Showing posts with label Chopin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chopin. Show all posts

Friday, March 15, 2013

Friday Historical: Cortot plays Chopin Op.10 No.3



Today - the Ides of March - is the anniversary of my sister's death. Claire died on 15 March 2000 of ovarian cancer, aged 45. 

I remember that I had been reading a book about Alma Rosé, daughter of Arnold Rosé and niece of Gustav Mahler, who ended up conducting the women's orchestra in Auschwitz, where she later died. The book quoted the lyrics of a song set to this melody, which used to be played there. All that terrible day I had this piece on the brain. Here it is, in memoriam.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Pop goes the Rachmaninov

How do you fill a large hall for 20th-century repertoire? Play Rachmaninov. Composers who lived through these turbulent and violent times but composed in their own styles, rooted in romanticism or not, rather than the supposedly prevailing avant-garde, should be indivisible from our complete artistic picture of their age. Yet it's taken a startling amount of hindsight to reach the idea that someone who died in the 1940s is not "really 19th-century". (Sergei Rachmaninov: 1873-1943.)

These composers - Strauss, Rachmaninov, Korngold, et al - were as much of their specific era in their own ways as anyone else. Well done to The Rest is Noise for taking such a radical step - which should have been obvious years ago, but, well, you know how it goes in this funny little world...

Tonight at the RFH it's Sergei's turn. The fabulous Simon Trpceski plays the Third Piano Concerto and the LPO top it off with the Second Symphony. Yannick Nezet-Seguin is sadly off sick, but Mikhail Agrest has stepped in to save the day. Oh, and it's full (might be some returns, though, from Yannick fans). Yes, 20th-century music is popular when it's allowed in from the cold.

The fact that Rachmaninov is a man for more recent years is all too obvious...

Brief Encounter, 1945


Eric Carmen, 'All By Myself', 1975


Dana, 'Never Gonna Fall In Love Again', 1976


It's also true that the greatest music has something indescructible about it. Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Chopin are just a few of the other towering figures whose works have been set, reset, ripped off, shredded and otherwise bowdlerised, and still survive and often sound as good as ever. That puts Rachmaninov in excellent company.

Try Chopin. Once a Parisian sophisticate, always a Parisian sophisticate.

Serge Gainsbourg/Jane Birkin, 'Jane B', 1969



Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gone Chopin, Bach in a minuet, but without Clawed Depussy

I was once doing a talk and someone asked me whether there was any music I used to love that I had "gone off". The answer was twofold. First, mostly it's the opposite. There's plenty of music that I'd never "got", but that I'd either learned to love or suddenly found that I may have loved all along. Bartok, for instance, or Ligeti - and, this year, Boulez and Bernd Alois Zimmermann. Secondly: no, I've never gone off Korngold, if that's what you meant.

But now I've made a startling discovery. I am going off someone. I have no idea why. It's not because it's his anniversary year and he's had overkill - because he hasn't. I've always adored him. I've played heaps of his piano music and always found it astonishing. Now, though, I'm back at my piano after a long break, looking for something to learn that demands the attention of intensively applied blood, sweat and tears. And I got out my book of Debussy to play through some pieces I learned as a student - Estampes, Suite bergamasque, Images II - and I just couldn't get into it. Not at all.

I'm horrified. These were my party-pieces. I love Claude to bits, or I'm supposed to. And now - ? Pagodes and its Chinoiserie left me cold and flat and wondering why I bothered. The Spanish thing, which when I was 20 seemed the sexiest work evah, feels contrived. Suite bergamasque - well, a tad pointless, and in places, especially the first movement, not even terribly good: as if he's boxed himself into a corner, or just wants to irritate us with a spot of fancy fingering. Sensual, yes, in a superficial kind of way. But the emotional depth has, it seems, gone AWOL. 

La Mer is another matter, especially with Rattle conducting. L'apres-midi d'un faun remains magical - I hope. Jeux is sophisticated and impressive, the Nocturnes for orchestra likewise. And I respect Pelleas with doffed Symbolist hat. But the piano book is going back in the cupboard. Been there, done that, passed the exams.

Because, when you hold Debussy's piano music up beside Chopin's, there's no comparison.

