James Jeonghwan Kim in Review

James Jeonghwan Kim, cello
Larry Wang, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall; New York, NY
February 3, 2013
James Kim

James Kim: Photo credit: Ryan Moon

There are debuts and debuts:  the blood bank of human endeavor is forever bringing new musical talent to the fore. But I daresay, the recital of a 19-year-old cellist at Weill Hall on February 3rd was more than merely excellent, it was an historical coming of a fully honed master virtuoso; one is compelled to formulate new standards for the golden instrument!

Young Mr. Kim came to us with formidable credentials. The young artist was born in Seoul, Korea in 1993 and began his studies with Susan Moses, with whom he worked for five years at the University of Indiana in Bloomington. During this time he also received tutelage from Janos Starker, and later from Laurence Lesser at the New England Conservatory. He also enrolled at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts, and is currently studying at Yale with Aldo Parisot. It goes without saying that during his apprenticeship to some of the most illustrious and revered pedagogues of his instrument, Mr. Kim has garnered competition prizes and performance laurels (e.g. The Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall; the NEC Youth Orchestra at Jordan Hall; the Korean Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra in his native South Korea– just to cite a few of his accomplishments–before making his official debut at Weill Hall).

But all of this foregoing is commonplace: after a few astonishing and beautifully tapered, long spun phrases of Schubert’s “Arpeggione” Sonata, D.821, this astonished and experienced connoisseur realized that James Kim is a miracle. Never mind my hyperbole; the absolute perfection of his playing, technically, musically and communicatively, had me recalling Casals, Fournier, Rostropovich and Tortelier (of a very different school) but likewise, Feuermann, Yo-Yo-Ma, Miklós Perényi, Heifetz (of a closely analogous virtuoso persuasion), and of course Kim’s mentors, Starker and Parisot. Never before, have I encountered such winged ease, such airborne joy, such silken smooth bowing and tone production. All of these facets were present at the service of stylistic knowledge, bracing rhythmic thrust and most importantly, an inviting warmth and modest honesty.

The Schubert Sonata was played with the first movement repeat, forward momentum and necessary flexibility. Kim’s assisting pianist, Larry Weng, a pupil of Boris Berman at Yale, supplied spot-on ensemble and concentration. He also won a “Brownie Point” by using the Barenreiter Edition, with its corrected harmonies in the central Adagio.

The Debussy D Minor Sonata that followed also had the requisite impetuosity and unpredictability. Altogether, a volatile, wonderfully shaded and exquisitely timed rendition from both protagonists.

Isang Yun’s short unaccompanied piece, “Glissees pour violoncello seul”, especially written for a competition in 1970, makes, as intended, fiendishly difficult demands on the player, but Kim mastered these hurdles as if they were child’s play.

The Mendelssohn D Major Sonata, Op. 58 (more frequently played than its predecessor, No. 1 in B-Flat) took off in a shower of gravel, a galloping interpretation (with pianist Weng as an ideal co-jockey).

There was an encore, too: Rostropovich’s Humoreske, which resembled David Popper’s “Elfentanz”, albeit with an unfamiliar, sinister spice.

Tatiana Tessman Pianist in Review

Tatiana Tessman, Piano
Winner of the World Piano Competition
Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center
November 30, 2012

Tatiana Tessman’s November 30th Tully Hall recital presented the latest winner of the World Piano Competition—an artist of technical brilliance, interpretive authority along with a comforting aura of authority and dependability. Ms. Tessman, was who was born in Russia, studied at the Gnessin School in Moscow with a series of excellent teachers and has concertized and won several prizes in her native land. Later, she came to New York to polish and complete her training at the Manhattan School of Music with Solomon Mikowsky. She is a recipient of the Elda van Gelder Memorial Foundation.

Her program began with three Chopin Mazurkas, Op. 50 which commanded attention with a bold rubato and extroverted, rhetorically flexible rhythmic drive. For some, her “in your face” feistiness may have seemed overly flamboyant. But quibbles aside her style, proved justifiably idiomatic.

Six additional Mazurkas by Karol Szymanowski, (also Op. 50) and still another two by Thomas Adès, beautifully complemented the Chopin group and in fact proved to be even more delicate and whimsical, more colored and intimate, too, than what Ms. Tessman’s extroverted style brought to the Chopin.

Chopin’s imposing Fantasy in F minor, Op. 49 brought the first half of the concerto to a close, and her memorable, masterfully held together interpretation was, for this writer, the highpoint of the evening. Every crucial detail made a fine impression: the rock solid rhythmic underpinning of the alla Marcia introduction; the long lined harmonic shaping of the second subject: the superbly judged timing and pacing of the central Trio (which coincidentally bears a striking resemblance to the analogous middle Trio of the Schubert Klavierstuck No.1 in E flat Minor, D. 946); and the towering climactic drama at the very end proved unusually effective and convincing.

