Friday, October 21, 2016
There was panic last night at the Gesellschaft für Musiktheater when a well-known soprano called in sick with the audience already making its way to the venue. Step up Kurt Equiluz, one of those Viennese indestructables who looks after his voice long after retirement. Kurt, now 87, started out as an alto soloist of the Vienna Boys Choir. In 1950 he became member of the Vienna State Opera Choir upgrading to a soloist’s contract in 1957. He sang in 1,700 performances over the next 26 years. He was especially well known for Bach oratorios, which he recorded with Nikolaus Harnoncourt. He retired in 2000 with a performance of Schubert’s Winterreise at the Vienna Musikvereinsaal. Last night he sang a full programme of works by Randhartinger, Liszt, Marx, Wolf and Salmhofer. Here’s proof.
St John’s Smith Square, London The young pianist took on every technical test with relish during this recital, mixing crowdpleasing showpieces with moments of seriousness and purposeIt’s worth remembering that Benjamin Grosvenor is only 24. He may have already appeared as a soloist at both the first and last nights of the Proms, and become the first British pianist in more than half a century to land a recording contract with Decca, but even now he is only at an age when many top-class pianists are beginning their professional careers.His playing, then, is likely to go on developing and maturing, and his musical tastes will shift and broaden. On disc and in his recital programmes there’s still plenty of the flashy showpieces mixed in with the serious stuff: this recital began with sonatas by Mozart and Chopin, and ended with music by Granados and Liszt. Grosvenor clearly doesn’t flinch from the toughest technical challenges: the fiendish strumming accompaniments in the first of Granados’s Goyescas were negotiated almost casually, while the welter of notes rampaging up and down the keyboard at the climax of Liszt’s Rhapsodie Espagnole was immaculately controlled. Continue reading...
The death is reported of Fernando Laires, a Portuguese pianist who became an important teacher at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. He was 91. Laires founded the American Liszt Society in 1964. He made several noted recordings of Chopin and Beethoven.
Péter Eötvös The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works. The basic architecture of Eötvös's The Sirens Cycle is simple, yet classic: three parts each devoted to different responses to the legend of the Sirens, whose singing is so lovely that those who listen are lured to their deaths. Seduction and destruction: opposite poles eternally pulling together and apart. The first part is based on James Joyce's Ulysses, in which the legend is retold in Joyce's highly unusual syntax, where words fragment and language is subsumed by sounds that aren't necessarily coherent but generate fleeting images. Tosh, perhaps, but oddly compelling. Indeed, abstract sounds amplify meaning. What to make of lines like "Chips.....Horrid and gold flushed more" ? Eötvös replicates Joyce's choppy phrasing with flurries of syllabic sound. The word "Chips" is projected as a high-pitched gasp which claws at the ear, so the rounded "o" sounds in "horrid" and "gold" and "more" seem to churn around on themselves. Or lines like "A jumping rose on a satiny breast of satin, Rose of Castille, trilling idolores" ? Eötvös breaks the words into tense, choppy figures, deconstructing the idea of satin and roses. Images of bronze, gold and roses recur, linking the passages together with a kind of inner logic, highlighted by Eötvös's setting, as idiosyncratic as Joyce's poetry, for that is what it is, ideas evoked not by figurative meaning but by allusion. Thus the third section in the first part "O Rose ! /Castille the morn is breaking/ jingle jaunten jingling coin rang /Clock clacked." Crazy, zany rhythms, almost joyous, yet brought down to earth by a sudden drop in the timbral temperature: a hard ending to flights of fancy. Similarly the "Clap-clap, Clip-clap, Clappy-clap" of the sixth section where energy is abruptly cut short. "I feel", the line drawn out, going silent, then snapping back. "So sad". Joyce mentions "Liszt's Rhapsodies" and Eötvös creates a spooky nocturnal waltz. Wittily, he captures Joyce's bizarre wordplay, "my epp ripff taph/ Be pfrwritt" Although Barbara Hannigan was scheduled to sing, I was thrilled to hear that Piia Komsi was stepping in at very short notice indeed, for Komsi's voice is phenomenal, capable of extremes of pitch and textures beyond the range