I have been on something of a musical diet this season, and the concerts I have attended have been few, including piano recitals, which have proven nonetheless wide in range, with newcomers to the city as well as the quintessential New Yorker, Richard Goode, and the continuation of Angela Hewitt’s transcendent Bach Odyssey, which has been the lodestar of my musical life for some years now. All have had something memorable to offer, especially Ms. Hewitt, and I have very little to grumble about, unless it is the smartphone-addicted audience at Daniel Ciobanu’s recital, who seemed to have no idea of what a classical concert entails in terms of how to enjoy the music and how to allow others to enjoy it as well.
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall
October 17, 2018
Norman Krieger, Piano
Beethoven – Sonata in D Minor, Op. 31, No. 2, “The Tempest”
Henri Lazarof – 3 Preludes, Nos. 1, 5, and 3 (2009)
Michael Fine – Six Little Preludes
Nocturne in B-flat Minor, Op. 9, No. 1
Etude in A-flat Major, Op. 25, No. 1
Etude in C Minor, Op. 25, No. 12
Brahms – Sonata in C Major, Op. 1
Norman Krieger, who earned his Bachelor and Master’s degrees at Juilliard, can’t exactly be considered a stranger to New York, but he hasn’t played here in some years, focussing on his native Southern California, where he was a professor at the Thornton School of Music at USC between 1997 and 2016. He was appointed Professor of Piano at the distinguished Jacobs School of Music at the University of Indiana. Successful appearances at the Mostly Mozart Festival and Lincoln Center’s Great Performers series have lured him back to New York, and that’s a good thing. On this occasion Terry Eder’s Key Pianists series sponsored the recital. An outstanding pianist herself, Terry Eder founded the series to give important players, much admired by their colleagues, more exposure among the general public. I have yet to attend any of these recitals that I did not thoroughly enjoy.
Norman Krieger’s playing was solid, with a nice balance between expression and rhythmic steadiness, as well as open textures, letting us hear significant details amidst the general resonance of his playing. The beautiful, warm Steinway in Weill Hall seemed to be just what he wanted.
Mr Krieger began the concert with Beethoven’s Op. 31, No. 2, “The Tempest” of 1801/02. His approach was basically civilized, energized by its due measure of testosterone. He tempered the stormy, conflict-driven first movement with a suitably dignified, reflective slow movement, followed by an energetic finale. His superb technique served to bring out finely characterized figurations and telling inner voices.
There followed three Preludes (2009) by his teacher Henri Lazarof (1932-2013), the highly respected Bulgarian-born but mostly American-trained composer and art collector. Krieger honored his teacher with finely-tooled, almost exquisite performances of these sophisticated miniatures, and they deserve the best treatment. As listenable as they are, they do full justice to their modernist idiom and prove more than superficially rewarding. Michael Fine’s Six Little Preludes brought in some even more accessible elements of American folk music.
After this Krieger turned back to classic staples in three earlier works by Chopin, the Nocturne in B-flat Minor, Op. 9, No. 1 and two of the Opus 25 Preludes, Nos. 1 and 12. Again, solid playing in the best sense of the work, with detailed textures opened up by restrained pedaling.
Brahms appears to be one of Mr. Krieger’s specialities. He has recently recorded Brahms’ Op. 1 Sonata for Decca, along with the First Piano Concerto. From his performance in Weill, he clearly has a special affinity for the work, with its steep pianistic demands, well-wrought counterpoint, and grand scale. Most gratifyingly he concentrated on what Brahms wrote in the score rather than any general effect the music might make. His virtuosic control of detail and clarity even in the louder chordal displays served him—and above all Brahms—most honorably.
I’ll look forward to Norman Krieger’s next visit with warm enthusiasm.
Daniel Ciobanu, Piano
Enescu – “Carillon Nocturne” from Suite No. 3, Op. 18, Pièces Impromptues
Mussorgsky – Pictures at an Exhibition
Prelude No. 9 in E Major from 24 Preludes, Op. 11
Prelude No. 10 in C-sharp Minor from 24 Preludes, Op. 11
Prelude No. 11, in B Major from 24 Preludes, Op. 11
Stravinsky – Selections from The Firebird (arr. Agosti)
The very next night in the same hall with the same instrument, an entirely different sort of artist, Daniel Ciobanu, a young Romanian pianist, who crowned a dense series of piano competitions extending over several years, in which he won several first prizes, with a silver medal and audience favorite award at the Rubinstein Piano Competition in 2017. A spectacular virtuoso technique was one to the qualities, still hot from the pan, he brought along to Weill from the competition. He made no attempt to conceal this, but never for one moment did he take his mind off the musical essence of the works he played.