Prokofiev’s Eighth Piano Sonata, the penultimate of his works in that genre, and the last of the three great “War Sonatas” (Nos. 6-8), is extremely passionate, nostalgic and imposing (the Ninth Sonata, the contemporaneous Cello Sonata and Seventh Symphony, all showed the composer to be depleted and spiritually threadbare, a depressing decline). Ms. Tessman’s interpretation was heartwarming, excitable and charged with virtuoso brilliance. Her version was also happily tempered with generosity and lyrical warmth.

The rapturous response of the audience was rewarded with a lovely, communicative reading of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude Op. 32, No. 5.

Tatiana Tessman is an emotionally outgoing but formidably controlled virtuoso. I look forward to hearing much more of her playing.

Maxim Anikushin, Pianist in Review

Maxim Anikushin, Pianist in Review
Carnegie Hall (Stern Auditorium); New York, NY
April 5, 2012

In October 2011, The Russian-American Cultural Heritage Center designated April as Russian-American History Month, and to launch the first RAHM in New York State, the RACH-C presented the superb pianist Maxim Anikushin in his first Carnegie Hall recital in the big Stern Auditorium (he had made his noteworthy debut in the smaller Weill Recital Hall on March 9, 1999–only three days after his 23rd birthday). In this writer’s glowing review [in Volume 6, No. 2 of this journal], I prophesized the burgeoning artist as “undoubtedly destined to enter the annals of his generation’s important young pianists.” Thirteen years and numerous concerts later, Anikushin has triumphantly confirmed my expectations. His April 5th recital was a heartwarming affair, and I am proud to remain an unstinting admirer.

Mr. Anikushin’s generous, well balanced program fittingly reiterated several aspects I remember from his past interpretative work: at his aforementioned debut in 1999, a superior performance of the Op. 109 Sonata served notice that he was an idiomatic Beethovenian (by no means a “given” with the best Russian pianist—even Gilels and Richter, et al). As confirmation, the entire first half of the Carnegie Hall program was dedicated to superlative versions of the composer’s Polonaise, Op. 89, “Andante favori”, Wo0 57 and “Waldstein” Sonata, Op. 53. The Polonaise had a dancing and uncluttered rhythmic spin, and the Andante (said to have been originally intended as the “Waldstein”’s second movement) had simplicity and honest flow. As for the “Waldstein”, which I have heard Anikushin play very well in the past year, his interpretation has matured and intensified: this time, he has brought certain details to the fore (e.g. the trimmings and inner voices in the slow movement; and whereas in his earlier account, he chose the pianistically expedient “solution” of playing the octave glissando as two-handed scales, he now opted for the specified Urtext, and also the loud/soft dynamic in the original manuscript). One more observation: the transition into the Rondo was magically poetic and exquisitely timed.

In 2010, Mr. Anikushin paid homage to the American composer Samuel Barber on the centenary of his birth with a handsome retrospective of his solo piano and chamber music. That recital at the New York Public Library served notice that he has real love and inspired affinity for Barber’s music (he is now recording a disc of his music for Albany Records, a mouthwatering prospect). Mr. Anikushin repeated his mercurial, sensitivity-nuanced and dramatically persuasive version of the Piano Sonata, Op. 26, along with delectably played encores of his Lullaby and the Waltz from his “Souvenirs”. (Among the encores was the “Dance Russe” from Stravinsky’s “Petrouchka”).

Anikushin’s musical persona is, to his greatest credit, brilliantly virtuosic, but also elegant, tasteful and essentially classically reserved: I can give no higher compliment than to write that he is very much in the tradition of such fine paragons as the fondly remembered Benno Moiseiwitsch. His wonderfully warm and intimately crafted interpretations of Tchaikovsky’s “Dumka”, Op. 59 and two vignettes, “January” and “May” from “The Months”, Op. 37 verged on perfection.

There was also a belated premiere of a 1991 composition, “Mirage” by Yekaterina Merkulyeva (b. 1956), which the musician–born in Leningrad (now again St. Petersburg)– penned in 1991, immediately after her immigration to America. “Mirage” is, in the composer’s note, “a Romantic Fantasy…[describing] different emotions, both trepidations and excitement, depression and alienations battling at once with both hope and nostalgia , the unreality, at least to someone who grew up in the Soviet Union, of this incredibly energetic , frenetic, unpredictable, dreamy, yet perhaps sometimes dangerous city we live in.” Ms. Merkulyeva’s description further acknowledges influences of Mussorgsky and Prokofieff (I heard ‘sound bites’ of the “Suggestion Diaboliques” and “Old Grandmother’s Tales”). The approximately 6-minute long piece fitted well into the masterfully put together program.

The concert, in summation, was absolutely worthy of what major artists can deliver. What did sadden me was that the house was so scantly filled (all the boxes, dress circle and balcony were empty). Alas, Mr. Anikushin’s public acclaim has not been kept abreast of his richly deserved talent!

