The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Who are the best pianists of all time? And which ones do you think were left off the list by Classic FM?

September 16, 2017
11 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The British radio station and website Classic FM recently published its list of the 25 greatest pianists of all time.

Plus, the website also included samples of the playing where possible.

It is an impressive list, if pretty predictable — and heavily weighted towards modern or contemporary pianists. You might expect that a list of “all-time greats” would have more historical figures — and more women as well as more non-Western Europeans and non-Americans, especially Asians these days.

Here is a link:

http://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/instruments/piano/best-pianists-ever/

So The Ear started what turned out to be a long list of others who should at least be considered and maybe even included.

Here, then, is the question for this weekend: What do you think of the list? Which pianists do not belong on the list? And which are your favorite pianists who are not included in the compilation?

Leave your candidate or candidates in the COMMENT section with a link to a YouTube link of a favorite performance, wherever possible.

Happy listening!

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Classical music: Performers should announce encores

March 25, 2016
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

All around The Ear, even very knowledgeable people were asking:

“What is that piece?”

“Who’s the composer?”

After a recent and superb performance of the Piano Concerto No. 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under its longtime music director John DeMain, the renowned American pianist Emanuel Ax (below), who received a well-deserved standing ovation, played an encore.

And he played it beautifully.

Emanuel Ax portrait 2016

But he was negligent in one way.

He didn’t announce what the encore was.

So most of the audience was left wondering and guessing.

Now, The Ear knew the composer and piece because The Ear is an avid amateur pianist and knows the piano repertoire pretty well.

The encore in question was the Valse Oubliée No. 1 in F-sharp Major by Franz Liszt, which used to be more popular and more frequently heard than it is now. (You can hear it below played by Arthur Rubinstein in a YouTube video.)

On previous nights, Ax – who is a friendly, informed, articulate and talkative guy — also had apparently not announced the encores. But on Friday night it was the Waltz No. 2 in A minor by Frederic Chopin and on Saturday night is was the Nocturne in F-sharp major, Op. 15, No. 2, also by Chopin. Chopin is a composer who is a specialty of Ax, as you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom, which features his encore in an unusual setting pertaining to the Holocaust.

It’s a relatively small annoyance, but The Ear really thinks that performers ought to announce encores. Audiences have a right to know what they are about to hear or have just heard. It is just a matter of politeness and concert etiquette, of being audience-friendly.

Plus it is fun to hear the ordinary speaking voice of the artist, even if it is only just briefly to announce a piece of music, as you can hear below with Ax discussing the three concerts in Carnegie Hall that he did to celebrate the bicentennials of Chopin and Robert Schumann.

And it isn’t just a matter of big names or small names.

Emanuel Ax is hardly alone.

A partial list this season of performers who did NOT announce encores include violinist Benjamin Beilman, who played with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra; violist Nobuko Imai, who performed with the Pro Arte Quartet; pianist Maurizio Pollini in a solo recital in Chicago; and a UW professor who played a work by Robert Schumann that even The Ear didn’t know.

Performing artists who DID announce encores — many of then by Johann Sebastian Bach — included pianist Joyce Yang at the Wisconsin Union Theater; violinist James Ehnes and cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio, both with the Madison Symphony Orchestra; UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor, who played sick but nonetheless announced and commented humorously on his encore by Scott Joplin, “The Wall Street Rag”; and violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky, who played recently with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

So it seems like there is no consistent standard that concert artists learn or adopt about handling encores. The Ear’s best guess is that it is just a personal habit the performers get used to over time.

But the Ear sure wishes that all performing artists would announce encores, program changes or additions.

It just makes the concert experience more fun and informative as well as less frustrating.

Is The Ear alone?

Do you prefer that artists announce or not announce their encores?

Or doesn’t it matter to you?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: French avant-garde composer Pierre Boulez turns 90. Do you find his music both radical and sensual?