of most, combined with extraordinarily crisp articulation. Her voice is almost superhumanly elastic, her diction precise even in phrases as convoluted as those thrown at her by Joyce and Eötvös. She embodied the Sirens, supernatural beings who defy the boundaries of Nature. Komsi's death-defying flights up and down the scale could drive one mad with rapture. Komsi is a vocal gymnast, but so poised that she can make the ethereal sound perfectly natural. And thus the Interlude, by which Eötvös separates the Parts of the Siren Cycle. In this first interlude, the Calder Quartet created whooshing sounds, suggesting movement within a compressed range, like wind channeled through a tunnel. An image of time travel ? We fly into the ancient world, with Homer's verses in Greek, intoned with gravitas. Again, Eötvös captures the metre of the poet's individual language. The lines seem to curve upon themselves like sonorous echoes. The Sirens (or rather Komsi and the Calder Quartet) seduce in honeyed tones: Komsi's voice warms sensuously, the violins, viola and cello singing along with her, in luscious chorus. Significantly, Eötvös breaks off from the Siren's song with a short interlude where the strings sing troubled foreboding. Tough old Odysseus, despite his resolve, longs to listen. Franz Kafka's story from 1917, Das Schweigen der Sirenen "Um sich vor dem Sirenen bewahren" supplies the text for the Third Part of Eötvös's Siren Cycle. Another change of literary syntax: Kafka's lines are more prose than poem. His handling of the subject is at once more brusquely down to earth, and yet more horrifying. Odysseus escapes the Sirens by stopping his ears up with wax. He's tied to the mast so he cannot break free and join them. But the Sirens have eine noch schreckliche Waffe als den Gesang, nämlich ihr Schweigen, (an even more terrifying weapon than song, namely their silence). Odysseus thinks he's outsmarted the Sirens but perhaps it is they who have outsmarted him by withholding their song, leaving him with his illusions. For a musician, that's a an astonishingly irionic solution. It thus casts the whole Siren Cycle as a meditation on the nature of song and art, and the absence thereof. This also connects with the references to song in Joyce's text, the Rose of Castille being Balfe's operetta, the cry "Martha" in Part 1 section 5 being Flotow's Martha and, of course the snatch of Liszt rhapsody. What, then, is the mood in this final part of the cycle? Its rhythms are sturdier than the skittish First Part, yet also oddly nostalgic. Are we to think of popul;ar music wafting all around us, even if we'd like to remain aloof? Komsi's voice takes on a soubrettist tinge. Is she coquette, destroyer or Muse? No easy answers. But that is the beauty of Eötvös The Sirens Cycle : there's a lot more to it than meets the eye, or ear. Purposefully, this recital began with Eötvös's Korrespondenz (String Quartet no 1, (1992) which the composer describes as "a mini opera for string quartet", since it's based on the correspondence between Leopold and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The son was lonely, in Paris. The father withheld news of the death of his wife, whom the son loved dearly. Deception, even though well meant: the ingredients of psychodrama. The first violin (Benjamin Jacobsen) and the viola (Jonathan Moerschel) talk at each other rather than to each other. Their music seems to connect but there's a palpable gulf. One of them is singing, but the other refuses to hear. It's The Siren's Cycle, in microcosm. Separating the two, defusing the dynamite, so to speak, the Calder Quartet played Debussy String Quartet in G minor op 10. (Photo of Eötvös copyright Istvan Huszti)
Alexander Ullman was born in London in 1991. Among his teachers he studied with Leon Fleisher at Philadelphia´s Curtis Institute and with Elisso Virsaladze at Fiesole, near Florence, both great pianists. He won several prizes, especially Budapest´s Liszt Competition (2011). His burgeoning career includes not only recitals but also presentations with orchestra and chamber music with the Dover Quartet. Last Wednesday he made his Buenos Aires debut with an all-Chopin programme for the Mozarteum´s Midday Concerts at the Gran Rex. The concentration on one composer has its drawbacks for as audience member you can´t ascertain if the artist is versatile, but if you can offer quality Chopin you are certainly a pianist to be reckoned with, for no other composer has written with such an ideal blend of the Romantic piano´s technical demands and deep musical