Henry Wong Doe, Pianist in Review

Henry Wong Doe, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall
March 26, 2012
Henry Wong Doe. Photo credit: Tom Stoelker

Henry Wong Doe. Photo credit: Tom Stoelker

Henry Wong Doe, pianist, entitled his March 26th Weill Hall Recital “A Picture of New Zealand” and dedicated the first half of his program to the music of his countryman Gareth Farr, and the second half to his performance of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”.

Farr, born in 1968, as the program notes stated, is “recognized as one of New Zealand’s leading composers.” He studied composition and percussion performance at the University of Auckland and at Victoria University, Wellington. He moved to the United States to pursue studies at the Eastman School of Music with Samuel Adler and Christopher Rouse. A recipient of many commissions and performances, Farr’s music is particularly influenced by his extensive study of percussion–both Western and Non-Western. Rhythmic elements of his can be linked to the exciting rhythms of Barotongen log drum ensembles, Balinese gamelan and other percussion music of the Pacific Rim. In 2006, Gareth Farr was made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to music and entertainment, and most recently in 2010, he was the recipient of the prestigious New Zealand Arts Laureate Award.

The evening began with two of Farr’s works for solo piano: 1) “Tentang Cara Gamelan”, dating from 1994, when Farr was still a student at Eastman. The piece is redolent of both Farr’s early interest in Gamelan music, as well as his fascination with French Impressionism such as Debussy, et al. In an early note, Farr cites an imaginary dinner conversation between Debussy and the composer/ethnomusicologist Colin McPhee. While they initially discuss the role of Gamelan in each of their musical styles, professional jealousy disintegrates the conversation into a barrage of tongue-in-cheek insults. Henry Wong Doe’s lively performance, and especially the way he realized the music’s peppery virtuosity via his gestural way of playing the piano (which I found engaging visually) were beneficial to both protagonists. 2) “The Horizon from Owhiro Bay”, a short work commissioned by the James Wallace Trust for pianist Stephen Depledge as part of his program of Landscape Preludes by New Zealand composers, together with eleven other short works. Depledge gave the premiere in February 2008 in New Zealand, and Mr. Wong Doe gave the piece its North American premiere in his debut recital at Weill Recital Hall. Gareth Farr vividly conjures the Prelude’s descriptive aspects (Moody green depth; Inky blue sky; Endless unbroken horizon; Fishing Boats sitting on the horizon all lit up; occasional gusts of wind; wild eddies on the surface of the water; the odd rogue wave (hurling itself onto the rocks and up into the air in a spectacular explosion of sea spray, et al). It is a fine mood piece and I am looking forward to hearing Henry Wong Doe’s forthcoming recording of Farr’s Piano Music (Horizon MMT 2070).

The two piano solos were followed by a pair of chamber music compositions, one for flute and piano: “Nga Whetue e Whitu” (“The Seven Stars”), commissioned for Bridget Douglas (principal flautist in the New Zealand Symphony) and his regular pianist, Rachel Thomson. Alternating Messiaen-like harmonies with Farr’s moto perpetuo energy and sharp, articulated notes, he propels the music at a feverish pace. Both of its two movements are united by Farr’s expansion of long lyrical passages and unique amalgamation of rhythm and sonority. It was expertly played, with a cool “white” tone by Jesse Schiffman, flautist, and Henry Wong Doe.

But it was “The Shadow of the Hawk”, a 1997 work, originally commissioned by cellist James Tennant and pianist Katherine Austion that made the strongest impression on this listener. Farr writes about this composition: “The shadow of the hawk rises and falls as the landscape gently undulates beneath it. One moment it is indistinct and unfocused, the next it snaps into clear definition as the ground rises. A rocky outcrop thrusts up towards the sky.” Farr’s use of the cello confounds the usual conventionality—“the unique combination of cello pizzicato and piano bass notes in the opening gives the work an almost ‘jazzy’ groove.” How fascinating to hear the usually expansively melodic cello used as a percussion instrument. This was a brilliant performance by Mr. Wong Doe and Jisoo Ok, a Korean-born former pupil of Bonnie Hampton and Fred Sherry (Bachelor’s and Master’s at Juilliard).

Mr. Wong Doe’s version of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures”, though a shade raw and unpolished, had great vitality and engaging thrust and characterization. He was at his best in some of the more aggressive Promenades (e.g. the opening one, and the final one just before Limoges), Gnomus, Baba Yaga, which had the appropriate sinister ferocity, and The Old Castle, which came forth with a long, flowing line (this vignette, believe it or not, has moments that are surprisingly Schubertian!). Other scenes had their drawbacks: Bidlo, for all its appropriate weight and ponderousness, sounded unrelievedly stolid and brutal. Tuilleries and The Unhatched Chicks lacked delicacy, humor and playful animation. The portrait of Samuel Goldenberg was suitably pompous, though his counterpart Schmuyle was stiff and unmemorable (but credit Mr. Wong Doe for superbly closing that piece with a correct C, D flat, B flat, B flat!). Best of all was the wonderfully inclusive, bustling Limoges Market Place. Alas, the Great Gate of Kiev, which ought to have been the suite’s proper capstone, was more than a bit anticlimactic and sectionalized. (The dangerous first note, coming right after the ferocious lead-in can be brilliantly effective at times but can dangerously fall flat as a pancake—as it did on this particular occasion). But enough faultfinding: Henry Wong Doe’s guided tour (he opted for Mussorgsky’s original unbowdlerized text), though not in the Richter class, was an extremely worthy effort.