March 29, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Once the enfant terrible of new music, French composer Pierre Boulez (below in 2011 in a photo by Martin Schalk of Getty Images) turned 90 on Thursday.

pierre boulez at 90 (2011) Matin Schalk Getty Images

But now Pierre Boulez is part of the establishment. (You can hear him discuss his approach to music, and how it differs from the 12-tone composers and atonal composers, in a YouTube video at the bottom. Somehow, I find his music more interesting to discuss than to listen to.)

Maybe you were lucky enough to attend the special concert marking the event last Friday night at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. (The Ear was unable to go.) It was organized and hosted by Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill), a French-trained bassoonist who teaches at the UW-Madison and who once worked with Boulez.

Marc Vallon 2011 James Gill (baroque & modern)[2]

A lot of musicians live in awe of Boulez, who has been very influential in the development of new music. They include the Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini (below top), who championed his work early on, and the American conductor David Robertson (below bottom) who does so today.

Polliniplaying

David Robertson

Perhaps the best summary of Boulez (below, in a photo from his younger years from Sony Music) is the one that was researched and written by Tom Huizenga for the Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR (National Public Radio).

pierre boulez younger with scorers Sony Music

It features audio samples from Boulez’ orchestral and instrumental works, from his masterpieces and his unknown works.

To be honest, I prefer the modernist Boulez who, as the music director of the Cleveland Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducts and records the music of Gustav Mahler and Claude Debussy. He definitely has a point of view that clarified the older music. I like his interpretations more than I like his compositions.

I am willing to admit that his music, his modernist esthetic, is important.

But I don’t think I would go so far as to call his music “sensual.” Radical, yes. But I find the sound too jagged and rough to be sensual, despite it being French. Sensual, for me, means pleasurable. And pleasurable is not an adjective I, personally, would use to describe the music of Boulez.

But then maybe I am just being overly insensitive.

Anyway, read the NPR story and listen to the samples, and then tell us how you perceive Pierre Boulez and his music.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/03/26/395318157/the-sensuous-radical-pierre-boulez-at-90

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival’s exploration of keyboard miniatures by Chopin and Scarlatti proves beautifully compelling and teases one’s desire to attend one of the two remaining concerts on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Plus, read two reviews of the festival’s opening concert.

August 29, 2014
3 Comments

ALERTS: The Ear wasn’t able to attend the opening concert last weekend of the 25th annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival in the refurbished barn (below). But here are reviews by two local critics who did.

Here is a review by John W. Barker for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/daily/article.php?article=43447&sid=9664bddf418a3137f76a449de690c285

Here is a review by Greg Hettmansberger for the Classically Speaking blog of Madison Magazine:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/August-2014/The-25th-Token-Creek-Chamber-Music-Festival-Happy-Anniversary-From-Start-To-Finish/

TokenCreekbarn interior

By Jacob Stockinger

As usually happens at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, the concert of the second program on Wednesday night was a collaborative effort in exploration.

In this case, three key players participated: returning guest pianist Judith Gordon, who is now a professor at Smith College; Pulitzer Prize-winner and MacArthur Foundation “genius” award-winning composer, MIT teacher and co-artistic director John Harbison, who never fails to illuminate the music with his insightful brief commentaries; and co-artistic director and violinist Rose Mary Harbison, who programmed part of the concert as well as performed.

Rose Mary Harbison (below) also played the famous “Spring” Sonata for violin and piano, which John Harbison said pointed to how Ludwig van Beethoven — who aimed for the epic rather than the miniature — checked out the achievements of contemporaries and then figured out his own way to enter the mainstream.

Rose Mary Harbison also partnered with Gordon in a theme-and-variations piece by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, a piece The Ear found a little bit charming and a lot underwhelming.

Rose Mary Harbison plays Spring 2014

Then, on both halves of the program, came music by Frederic Chopin and Domenico Scarlatti.

In the very capable hands of Judith Gordon (below), those two composers proved to be the axis of the program and a fascinating coupling.

Judith Gordon plays 2014

The two composers, one Baroque and the other Romantic, were chosen because they both focused on smaller-scale works. Exiled from his native Italy and isolated in courts in Portugal and Spain, Scarlatti (below) wrote 550 keyboard sonatas of astonishing variety, color and virtuosity.

