´t cured on the concert with Kaufmann. There was no encore after the "Jupiter", to my mind played with less rhythmic bite than on the first concert (of course everyone was fresher then). I do hope that next year Barenboim will be more careful and ethical: he owes it not just to the public, but to himself. This is a very expensive series, and two concerts in it were clearly below par; a third one is a controversial decision, that of Arabic music. Let´s have a real Festival where everything is topnotch. A personal desire: he has expressed his enthusiasm with Elgar: wouldn´t it be a great contribution to bring the powerful Second Symphony? For Buenos Aires Herald
The Colón concert of Thursday, August 4th, was truly memorable. It was the fifth of the Abono Azul (Blue Subscription Series) and was repeated the following day (Función Extraordinaria, non-subscription). The artists were Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim leading the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (WEDO). This time the programme was long and satisfying, and all concerned were at their best. One general conclusion: Argerich and Barenboim are at the top of their profession and in their early seventies they show no decline. And the WEDO has improved greatly: it is astonishing that young people on a seasonal (not permanent) orchestra should show such maturity, both in the command of their instruments and in the integration of a common concept. There´s real talent in all of them, though of course they have the privilege of a great conductor that gives them style and unity. The concert began with a première: "Con brio" by Jörg Widmann. Barenboim had already promoted him in two chamber concerts with different programming of the Mozarteum Argentino (in the second he also played clarinet). This score for full orchestra lasts 11 minutes and although it isn´t divided into two parts it changes sharply after the first minutes, characterised by violent attacks followed by deep silences and by the mixture of musical sounds with noise as defined by Britannica: sound that interferes with other sounds that are being listened to. I wasn´t attracted so far, but later we hear recognisable melodies as well as fanfares and the mix becomes intriguing. My wife´s imaginative phrase accords with my reaction: "noises, echoes and resonances of bellicose actions in an inhospitable jungle". Barenboim led the piece with strong impact and the WEDO responded with exemplary discipline. The author made his bow and was warmly applauded. Franz Liszt´s Piano Concerto Nº1 is the most innovative and personal of Romantic concerti. In it (as in the Sonata) rhetorics are never vain; the ideas are substantial, moving and coherent. It is terribly difficult to play: Liszt did for piano technique what Paganini had done for the violin: an extraordinary expansion of the possibilities of each instrument. And his orchestration gives lovely solos for diverse players dialoguing with the piano. You need a true virtuoso that is also a great artist, and a very attentive and collaborative conductor: Sviatoslav Richter and Kyrill Kondrashin are a good reference, and so is Argerich on record with Abbado; live with Barenboim on this occasion will long be in the memories of those who were at this concert. I heard Argerich with Dutoit and the National Symphony in this concerto back in 1969; she was young and an amazing powerhouse. Forty-seven years later her incredible technique and stamina remain untouched (if I except her rushed and not altogether clean first entrance). The final minutes were as exciting as they were musical, always abetted by the best collaboration from the WEDO and Barenboim. There was a wonderful surprise: her encore wasn´t a short and easy piece from Schumann´s "Scenes from childhood" as she generally does, but an ideal performance of the best of Ravel: "Ondine", first number of "Gaspard de la Nuit". The fluidity of the playing in this devilishly intricate piece and the subtlety of her touch were an object lesson of Impressionism (as is her recording of 1974). The second part was simply the best Wagner playing heard here in a very long time. Maybe as far back as Leitner and Leinsdorf in the Sixties. Barenboim conducted at the Bayreuth Festival from 1981 to 1999, and he did the unparelleled feat of doing the ten great operas in a period of a few weeks in Berlin. Wagner is perfect for him: music of enormous technical accomplishment in which the system of Leitmotiven proves to be an astonishingly flexible array of moods and emotions. Wagner´s continuity imbricates easily with Barenboim´s rich intellect. The chosen 45 minutes are among the greatest orchestral music of the Nineteenth Century and had glorious performances: the interpretations were simply beyond reproach and the playing proved that the WEDO is strong in all departments, very minor smudges apart: the mellowness and musicality of the brass, the fine woodwind solos, the mahogany-hued strings always disciplined and intense, all made for a constant state of direct communication with the music. The "Tannhäuser" Overture (Dresden version) went swimmingly both in the solemn pilgrim melodies and in the bacchanical frenzy of the Venusberg. The most dramatically complex music came from "The Twilight of the Gods": the Dawn after the Norns´ scene is joined in the concert adaptation with the final pages of the Siegfried-Brünnhilde duet and goes straight on to the jubilant "Siegfried´s Rhine Journey". But Barenboim cunningly omitted the brilliant coda and went on as in the opera, where the atmosphere becomes gloomy as the hero approaches the Gibichung Palace, for in it looms Hagen, who will kill him in the Third Act; and this version even adds a transformed fragment from the end of the Second Act, that terrible conspiratorial Trio. It would have been better to go on without applause to "Siegfried´s Funeral Music" but that was not to be; anyway, that magnificent evokation was spine-tingling in this version. And the best possible conclusion for the programme, the Overture to "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg", to my mind the greatest ever written. The encore was complementary: the serene and sad Prelude to the Third Act of the same opera. For Buenos Aires Herald