I am most grateful to the pianist for lavishing his attention on the music of Gareth Farr. Incidentally, another of Farr’s pieces, entitled “Love Song” was played as an encore after the “Pictures”. (It sounded much more popsy and Flower Child-like, and not at all like the other Farr pieces on the concert’s first half).

Katarzyna Musial, Pianist in Review

Katarzyna Musial, Piano
Camerata New York Orchestra, Richard Owen, Jr. Conductor
The Kosciuszko Foundation
March 18, 2012
Katarzyna Musial

Katarzyna Musial

The Camerata New York Orchestra presented a delightful program on a delightful Sunday afternoon, March 18, with a guest soloist, the Polish-Canadian pianist Katarzyna Musial. The Camerata, now celebrating its tenth anniversary, is a spirited chamber orchestra, 25 players strong. The American conductor, Richard Owen, Jr., its founder and Music Director, a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, Dartmouth College (he also worked at the University for Music in Vienna) has conducted extensively, operas and symphonic music, and is also a pianist who gives concerts with his cellist wife (the Owens live in Brewster, New York with their three sons.)

For its opening salvo, Owen and the Camerata played the 3-part Overture (Spiritoso; Andante; Presto) to “La buona figliola” by Niccolò Piccinni. Piccinni (1728-1800) is listed in the New Groves as “one of the central figures in Italian and French opera in the second half of the 18thcentury.” Piccinni’s overture to one of his earliest operas is a scampering, quicksilver-light opera buffa affair, more lighthearted and volatile than many of Gluck’s more “serious” works, and Owen’s incisive, sprinting performance abounded with grace and precision.

The critic for the Wiener Zeitung (Vienna News) had a glowing praise for Owen’s Austrian debut: “he must be a genius…how flowing and musical this young American was able to realize the music from the podium.” This listener was able to assess the conductor’s stick technique, care, and phrase shaping at point-blank in the first row—and players’ response—gained a vivid impression of his gestures, his phrase shaping, expressive cantabile desired rhythmic precision and ideas about nuance and idiomatic style. Fauré’s lovely “Pavane”, a very different type of work from the Piccinni Overture, came forth with long-lined flowing cantabile lyricism.

 The afternoon’s soloist, pianist Katarzyna Musial, has performed as a soloist and chamber musician throughout North America and Europe. In addition to the First Prize at the 2011 Bradshaw & Buono International Piano Competition (New York), Ms. Musial was a prize winner in the following competitions: the Krzysztof Penderecki International Competition of Contemporary Chamber Music (Cracow), the Kay Meek Competition (Vancouver), and she received the Alban Berg Prize for outstanding merit (Vienna), as well as the Philip Cohen Award for outstanding performance musicianship (Montreal).

Interested in the music of today, she has performed works by avant garde composer Jay Sydeman and gave the world premiere of a 35-minute piano suite dedicated to her, Mark Vance’s “Nevada County Epitaphs,” premiered at the California Music in the Mountains Festival. At this afternoon’s performance, Ms. Musial’s prodigious digits and tonal massiveness were impressive and appropriate for the driving, moto perpetuo called for in the Allegro Molto in Henryk Górecki’s two movement Concerto for Piano and Strings (the second, Vivace, was appropriately more gracious).Then Ms. Musial followed the Concerto with an encore, Turina’s “Seduction Dance”. Other recent concerto appearances include performances with the Toronto Sinfonietta, L’Orchestre Symphonique de L’Isle, the McGill Chamber Orchestra and the Bielsko Chamber Orchestra at the opening of the International Bach Festival (Poland).

Ms. Musial’s concert venues have included, among others, the Warsaw National Philharmonic Hall, the Chan Centre in Vancouver, the Isabel Bader Theatre in Toronto, Pollack Hall in Montreal and Weill Recital Hall in New York. She completed an Artistic residency at the prestigious Banff Centre, and she has worked with many distinguished artists that include Anton Kuerti, Paul Gulda and Piers Lane. She is a laureate of the Mrs. Cheng Koon (S.K.) Lee Scholarship as well as grants and scholarships from Conseil des arts et lettres du Québec – Vivacité Montréal, The Banff Centre, the Vancouver Chopin Society and the Quebec Polish Cultural Foundation.