Domenico Scarlatti muted

Chopin (below), on the other hand, turned inward in the bustling artistic scene and intellectual ferment of Paris, and focused on smaller forms -– none smaller than the Preludes played at Token Creek. They seem a kind of Rosetta Stone for deconstructing and understanding the structure of the rest of Chopin’s output; or perhaps they are like a Table of Contents, abbreviated guides to, or outlines or preparatory sketches of, so many other works.

Chopinphoto

But in both cases, as John Harbison explained clearly, the two composers narrowed down their ambitions to achieve the kind of unique and idiosyncratic achievements or originality that many other composers can only dream of achieving. They were like poets who find freedom in the formal confines of the sonnet form.

John Harbison picked two pairs of Scarlatti sonatas for Gordon to perform: one early pair in E major (one is the famous calling card of Vladimir Horowitz in a YouTube video at the bottom) to show Scarlatti at his compositional planning phase with pretty regular development; and two late ones in F-Sharp minor to show how later in life Scarlatti increasingly sounded as if he made things up as he went along.

For her part, Rose Mary Harbison selected two sets of six preludes each by Chopin -– he wrote 24 as a set, then added a posthumously published one –- to demonstrate much the same effect: the contrary moods and Chopin’s extraordinary gift for compression and brevity, for his ability to make a 30-second piece sound complete or whole, as if it has a beginning, middle and end. (At the bottom is a YouTube performance of one of the loveliest preludes on the program, the mini-Nocturne in F-Sharp Major, in a live performance by Maurizio Pollini.)

The compare-and-contrast strategy worked very well, as was demonstrated not only in performance but also in a Q&A-type interview (below) that Judith Gordon did with John Harbison.

Judith Gordon and John Harbison 2014

The Ear will long remember the unusual coupling, which is often the way Token Creek goes about programming unexpected matches, for the insight they shed on both composers, whose works, as it happens, I myself like to play on the piano.

It also tells us what to look for and to value at Token Creek: Unusual and unexpected approaches that yield unforgettable results.

Two more performances remain in this summer’s season, on Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., and they will feature the pianist husband-and-wife team of Harvard Professor Robert Levin and Ya-Fei Chuang performing music by Franz Schubert, C.P.E. Bach and Maurice Ravel as well as Rose Mary Harbison in the knockout Violin Sonata by Claude Debussy, his last work and one of his best.

Here is a link for more information and tickets:

http://tokencreekfestival.org

This year the festival is celebrating both its own 25th anniversary and the 300th anniversary of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (below).

carl philipp emanuel bach

To history, the C.P.E. Bach anniversary no doubt matters more.

To my ears, however, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival anniversary matters more.

And despite C.P.E. Bach, whose music will by and large remain on my record shelf and not in my CD player, the night belonged to Domenico Scarlatti and Frederic Chopin.

It is not easy to shed new light on old masterpieces, but that is exactly what the Harbisons and Judith Gordon managed to do.

What can one say but: Thank You!

 


Classical music: University of Wisconsin-Madison bassoonist Marc Vallon and saxophonist-clarinetist Les Thimmig will revive an homage to French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez in a FREE concert Friday evening that mixes Baroque and and new music.

March 31, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Bassoonist Marc Vallon and saxophonist-clarinetist Les Thimmig, who both teach and perform at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, are emerging as two of the most interesting, eclectic faculty members, who display a variety of gifts and talents, at the UW School of Music.

Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill) not only performs bassoon music from the Baroque and Classical eras, he is also a conductor who will lead two performances later this month of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Mass in B Minor” for the Madison Bach Musicians.

Marc Vallon 2011 James Gill (baroque & modern)[2]

Thimmig plays jazz as well as classics, and recently finished his three-concert exploration of trios by the American composer Morton Feldman.

Les Thimmig color

Here are the details that were sent by Marc Vallon to The Ear:

“Hi Jake,

“I thought I would let you know about my next musical adventure.

