By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also provided the performance photos.
By John W. Barker
The Salon Piano Series offered by Farley’s House of Pianos on Madison’s far west side continues to be a project of imagination and inspiration, with concerts offering a range of visiting performers and unusual repertoire.
It was quality and quantity in the program offered on Friday night, which was then repeated the following evening. A team of four—count ‘em, four— highly accomplished pianists, who are used to performing together as a team, gave a remarkable concert of multi-piano splendor.
The four (below, from left) are: Spaniard Daniel del Pino, Canadian Lucille Chung, Israeli Alon Goldstein and Italian Roberto Plano. Their collaborative facility is linked to utter enthusiasm in their work.
For this program, Farley’s assembled four superlative instruments. Three are vintage Mason & Hamlin pianos, one made in 1907, the other two dating from 1914; plus a Steinway grand made in 1940. The array of these instruments—all four in the center of the salon, with circles of chairs all around for the audience—was itself an inspiration, and a fine success.
The opening piece was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Sonata in D Major, K. 381, for piano four hands, a kind of “miniature” introduction, and beautifully played by Chung and Goldstein at the Steinway.
“All hands,” as it were, then turned out for the remainder of the program.
A four-piano arrangement of the Dance Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns was knowingly made in 1874 by Ernest Giraud, a contemporary and colleague of the composer.
This was followed by a more recent effort, a Fantasy on Themes from Bizet’s “Carmen” (1994) contrived by the distinguished Mormon musician Mack Wilbert. Both of those works built up spectacular effects of sound and color, in music certainly familiar in their original forms.
Also familiar, of course, is Maurice Ravel’s Boléro, played in this program in a four-piano arrangement by Jacques Drillon (1992). Here, I felt that such an arrangement was a bit forced. All those hands made the repeated rhythmic foundation that much more pounding and more relentless than in the orchestral original, while the colors available from the pianos could not quite match the wonderful varieties that Ravel could draw from his wider range of orchestral instruments.
Particularly disappointing, I found, was a four-piano expansion (1886) by Richard Kleinmichel of Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. While the single-piano original is dense, its division among four players was mainly a matter of doubling up the players on the same parts: more analytic than the original, this treatment does not really improve anything.
As an encore, the four delivered a Horowitzian transcription of John Philip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever. (You can hear Vladimir Horowitz perform it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Responding to endless audience enthusiasm, the four then sat down together at the Steinway to play a Galopp by one Albert Lavignac, written for one piano, eight hands. The four players had a ball climbing all over each other to do this novelty piece as intended.
One interesting feature of the program was the opportunity to hear and compare these four fine pianos against each other. And the four performers added to the experience by constantly rotating who played which instrument.
To my ears, the Mason & Hamlin instruments could deliver a marvelous richness and power. But the Steinway could combine those qualities with an added brilliance and coloristic range.
But, then, that was to my ears.
Whatever, a dazzling keyboard evening was had by all.
ALERTS: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the historic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meeting House of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, features the Mad Reeds Trio. The group’s members are: Laura Medisky, oboe; Bethany Schultz, clarinet; and Cindy Cameron-Fix, bassoon. They will perform music by Georges Auric, Alexander Tansman and Damian Montano.
Then on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., in the same venue, a recital by harpsichordist Mark Shuldiner. April 9, 7:30 p.m. will feature works by Jean-Henri D’Anglebert, Louis Couperin, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Bernardo Storace and Girolamo Frescobaldi.
It is a free concert, but donations will be accepted to benefit Madison Music Makers, which helps underserved children study music.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has always found the weekend afternoons are good times for concerts. One is usually both relaxed and attentive. And indeed, both the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and Edgewood College often schedule appealing concerts at an afternoon time.
They are not alone. As an aside, The Ear recalls that Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. was the preferred time for famed piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz, who felt that then both he and the audience were at their optimum.
Anyway, this weekend there are two FREE chamber music concerts that The Ear wants to draw your attention to.
On Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, the Perlman Piano Trio (below) will perform its only concert of the season.
The program, all masterpieces, features the Piano Trio in E Major, K. 542, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44, by Robert Schumann; and the Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 101, by Johannes Brahms.
The trio of scholarship winners, funded by retired chemist Dr. Kato Perlman, consists of Adam Dorn, violin (below left); SeungWha Baek, piano (below center); and Micah Cheng, cello. For the quintet, the trio will be joined by Keisuke Yamamoto on the violin and Luke Carmichael Valmadrid on the viola.