The biggest surprise for this writer came after the intermission. Krzysztof Penderecki’s “Three Pieces in Baroque Style” astonished me; the famous Avant Garde didn’t pen these three courtly tonal lento and two Menuettos as a juvenile composer (as I first suspected); he wrote them down tongue-in-cheek on a lark, for a 1963 film.

The concert concluded with a magnificent account of Schubert’s Fifth Symphony (which he wrote when he was nineteen years old). Owen and his orchestra, in this small room, produced an impactful, physically potent performance—surely one of the best I’ve heard in years (remarkably close in style to the wonderful ones I remember from (Erich) Kleiber, Eduard van Beinum, Fischer-Dieskau and Toscanini).

Rosa Antonelli, Pianist in Review

Rosa Antonelli, Pianist in Review
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall; New York, NY
October 15, 2011
Rosa Antonelli

Rosa Antonelli

Rosa Antonelli, an excellent Argentinean pianist, presented a recital of mostly Argentine and Spanish composers at Carnegie Hall (Stern Auditorium), a concert benefiting Action Against Hunger.  Ms. Antonelli, according to the bio in the printed program, “is enjoying an active and varied career.” She has made extensive tours of Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin and North America. Hailed as a leading exponent of Latin American composers, performing works by such masters as Piazzolla, Ugarte, Gineo, Guestavino–among others–to audiences all over the world.

The concert opened with Floro Ugarte (1884-1975): his Two Preludes from “Suite de Mi Terra” (Suite of My Land). Ugarte, born in Buenos Aires, studied in Paris with Albert Lavignac and later became one of the principal organizers and conductors of the Colon Theater at the National Society of Music and the Superior School of Fine Arts at the University of La Plata. His Suite, composed in 1923, was inspired by the poems of the Argentine writer Estanislao del Campo and was originally written for orchestra. This suite consists of three parts: the first, in Animato tempo, captures the motion of weeping willow trees and their shadows, depicting a scene of melancholy contentment. The second part, in Lento Tempo, describes with dramatic intensity the approaching darkness as night begins to fall. (In 1934, Ugarte wrote a second series of “de Mi Terra” for orchestra.

Next came Four Tangos by Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992): Rio Sena; Sentido nico; Milonga del Angel; Chao, Paris. Piazzolla’s music has become increasingly ubiquitous and popular–almost a case of familiarity breeding contempt. He studied in New York City with Bela Wilde, and then–upon his return to Argentina in 1940–with Alberto Ginastera and Nadia Boulanger in Paris. (After intermission, two more Piazzolla Tangos, written in 1963, were heard. Ms. Antonelli’s performance at this concert was the World Premiere of the original piano version.)

Another Argentinean, Carlos Guastavino (1912-2000), followed the first four Piazzolla Tangos with Two Preludes: “El Patio” and “El Sauce from La Siesta.” “La Siesta” is a compilation of three Preludes, each depicting a different scene. The description in “El Patio” evokes the memory of J. Aguirre and depicts the traditional Argentinean weeping trees with soft flowing leaves whispering in the wind. The first half of the program ended with two works by Enrique Granados (1867-1916): his Epilogo from “Escenas Romanticas” and Allegro de Concierto.

After intermission, we heard two early compositions by Isaac Albeniz (1860-1907): Grenada from his “Suite Espanola”, Op. 47; and “L’Automne Waltz”, Op. 170. Ms. Antonelli played all these compositions ‘con amore’. She is a dyed-in-the-wool Romantic Lyricist. Her always aurally beautiful and caressing pianism uses a lot of color via the sustaining pedal; she molds phrases with enormous flexibility, and there was never a hint of harsh, ugly or astringent glint to her lush singing tone. My only quibble was that her deeply poetic interpretations were sometimes a mite too soft-grained and unassertive when I might have preferred to hear more brilliance and extroverted rhythmic thrust. The Granados “Allegro di Concierto” is often played with more virtuoso thrust, and the popular Tres Danzas Argentinas of Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983)– the third Danza del Gaucho Matrero, especially–could have been rendered with more stampeding clarity (as it usually is). On the other hand, Ms. Antonelli’s inward poetry forced me to rehear, and revalue, Piazzolla’s Tangos, which she infused with an eloquence and inner communication that, in truth, has sometimes eluded me.

Postludes to a memorably well-played evening, Ms. Antonelli’s flowing, songful rendition of the early Chopin Nocturne in C-sharp Minor, Op. Posth. was an ideally fitting encore.