“In the 1960s, French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez (below) had a group, called Le Domaine Musical, that played contemporary music mixed with early music by Bach, Dufay and Guillaume de Machaut — unusual music for the time.

Pierre Boulez

“As an homage, Les Thimmig and I are reviving the concept in a FREE concert on this coming Friday, April 4, at 6:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall.

“The program will feature music by Alban Berg, Luciano Berio, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Boulez, and includes Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 on period instruments.

The program includes Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, Op.5 (1920), by Alban Berg (below top); Twelve Notations (1945, in a piano version performed by Maurizio Pollini in a YouTube video at the bottom) by Pierre Boulez (born 1925); “D’un geste apprivoisé” for bassoon and tape (1997) by Jose-Luis Campana  (born 1949); and ) “Sequenza VII” for oboe (1969) by Luciano Berio (below bottom, 1925-2003).

alban berg

Luciano Berio

After intermission, we will perform “Kontra-punkte for 10 instruments” (1953) by Karlheinz Stockhausen (below top, 1928-2007); and the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 (dedicated in 1721) by Johann Sebastian Bach (below bottom, 1685-1750).

karlheinz stockhausen knobs

 Bach1

There will be a presentation of the pieces and an introduction to “Kontra-Punkte” by Lee Blasius (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), who teaches music theory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Lee Blasius Katrin Talbot

The performers include: Mi-Li Chang, flute; Kirstin Ihde, piano; Sung Yang Sara Giusti, piano; Kai-Ju Ho, clarinet; Les Thimmig, bass clarinet; Mary Perkinson, Baroque and modern violin; Eric Miller, baroque and modern cello; Joe Greer, trombone; Jessica Jensen, trumpet; Rosalie Gilbert, harp; Ross Duncan, bassoon; Kangwon Kim and Nate Giglierano, baroque violin; Sally Chisholm, Ilana Schroeder and Erin Brooks, baroque viola; Martha Vallon, Anton ten Wolde, Baroque cello; John Chappell Stowe; harpsichord; and Marc Vallon, bassoon.

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Classical music: Today is Thanksgiving. Which composer, or piece of music, or performer, do you most give thanks for?

November 22, 2012
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.

I give thanks for all kinds of music and don’t know how I would live without music. I think of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (below) and his observation in “The Twilight of the Gods”: “Life without music would be a mistake.”

But is there a special reason for or object of my gratitude?

It can and does change from year to year, from age to age, from mood to mood, and from event to event.

But at any given moment there is usually a piece of music for which I give special thanks, music that seems to embody and enhance and grace my existence. Bach and Mozart have done it. So have Chopin and Schumann. Beethoven does it, but to a lesser degree generally.

These days the composer that I, as a devoted amateur pianist, most give thanks for is Franz Schubert (1797-1828), and the pieces by Schubert I most give thanks for are two.

First comes the big last Piano Sonata in B-Flat Major, D. 960, which I can’t play, but the poignant and haunting beginning of which – to say nothing of the rest of the sonata  — is especially moving and memorable as performed by Alfred Brendel in his “Farewell Concert” for Decca recording and by Murray Perahia in a Sony Classical set of the last three piano sonatas.

Second comes the miniature “Allegretto” in C Minor, D. 915, also a very late and intimately bittersweet work, which I can play, and which I enjoy as performed by Paul Lewis (on Harmonium Mundi, below) and Maurizio Pollini (on Deutsche Grammophon).

I find Schubert’s warmth and sense of empathy so very touching. His sublime melodies, his sudden major-minor harmony shifts, his sense of accessible counterpoint, his blending of joy and tragedy -– they all are irresistible. Schubert’s music contains worlds, and reassuring worlds at a time when I need to be reassured, and at a time when I also think the world needs to be reassured.

And there is so much music to choose from: the hundreds of fabulous songs and song cycles; the late string quartets, the otherworldly String Quintet, the Octet and the “Trout” Quintet; the Sonatas, Impromptus and Moments Musicaux for solo piano.

