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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Ten things for your best-ever night out's Chopin Liszt

A high old time was had by one and all last night at the Chopin Society's Christmas fundraiser - a gala recital, dinner and ball at London's historic Guildhall, amply attended by the great and good of the UK, Poland and the piano world.

For such an evening, you will need for your Chopin Liszt:

1. An atmospheric, beautiful and historically significant venue such as this one:


2. A tireless, dedicated organiser such as the Chopin Society's Lady Rose Cholmondeley who can muster a guest list of princesses, dignitaries, the Polish ambassador, great pianists and more.

3. At the back of your cupboard, a ball dress that you bought in Vienna about seven years ago and have never had occasion to don; plus the good fortune to find that it still fits you; and a bunch of Facebookers all saying WEAR IT!

4. A generous-spirited colleague who'll suggest you join her at the office to get changed there and share a taxi to the venue so that you don't have to risk ripping said ball dress on the rush hour trains en route. Thank you, Claire Jackson, editor of International Piano Magazine. (Pic: me in black, Claire in purple.)

5. A gifted young pianist - the multiple-prizewinning Mateusz Borowiak - who steams in, cool as the proverbial cucumber, to play Bach-Busoni, the Liszt Mephisto Waltz and, of course, Chopin. Mateusz is Polish-British; his parents are both music teachers, he has a music degree from Cambridge, and has been studying in Katowice with Andrzej Jasinski. Incidentally, Chopin's last public concert took place at the Guildhall in 1848, less than a year before his untimely death. Stepping into his shoes is no small order.

6. A sumptuous dinner and the excellent company of friends and colleagues old and new; a wonderful chance to catch up with pianistic luminaries, the likes of Angela Hewitt (in a beautiful furry wrap) and Piers Lane, the latter in fine fettle on the dance floor. Plus, of course, the good-humoured spirit that can enjoy hearing the Poles and the British roundly mucking up the pronunciations of one another's surnames, while getting along excellently in this celebration of longstanding Polish-British friendship - and manifold anniversaries, not least 10 years of Poland being an EU member.

7. A terrific band that can deliver everything from the 1870s to Abba and Diana Ross.

8. A mysterious stroke of fate. After all, what are the chances of wearing that Viennese ball dress only to find that at dinner you are sitting next to an actual Viennese man, moreover one who learned to dance in the great ballrooms of his home city, white gloves and all? Please take a bow, Ulrich Gerhartz, the legendary chief technician of Steinways, who I'm glad to say whirled me off my feet all the way from 'The Blue Danube' to 'Dancing Queen'.

9. A good cause. The aim of these high jinks is to raise money towards buying the society a new piano for its excellent series of recitals, most of which take place at Westminster Cathedral Hall. Recent performers have included Abbey Simon, Yevgeny Sudbin, Benjamin Grosvenor and many more (including me and Viv in 'Alicia's Gift' a few months back). Until now they have used a beautiful, warm-toned instrument that once belonged to the Polish virtuoso Witold Malcuzynski, but as you can imagine, it is getting on in years. With an auction of artworks and holidays, led by Philip Moulds, a "silent auction" and a raffle, one suspects that the new piano will no longer be such a distant prospect.

10. Getting home in the wee hours with ears ringing, head spinning and a slightly bloodied toe.


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...