Louise Dubin, Cellist in Review

Louise Dubin, Cellist in Review
Forgotten Treasures by Franchomme and Chopin
John Street Church; New York, NY
September 29, 2011

Louise Dubin

Louise Dubin, a fine cellist who studied with Ardith Alton, Aldo Parisot, Timothy Eddy and Janos Starker, based her thesis on Auguste Franchomme (1808-1884). She has just completed her dissertation on the French cellist and romantic composer to fulfill her Doctoral requirements at Indiana University’s School of Music in Bloomington, and she is the school’s first music performance student to receive two grants for doctoral  research from the university, which funded the research trip to France where she met descendants of Franchomme and discovered much of the music heard at the concert under review. Franchomme, the most distinguished cellist of the era, is not exactly forgotten, but is best remembered as being the dedicatee of Chopin’s Cello Sonata, Op. 65 and, ergo, the great composer’s dearest friend. Franchomme, of course, left no recorded legacy of his performances, but Ms. Dubin’s research has retrieved Franchomme’s own music, and she has just made a commercial recording for the Eroica Classical label of Franchomme’s music, most of which has never been recorded or published. Moreover, Ms. Dubin’s intense and perceptive work has unearthed clues of Franchomme’s probable performance style by way of his fingerings and bowings, having an impact on sound production and an emotional impact on performance.

The September 29th recital began with two of Franchomme’s own pieces: one of his Caprices, Op. 7 No. 9, a fine specimen undoubtedly inspired by Paganini’s famous 24 Caprices, Op. 1 for solo violin, composed circa 1804 and published in1820. Franchomme obviously owes much to Paganini’s models. But its highly contrapuntal style also harks back to J.S. Bach’s unaccompanied Cello Suites. The Caprice was followed by a vivacious set of Variations on an Irish Air, Op. 25 for Cello and Piano, which commenced with a brief introduction and evolved into the theme itself– dancelike and energetic–and a lively numerous set of variants. Ms. Dubin’s excellent performances–likewise, the aforementioned Caprice–was a joy to savor, and Hiroko Sasaki’s cooperation at the piano worked beautifully as a Duo. (Her little asides and comments added immensely to the performance’s effectiveness.) Likewise, Franchomme’s “Fantaisie on Mozart’s Enchanted Flute,” Op. 49 at the end of the printed program (“The Zauberflote” or “Magic Flute”; Franchomme spent much of his career playing in the pit of the Paris Opera Orchestra at the Theatre Italien and in the court of King Louis Philippe). The Fantaisie interpolates parts of the overture and some of the arias heard in the opera itself. Again, Ms. Dubin and Ms. Sasaki worked beautifully together (and I was surprised to learn that the two protagonists had not previously played together before this concert.)

The rest of the concert, mostly Franchomme’s arrangements of Chopin’s treasures (the Nocturne, Op. 55 No. 1, the Funeral March from the Sonata Op. 35, the Mazurka, Op. 33 No.3, and the Prelude, Op. 28 No. 20), were hardly flattered by Franchomme’s tepid and servile recasting for cello and piano (Op. 55 No.1). Moreover, his recasting for Cello Quartet (of the Op. 35 and Op. 28 No. 20) sorely missed some of the ‘di rigeur’ percussiveness of the original piano, and the Second Ballade, Op. 38 was almost laughable (it turned out to be just the piece’s swaying opening theme.) The Cello Quartet, Ms. Dubin; Katherine Cherbas; Saeunn Thorsteindottir and Sarah Hewitt-Roth, also played Franchomme’s adaptations of Schumann’s “Soldier’s March” (from his Album for the Young) and the Can Can from Offenbach’s “Orpheus in the Underworld.”

On the one hand, Liszt’s audacious genius–like it or not–often imparted a vibrant life to the music of other composers that Franchomme’s more modest gifts simply could not do. But the great violinist Nathan Milstein did fashion a more compelling and interesting arrangement of an early Chopin Nocturne in C-sharp Minor, Op. Posthumous. (Franchomme’s dutiful “arrangements” did nothing at all.) Mendelssohn’s own “Song without Words” for cello and piano was far more palatable for this listener. Ms. Dubin and Ms. Sasaki played it beautifully.

All told, this concert faute de mieux was worthwhile, mostly for the three original Franchomme pieces. And I am eagerly looking forward to Ms. Dubin’s imminent recording.

Nadejda Vlaeva Pianist in Review

Nadejda Vlaeva, piano
YASI Piano Salon; New York, NY
October 4, 2011

Nadejda Vlaeva

Nadejda Vlaeva, a Bulgarian pianist who studied at The Sofia Music School, The Sofia Music Academy, The Sweelinck Conservatorium in Amsterdam and The Manhattan School of Music with teachers Antoanetta Arsova, Anton Dikov, Jan Wijn, and Ruth Laredo (she also worked closely with Lazar Berman), played unusual fare on her recital at YASI Piano Salon on October 4th—a program co-hosted by the American Liszt Society NY/NJ Chapter and the Yamaha Artists Service.

Ms. Vlaeva, who resides in New York, has extensive concert experience in Bulgaria, Russia, Slovakia, Hungary, The Netherlands, Germany, England, Spain, Barbados, Canada and the United States, and she has garnered extravagant encomiums from conductor Hans Graf (“her musicality and the depth of her interpretation amazed me”), Guarneri Quartet Primarius Arnold Steinhardt (“One of the people of extraordinary ability whom we hope for but rarely see”) and Lazar Berman (a “God Given” talent). She has made several CDs for MSR Classics, the Bulgarian Gega New Series, and her latest release for Hyperion.