 

In a similar way, famed New York Times senior music critic Anthony Tommasini (below) touched on this same theme in a “Musical Moments” column that he published last week and in which he talked about longtime favorite passages or moments in music by Chopin, Wagner, Puccini and Stravinsky. He even coupled his thoughts to short audio-visual clips he made especially to accompany the column.

You should read and listen to the column, plus pay attention to the more than 600 reader comments:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/18/arts/music/anthony-tommasinis-musical-moments.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

And here are links to the short videos that he did to go with his column:

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/16/musical-moments-what-moves-us/

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/19/musical-moments-part-ii-a-new-video-on-mahler/

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/20/musical-moments-part-iii-two-operas/

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/21/musical-moments-part-iv-stravinskys-symphony-of-psalms/

And just as Anthony Tommasini asked you for your favorite moments, I am also asking you to leave something in the COMMENT section with the name of the composer or piece of music for which you are most giving thanks this Thanksgiving.

Let me know what they are.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!


Classical music: During “Schumann Week” at NPR’s “Deceptive Cadence” blog, American pianist Jonathan Biss excelled in exploring and explaining the music and life of the prototypical Romantic composer.

October 21, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s not as if the music of Robert Schumann (1810-1856) hasn’t found a secure place in the repertoire. His piano music, chamber music, songs and orchestral music are all pretty standard fare and are performed and heard often.

And yet Robert Schumann (below, in a photo from 1850), who started out as a music critic and would-be concert pianist before turning to composing, still remains an enigmatic figure whose personal life and musical compositions offer many mysteries to explore. This is especially true of the role of his mental illness and the quality of his late-life compositions.

Two weeks ago, NPR and its terrific blog “Deceptive Cadence” offered a mini-seminar on Schumann. It used many audio samples, including playing and insightful commentary by the contributor Jonathan Biss (below, in a photo by Jillian Edelstein) and others, including Maurizio Pollini, Sviatoslav Richter, Andras Schiff and Radu Lupu.

The young American pianist has recorded several outstanding CDs for EMI of major solo piano works of Schumann. His latest release is a terrific new recording of Schumann’s upbeat and extroverted Piano Quintet, coupled with Dvorak’s Piano Quintet, with the Elias String Quartet for the Onyx label).

Biss has also just published an outstandingly informative and personally revealing e-book on Schumann called “A Pianist Under the Influence” (below, $1.99 at amazon.com). Biss has also launched a season-long major project and international 30-concert tour — called “Schumann: Under the Influence” — of performing Schumann’s works with other instrumentalists and singers.

Biss also played the piano for NPR, which offers samples on its website.

HERE ARE THE SELECTIONS OR TOPICS OF THE WEEK-LONG EXPLORATION, IN ORDER FROM TOP TO BOTTOM EQUALING FIRST TO LAST. THE EAR LEARNED A LOT ABOUT SCHUMANN AND HOPES YOU DO TOO.

Five Things You Didn’t Know About Schumann, with some audio samples to highlight the discussion:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/09/20/161482421/5-things-you-never-knew-about-schumann

Pianist and Schumann enthusiast Jonathan Biss Shoots Down Schumann Detractors:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/09/26/161810687/jonathan-biss-shooting-down-the-schumann-detractors

How the Schumann’s  (below) – Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck — used an unusual joint written Journal more than conversation to communicate:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/09/26/161842022/jonathan-biss-meet-the-schumanns-and-their-cryptic-communications

How Schumann created and furthered a Culture of Musical Nostalgia:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/09/26/161847811/jonathan-biss-schumanns-culture-of-musical-nostalgia

I love Schumann’s sense of bittersweet melody and harmony, his sense of longing and search for belonging, and have many favorite pieces.

But perhaps my most favorite work is the second section of “Kreisleriana,” which is about his longing for Clara before they were married and which was dedicated to Chopin. (Chopin dedicated his Ballade No. 2 to Schumann, and Chopin’s career was launched early by published praise from Schumann, who was writing as a critic.)