Here is a link with more information:
And here is more background from A Tempo, the music blog at the UW-Madison compiled and written by concert manager and publicity director Katherine Esposito:
“It’s my first piano trio,” says violinist Adam Dorn, a Minneapolis native. “It’s very high-caliber playing, very different from anything I’ve ever done. And being given a scholarship to do something that you love is amazing.”
The trio is coached by Martha Fischer, UW-Madison professor of collaborative piano, and Parry Karp, UW-Madison cellist of the Pro Arte Quartet.
A reception will follow the concert.
Then on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) will give a FREE concert of some interesting rarities.
The program features UW-Madison guest soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn (below top), in a work by Ottorino Respighi plus another Respighi work, the Doric Quartet, and the String Quartet No. 3 by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (below bottom), the Viennese-Czech Jewish composer and child prodigy who was exiled in Hollywood when he fled Hitler, the Nazis and World War II and who made his name and livelihood by composing popular film scores and compositions that won Oscar and Grammy awards.
You can hear the lovely slow movement of Korngold’s String Quartet No. 3 in the YouTube video at the bottom.
To The Ear, the Korngold work seems an especially fitting choice for the Pro Arte Quartet, which was founded in Brussels, Belgium, and itself was exiled in Wisconsin when Hitler invaded its homeland.
The quartet, which had come to play in the Wisconsin Union Theater the complete cycle of string quartets by Ludwig van Beethoven, was then offered a job as artists-in-residence at the UW-Madison — the first such appointment anywhere for a musical group — and it has remained here ever since. It is now more than 100 years old, making the Pro Arte Quartet the oldest string quartet in history.
Here is a link with more information:
By Jacob Stockinger
Two concerts at the UW-Madison this week are especially noteworthy:
A winner of the bronze medal at the 1993 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Taylor (below, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson) concertizes around the world to rave reviews, especially for his performances of modern or contemporary music.
This Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Taylor will perform a more tradition recital, but with a still noteworthy program made up of Baroque and Romantic music.
He is known as an interpreter of that music too since he has performed all 32 piano sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven and the Franz Liszt transcriptions of the nine symphonies by Beethoven. (You can hear Taylor play the opening of the Famous Fifth Symphony at a festival in Russia in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Plus, Taylor is known for playing the “Goldberg” Variations, by Johann Sebastian Bach, on a special double keyboard piano that he has tinkered with and refined or improved upon, and which is now being built.
In the upcoming recital Taylor will perform the French Suite No. 1 in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach; the rarely played Piano Sonata No. 1 by Johannes Brahms; and the even more rarely played compete Twelve Etudes, Op. 8, of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin. (The etudes include the last one in D-sharp minor that was a favorite of pianist Vladimir Horowitz.)
Tickets are $15. Students get admitted free.
For more information, visit:
Then on Saturday night, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the critically acclaimed Wisconsin Brass Quintet will perform a FREE concert of music by a variety of older composers and works as well as living composers and new music.
Members of the Wisconsin Brass Quintet (WBQ, below, in a photography by Michael R. Anderson) are, from left: Mark Hetzler, trombone; Matthew Onstad, trumpet; Tom Curry, tuba; John Aley, trumpet; Daniel Grabois, horn.
The program is: Sonatine by Eugène Bozza (1905-1981); Allegretto Pizzicato by Béla Bartók (1881-1945); Madrigaux Slaves by Ivan Jevtić (1947- ); Morning Music by David Sampson (1951-); Contrapunctus IX from “The Art of Fugue” by Johann Sebastian Bach (1695-1750); Elegy by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975, arranged by UW-Madison emeritus professor of tuba and euphonium and a nationally recognized composer John Stevens); and Music for Brass Instruments by Ingolf Dahl (1912-1970) with special guest Tom Kelley, bass trombone.
A native of Appleton, Wisconsin, Tom Kelley is a junior at UW-Madison studying trombone performance under Professor Mark Hetzler. At the UW_Madison, Kelley has performed with the Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra, Wind Ensemble, Jazz Orchestra, Blue Note Ensemble, Low Brass Ensemble and a number of chamber groups.
He has also played outside the university in groups such as the Rock River Philharmonic and the Darren Sterud Jazz Orchestra. In the summer of 2015, Kelley attended the Sewanee Summer Music Festival where he won the Jacqueline Avent Concerto Competition. He enjoys biking, cooking and binge-watching TV and movies.
