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Month: October, 2011

Sergei Prokofiev’s piano concerto no 3, opus 26‏

Yuja Wang in many ways isn’t Martha Argerich, but in 
many ways she’s just as extraordinary
 
here she is with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
under Daniele Gatti in Amsterdam, October 3, 1910

disregard the written advice that you are watching
Strauss’ “Don Juan” at the beginning of the second
movement, this is Prokofiev’s piano concerto no 3, 
opus 26, throughout  
 
 
Sergei Prokofiev is the mad boy of music, a Harlequin,
a Pinocchio, the fool in Shakespeare, the court jester,
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”‘s Puck, unpredictable,
effevescent, mercurial, irrepressible
 
in art I would compare him to maybe Miró, fanciful
though much more electric, with a touch of, say, the
more impish, mischievous Hieronymus Bosch     
 
try not to be jolted, try not to be projected from your
seat, this is 1921, this is the Twentieth Century,
Prokofiev turns the heat on it right up  
 
 
Richard
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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happy Hallowe’en

this poem by Longfellow requires no introduction, apart
from to say that it’s perfect
 
 
happy Hallowe’en 
 
Richard  
 
              _________________   

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Haunted Houses

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  All houses wherein men have lived and died
Are haunted houses.Through the open doors
The harmless phantoms on their errands glide,
With feet that make no sound upon the floors.

We meet them at the door-way, on the stair,
Along the passages they come and go,
Impalpable impressions on the air,
A sense of something moving to and fro.

There are more guests at table than the hosts
Invited; the illuminated hall
Is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,
As silent as the pictures on the wall.

The stranger at my fireside cannot see
The forms I see, nor hear the sounds I hear;
He but perceives what is; while unto me
All that has been is visible and clear.

We have no title-deeds to house or lands;
Owners and occupants of earlier dates
From graves forgotten stretch their dusty hands,
And hold in mortmain still their old estates.

The spirit-world around this world of sense
Floats like an atmosphere, and everywhere
Wafts through these earthly mists and vapours dense
A vital breath of more ethereal air.

Our little lives are kept in equipoise
By opposite attractions and desires;
The struggle of the instinct that enjoys,
And the more noble instinct that aspires.

These perturbations, this perpetual jar
Of earthly wants and aspirations high,
Come from the influence of an unseen star
An undiscovered planet in our sky.

And as the moon from some dark gate of cloud
Throws o’er the sea a floating bridge of light,
Across whose trembling planks our fancies crowd
Into the realm of mystery and night,–

So from the world of spirits there descends
A bridge of light, connecting it with this,
O’er whose unsteady floor, that sways and bends,
Wander our thoughts above the dark abyss.

        
                                  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

drums, revisited

on the subject of drums a friend sent me an interesting
corroborative reply, a drum extravaganza, something
for me to chew on 
 
I wondered what this would be called
 
a symphony, though of even all the same instruments,
by definition would require harmonization of sounds,
but their conformity here precludes that, there are
no sounds, nor even complementary beats, to
harmonize  
 
an orchestra requires more than one instrument, here
there is but one  
 
nor do we have a concerto for having only a single
musical segment, should we allow, for that matter,
for the very term music 
 
I confess, however, that I distinctly hear here a tango
 
therefore music
 
 
a tattoo is an outdoor military pageant, according to
Webster’s dictionary 
 
I would think the actual rhythmic composition could
be called by the same name, a tattoo, written by, if
one were looking for a composer, as when we look
for painters in the art of the Early Middle Ages, no
one known, anonymous for being functional only
rather than arresting as of yet or sufficiently
individually remarkable 
 
will this change 
 
 
Richard
 
psst: thanks Jim for the reference
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Richard Strauss’ “Burleske” for Piano and Orchestra, opus 5‏

when I mentioned to my friend that we had now heard
concertos from individually all the solo instruments
featured in the Beethoven Triple Concerto I pointed
out that therefore any instrument of course could be
central to a concerto, could it stand the virtuosity  
and the strain 

drums came up, sure, I said, should someone write
such a concerto, would drummers, a less melodic
group, be interested, I know of no drum concertos  