Perhaps because I heard it early on, I find the performance by Martha Argerich particularly moving. Here is that movement performed by Argerich. (Biss’ outstanding and beautiful recording of the complete “Kreisleriana,” which runs to more than 33 minutes, is also available on YouTube.):


Classical music: Pianist and blogger Jeremy Denk gives the best account of a making a recording that I have ever read or expect to read.

February 7, 2012
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

One of the highlights of the last concert season in Madison was the appearance by pianist Jeremy Denk (below) at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

Denk, you may recall, played the same mammoth program here that earned him praise and astonishment when he played it at Carnegie Hall, and on short notice as a fill-in for Maurizio Pollini: J.S. Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations followed by Charles Ives’ Piano Sonata No. 1. (At Carnegie, I think it was Ives’ second sonata, the famous “Concord” Sonata he played.)

He also gave a supremely articulate, accessible and convincing lecture about pedaling in Chopin at the University of Wisconsin School of Music (below).

And at the Wisconsin Union Theater he took part in a public workshop on blogging (The Ear got to participate) and gave an insightful  master class to young piano students (below). Look at his blog “Think Denk” and you will see why. He writes very well and very knowledgeably about music and matters related to music.

Here is a link to his blog, the latest entry of which discusses what I talk about below:

http://jeremydenk.net/blog/

But if you need more proof, I suggest you read his account in the most recent issue (Feb. 6, 2012) of The New Yorker Magazine, where classical music blogger and big-name guru Alex Ross (author of “The Rest Is Noise”) has openly expressed his admiration for Denk and may have played, I suspect, some role in getting Denk’s story published.

In “Flight of the Concord,” with great detail and subtlety, with humor and philosophy as well as self-deprecating criticism, Denk writes up a recording session that is simply the best account of a recording session I have ever read—or expect to read.

It covers everything from finding the right interpretation of the music to be recorded (Ives, in this case, hence the wordplay headline): discussing the role of recorded versus live music; waking up the morning of the recording session; shopping for food to get you through the grueling ordeal of a recording session; dealing with piano repairs and tune-ups; and reacting to the recording many weeks after it has been made. And it isn’t full of jargon and Music Speak.

Here is a link:

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/02/06/120206fa_fact_denk

The article is also particularly well timed because Denk will perform Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 next Thursday in Carnegie Hall and has just released a chart-topping, all-French album of violin sonatas (“French Impressions” on Sony, below) that he made with superstar violinist Jeremy Bell. (Indeed, several years ago, Denk made his debut in Madison as the partner of Joshua Bell in a memorable recital.)

By the way, it is a great recording – with wonderfully muscular reading of French precision, subtlety and finery that remains convincingly French. The piano-violin balance is superb and the repertoire is sure-fire:  Sonata No. 1 by Saint-Saens, and the bluesy Sonata by Ravel’s Sonata and Franck’s famous Violin Sonata in A major.

But Denk has also recorded another album of violin and chamber music as well as a CD of both Ives sonatas and the last three Partitas of J.S. Bach.

The Ear hopes this promising young artist records a lot more repertoire, both contemporary and traditional. His combination of passion and intelligence is rare and welcome. And he is a really nice guy, which I can say speaking from personal experience. It says something that he gave a wonderful performance here even after his laptop, with so many notes and research, was stolen the day before he performed. That is poise!

Here is a link to a great, well written and colorful profile of Denk — an unabashed Francophile in many areas, but especially literature — that appeared in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/03/arts/music/03denk.html?pagewanted=all

And here is a sample of Denk’s playing — Ligeti — and a sample of his commentary:


Classical music: This past Thursday, January 5th, was a big day for modern piano giants and birthday boys Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Alfred Brendel and Maurizio Pollini. Have fun and hear them at their best.

January 7, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

This past Thursday, January 5th, was a big day for classical pianists, with three of the most famous ones of the 20th and 21st centuries celebrating important birthdays.

Can you guess which three pianos virtuosos we are talking about?

