Sunday, March 28, 2010

In the piano concertos, we hear Beethoven in hard-fought sort-of-harmony with the universe

No less than Van Cliburn introduces the piano-playing Serkins, Rudolf (1903-1991) and Peter (born 1947), playing Schubert's four-hand Military March in G, D. 733, No. 2, on the occasion of Serkin père's 85th birthday in 1988, from a 1988 concert featuring 26 pianists, issued by VAI.

"Rudolf Serkin was once asked, jokingly of course, if Beethoven had composed the Choral Fantasy for Marlboro. The piece has everything Marlboro could have wanted for its final concert: an orchestra in which everyone could play; solos within the orchestra; ensemble playing among various instruments; piano solo; and a chorus for everyone else in the Marlboro community. Rudolf Serkin responded, with his characteristic smile, 'No, Beethoven didn't compose it for Marlboro.... But he approves.'"

by Ken

What Christopher Serkin, a distinguished law professor, discreetly doesn't mention here -- though his last name is certainly suggestive -- is that Rudolf Serkin, a co-founder of the Marlboro Music Festival who was for decades its presiding artistic spirit -- was his grandfather, and Peter Serkin, whom he later mentions conducts the Choral Fantasy performance included in this Marlboro anniversary issue, is his uncle. (Peter Serkin, while a dramatically different sort of musician from his father, established himself at an early age as one of the leading pianists of his generation. It's kind of weird, for me at least, to think that young Peter is now in his 60s.)


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Preview: Down in the basement with Beethoven

In a state of grace, Claudio Arrau plays the first part of the first movement of Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto, with Riccardo Muti conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. (The rest of the movement is here.)

by Ken

Last night I related how Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto intruded on my musical consciousness, thanks to the inclusion of the concluding Rondo on RCA's Arthur Rubinstein compilation LP Heart of the Piano Concerto. It was by far my favorite of the six movements from favorite concertos featured. (One of these weeks we'll come back to the six concertos that were included.)

Today it's Beethoven's Fourth Concerto. How it happened that I hadn't been exposed to the Fourth Concerto despite my already-formed attachment to at least the Rondo of the Third Concerto, is a silly story for another time. It had to do with endlessly agonizingly weighing the economics of RCA's Rubinstein-Krips Beethoven concerto cycle on five LPs vs. Epic's Fleisher-Szell and London's Backhaus-Schmidt-Isserstedt ones on four, and American Decca's Kempff-van Kempen one in mono but on only three! I was paralyzed.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Preview: Beethoven and the "heart of the piano concerto"

Krystian Zimerman performs the first half of the Rondo finale of Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto, with Leonard Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. (The rest of the movement is here.)

by Ken

Before I began collecting classical records, the family LP collection included a handful (five that I recall), one of which was an RCA compilation called Heart of the Piano Concerto, consisting of single movements from Arthur Rubinstein's catalog recordings of six favorite piano concertos. I was especially fond of the side that, as I recall, ended with AR's biting, ebullient performance of the Rondo finale of Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto.

Eventually I got to know and love the whole Third Concerto -- and its four companions -- in a way that's special even among Beethoven's output. Tomorrow night I'll recall my similarly idiosyncratic introduction to the Fourth Concerto, in preparation for some notes Sunday on the Beethoven piano concertos, including hearing Nos. 3 and 4 complete (in a specially concocted "all-Rubinstein" No. 3, an "all-Schnabel" No. 4, and "all-star" performances of both), and we'll celebrate the often-orphaned sixth family member, the wacky and wonderful Choral Fantasy for piano, vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra (with not one, not two, but three recordings by the performer who for so long breathed so much life into it).


BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37:
iii. Rondo: Allegro

Arthur Rubinstein, piano; Symphony of the Air, Josef Krips, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded December 1956