For general background on the Wisconsin Brass Quintet:
ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held 12:15-1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature sopranos Susan Savage Day and Rebekah Demaree with pianist Sharon Jensen in duets by Gabriel Faure, Jacques Aubert, Jules Massenet, Claudio Monteverdi, UW-Madison alumnus Lee Hoiby and more.
By Jacob Stockinger
There he was last Thursday, sitting in the lower balcony in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater.
The Ear was in Piano Himmel, listening to a masterful performance.
And the same thought haunted The Ear, himself an avid amateur pianist, that also came to him during a fine student piano recital this summer.
That thought was simply this: Madison needs to have many more solo piano recitals.
The piano is perhaps the one most commonly studied musical instrument and is a staple of music education, so the potential audience should be there. The repertoire is vast and wonderful. And the piano just hasn’t been receiving its due compared to the many new choral groups and chamber music ensembles that always seem to be proliferating in the area.
The Wise Teacher recalls years ago when almost a dozen solo piano recitals happened during a single season. This season there are only three -– and two have already taken place.
One was the recital of Mendelssohn, Franck and Chopin by Spanish pianist Daniel del Pino (below top) on Oct. 4 at Farley’s House of Pianos on its Salon Piano Series. (The Ear couldn’t go because he is was in Chicago that afternoon hearing a piano recital by Maurizio Pollini.) The second was by Joyce Yang. The third one will be the performance by UW-Madison virtuoso professor Christopher Taylor (below bottom) on Friday, Feb 26. (No program has yet been announced.)
Let’s be clear: This is a matter more of pleasure and education than of justice.
Take Yang’s performance, which drew an unfortunately small house of only 300-400.
The first half was remarkable for both the clarity and color she possessed. Ethnic themes, folk songs and folk dances, especially Latin American and Spanish in nature, united the first half of her program.
She opened with two sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, the three “Estampes” or Prints by Claude Debussy and two pieces from “Iberia” by Isaac Albeniz and three virtuosic “cowboy” dances by the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera.
In all those works, Yang proved a complete and mature keyboard artist. Her technique is rock solid, but it is her musicality that most impresses the listener. The Ear was particularly struck by Yang’s command of dynamics, her ability to play softly and still project, and to delineate and balance various voices.
The second half, all works by Sergei Rachmaninoff, proved less satisfying to The Ear, if not to the audience. It featured two transcriptions of vocal works or songs — “Dreams” and “Vocalise” — by the late American virtuoso pianist Earl Wild (below).
Unfortunately, Wild himself possessed a Lisztean (or Horowitzean) command of keyboard technique. And like Franz Liszt (or Vladimir Horowitz), Wild just couldn’t resist adding Liberace-like flourishes, flash and trash to his transcriptions in places where simplicity rather than Big Chords would have more than sufficed.
At certain points in a Wild transcription, the work inevitably sounds louche or decadent and over-the-top, like something you might hear at a piano bar or in a cocktail lounge. In short, they are more piano than music. (You can listen to Earl Wild himself performing his own transcription of Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Then came the Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor by Rachmaninoff (below) in its revised 1931 edition. To be honest, this is a Big Piece that is full of sound and fury signifying not very much that The Ear can discern. (The Ear much prefers Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos, preludes and Etudes Tableaux.)
To be sure, the bombastic sonata requires impressive and powerful piano playing, which must explain the muscular work’s popularity among professional pianists and certain segments of the public. It is a Wower and wow us it does, although many of us would rather be seduced than wowed.
The sonata surely is effective in live performance and brought an immediate standing ovation. That, in turn, was rewarded with another Earl Wild transcription this time of George Gershwin’s “The Man I Love.” Too bad the love once again seemed overpowered by difficult but flawlessly executed scales and runs.
But putting those shortcomings aside, the sound of an amazingly played piano recital was such a welcome experience.
The Ear hopes that many more of them are somehow in store.
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.
By John W. Barker
Spring is officially over now, for the Middleton Community Orchestra (below, in a photo by Margaret Barker) has given the fourth and last concert of its fifth season — as usual, on a Wednesday night and before a sizable crowd at the Middleton Performing Arts Center.
The opening work was a rarity from the little-known Mexican composer Arturo Marquez (b.1950, below), called Danzon 2. It is a piece that starts with promise of melodic expression, but soon slips into a piling up of the usual hard-driven Latin dance rhythms, for a large orchestra, playing very loudly. A kind of musical refried beans.