but I could not exclude the evidence of an unforgettable 
tour de force, in a piece for primarily orchestra and piano
but with a significant and magnificent timpani obbligato
here and there interjecting, for their unqualified claim to
musical validity, we are all invited, the message is clear,  
to the song
  
it is a piece by the evidently iconoclastic Richard Strauss,
not either of the Johanns, neither father nor son, but
Richard, a later, unrelated personality, with a few
indisputable masterpieces of his own
 
there are all the requisite instruments here, orchestra,
commanding piano, but this is not a concerto for having
only one segment of music, it’s given therefore another
identifying name, in such cases often its very definition,
here we have a burlesque, you’ll hear Strauss riff on that
particular topic, his idea of what is a burlesque, other
riffs by others might be called a waltz, a nocturne, an
adagio, until the more pragmatic preponderance of
titles – the “Emperor” Concerto, for instance, or Strauss’
own symphonic poems, “Death and Transfiguration”, 
Also Sprach Zarathustra“, after Friedrich Nietzsche’s
seminal mystic text – came about, that very process of
designation something again of a Straussian advance   

the “Burleske”, as they would have it, for Piano and
Orchestra, opus 5, is an early work, as evidenced by
the opus number, by, it would appear, an irreverent
upstart, impetuous, explosive, even the introduction
itself of a central timpani would’ve been musically
unheard of, revolutionary at the time, he was 
breaking all the rules  
 
but he did so outstandingly, authoritatively, the next
step could conceivably be a drum concerto, who knows  
 
 
this is not Classical music then, not at all meant for
an aristocracy, this is nearly no longer even Romantic,
this is 1885 to 1886, this is looking straight into the  
future, the upheavals of our very own recent and,
prophetically, tumultuous early Twentieth Century 
 
even beyond 
 
ask Ringo Starr
 
or still any serious drummer
 
 
Martha Argerich at the pedal does the work absolutely
no harm, leaves it glistening, pristine and irrepressible 
 
magisterially
 
 
Richard
 
 
 
 
 
 

a cello concerto‏

Portrait of Marquise de Pompadour, 1759 by Fran?ois Boucher

               “Portrait of Marquise de Pompadour

                                 François Boucher  
 
                                     __________
 
 
Joseph Haydn, 1732 to 1809, who preceded and outlived
Mozart, 1756 to 1791, was also an older contemporary of
the more imperious Beethoven, 1770 to 1827 
 
of the three Haydn is the most pleasant, polite, courtly,
witty, elegant, congenial, the musical equivalent of, say, 
the painters Boucher or Fragonard, though with a perhaps
more restrained sensuality 
 
his audience, and indeed his sponsors, were aristocrats,
his music makes no political, emotional, ideological
demands, it is meant merely to delight, which it does
in spades 
 
one of his symphonies, the number 45, for instance, loses
instrumentalists one at a time in its final movement until
two only remain, Haydn himself and the concertmaster,
the orchestra had been wanting to go home but had been
retained by the count at his summer palace, Esterhazy,
longer than anyone expected, each one, according to
instructions in the score, was to put out the candle on
his music stand, in Vienna, incidentally, not one of
them of course was a woman, then was to leave the
shrinking stage, the not inconsiderate count let them
scurry the very next day
 
 
Mozart is more spontaneous, less academic than Haydn,
playful, unaffected, less inhibited, younger, by very
definition therefore less refined, more maybe, as a
consequence, unintentionally magical
 
Beethoven meanwhile is a quantum leap from their
Classicism, which is to say the musical groundwork
for our epoch set down by both those other
foundational pillars, into Romanticism, unleashing
upon his forebears’ firm structural, Classical, base 
his more humanist, less formalized, view of the
emotions, paving the way, for instance, blazing a
very trail for, among others, its later towering
figure, Chopin 
 
 
in 1761, Eve-Marie Caravassilis plays the cello, Patrick
Botti conducts the Concilium Musicum de Paris in the
Church of St-Catherine of Hungary in Paris, all of these
to me unknown, August 10, 2011, just last year  
 
