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


(45 at the time of this December 1960 recital)

There haven't been many cases of a musician taking the U.S. by storm the way Sviatoslav Richter did when he finally arrived in 1960, with an elaborate series of solo recitals at Carnegie Hall. Columbia Masterworks recorded a number of those concerts live, for some reason in mono, and released a bunch of LPs drawn from them, which became among the most coveted piano records of all time -- though the artist himself doesn't seem to have been so thrilled, which is apparently why they've never been issued.

It happens that Columbia's chief U.S. rival, RCA Red Seal, also recorded (in stereo!) one of the Carnegie Hall recitals, and one in Newark as well, with the same program but different encores. Some selections from the Carnegie Hall program were released, but otherwise those precious tapes languished in the vaults until the Carnegie Hall recital (with the separate Newark encores thrown in) was issued in 2001 in BMG's invaluable "reDISCOVERED" series.

At Carnegie Hall the encores consisted of 10 of Sergei Prokofiev's Op. 22 Visions fugitives. We're going to hear the Newark encores.

1. PROKOFIEV: Cinderella Suite, Op. 95, No. 2, Gavotte
2. Visions fugitives, Op. 22: No. 4, Animato

3. DEBUSSY: Preludes, Book I: No. 5, "Les Collines d'Anacapri" ("The Hills of Anacapri")

CHOPIN: Études, Op. 10:
4. No. 10 in A-flat;
5. No. 12 in C minor (Revolutionary)
6. Mazurka in C, Op. 24, No. 2

Sviatoslav Richter, piano. RCA/BMG, recorded live in the Mosque Theater, Newark, Dec. 28, 1960

(72 at the time of this November 1975 recital)

Producer Jon Samuels explains in a note for the 2003 "reDISCOVERED" release of this November 1975 recital at Carnegie Hall, when Horowitz returned to his old record company, RCA, in 1975, the company undertook a whole host of recordings of live performances all over the place, concerned about being able to get him to make enough studio recordings. Those tapes went unreleased, though, and Samuels provides a vivid account of the difficulty of, first, finding the separated tapes of this concert, and then getting them into releasable condition.

We've already heard Horowitz play Schumann's "Träumerei," possibly his favorite encore piece, and a favorite of many other soloists -- and not just pianists. (Arrangements have been made for just about every instrument under the sun.) This is one of his less dragged-out accounts, but it's still cast in the rhythmically tortured form the pianist clearly thought was the way to play this lovely little "dream" piece. Not much to my taste, but I find the unfussy strength of the Debussy "Serenade" utterly irresistible, and the Moszkowski and Rachmaninoff -- well,

1. DEBUSSY: Children's Corner: No. 3, "Serenade of the Doll"

2. SCHUMANN: Kinderszenen (Scenes of Childhood), Op. 15: No. 7, "Träumerei"

3. MOSZKOWSKI: Morceaux caracteristiques (Characteristic Pieces), Op. 36: No. 6, "Étincelles" ("Sparks")

4. RACHMANINOFF: Étude-Tableau in D, Op. 39, No. 9

Vladimir Horowitz, piano. RCA/BMG, recorded live in Carnegie Hall, Nov. 16, 1975

(74 in 1961, when most of these recordings were made)

With his 1961 remake of the Grieg Piano Concerto spilling over onto a second LP side, Arthur Rubinstein filled out that side with a selection of five of his favorite encores. The artist's tribute to the concerto recording reproduced on the jacket front (you can click to enlarge) was of particular interest to me for the signature, in which he clearly spelled his name "Arthur," the original Polish spelling (though the "h" didn't figure in the pronunciation). It was the first indication I was aware of that Rubinstein disliked the Germanized spelling adopted by his international managements, an especially touchy issue in the wake of the Third Reich for a Polish Jew. (I'm still mystified by the continued use of the "Artur" spelling.)

Even though these five pieces were clearly conceived as a group, the powers that be decided to split them up when it came to the massive Rubinstein Collection. I've got only the Falla and Prokofiev on CD, and my LP isn't on the shelf. (I think I once took it down intending to dub the encores, and I have vague recollections of the unrefiled LP suffering disintegration, possibly due to my misimpression that this was a duplicate copy I had acquired at one point. For the Liszt and Villa-Lobos I've substituted different CD performances that I do have (dipping back to 1950 for the former), and I believe this Schumann Romance is the one from this set. I don't recall the sequence of the LP; I've followed that of the jacket front.

Note that in this particular selection, some of my favorite Rubinstein recordings, the choices are weighted toward the upbeat and virtuosic. Of course Rubinstein could ravish the listener as few pianists have ever been able to, as he shows in the Schumann Romance.

1. FALLA: El Amor brujo (Love the Magician): "Ritual Fire Dance"
2. LISZT: Valse oubliée No. 1
3. SCHUMANN: Romance in F-sharp, Op. 28, No. 2
4. PROKOFIEV: The Love for Three Oranges, Op. 33: March
5. VILLA-LOBOS: Prole do bebê (Baby's Family), Vol. I: No. 7, "O Polichinelo" ("Polichinelle," or "Punch")

Arthur Rubinstein, piano. RCA/BMG, recorded in New York, Mar. 23, 1961 (except Liszt, recorded Dec. 1950; Villa-Lobos, recorded live in Carnegie Hall, Oct. 30, 1961)


As noted, even apart from the fascinating (and vast) subject of vocal encores, we've still got a lot of other instruments to scope out encore-wise. Schedule to be determined.

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