He began by presenting his Romanian calling card with a work by the best known of Romanian composers, Georges Enescu, his “Carillon Nocturne” from Suite No. 3, Op. 18, Pièces Impromptues. This is an atmospheric piece made up mostly of chords imitating the sound of church bells at night—a familiar trope, but one executed with special feeling and imaginative intensity by the composer. This was an opportunity for Ciobanu to show his command of tone color on the keyboard, and he brought that off admirably.
This was also a sign of what to listen for in the next work on the program, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Ciobanu developed his interpretation of this familiar, but inexhaustible masterpiece from color and its evocative and narrative powers, just what the “Carillon Nocturne” was about. In this way he created an astonishingly original performance, one that brought us into Mussorgsky’s fanciful visit to an art gallery—in fact a deeply felt memorial to his close friend, the painter Viktor Hartmann. The unusual timbres Ciobanu created came directly from his brilliant technique, colored with the sustaining pedal at times and sometimes not, but they brought meaning to the music through his sonic and poetic imagination. He truly brought me into another world with this, and it has changed my relationship to the work, as much as I have admired it over the years. In retrospect some impressive performances I have heard over the past year now seem limited, as if they were bound in by the routine of absolute music and its dependence on harmonic climaxes. Mussorgsky was an early master of transition and conclusion through tone color rather than harmonic progression—a technique developed by Rimsky-Korsakov and perfected by his pupil, Stravinsky. This was not lost on Mr. Ciobanu, who concluded his recital with a prime example, Stravinsky’s Firebird.
Ciobanu travelled further in the realms of imagination with three pieces from Scriabin’s early (1888-96) Preludes, Op. 11, written more in the Chopinesque late Romantic vein he cultivated before his mystical explorations came to full flower and began to form his music in a fundamental way. There was no room here for the revolutionary insight be brought to the Mussorgsky, but the performances were entirely sympathetic, going beyond the familiar Romantic gestures.
The selections from The Firebird, arranged by Guido Agosti (a great pianist who studied with Busoni, but made few recordings and is almost forgotten today) were throughly brilliant, as close to a pure showpiece as the program went, but Ciobanu didn’t lose track of the music’s descent from Mussorgsky. The story-telling power of tone color was equally present here and as radiant as in the orchestral original.
Mr. Ciobanu brought the evening to a close with some lively, urbane jazz, much to audience’s delight.
Another newcomer to watch. However, as impressive and insightful as his playing was, I was very much aware that Daniel Ciobanu is an artist at the very beginning of his career. If I was struck foremost by the originality of his interpretative use of his virtuosity, there was also a derivative aspect to it which is impossible to ignore, that is, the close similarity of his pianistic strategies to that of another Daniel—Trifonov. It is perfectly understandable for a young pianist starting out on a virtuoso career—one in which he has every expectation to enjoy success—with his eye on “the game to beat,” but his most severe task will be to give up what is imitative and to develop his own artistic personality to the point that every note is infused with it.
92Y, Wed, Nov 14, 2018, 7:30 pm
Haydn, Variations in F Minor, Hob. XVII:6
Mozart – March in C Major, K. 408
Allemande in C Minor, K. 399
Courante in E-flat Major, K. 399
Minuet in D Major, K. 355/576b
Gigue in G Major, K. 574
Beethoven – Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 81a “Les Adieux”
Janáček – In the Mists
Chopin – Impromptu in G-flat Major, Op. 51
Fantasy in F Minor, Op. 49
By contrast, Richard Goode is a local fixture in New York, a respected and beloved master in the local music scene, as he continues a long career distinguished by the highest standards in repertoire, good taste, intellectual rigor, and elegance in execution…although the word “local” hardly does justice either to “the capital of the world” or to Mr. Goode.
