Sunday, May 20, 2012

A vision for the future in Beethoven's last piano sonata

Beethoven's last piano sonata, No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111

In this May 1936 Electrola recording of Op. 111, that great Beethovenian Elly Ney (1882-1968) plays the Maestoso introduction and the exposition of the main Allegro (which is marked for a repeat that we're not hearing).

by Ken

Angry? Defiant? Just powerfully assertive? And yet there's something else going on at the same time, almost at war with those violent outbursts. I tried to find an earlier stopping point, and just couldn't -- I took it right up to the repeat marking. (It's only the Allegro section that gets repeated.)

In Friday night's preview we heard what I think are extraordinary -- as well as extraordinarily different -- performances of Beethoven's first piano sonata, the F minor, Op. 2, No. 1 (a set of three sonatas, like the set of three piano trios that makes up Beethoven's Op. 1), by Artur Schnabel and Glenn Gould. That was in preparation for today's look at the last of the 32 sonatas -- again one of three sonatas written consecutively, and probably overlappingly: Beethoven's Opp. 109, 110, and 111, astonishingly different musical visions that are almost textbook specimens of the composer's haunted and visionary "late" period.

It came about because I was thinking ahead to a recital I eventually attended Thursday night at which a young Korean pianist played Op. 111 and all four of Chopin's ballades. I wasn't sure how the two would go together. It's not a huge amount of music quantity-wise -- figure something under 30 minutes for the Beethoven sonata and maybe 35-40 for the combined Chopin ballades -- but golly, if you want to talk quality! (In the event, after all our talk about piano encores, there weren't any!)

I didn't know going in whether we would be hearing the Beethoven or Chopin first, and was sort of thinking if it was me, maybe I would start with the Chopin. So I thought we might listen to the second of the Chopin ballades, first a lovely performance by Agustin Anievas, then a more searching performance by Sviatoslav Richter (from the same Prague broadcast from which we recently heard the First Ballade).

CHOPIN: Ballade No. 2 in F, Op. 38

Agustin Anievas, piano. EMI, recorded in London, June 1975

Sviatoslav Richter, piano. Praga, recorded live in Prague, Feb. 21, 1960


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Encores, part 1 -- Three legendary pianists

It makes a nifty encore too! Leonard Bernstein conducts his Overture to Candide, kicking off this December 1989 concert performance of the complete musical with the London Symphony Orchestra.

by Ken

As you may have guessed from Friday's preview ("Encore, encore!"), when we heard the great cellist János Starker play three prime encore pieces -- all, as it happened, arranged for cello and piano from other instrumental configurations. I didn't have a very clear idea Friday where exactly this post was headed, except that it would be all encores.

Okay, we're stretching a little with the above video clip, in which Leonard Bernstein conducts his Candide Overture at the start of a concert performance of the piece. But for easily understandable reasons, countless conductors -- including Lenny himself, as memory serves -- used the Candide Overture as a peerlessly rousing encore.

The thing about encores is that they often represent the artist at his/her most personal, whether they're designed to rouse, seduce, charm, or just plain ravish. It's such a large subject, however, that after initially deciding that we would deal only with instrumental encores, leaving the vast subject of vocal ones for another time, I decided to narrow it down even further, to piano encores, at least once we get to the click-through, where we're going to hear sets of encores from three of the 20th's century's greatest pianists-- two of them actual sets of encores from actual concerts, the third a selection of favorite encores of his made by the artist to fill out an LP side.

Before we go there, though, I though we might hear another encore-suitable piece, an arrangement of a traditional Catalan carol for cello and orchestra, which aims to stir listeners in a very different way.

CASALS (arr.): El Cant dels ocells (The Song of the Birds)

Prades Festival Orchestra, Pablo Casals, cello and cond. Columbia/CBS/Sony, recorded 1950


Friday, May 4, 2012

Preview: Encore, encore!

by Ken

We've had a generous helping of encores sprinkled through the Sunday Classics programs. I always thought that one of these weeks we'd take a neatly organized, carefully rehearsed tour through the kinds of music and musicians inhabiting the world of concert "bonuses." That could still happen, but probably not this week.

No, I happened to find myself staring at the volume from Les Introuvables de János Starker -- from EMI France's often-valuable Introuvables (literally "unfindables") reissue series -- which includes the 1958 pictured above, which seems to me not so much a "recital" as a collection of fairly short pieces mostly of the type we would generally consider encore material. (I can't believe Starker would ever have given a recital made up of this material. One tip-off -- not conclusive, but a strong hint -- is the number of selections with "arranger" credits.) Including stuff like, you know, this:

DEBUSSY: Préludes, Book I: No. 8, "La Fille aux cheveux de lin" ("The Girl with the Flaxen Hair") (arr. Feuillard)

SCHUBERT: Moment musical in F minor, D. 780, No. 3
(arr. Becker)

MUSSORGSKY: The Fair at Sorochinsk: Gopak
(arr. Stutchevsky)

János Starker, cello; Gerald Moore, piano. EMI, recorded in London, June 4-7, 1958


Yes, it's all encores!