This is a very thickly scored piece, placing particular emphasis on the winds. I found myself, as I listened, appreciating more than ever how cunningly Brahms designed the seams and sutures among the instruments, taxing the skills of the players for subtlety. Fortunately, the Middleton musicians faced the challenges bravely and brought off a very sturdy and convincing performance.
After the intermission, it was concerto time.
First, as MCO maestro Steve Kurr (below top) has regularly done, the young concertmaster was given a chance to tackle a solo assignment. Valerie Sanders (below bottom), a new graduate from the UW-Madison School of Music, took on the Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor by Max Bruch, though only its slow movement. She played this lovely music quite sweetly, and one was tempted to wonder how she would have fared in taking on the two bolder wing movements, in the full concerto.
The Big Event was, of course, local pianist Thomas Kasdorf playing the Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. This is a very warhorse of the warhorses, a work that some will be surprised to learn that predates Van Cliburn, whose recording of it was the first classical album to sell one million copies. (Vladimir Horowitz was once the exponent automatically brought to mind.)
It is a colossally demanding piece, technically, and a summit of virtuosic display — as you can see and hear in the popular YouTube video at the bottom.
Kasdorf (below), a locally born, raised and educated pianist and a well-established young Madison fixture of enormous talent and virtuosity, made this his latest entry into the warhorse corral.
Yes, he had the chops to bring it off, in an undeniably exciting performance. But I had the sense that his heart was really in the quieter passages, where he had some ideas of his own.
In the prevailingly bravura writing, by contrast, he was battling for survival. He certainly won the battle, on technical points alone. But this is not a work he has fully made his own—he played from score, rather than memory. It is an interpretation in progress, rather than one securely controlled.
And I hope this is not a career effort in progress. He is too fine a musician to be just a barn-storming, roof-raising virtuoso. He should pursue rather the great variety of roles he as developed, in which he has so much more that is personal and nuanced to offer.
The orchestra, with fewer perils to face than in the Brahms, sounded confident and full-voiced.
All in all, it was a lively and stimulating concert, as we have come to expect from Steve Kurr and his remarkable Middletonians.
By Jacob Stockinger
This Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) and pianist Bryan Wallick, who won the Vladimir Horowitz Prize and is returning to Madison, will perform under longtime WCO music director and conductor Andrew Sewell an all-Beethoven concert to end the WCO’s indoors Masterworks season.
Tickets are $15-$62.
For more information, visit: http://www.wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks-v
The Ear asked Bryan Wallick to explain why all-Beethoven concerts work so well and why Beethoven remains so popular with the general public. (The Madison Symphony Orchestra will also close its season with Beethoven, specifically the Symphony No. 9 (“Choral” or “Ode to Joy”) on May 8, 9 and 10.)
Wallick (below) kindly responded to an email Q&A:
Beethoven, along with a handful of other composers, including Mozart and Tchaikovsky, is one of the few composers who can make up a single-composer concert that also attracts the public. What accounts for that?
Beethoven had the luxury of living a longer life than many of the famous composers, so his compositional output is larger than that of many other composers.
His compositional style also changed dramatically over the course of his life, and there aren’t too many composers whose music is so categorically defined as early, middle and late works.
At the Juilliard School, the famous Beethoven class taught by the late Jacob Lateiner (below) described five different categories of musical progression in Beethoven’s career. This diversity gives many different variations and possibilities of programmatic combinations that are stimulating and exciting.
However most all-Beethoven programs often program works from his middle or late period, and the music is just that good that we are happy to only hear Beethoven. He was perhaps the greatest genius to ever put his pen to music, in a different capacity than Mozart.
What role has Beethoven played in your career? Are there works in particular that you were drawn to as a student or a performing professional?
Beethoven has been a huge influence in my career, and probably most any pianist’s career as he wrote so much music for the piano. His 32 sonatas are one of the greatest musical achievements ever produced, so there is always an unending supply of great piano music that most pianists never even get to in their careers unless they become Beethoven specialists.
As a student, I remember a general rule that I was given that I should always be learning some Beethoven sonata while learning everything else that I was working on. As a child, I often listened to Beethoven sonatas before I went to bed, and this music was very motivational in driving me to develop my technique to the level where I could perform these pieces.
Beethoven (below) consistently ranks as the general public’s favorite classical composer. Why is that, do you think?