His program at the Y was typically original, acutely selected, and closely argued—bookended as it was by Haydn’s F Minor Variations, which in its minor key evokes something like a moody fantasy, only as variations rather than a rondo, and Chopin’s Fantasy, Op. 49, of 1841, in the same key. The Haydn was followed by a series of dance movements from Mozart’s mature years. Rarely played in concert and certainly not as a whole, they offer a glimpse into the composer’s studies of Baroque music. There followed one of the more fantasy-like of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, the programmatic “Les Adieux,” the haunting four-movement cycle, In the Mists, by Janáček, in which the programmatic overall title is not carried through to the individual movements, as evocative as they are, and a series of six works by Chopin, beginning with his Op. 51 Impromptu (1842) followed by four Mazurkas, and the aforementioned Fantasy to conclude the evening.
Mr. Goode’s playing of the Haydn was sheer perfection. One of Haydn’s masterpieces, written in his usual spare style, in which every line and every note is exposed, this is a work which demands perfection, and in articulation, color, and balance Goode was able to scale the heights with it. His performance went all the way in terms of mood, atmosphere (meticulous pedaling!), and musical thinking.
Goode has been interested in these dance works by Mozart for some time. He recorded three of the movements for Nonesuch in 2005. For this recital, he took two of the three complete movements of Mozart’s Suite K. 399, substituted the March in C Major, K. 408, for the Ouverture, inserted one of Mozart’s many standalone minuets, and, at the end, the brilliant contrapuntal gigue, K. 574, he wrote for the court organist in Leipzig when on his 1789 tour. Mozart never finished his suite, written in the style of Handel, and, although it escapes me why he substituted the March for the splendid Overture, with its solemn, introduction in dotted rhythms and fugue, Goode’s selection gives us further, speculative view of what Mozart’s experiments in this area might have been. He may have stopped writing out his score after five bars of a Sarabande, but I can easily imagine him improvising such works at one of Gottfried van Swieten’s Sunday musical gatherings, which he is known to have frequented during just this period.
Haydn’s melancholy theme and the various moods that unfolded in the variations were informative for Goode’s reading of “Les Adieux,” exquisitely played in parts, focused on the dramatic succession of moods, but was not always executed with the classical transparency of the earlier pieces.
f“In the Mists,” which is enjoying something of a vogue these days, presents a challenge of concentration. The executant has to remain deeply absorbed in the music and its moods and atmosphere throughout. I had the impression that Mr. Goode, while he maintained this through the first movement, relaxed his concentration in the later movements, letting the magic evaporate.
The Chopin group was for me the least successful part of the program. While the inner voices and harmonic support were audible, they were still somewhat awash in Mr. Goode’s excessive pedaling. But then I’ll admit to being a stickler for clarity in Chopin.
92Y, Sun, Oct 21, 2018, 3 pm
Bach, The Well-Tempered Clavier Book II (BWV 870-BWV 893)
Angela Hewitt’s traversal of Bach’s keyboard works have consistently marked the high point of the musical year for me. With total concentration and deep devotion to Bach, she has explored the varied territory of his oeuvre at the highest level. For a writer, I’ve found this rather intimidating. I feel her extraordinary achievement deserves a tome, but perhaps a few words can do it justice just as well. There are other pianists doing superb work in Bach on modern instruments, but Angela Hewitt’s depth of study, preparation, and absolute concentration put her in a category by herself.
At one time, Ms. Hewitt’s adoption of the sumptuous Fazioli concert grand for Bach seemed something of a curiosity to me, but the instrument provides clarity as well as fullness of tone. As I’ve lived with the sound in her recitals at 92Y, it’s struck me that she uses the Fazioli’s mutually sympathetic, but distinct registers as if it were a chamber organ. The piano’s exceptional legato enhances this aspect of the instrument and the way she plays it. This fall, however, a Fazioli was not available, and Ms. Hewitt turned to Yamaha for a substitute. This is also a superb instrument, but one entirely different in character. The fullness, natural legato, and graduated voices of the Fazioli are not in its design, which leans to a traditional piano sound of a brighter, more percussive sound. Rather than go against the grain, Hewitt gave a thoroughly pianistic reading of the Second Book of the Well-Tempered Clavier. This actually worked rather well for the music, since Bach was introducing some more dance-like, galant elements into the preludes and fugues at this point in his life. What was astonishing was her ability to alter the basic concept of her performance for the circumstances, making only minimal if any sacrifices in her projection of the music’s depths. And the dance-like qualities of Bach’s music in all genres has been one of her specialities. The recital proved as mesmerizing as ever. Brava to all concerned, including Bonnie Barrett and her team at Yamaha in New York, who saved the day.