Sunday, November 04, 2007
Here's a little extract from his Piano Quartet in G minor, apparently filmed in Apeldoorn by someone based in Bulgaria. The performers are Philippe Graffin (violin), Asdis Valdimarsdottir (viola), Colin Carr (cello) and Pascal Devoyon (piano). Because listening to Philippe playing Fauré is one of the great joys of life; because turning the pages for Pascal in Messiaen's incredible Visions de l'Amen in St Nazaire was one of the high points of my musical year; and because Gabriel 'The Archangel' Fauré is simply the best; I hope you like it too.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Friday, November 10, 2006
I disagree with a few crucial points in Joe's piece: Faure IS one of the all-time greats, his music is not 'slight', just delicate and subtle, and he doesn't sound remotely like Chopin but does occasionally risk a rather peculiar similarity to, of all people, Elgar (in fact they had the same English patron and the same style of moustache, so the distance isn't as great as one might think).
Other 19th-century non-jerks include Brahms, who was a jolly good bloke if a bit brusque; Schubert, who didn't live long enough to become a jerk; and dear old Mendelssohn, who sounds as adorable as his music.
Saturday, July 09, 2005
(Gabriel Faure in a letter to his son, Philippe Faure-Fremiet, August 1908)
Thursday, November 18, 2004
Not that I saw much of it this time, because my quarry, the trio - known pleasingly as the BAT - were far too interesting. Pianist Menahem Pressler, who is over 80, is one of my great piano heroes and the person I would most have loved to study with 20 years ago. The 'old' trio's recordings, with Isidore Cohen and Bernard Greenhouse, were among my father's favourites and we used to listen to them all the time when I was about 14, especially the Dvorak 'Dumky' Trio. I think that the sound of Pressler's playing somehow got under my skin at that time through sheer familiarity with this record, and I realise now that it's been my pianistic ideal ever since. And the Dumky was the second half of their Berlin concert.
In place of Cohen and Greenhouse the trio now has Daniel Hope and Antonio Meneses. But the piano sound is just the same - silvery, sparkly, silken joie de vivre, full of soul and humanity, from someone who should be recognised as one of the world's great pianists but, because he has played primarily in a trio for 50 years and taught devotedly in Indiana for half that time, is not sufficiently familiar to the wider public. Just a few notes into the Dvorak, I entered a time warp and found myself back in the house where I grew up, going through it room by room, object by object, and watching Dad enjoying the music... Of course, he died years ago, as did my mother, and I spent most of the trio fighting back serious lump in throat.
Almost as moving, and more astonishing, was the impression I had that Pressler and Hope, despite the 50-year difference in their ages, are somehow cut from the same spiritual cloth. Musically they were a perfect match and during the interviews each in turn seemed to be trying to win at praising the other. They are performing the Faure A major Sonata together in Paris in January and I intend to try to go. Pressler calls Dan and Antonio 'my boys', which is very sweet indeed. I sat next to Pressler at dinner and we got on wonderfully. He is just as he sounds.
Apropos de Faure, Tom and I played that same sonata in a private concert last Sunday and I thought it went pretty well. Or, to put it another way, I didn't f*** up. And Tom was excellent, despite the frustration of trying to play in tune while the piano was out of tune. The audience seemed to love it and they gave us two very nice bottles of champagne.
Sunday, November 07, 2004
At university in the mid-80s I had my fair share of the second kind and found it really rather thrilling. Especially Schenker. When Schenker is well explained and sensitively applied, he can help to shed tremendous new light on pieces that one thought one knew backwards. My most inspiring encounter with Schenkerian thinking was when I listened to Murray Perahia giving piano masterclasses in which he used a Schenkerian approach to transform his students' performances and also his observers' ears. For instance, he demonstrated how the whole first movement of Schumann's piano concerto springs from the conflict engendered by the semitone that opens the piano's first flourish. I began to think I'd never truly heard this most familiar of works before.
Fast-forward to yesterday. I've been slogging away at the piano on the Faure A major violin sonata (just a week to go before the performance) and yesterday I found something in it that I've never noticed before, despite months of practising and years of passionate listening. But a few little notes buried deep inside the music suddenly reminded me of something else. It set off a new train of thought...I toothcombed my way through the whole sonata...and I think it really does say what I think it says. This tiny motif, and what Faure does with it, carries messages that tally perfectly with his character - he had a very naughty, subversive streak - and with the timing and reasons for this piece's creation. And in the context of other influential music of the day, it simultaneously pays tribute and 'cocks a snook', which is fairly typical of Monsieur Gabriel as I know him. Tom thinks I've gone out of my mind, which is usually a sure sign that I'm onto something, so I intend to investigate further.