substance. Of course, not all his works are of the highest level, but if the choice is intelligent and balanced and the artist responds to the various moods, an hour with Chopin can be delectable. Most of the time, it was so with Ullman. Two generalities: he has responded admirably to his training and his mechanism is outstandingly clean and precise; his taste is impeccable and he plays soberly, with no divo gestures. The Gran Rex is huge and its acoustics unfortunately are dim and matte; even pianists with big guns fail to impact there. I was relatively close, but even so there was a deficit in roundness of tone and decibels. And I believe that even in much better acoustics, Ullman doesn´t go hell for leather: it isn´t his temperament. But he has great qualities: he has mastered the art of rubato, essential in Chopin. Willi Apel on rubato: "a certain elasticity and flexibility of tempo consisting of slight accelerandos and ritardandos which alternate according to the requirements of the musical expression". Also, he understands the radical changes of mood that characterise this creator and knows how to stress the harmonic innovations that are often startling. He began with that enigmatic piece, the "Polonaise-Fantaisie", which starts slowly and dreamily; then comes the Polonaise, stately and far from the vigor of others, but later on complicates textures a lot. Ullman was too slow and meditative, and although beautifully played I wasn´t quite convinced. Then came the Nocturne Op.27 Nº1, in which the advanced chromaticism of the first section contrasts with the fast turbulence of the central element, and it was here that Ullman showed his mettle. This was even more evident in the tough Second Scherzo, where there was plenty of character in the pianist´s playing, solving the virtuoso hurdles admirably but also having the cantabile for the slow middle melody, sensitively expressed. And that ability was shown to the full in the exquisite Berceuse. By then Ullman had shown he is a talented Chopin interpreter. The complex multisectional Fourth Ballad, one of the richest masterpieces of the Polish creator, was further proof of Ullman´s empathy with his music, giving the exact sense of each fragment but building its wholeness as well. A brilliant execution of the sprightly Etude Op.10 Nº5 was the encore, rounding off a fine experience. Tall and personable, the pianist should have an important career. For Buenos Aires Herald
Melvyn Tan (Onyx)Melvyn Tan plays Liszt? He has long associated with the classical era and the fortepiano, and to a lesser extent with French and modern music, but hasn’t previously tackled the big-gun Romantics on disc. His performance of Liszt’s Sonata in B minor may not be as grandly impassioned or mercurial of mood as some, but Tan’s performance, full of long, graded crescendos and with a convincing large-scale shape, is finely judged and ultimately very persuasive. This follows two works by Liszt’s teacher Czerny, better known as a composer of acres of gruelling studies: Variations on a Theme by Rode, and a funeral march for his own teacher, Beethoven. Beginning it all are the six Op 126 Bagatelles, Beethoven’s last works for solo piano, and a gentle, slightly reticent performance of the Sonata Op 109, the unconventional proportions and rhapsodic style of which make it a good counterweight for the Liszt. Continue reading...
Franz Liszt (October 22, 1811 July 31, 1886) was a 19th century Hungarian composer, virtuoso pianist and teacher. Liszt became renowned throughout Europe during the 19th century for his great skill as a performer. Liszt was said by his contemporaries to have been the most technically advanced pianist of his age and perhaps the greatest pianist of all time. Liszt was also an important and influential composer, a notable piano teacher, a conductor who contributed significantly to the modern development of the art, and a benefactor to other composers and performers, notably Richard Wagner, Hector Berlioz, Camille Saint-Saëns, Edvard Grieg and Alexander Borodin. As a composer, Franz Liszt was one of the most prominent representatives of the New German School. He left behind an extensive and diverse body of work, in which he influenced his forward-looking contemporaries and anticipated some 20th-century ideas and trends. Some of Liszt's most notable contributions were the invention of the symphonic poem, developing the concept of thematic transformation as part of his experiments in musical form and making radical departures in harmony.
Great composers of classical music