I was not unimpressed
 
 
note the consistency throughout of the pace, and the
courtly discretion ever, in even the nimble, never 
boisterous or brash, concluding, for instance, presto
pithy, pert, but always peremptorily polite, it would
never come crashing down 
 
what Revolution, it assumes, what 1789, let’s party
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

some Martha Argerich‏

after Glenn Gould there was Martha Argerich, a human dynamo, not quite of this earth, her speeds are technically next to impossible, her textures nevertheless always transcendental, she is a miracle, though explosive, volcanic 

watch her arpeggiastic pyrothechnics, if you can keep up

an arpeggio is a run of notes up or down a scale, be it tonic or atonic, tuneful or dissonant, with accidentals either way, or not 

an accidental is a decorative hiccough in the music    

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         arpeggios can be treachorous

Marha Argerich puts herself in the driver’s seat and categorically delivers 

here she does the First Tchaikowsky Piano Concerto, of it, note, one of her less celebrated performances

wow, still wow

one  would advise Emil Gilels, our earlier illustrious Tchaikowsky celebrant, to watch his back, this woman is on fire

I’m on fire 

                                                                                                                                                                                      Richard   

 

 

 

 

some Joshua Bell

in my search for another violin concerto to follow up
on my suggested commitment for a while to that
instrument, to point out that concertos can go further
afield of course than the piano, and notably have, I
was able to find an Aladdin’s cave of musical wonders
but none to fit that specific bill

these other options however have been overwhelming,
once again for me irresistible, I’m a sucker, I’m afraid,
for excellence

for instance this astounding performance I’d temporarily
put aside for being a repetition, another interpretation
of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major, done already
superbly here by the resplendent Anne-Sophie Mutter
with her inimitable mentor, Herbert von Karajan, no
less, among my previous recommendations

but this rendition by Joshua Bell, an American, who’d ‘a’
thunk it midst the profusion of Asian superstars, totally
transcends, he is precise, impassioned, is carried away
incandescently by his muse

we are too

Anne-Sophie Mutter who, we wonder, though only for a
moment, she is reliably transcendent, incandescent ever
too

his glissandos made me shiver, his rallentandos hold my
breath, his cadenzas, well, gasp in veritable wonder

a cadenza is what seems like an extended solo part near
the end of a movement where the soloist gets to strut
his, her stuff, it is often enough composed independently
of the composer, but I can only suppose that’s indeed the
case here for this cadenza not sounding especially
contemporary with Beethoven, for instance the strident
atonalities, long stresses on individual notes, defying
the usually strict conditions of that master’s nearly
religious adherence to tempo, rhythm

but it magisterially works, and therefore who cares

whether by Beethoven, Joshua Bell, or anyone else, I
don’t know, and am content to leave behind here such
esoterica

there is a bit of another cadenza near the end also of
the third movement

slow movements are not likely to have one for being
inappropriate, it would be bad form to show off at a
dirge

also von Karajan is not replaced, a conductor is simply
not there, and Joshua Bell seems an unlikely stand-in
for one here since he doesn’t even often look at the
orchestra, also he looks busy enough doing, wouldn’t
you think, other things

since the timpanist, the drummer, at the outset
gives the cue, a lovely of course Asian girl, she could
conceivably be setting the beat at least for her orchestra,
though often the first violin will take up the conductor’s
cause, when not the soloist, why else would one take a
bow, as they always do at concerts, but this one appears
unsubjected to so commanding a role

they open with some recalcitrance at first, as though
not quite sure of the engine, but soon things are humming,
the orchestra is in full swing, stunning, committed, soaring,
through giddy, infinitely miraculous, air

soon enough they also transcend

Joshua Bell earns himself meanwhile for his inspired part
in this splendid presentation an estimable place in my lofty
heaven, among the other poets, painters, asteroids and
stars shining there

Richard

Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64

despite not having the stature of the other composers
already considered, Felix Mendelssohn, 1809 – 1847,
nevertheless squeezes right up the middle with his
the greatest violin concertos of all time, perhaps the
most tender of all in contrast to the mightier, more
imperious declamations of the other also more varied
and prolific masters, an archangel among the august
divinities, having earned a place of the very highest
order in their midst with even this one masterful
work, perhaps even of all the most beloved
 
he squeezed right up the middle chronologically as
well in fact, Beethoven wrote his violin concerto in
1806, while Tchaikowsky and Brahms theirs to my
astonishment each from his own little corner of the
world independently in the very same year, 1878,
a fabulous year, it would appear, for violin concertos 
 
