Tag Archive: Liszt

Pianist Christina Kobb plays Schubert, Robert and Clara Schumann, Grieg, and Liszt in her Carnegie Hall Debut

Pianist Christina Kobb

I recently heard three piano programs, almost back-to-back, in Weill Hall. Each pianist produced a strikingly different sound from the same instrument, Weill’s beautiful house Steinway. The pianists and their programs were so very different that  it is not so very difficult to resist the temptation to discuss them in a single review, although there are some common threads, for example Romanticism and Schubert. In fact, you’ll find I’m writing rather a lot about those subjects at the moment.

Nadejda Vlaeva plays piano music by Vladimir Drozdoff and Sergei Bortkiewicz, with Schubert and Liszt at Zankel Hall

Nadejda Vlaeva

A plentiful audience at Zankel Hall last week enjoyed Nadejda Vlaeva’s program of attractive salon pieces by two forgotten Russian éxiles, Vladimir Drozdoff (Saratov 1882 -New York 1960) and Sergei Bortkiewicz (Kharkiv 1877-Vienna 1952), and a colorful Hungarian Rhapsody by Franz Liszt (a rarely played one)—all introduced by one of Schubert’s most profound sonatas, the G Major, D. 894, sometimes known as the “Fantasie,” a name given it by its first publisher because of its meditative first movement. There could be no doubt that the curtain-raiser was the most significant work on the program, but the centerpiece was nonetheless the selection of shortish rarities by the two Russians. Their music has much in common. Both are rooted in the nineteenth century, with little or nothing traceable to the musical trends that emerged after 1910, or later. Although they were younger than Rachmaninoff, who was plagued by his own conservatism, their music is even more retardataire. This is not in itself a fault, although one can understand why their music failed to reach a wider audience in the age of Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich. Both Drozdoff and Bortkiewicz were undoubtedly fine craftsmen and showed a deep understanding of the piano in the great Russian tradition.

Nicolai’s Merry Wives at the Boston Midsummer Opera and Tanglewood Tales: Jurowski and Koenigs Tell the Whole Story

Susan Davenny-Wyner, Conductor

It was James Levine’s many cancelations that most directly led to his (perhaps forced) resignation as the Boston Symphony Orchestra music director in the spring of 2011. But Levine has no monopoly on health problems and accidents. The glow of the two superlative concerts I attended at Tanglewood (July 19 and 20) was clouded over by the startling announcement that Levine’s young and healthy replacement, 34-year-old Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons, was unable to conduct the July 27 Verdi Requiem, his first scheduled concert since his appointment, because he had suffered a “severe concussion” after being “struck in the head by a door that unexpectedly swung open at his residence in Bayreuth, Germany.”

Sviatoslav Richter (1915 – 1997) on Disc: Hunting the Snark

Angelic demon.

Two musical instruments rise above all others in their humanity — the violin, because it comes closest to imitating the singing voice, and the piano, because it comes closest to conveying human nature. As human nature is vast, so is pianism. You can sequester yourself from territory that is too hot, cold, angry, lustful, domineering, or terrifying. Some pianists base their whole career on safely walling off the troubling aspects of human perversity (Alfred Brendel comes to mind, with his ability to make even Liszt wipe off his shoes at the door), while only one has been courageous enough to venture without a care into heaven and hell.

Virtuosity and More in Behzod Abduraimov’s Piano Recital

Having already played the Prokofiev 3rd Piano Concerto three times with Vladimir Ashkenazy last week, Behzod Abduraimov played this one-off recital, and a grueling one it was. It is a very nice idea, though, for the Sydney Symphony to arrange these solo recitals of some of their visiting pianists (there will be three more recitals this year) as we get a chance to hear more of their personal character than is expressed in the big symphonic concert hall with the orchestra. As the Symphony’s artistic director and chief conductor, and moreover as a great pianist himself, Ashkenazy has invited or at least agreed to play with, some wonderful and characterful pianists, especially Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and Stephen Hough last year. Behzod Abduraimov who only made his first tour a few years ago (with Ashkenazy and the SSO, as it happens), has a very definite style which he expresses always without reserve, his interpretations always having clarity. Even if it is different from your own thoughts or interpretation of a piece or from your favorite pianists (he is very different from Horowitz, though I believe the comparison has been made in the past) his style is strongly magnetic and his interpretations convincing enough to draw one into his musical world, and it is of course healthy and fun to hear new and varied interpretations of old favorites.

The Multifaceted Piano Sonata: Stephen Hough’s Recital of Sonatas

Stephen Hough says that he chose this program to be one of strange sonatas, which is altogether fitting for Liszt’s 200th birthday. The program, consisting entirely of sonatas — no préludes, études or the like (not counting the three encore pieces) — might theoretically have been stranger with, say, one of Pierre Boulez’s sonatas, but Hough seems to have been after a more subtle variety of strangeness. A sense of mystery and a very personal quality, very expressive of the internal world marry these pieces under Hough’s playing. The honesty and faithfulness to the Truth in his playing brought the music close to poetry. Though making music and poems are not the same or even parallel activities, the word ‘sonata’ shares an etymology with ‘sonnet’, the stem son- having to do with sound, and, as Stephen Hough points out in the program note, a sonata is sounded rather than sung, the piano having to make do on its own without words. Hough also pointed out in his short speech in-between the Beethoven and his own piece (usually I’d be against spiels in amongst the music, but Hough is a very good public speaker, thoughtful an interesting, with the voice of a 1930’s radio presenter), that Liszt, whose birthday fell on the very day of this recital, invented the concept and the word ‘recital’ as a sort of pure recitation of music of a single musician. Thus, though sounded and not sung there is the similar expectation in the audience, the similar solitude of the performer as in a poetry recitation, far from a mere reading, but an honest expression of the sonata as if it were naturally being created then and there, as Hough says ‘as if the notes were still wet on the page.’ Mozart wrote something similar once, that the height of piano playing is to play as if you had composed the music yourself.

Proms 2011 – a personal preview by Gabriel Kellett: Royal Albert Hall et alibi, 15 July – 10 September, 2011

I’m in two minds about the Proms tradition of always allotting significant programming space to composers with major anniversaries. It’s transparently a fairly arbitrary device to make the programmers’ jobs much easier and minimise the thorny problem of personal taste entering the decision-making process; on the other hand, without it we would never get three concerts this year featuring one of my favourites, Percy Grainger (died 50 years ago). In particular, the late night Prom on 2 August including Kathryn Tickell and June Tabor, celebrating the folk music Grainger was inspired by, is to me one of the most interesting this year.

Sergio Tiempo at Queen Elizabeth Hall: Beethoven, Liszt, Chopin, and Ravel

As usual for me, this was a concert I chose for the repertoire rather than the performer – three of my favourite composers and one (Liszt) I want to investigate further. It’s always been pretty much just about the music(, man…), a philosophy I’d like to outgrow. There’s not many ‘artistes’ in classical music that I feel either enthused or knowledgeable enough about to call myself a fan of yet, but one exception is Martha Argerich, who has consistently championed Sergio Tiempo and regularly performs with him. Based on this knowledge and what I’d gathered about him from reading snippets here and there, I went into his debut Southbank performance, part of their International Piano Series, with hopes that he had some of the mercuriality and fire that I love in Argerich.

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