Six of the 13 Bach/Saint-Saens transcriptions formed the first group on the recital program: the Recitative and Air from Cantata No. 30; from the Violin Partita No. 3; the Largo from the Violin Sonata No. 3; the Bouree from the Violin Partita No. 1; the Adagio from Cantata No. 3; and the Overture from Cantata No. 29 “Wir danken dir Gott,” BWV 29. Nowadays, concertgoers are accustomed to the heavy gravy of Bach-Busoni or Bach-Liszt, so I found it refreshing and fascinating to hear Bach’s music with a light mayonnaise dressing (Romantic to be sure, but French rather than Germanic). The aforementioned Overture from Cantata No. 29 turned to be none other than a D Major transcription of the ubiquitous Preludio to the E Major Violin Partita; what a world of difference–harmonically and stylistically–between Rachmaninoff’s (“Bachmaninoff’s”) arrangement of the selfsame piece! Ms. Vlaeva produced some of her strongest, most winning playing for this opening salvo: she has color, temperament, vitality and considerable dexterity.

“Carnivale di Milano,” Op. 21, by Hans von Bulow, was interesting to hear from the conductor who pompously donned black gloves for the Eroica’s Funeral March, called Brahms’s first symphony “Beethoven’s Tenth,” and condescendingly “dissed” Verdi’s Requiem. Ms. Vlaeva played five movements from the Suite: No. 1, Polacca; No. 4,Intermezzo fantastico; No. 7, Intermezzo lirico; No. 9, Intermezzo scherzoso; and No. 10, Galop. As in Hugo Wolf’s “Italian Serenade”, von Bulow found a modicum of levity and cuteness—not his most natural temperamental attire, to be sure, but essentially congenial.

After the intermission, Ms. Vlaeva gave a clarion, thrusting, and rhetorical account of Liszt’s “Dante Sonata, a Bulow arrangement of Liszt’s Dante Sonnet “Tanto gentile”, and ended the printed part of her program with an intermittently potent, sometimes sprawling and slapdash account of the Liszt “Carnival in Pest” (his Hungarian Rhapsody No. 9).

There were three encores: among them, an ostensible spirited but messy, and rhythmically spastic Liszt “Gnomenreigen, and Rebikov’s “Music Box.”

Alexej Gorlatch, Pianist in Review

Alexej Gorlatch, Pianist in Review
Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall
April 14, 2011

Alexej Gorlatch; Photo Credit: Akira Muto

Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall, part of the Carnegie Hall complex, presented Alexej Gorlatch on April 14th as the First Prize winner of the AXA Dublin International Piano Competition. Gorlatch, who is 22 (born in Kiev, in 1988), was also the Silver Medalist at the 2009 Leeds International in the U.K., where his performance of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto elicited a glowing comment from the Guardian (Manchester): “…immaculate in its poetry and aggression.” Those two characteristics, when you think of them, are more apt than conflicting for that particular Beethoven masterpiece; certainly Gorlatch’s technically superb pianism at the Zankel recital was impressive for its “poetry” but, let’s face it: any hopeful who could enter–and triumph–at so many daunting marathons would, ipso facto, be an “aggressive” and determined, self-assured contender!

Mr. Gorlatch’s burgeoning career has been adorned by a succession of prizes and honors since he was eleven-years-old. To name some: the German National Jugend Musiziert Competition (several times); the Steinway Competitions of Berlin and Hamburg; the Grotien Steinweg in Braunachweig; and the Robert Schumann Competition for Young Pianists in Zwickau, where he was awarded the Yehudi Menuhin Prize for best participant. He garnered prizes at the Vladimir Horowitz International Competition in Kiev and at the Chopin International in Warsaw.

In fact, this writer covered the then 18-year-old artist’s April 4, 2007 recital at Weill Hall when he came to us as the winner of the 2006 Hamamatsu International Competition (reviewed in Volume 14, No. 3 of this magazine.) His program at the time included the Beethoven Sonata, Op. 101, Schumann’s Fantasy Pieces, Op. 12, and all twelve Chopin Etudes, Op. 10. I praised his Beethoven as “structurally clear, tautly organized and sensibly clarified…a young man’s approach…Though additional areas of experience and insight may undoubtedly reveal spiritual mysteries, Gorlatch’s way was certainly on the right track.” The Schumann tone poems were “thoroughly idiomatic: clearly and simply phrased and free from affetuoso point-making… His playing represented the best of the best of the admirable Teutonic tradition (Gorlatch has been living and studying in Germany), with warm, robust down-to-the-bottom-of-the-keys sonority, yet with sufficient glow and color and ardent rhythmic vitality.” At that time, I was not quite so contented with Gorlatch’s performances of the Chopin Etudes: “Having praised his purposefulness, it seems churlish to remark that I wish he would loosen up a bit. Playing a concert also has a side potential for entertainment, and although I certainly don’t want ‘cuteness’ and pandering to an audience, I daresay that there is room for a bit of drama and communication…Mr. Gorlatch is obviously a great talent, but as he develops, he will realize that a performer can also be communicative and be fun to listen to…’’ That was when he was 18.