Mendelssohn finished his violin concerto in E minor,  
opus 64 in 1844
  
 
when I began a few decades ago to explore violin
concertos, my essential resource was the set I had
on disc of all the great ones played, indeed definitively
executed, by Kyung-Wha Chung, who bested then to
my mind all, without exception, even the most
celebrated virtuosos, whom I need not therefore 
here recall   
 
until now I had never seen her perform 
 
in this outing she recovers in spades my early adulation, 
utterly, she lives and breathes her enchanted instrument,
she is the Mitsuko Uchida of the violin, I can think of no
higher honour, she is meteoric 
 
André Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra, who
accompany her, though accomplished, pale beside her
fire, which is throughout riveting   
 
André Previn was married famously to Mia Farrow way
back when, later married our very own Anne-Sophie
Mutter, though they divorced in 2006, he was a pop,
to my mind, conductor, made of serviceable and
always dependable stuff, but never shining, you’ll
have to leave that to his featured brilliant light here,
who will not, I assure you, fail to deliver searing
heat along with the stated incandescence 
 
 
Richard
 
 
 
 
 
 

Brahms violin concerto in D major, Op.77

though I’d’ve preferred to consider violin concertos for a while
after the Tchaikowsky, the Beethoven, a break from the usual,
though always eminently magisterial, piano, I was unable to
quickly find a performance of the work I had in mind that would
suit my needs, nothing primarily that was complete, that had all 
its unabridged movements
 
and what’s a concerto without its movements, a meal without
an appetizer, without its main course maybe, without even 
dessert, that’s making do, that’s subsisting, that’s got nothing
to do with appreciating a meal, not to mention our pending
Thanksgiving
 
then the Chopin struck, a very revelation, and I couldn’t, even
temporarily, put it aside 
 
I hope you enjoyed it   
 
 
because the Brahms in D major, opus 77, is after the first
two violin concertos I listed the third most revered and 
respected major string work, it cannot but be duly and
with great honour represented in any Classical music 
survey
 
the first movement, the allegro non troppo, or, jauntily but
not too much, in English, is played by David Oistrakh and 
conducted by the legendary Kirill Kondrashin, who conducted
Van Cliburn, famously, in both his Tchaikowsky One and
Rachmaninoff Three concertos in Moscow, 1958, when Cliburn 
won first prize, is he the best, Khrushchev asked when
nervous judges questioned awarding an American, give it
to him then, he most judiciously replied, in the very face
of Cold War bile and cynicism 
 
Kondrashin defected to the West in 1978 
 
David Oistrakh never left his homeland, Russia, though he
toured extensively enough in the West, surely dazzling
everywhere rapt audiences
 
 
the next two movements, the adagio, slow, the allegro 
but not too lively – little by little go faster, have the
glorious Leonard Bernstein jumping up and down even 
with exhilaration at the thrilling sounds they are making,
while the equally glorious Gidon Kremer struts inimitable,
incendiary stuff, a Tchaikowsky competition winner also
he, in 1970, who ‘s since dominated and championed an
impressively extensive and eclectic, even modern, 
repertoire  
 
note in passing that their accompanying Vienna Philharmonic
doesn’t have a single woman, which nevertheless doesn’t 
of course disqualify a superior sound, it is merely an archaic,
intransigeant, aristocratic institution, it would appear, with
counterintuitively melodious and undeniably winning soul
 
 
one course at one restaurant then, the next two at another,
you’ll need to adjust to atmosphere, menu variations,
service, but expect in either case only the very best, you
will not be disappointed 
 
 
Brahms violin concerto in D major, opus 77
 
              1 – allegro non troppo, Oistrakh, Kondrashin,
                                                          the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra
              2 – adagio, Gidon Kremer, Leonard Bernstein, the Vienna Philharmonic
                                                              Kremer, Bernstein,  
                                                    the Vienna Philharmonic again
 
 
Richard 
 
psst: here is an alternate third movement by to me unknowns,
         an exquisite partial repast, perhaps the most impressive
         morsel here