As I said earlier, the diversity of works is enormous, but I think the general public isn’t that aware of the huge diversity of works. Those are mostly precious gems for musicians to savor, but the tonal language is very acceptable to a wide audience. Plus, the stories of his fiery temper and his deafness add a certain mystery to his genius that can interest a wide audience.
In the work which I will play, the “Emperor” Piano Concerto, it is harmonically very simple, he often just moves between a I chord and a V chord, but how he does it is so interesting and the emotional depths which he contemplates with these very simple chords is astounding. How he is able to encapsulate his struggles and personal hardship in his music is perhaps the reason why his genius could exceed that of Mozart.
Is there an aspect of Beethoven that you think the public needs to pay more attention to and that you intend to emphasize in your interpretations?
I wish the public had the time and opportunity to become more familiar with a broader range of Beethoven’s music. They often get to hear the famous works, but when one understands and sees the connections between the famous pieces and the ones written in between, the appreciation for what he does in the famous works only becomes greater.
One can always strive to hear more things in the music, and the great experience of performing these works is that even though we’ve played this music many, many times, we as musicians still keep finding new things in this music, and the experience always keeps growing and changing.
Is there anything you would like to say or add?
I love this concerto for many reasons, but one of the most interesting aspects of this piece is how simple it is, and I believe it is a struggle for many pianists to leave this piece alone and not to do too much with it. (Below is the notebook manuscript of the opening of the “Emperor” Concerto from measure 3 until the second theme enters.)
The phrasing is very logical, well written, and if a pianist tries to do too much with it, somehow the music doesn’t work. For example, I feel there is a lot of room for a pianist to manipulate and turn phrases 1,000 different ways in the fourth piano concerto.
But this piece has a structure, logic and direction that I feel a pianist must just accept, appreciate, respect; and they must find a simple way to bring this to an audience. (You can hear the acclaimed Beethoven interpreter and pianist Rudolf Serkin and conductor Eugene Ormandy with the Philadelphia Orchestra perform the “Emperor” Concerto in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
I’ve heard many performances of this piece where pianists try to over-interpret things, so my goal is to just let this great music speak on its own with just little “comments” here and there from myself.
By Jacob Stockinger
Yesterday — Friday, March 20, 2015 – brought us the first day of spring.
It also marked the centennial of the birth of the great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter (below).
Richter was such a complex and towering figure that it would take a book to really do justice to him and to his career.
With one exception that gets no mention.
Somehow that information seems particularly pertinent to The Ear, given the growing acceptance of LGBT people and of marriage equality.
Still, Wigler’s essay is an excellent read and includes a YouTube video – there are many, many YouTube videos of Richter, who had an immense repertoire, playing. This video is of a live performance by Richter in which he plays the last movement of the first piano sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory.
You can hear the power and energy, the subtleties and excitement, to say nothing of the originality of interpretation, that Richter brought to music.
Enjoy it -– and tell us if you ever heard Richter live and what is your favorite performance by Sviatoslav Richter with a link to a YouTube video is possible.
By Jacob Stockinger
For many pianists, anyway, such is the case.
Steinway Hall (below is the hallmark rotunda of the famed building) is a landmark building where a historic meeting took place between composer-pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff and keyboard virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz.
For generations it is where the greatest keyboard artists have gone to select the proper instrument for the Carnegie Hall and other solo recitals, chamber music concerts and concerto appearances at other venues such as Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center.
To be selected and named a “Steinway artist” was the highest professional accolade, whether you were Arthur Rubinstein or Van Cliburn or Emanuel Ax or Pierre-Laurent Aimard or Jeremy Denk or Daniil Trifonov. And there have been countless others.
But nothing can block “progress.”
Especially the progress officials call economic development.
So soon the old Steinway Hall will move to a new location, and the old Steinway Hall will be demolished to make room for upscale luxury condominiums.
Maybe it is just another example of the old real estate saying: Location, location, location.
After all, Steinway Hall is not very far from Carnegie Hall (below).
Talk about prime locations and reputable or prestigious addresses.
Here is a link to an earlier story and less complete story, with less background, from March 2013 in The New York Times. Be sure to read the Reader Comments:
By Jacob Stockinger
Valentina Lisitsa (below), the Ukraine-born pianist who has become a YouTube sensation, played a recital here last Thursday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater. It featured music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms and Sergei Rachmaninoff.
All four men were accomplished pianists as well as composers.