I am particularly pleased to report that at this concert–four years later–he showed just the type of growth I would hope for (and expect) from an already promising artist. His performances of Beethoven’s Op. 110, Bartok’s “Out of Doors”, Four Debussy Preludes and a Chopin group had far more nuance, flexibility, color, and humor. The Beethoven sonata was notable for its almost operatic cantabile, and the pianist brought out innumerable, cherishable passing felicities. I am a bit surprised, however, that he chose to divide the runs in the first movement between the hands (as Beethoven himself calls for in the E major recapitulation later on), but this is a miniscule quibble.

The Bartok had great sensitivity and a feeling of detached understatement. The accuracy and precision were indeed awesome, although the requisite calm and repose of “The Night’s Music”’s insect noises were judiciously recreated against an unusual backdrop of anxious momentum. The opening “With Drums and Pipes” and the culminating “The Chase” were unusually subtle, but a bit too refined. Gorlatch’s way with the Bartok reminded me of Perahia’s sensitive interpretation.

One could say the same thing about the Debussy which–high praise indeed–were in the Gieseking tradition. He elicited a beguiling fragrance in “Les Sons et Parfumes Tournent dans du Soir” (from Book II) and an almost troubadour like declamation of “La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin” that made it seem it was being improvised on the spot. For once, “Feux d’Artifice” (Book ll) sounded decorative and entertaining (not the usual bombastic firecrackers that burn your hands!). “Ce qu a vu le vent d’Quest” (Book l) similarly may have been more notable for its delicacy than its Katrina-like ferocity; but its sophistication ultimately won me over.

In the concluding Chopin group, the “Barcarolle”–a bit laid-back at first–did summon a modicum of drama; the ending run was terrific. Four Mazurkas from Op. 67 and 68 were undulant and dance-like; (the A minor, Op. 68, with its trills, was played “Lento”– a slow dance, not “Lento” as a dirge); I liked its curvaceousness. The A-flat Polonaise, Op. 53, a mite small-scaled for my taste, was almost too easy for him; the famous octaves went by astonishingly and fleetly well. (But Rubinstein’s sui generis interpretation will always stubbornly retain my loyal affection).

And I am delighted to observe: Mr. Gorlatch’s new stage presence has livened up gratifying well. He gave us two encores: the c-sharp minor Etude, Op. 10, No. 4 was almost Richter-like in its brilliance and headlong tempo; and the E-flat Waltz, Op. 1 came forth with intoxicating dazzle.

A wonderful concert!

New Amsterdam Symphony Orchestra in Review

New Amsterdam Symphony Orchestra Guerguan Tsenov, conductor
Gabrielius Alekna, piano
Symphony Space; New York, NY
April 11, 2011

Gabrielius Alekna

The New Amsterdam Symphony Orchestra’s April 7th concert at Symphony Space had a fine guest soloist, Lithuanian pianist Gabrielius Alekna and a solid guest conductor, Bulgarian Guerguan Tsenov, who led this semi-professional ensemble in works by Beethoven and Brahms.

Mr. Alekna, according to the biography in the printed program, is the only Lithuanian to hold a D.M.A. from the Juilliard School, where he studied with Jerome Lowenthal. Alekna, who has garnered several impressive honors, won more than a dozen top prizes in competitions–both stateside and in Europe: Second Prize in the 2005 International Beethoven Piano Competition; Hilton Head (USA); Maria Canals (Spain); Guirlionis (Lithuania); and has soloed with the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bertrand de Billy); the Juilliard Orchestra (James de Priest); and also the Belarus State Symphony, the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra and the Christopher Chamber Orchestra. A devoted chamber musician, Mr. Alekna  performed the Bartok Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion with Ursula Oppens and New York Philharmonic timpanist Joe Periera. He has also collaborated with the cellist Zvi Harel, and with both the Vilnius and Cuirlianus String Quartets. Daniel Barenboim recently cited him as “a highly gifted pianist and musician.” He brought sterling virtuosity and comprehension to Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto, Op. 73. His assured but refined pianism had clarity, bravura authority, and easily held its own amidst Beethoven’s busy orchestration. He obliged his enthusiastic admirers with a lovely, flexible singing  acount  of “Bruyeres” from Debussy’s second book of Preludes.  

Earlier, the orchestra played conscientious, traditional versions of the “Egmont” Overture and the Brahms Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a.  Maestro Tsenov has studied with Kurt Masur, and has also participated in seminars with David Zinman, George Manahan, and Michael Tilson Thomas. In company with his piano soloist, Tsenov (who is a pianist himself) is a knowing, well- grounded musician.