One thing that I'm certain of: a purely impressionistic approach won't work if I want to prove this point. These days I don't enjoy wading through pages of academic theory any more than I enjoy eating cardboard, but sometimes one has to resort to it because it's the only way to get at the next level of meaningful information - a level that would otherwise remain hidden forever.
Saturday, August 14, 2004
Originally uploaded by Duchenj.
It's the silly season, it's Saturday night and as usual I'm home alone because Tom is working, so here is a picture of our cat, Solti - Sir Georg for short. He lives up to his name. He thinks he's the boss. He thinks he's a tiger. We think he's a mobile teddybear with whiskers and, sometimes, claws.
It's warm and muggy here in London. After a hectic patch I've been doing useful things like washing my autumn skirts, buying jeans and trying, rather half-heartedly, to practise Faure.
A propos of ACD's comment on my misuse of the word 'crossover' the other day, I wonder what people made of the use of Mahler 3 in the Olympic opening ceremony yesterday? Despite the symbolism of the half-nude dancer on the sugarcube suspended above all that water, which according to the BBC commentator was 'man becomes a logical, spiritual being in quest of knowledge', it is still only a major sporting event that can expose Mahler 3 via TV to an audience of 4 billion. With my naive facility for being wonder-struck, I was blown away by the whole thing and am thoroughly in favour of Mahler being aired in this way, which goodness knows he deserves. The rest of the summer is going to be deathly, with nothing on TV except sport, sport and more sport. Honest to goodness, the BBC had nothing better to do today than show the HUNGARIAN Grand Prix. Excuse me while I vote with the red button at the top and take up a good book instead.
Speaking of good books, my Vilnius thoughts were reawakened today by a conversation with the editor of the Jewish Quarterly, for whom I've written a substantial article about the trip (yes, the editor of the JQ is prepared to work on a Saturday and so, mercifully, am I!). I am now reading The Pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman's memoirs on which the film was based - immensely harrowing. But not nearly as harrowing as the book that Philippe gave me for my birthday last year, 'The Last Days of the Jerusalem of Lithuania' - an 800-page tome of the diary kept by Herman Kruk, a librarian in the Vilna ghetto chronicling, day by day, moment by moment, the descent into destruction, horror and death of 90 per cent of entire community during the Second World War. Kruk, too, was eventually shot. Just before, anticipating his fate, he had buried the manuscript of his diaries in the presence of six witnesses, one of whom later dug them up; they constitute a horrendously vital document.
Oh my, there is a series about Stalin on Channel 4. I shall now go and watch a programme about Soviet genocide...
PS - I've been tinkering with my list of Musician Friends, deciding to limit it to those who have been round to dinner and/or invited us to their place, or with whom we have good intentions about getting together socially if they and we can ever find a moment when we're in the same place at the same time. I've also put the list into alphabetical order, since it was previously random and "there's some as might take their placing amiss". At some point I'll get round to making a list of Musicians I Think Are Interesting, to restore the casualties of these decisions.
Saturday, July 31, 2004
The A major sonata goes like the wind, or ought to. It surges along on waves of ecstasy and elan. It's Faure in love. Honest to goodness, he was in the full flood of a passionate attachment to Marianne Viardot, daughter of the great opera singer Pauline Viardot, and hoped to marry her. The sonata is dedicated to her violinist brother, Paul. The year the sonata was finished, 1877, Faure finally got Marianne to accept his proposal, but she later broke it off. It seems that his ardour frightened her away.
All of that ardour goes into the A major sonata - a bittersweet irony, too, in that its passion seems to be a ferment of white-hot anticipation for a love which was never to be fulfilled. (Faure was heartbroken after Marianne dumped him, but then discovered that there were plenty of other women in Paris who were more than happy to say yes to many things where he was concerned. After his eventual marriage to Marie Fremiet, he became one of those notorious French charmers who across many generations have misinterpreted Marie-Antoinette as having said 'Let them have their cake and eat it'.)
The task facing me here in 2004 is how to get to grips with the flurry of notes that convey these surges of ecstasy. A glance at the metronome marks nearly gave me a heart attack; fortunately Roy Howat's edition for Peters suggests slightly more humane ones. Amazingly, after 16 years, this piece is still somewhere in my fingers - not like starting from scratch at an age when the brain cells are dying off scarily fast. But there's nothing terribly ecstatic about it at the moment. It's a question of practising those pages of rippling quavers for hours, varying the rhythm to develop control on each note, steadying the pulse with a metronome, trying to keep the left hand quiet and let the right hand sing though not enough to obscure the violin (who will take all the credit as per usual). And so on and so forth. If, somewhere in the heart, Faure's ardour can survive the hard slog, then it can survive anything.