The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: More World Cup soccer this weekend means more music by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. Here is installment No. 3.

July 5, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

It is the second-to-last weekend for the FIFA World Cup of soccer -– or football, as the rest of the world calls the sport –- in Brazil, especially now that Brazil has survived by defeating Colombia and that Germany defeated France.

World Cup 2014 playing

As I have said before, for The Ear the famed athletic competition has become a great excuse to explore a composer who is also world-class but whose music is too often overlooked.

I am talking about the 20th-century composer Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. So here is another morsel to whet your appetite, to tease you into listening to — and maybe even playing more of –- the music of Villa-Lobos (below).

Villa-Lobos BW

Once again you can hear how he incorporates folk music – folk songs, tunes and dance rhythms – into his concert hall music. In this one you can even hear how he tries to bring in Bach to Brazil. It is neo-Classicism at its best.

At the bottom is the gorgeous first movement from the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4 for solo piano, as played live by Brazilian native Nelson Freire (seen below with Martha Argerich).

nelsonfreire02

It is slowly and deeply moving, Amazonian Bach that I find is haunting and stays with you, making you want to listen to it again and again. It reminds The Ear of a Chorale Prelude by Johann Sebastian Bach (below), especially the ones reworked in piano transcriptions by Ferruccio Busoni; or maybe a Prelude from The Well-Tempered Clavier or an organ work, perhaps the prelude to a toccata; or maybe even a slow movement from one of the French or English Suites or the Partitas; or one of the variations from the “Goldberg” Variations.

Bach1

Here are links to the Cello Choir concert of the annual Summer National Cello Institute that is held each summer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and that gave rise to the Villa-Lobos postings.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/classical-music-the-ear-takes-the-cello-cure-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-and-now-cant-wait-for-another-treatment-next-summer/

And here are the links to the first two installments that feature the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 and No 1, which both deserve repeated hearings:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/classical-music-the-fifa-world-cup-of-soccer-is-a-perfect-time-to-become-acquainted-with-the-astonishing-music-of-brazilian-composer-heitor-villa-lobos/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/28/classical-music-the-united-states-advances-in-the-world-cup-of-soccer-and-the-ear-advances-to-another-great-moment-in-music-by-brazilian-composer-heitor-villa-lobos/

And finally here is the link to the YouTube video with today’s installment of the greatness of Heitor Villa-Lobos music, the neglect of which is yet another sign of how Eurocentric the concert hall programming usually is:

 


Classical music education: Prize-winning Korean conductor and pianist Myung Whun Chung records an album of music that rewards and encourages piano students.

June 16, 2014
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Spring is the time for year-end piano recitals, for piano teachers and students to show off their stuff as the school year ends.

Lutes 12 Maylynn Hu

If you are looking for something to give a young piano student -– or, for that matter, even an older piano student -– The Ear can’t think of a better gift than a new album from ECM Records.

It is the debut recital of solo piano works by the prize-winning Korean conductor and pianist Myung Whun Chung (below), whose fabulously musical family includes a famous violinist sister and a cellist brother with whom he recorded many famous trios by Antonin Dvorak, Johannes Brahms, Felix Mendelssohn and others. (Below, he is seen conducting at the BBC Proms.)

myung-whun chung

Here is a link to his biography:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myung-whun_Chung

And here is a taste with some description from ECM:

http://player.ecmrecords.com/myung-whun-chung–piano

Myung Whun Chung recital cover

The CD features great sonic engineering. The piano sound is clear and upfront, not overly resonant and not percussive. The treble and bass are well-balanced. And the playing seems relaxed and natural, never tense or forced, whimsical or neurotic.

The album contains a variety of 10 pieces for different levels of playing, though most are for advanced beginners or intermediate students. As Chung explains at the bottom in a YouTube video, he made this album not for pianists, but for young people. We need more of that kind of caring and music education.

Fur Elise’ by Ludwig van Beethoven and Peter Tchaikovsky’s “Autumn Song” lead on to more difficult works like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Variations on “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” as well as two Impromptus from Op. 90 (E-flat Major and G-flat Major) by Franz Schubert and two Nocturnes by Frederic Chopin.

The simpler “Traumerei” from “Scenes of Childhood” by Robert Schumann, which the great virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz always used as a signature encore, leads to the underplayed as well as harder and longer Arabesque by the same composer. (Below is Myung Wha Chung recording at the piano in a photo by Rainer Maillard for ECM Records.)

Myung Whun Chung at piano CR Rainer Maillard ECM Records

So there is a variety of learning levels built-in as a teasing incentive to push on to the next one.

But such playable beauty is its own incentive.

The CD makes clear that great music is not necessarily hard or virtuosic music. Chung’s “Fur Elise” is not rushed, but instead beautiful and unrushed Beethoven at his best.

I also like the way Chung opens the recital slowly with Claude Debussy’s “Clair de lune.” It proves an engaging and inviting way to set the mood, to calm the often hectic and nervy experience of a solo recital. (Below, Chung is seen playing on stage at the plush and warmly Old Word-elegant Teatro La Fenice in Venice in a photo by Sun Chung for ECM Records.)

Myung Whun Chung on stage at Teatro La Fenice in Venice CR Sun Chung ECM Records

You can see why Chung won second prize at the Tchaikovsky International Competition and why he guest conducts so frequently. He is a born musician. This is fine playing, not over-pedaled. Good rhythms and very fine tempi rule the day. And Chung demonstrates a fine use of rubato, or flexible tempi and timings, as well as a legato singing tone.

The album also serves as a reminder to piano students that there is more to music, and to possible professional and even prominent careers in music, than solo playing. The many famous conductors who went on from playing the piano include George Solti, Daniel Barenboim, Leonard Bernstein and, locally, both John DeMain of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Madison Opera, and Andrew Sewell of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

This CD reminds The Ear of the albums “My First Recital” and “My Second Recital” albums by the late Ruth Laredo. They too also had all good pieces, all very well played. The Ear thinks we could use more albums that help show how great musicians started and then got great. As for music education and music appreciation, it serves a similar purpose to Leonard Bernstein’s great “Young People’s Concerts.”

Ruth Laredo BW

Sure, I would have liked to hear something included by Johann Sebastian Bach, who is so essential to learning music — maybe one or two of the Two-Part Inventions that most piano students get to know. Or maybe one of the easier Preludes from “The Well-Tempered Clavier” or a movement from one of the French or English suites.

But then you could also ask for some of the easier Chopin preludes, mazurkas or waltzes, or maybe a Brahms Waltz.

Maybe those will come in a sequel, and maybe by next spring’s recital time.

One can hope –- and listen to this lovely recording while waiting.

But for this lesson, in any case, Myung Whun Chung — seen below in photo by Jean Francois Leclerq for ECM Records– gets a gold star.

Myung Whun Chung CR Jean-Francois Leclerq ECM Records

 

 

 


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