So you would have thought that nothing could go wrong.
But it did.
From the time she took the stage, Valentina Lisitsa seemed ill-at-ease and unsure of what to do musically. What resulted was a very long concert with too much boredom and tedium.
Her default position seemed to be to play a lot, and then play some more. It turned out to be more like a marathon or a 19th-century “monster concert” than a typical piano recital. I don’t know what the intent of her program was except perhaps to show off her undeniable stamina.
True, the “new media” phenom, who has a clear gift for self-promotion and who attracts avid groupie-like fans to her many YouTube videos and concerts, played for the better part of three hours and never seemed to break a sweat, even in the most difficult pieces.
But I have to concur with The Wise Piano Teacher who said: “It was the worst piano recital I’ve heard in my life, and I’ve heard a lot of them. I came home angry.”
The teacher wasn’t alone.
Except for a few of the miniature intermezzi by Brahms and a few of the ingenious etudes by Schumann, the piano playing seemed disjointed and the music too often lacked musicality.
Now, my instinct is to be generous and to make allowances. Maybe it was just an “off” night. Or maybe she felt ill or sick. Or maybe she has been overbooked or underrehearsed in recent weeks.
I do know that I have heard Lisitsa play much better, though she seemed at her best when she accompanied the gifted American violinist Hilary Hahn (below), who perhaps gave her some interpretive direction.
The Ear kept thinking of the response by Vladimir Horowitz (below) when somebody asked him why he didn’t take the second repeats in sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti or why he didn’t play late sonatas by Beethoven. “I don’t want to bore the audience,” he said.
Lisitsa showed no such concern for the audience. In fact her program, her stage manner and her playing all seemed listener-unfriendly. At times, her recital even seemed condescending and disdainful of the ordinary listener.
As a critic, I have to call it as I hear it. But I take no joy in writing this. There are few enough solo piano recitals in Madison these days, and I had really looked forward to this one. Rarely do I want to walk out of a concert of any sort, especially a piano concert. But this time I did want to walk out -– and I did leave early, during a Franz Liszt encore that was his arrangement of Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” I also saw some other serious music fans walk out even earlier.
As for the all-Romantic program itself, here are some snapshots or mini-critiques:
The “Tempest” Sonata by Beethoven (below): This great sonata was frequently reduced from a tempest to directionless wind by dropped or missed notes and choppy interpretation as well as by inattention to dynamics. It just didn’t make sense intellectually or emotionally -– and it is a great masterpiece of emotional depth. And certainly her playing of the same work in a live concert in Paris in a YouTube video at the bottom is better than what I heard live here.
The “Symphonic Etudes” by Robert Schumann (below top): Decca has just released an 85-minute recording (below bottom) of Lisitsa playing these pieces plus the complete Chopin etudes. She seems drawn to etudes, perhaps because they often favor fingers over music. And this woman has fingers and technique to spare, even if she lacks musical ideas. imagination and something to say.
Selected Intermezzi by Johannes Brahms (below): She didn’t stick to the program, and didn’t announce the changes to the audience. She played 14, but after a while they all ran together and it seemed more like 114. Better she should have played a set of just three or four intermezzi as a quiet interlude –- which was their original intended purpose. But instead she too often rushed through them. We missed the poignant melodies and harmonies, the autumnal soulfulness of late Brahms, to say nothing of the careful construction and counterpoint he used.
Sonata No. 1 in D Minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff (below): The Ear thinks Lisitsa knew she has confused and lost her small audience when she went from the long Brahms set directly into the Rachmaninoff sonata. I heard some audience members wonder about what they were hearing – where Brahms had stopped and Rachmaninoff had begun. This sonata is a hard piece to hold together, and it didn’t help that she favored big noise over music, big chords over subtle voices.
All in all, and despite a standing ovation — for her strength and brilliance, one suspects — The Ear found it a night to forget. I have heard Valentina Lisitsa (below) in better form and I wish I knew what happened here.
“Was she annoyed that the house wasn’t full?” someone asked. Maybe, although such an attitude would be highly unprofessional and too peevish or diva-like.
But I do know that when she next appears in a solo recital, I will think twice -– more than twice -– about attending.
That is too bad for me and too bad for her, too bad for the audience and too bad for the presenter.
But everyone’s a critic.
What did others of you who attended Valentina Lisitsa’s recital think?
Did you judge it a success or a failure?
The Ear wants to hear.