I've been bashing, very badly, through the Polonaise-Fantasie (that Trifonov video was quite a spur). It leaves me more astonished every time. What is he doing? You want to take it to pieces to see how it works. What are these key relationships, these bizarre harmonies - A sharp? C flat? - and the little motivic connections that rise from nowhere to weave the substance together? What is this strange history he spreads before us? Was that harp-ripple the shape and size of Chopin's own hand? What is this brief song of the angel of death in the middle, appearing as if from nowhere?

It's a page-turner plot, a great fantastical dream-journey, full of revelations, reappraisals of its own material, thoughts, questions and breaththrough answers that carry you further in terms of emotional development than you'd ever imagined you could go in a mere 12-15 minutes (depending who's playing...) [UPDATE: Cortot takes less - just under 10 mins - but some of it is a car wreck]. It's uncomfortable every moment of the way, such is its self-awareness and its intimations of its own mortal danger. It's strong in its acknowledgement of human fragility and the simultaneous ability to light up the sky. The composer, the pianist and the instrument become one to an almost terrifying degree.

I won't be able to play it properly in a month of Sundays. But I would gladly die trying.

Clawed Depussy remains Solticat's favourite composer, of course, along with Gabriel Furry and Darius Milhauw.

Here is the ultimate Polonaise-Fantasie, from Grigory Sokolov.




Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Piano questions, please!

Last night you may have heard Erica Worth, editor of Pianist Magazine, joining Sara Mohr-Pietsch and Richard Sisson live on BBC R3 for Piano Keys. It's a talk show in the interval of the Piano Season's Monday evening recital, answering listeners' phone-in questions about all matters pianistic. Last night's questions involved the relative merits of digital instruments versus acoustic ones, what goes on in pianists' minds while they play, some rarities of French repertoire and a wonderful story about Myra Hess in the Blitz.

Next Monday it is JD's turn to be the guest in the hotseat.

If there's a question with which you'd like to call in, please email the team at: pianoseason@bbc.co.uk and if you missed yesterday's, you can catch up on the iPlayer here.

Other BBC Piano Season treats are plentiful - the most interesting stuff didn't make the headline material! Composer of the Week is Chopin. Sunday Morning with Rob Cowan featured some of Ignace Friedman's greatest recordings. And the Radio 3 Piano Masterclass with David Owen Norris is available to watch online here. Onwards...

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Chopin and the nightingale

Done your homework? Read the story? Good. Now read it again with the following in mind: the Emperor as the dying Chopin. And the nightingale as Jenny Lind. And, possibly, the artificial nightingale as Countess Delfina Potocka...

Have a look at this extraordinary stuff from Icons of Europe, under which auspices a whole book has appeared on the subject of Chopin's relationship with the great Swedish soprano Jenny Lind. It seems that Chopin was the love of the 'Swedish Nightingale''s life. Everybody loved her - notably, Hans Christian Andersen - but she wanted to marry Chopin; and after his death she put tremendous philanthropic efforts into raising funds to combat tuberculosis.

My only problem with the suggested interpretation of The Nightingale is that the story was published in 1843 and Chopin didn't die until 1849. But was this a case of life imitating art? Such things happen...Either way, it's a fascinating notion.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A time of things turning up


First it was a Rachmaninov manuscript in a Co-op bag. Now it's Chopin's piano. His long-lost Pleyel has pitched up, lurking in the Cobbe Collection at Hatchlands (above) in Surrey, identified by the excellent Chopin scholar Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger (editor of Chopin, pianist and teacher as seen by his pupils - a.k.a. my Chopin Bible). The story was in The Times the other day, but [cue my Technotwit signature theme] I couldn't find it on their website, so a magazine-based friend with his finger on the pulse has kindly sent me this link to the article (in English) from Turkey. Time to head for Hatchlands to hear it! In general, their programme of concerts is well worth checking out.

The journalist comments, with accuracy, 'Chopin died long before his own performances could be recorded'. Shades of a sorry occasion when a magazine that shall remain nameless ran a nice little trick on 1 April, declaring that an early cylinder recording of Chopin playing his own Minute Waltz had turned up buried at the bottom of a garden belonging to an unfortunate, unrecognised pioneer of recorded sound. Said mag had included it on their cover CD. Guess who fell straight into the trap...