They are: Maurizio Pollini, who turned 70 (below):

Alfred Brendel, who turned 81 (below):

And the late Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (below) who would have turned  92:

Here is a link to a site at NPR with the answers and three sample videos of the three keyboard titans playing.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/01/05/144731123/happy-birthday-mr-pollini-and-mr-brendel-and-you-mr-michelangeli

And here is a link to something I really like — a story about and appreciation of Pollini that includes the special set of recordings that  Deutsche Grammophon has reissued to mark Pollini’s birthday:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/tomserviceblog/2012/jan/05/maurizio-pollini-70th-birthday-tribute

And here is the DG press release about the boxed sets, which are go on sale Jan. 10:

2012 is a momentous year for famed Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini: not only will he celebrate his 70th birthday (January 5) but the year also marks the 60th anniversary of his first public performance. (Early in his career, Pollini also studied with Michelangeli.)

“His career has spanned two generations of pianists and audiences and he continues today performing throughout North America, Europe and Asia.  Deutsche Grammophon’s relationship with the pianist extends back to his Yellow Label debut in 1971 and continues today.

“To celebrate these milestones Deutsche Grammophon has prepared a number of retrospective releases and looks forward to new recordings.

“The Art of Maurizio Pollini” (below, available January 10) is a 3-CD, deluxe package set which chronicles the breadth of Pollini’s performance and recording career. The limited-edition hardcover set includes repertoire chosen personally by Pollini and consists of complete works (not extracts) ranging from Stravinsky’s “Petrushka” and Chopin’s Op. 25 Études to complete concertos by Beethoven and Mozart.  As an added bonus, DG has included the 1960 performance of Chopin’s First Piano Concerto from the International Chopin Competition – a performance that ensured Pollini’s victory at the young age of only 18.  Click here for the complete tracklisting.

Though Pollini has not wanted to be termed a “specialist” of any one type of music, he has remained fascinated over the past 50 years notably with the music of Chopin and works written in the 20th-century.  Although the two seem rather different they speak to Pollini’s curiosity and his artistically rich childhood.

“I grew up in a house with art and artists,” Pollini told The Guardian’s Nicholas Wroe. “Old works and modern works co-existed together as part of life. It went without saying.” Here is a link to the complete story by Nicholas Wroe:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2011/jan/01/maurizio-pollini-interview-nicholas-wroe

To honor these passions Deutsche Grammophon has already released two box sets: Chopin and 20th Century.  The Chopin box (below, 9 CDs) includes complete recordings of Études, Préludes, Polonaises, Sonatas Nos. 2 and 3, Nocturnes and much more.  Click here for complete information on the Chopin box.

The 20th Century box (below, 6 CDs) includes Pollini’s debut for the Yellow Label and works from composers such as Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Webern, Boulez, Nono, Manzoni, Schoenberg, Bartók and Debussy.  Click here for complete information on the 20th Century box.

Late last year, Deutsche Grammophon released Pollini’s third recording of the Brahms Piano Concerto no. 1 in D minor, op. 15 (below).  For this live recording Pollini was joined, for the first time on DG, by Christian Thielemann and the Staatskapelle Dresden.  This unique collaboration brought together two musical giants for one very special event.  This concerto is the same work that Pollini performed for his Staatskapelle debut in 1976 and 35 years later his interpretation has inevitably grown and changed.  Since that debut he has performed the work with a number of great maestros including Karl Böhm and Claudio Abbado, both of whom Pollini has previously recorded the work with on the Yellow Label.

Together Deutsche Grammophon and Pollini look forward to a new recording of works by Chopin for release later this year.  Chopin has always figured prominently in the pianist’s career and he constantly strives to find new and different meanings within the works.  At a recent recital The Guardian wrote: “… he still plays Chopin with the ease that floored even Rubinstein more than 50 years ago…”

Deutsche Grammophon is proud of its lengthy and continuing relationship with Maurizio Pollini and celebrates his tremendous artistry on the occasion of his 70th birthday.

www.deutschegrammophon.com

Check out the link on both stories.

Enjoy.

Which of the three pianists do you like the most?

Do you have favorite performances by each of them?

Let us know which pieces and which recordings?


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