SubCulture presents Ian Hobson — Sound Impressions: The Piano Music of Debussy & Ravel in Review

SubCulture presents Ian Hobson — Sound Impressions: The Piano Music of Debussy & Ravel in Review

Ian Hobson, piano

SubCulture, New York, NY

November 29, 2017

 

Esteemed pianist Ian Hobson opened his six-concert series of the complete solo piano works of Debussy and Ravel with his first installment on Wednesday at the edgy SubCulture location in New York’s East Village. Having made his reputation with insightful performances of everything from German standards to neglected Romantic masters to contemporary music written specifically for him, he now reveals another aspect of his curiosity: French so-called “Impressionism.” By the way, can we all stop using this term? Debussy and Ravel despised it, for it was applied as a pejorative, borrowed from the visual arts where it was used the same way.

 

The recital was a success, if one gauged by audience response to this sometimes diffuse music. I feel that it was more of a mixed success. Mr. Hobson inhabited the general atmospheres of all the works very well, with enormous technical fluency, but there were far too many flaws in the presentation: dropped notes, wrong notes, notes that didn’t sound, dynamics ignored, rhythms distorted (I couldn’t really tell if memory problems were perhaps a factor in some of this), and nearly every tempo too fast. Yikes! I’m going to attempt to temper this harsh verdict by saying that he appeared hamstrung by the piano in SubCulture, an inferior small Steinway that managed to sound completely wooden, almost pitchless at times in the bass, and out-of-tune. Please, SubCulture, when presenting an artist of such stature, doesn’t that warrant a full-size concert grand, especially when sonic splendor is a large part of the esthetic of the period of music being played?

 

Mr. Hobson began with what for me was a bit of a turn-off: “Ravel’s” Menuet in C-sharp minor (1904). I know this has been recorded recently, in pianists’ desperate search to add uniqueness to their Ravel canon, but just because a work is in a composer’s handwriting does NOT make it a work BY that composer. (As was the case for decades with some of Bach’s sacred cantatas now known to be spurious, he was merely copying out other composers’ works for his own use.) In this instance, the Menuet was found on the reverse of a sheet of exercises by Ravel’s composition student Maurice Delage. I have it on very good authority that either (1) Ravel was taking oral dictation from Delage, thus making the piece by Delage, or (2) that he was making fun of Delage’s maladroitness in the lesson, making it “sort of” Ravel. Ravel was such a fastidious technician, certainly in his master period by 1904, and I’m sure he is turning in his grave over this bad piece, which even a casual listen would demonstrate sounds nothing like Ravel at all. Sorry, Ian!

 

The entire recital was played without intermission, with only a slight pause between Gaspard and the Debussy Préludes. Mr. Hobson followed with a charming account of Debussy’s first surviving work for piano solo: Danse Bohémienne, which Madame von Meck sent to Tchaikovsky for evaluation. Pyotr Ilich said: “Your little Frenchman is charming, but perhaps the piece is a bit too short,” a pithy, accurate observation. Debussy was already demonstrating his unconcern with “development.”

 

After that came the two well-known and well-worn Debussy Arabesques, so beloved of adult amateur piano students everywhere. They were given a rough rendering that de-emphasized charm in favor of tempo. Most opportunities (in the score) for moins vite, ritenuto, diminuendo, were either not observed or minimally so.

 

He then gave us a truly unusual miniature, composed for a music magazine competition, called Morceau de concours (1904). It uses two fragments from one of Debussy’s many abortive opera projects, Le Diable dans le beffroi, based on Poe. This was very well played.

 

Next up were the Images oubliées, three pieces from 1894, portions of which were re-used in later works. These were first published (1 and 2) in the Piano Quarterly in 1977, and they really should be heard more often. The first is marked Lent (mélancolique et doux), but it sounded impatient in Mr. Hobson’s rendition. The second piece “In the tempo of a Sarabande . . .” (which later became the Sarabande in Pour le piano, with harmonic changes), worked its hypnotic magic and was a highpoint of Hobson’s evening for me. The third piece “Some aspects of Nous n’irons plus au bois” (a children’s song, later used in Jardins sous la pluie) was also played effectively, its rapidity uniting well with Mr. Hobson’s strengths.

 

Now we come to the first true masterpiece of this program, Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit, “three poems for piano (Ravel’s own designation) after Aloysius Bertrand.” Mr. Hobson’s rippling accompaniment figure at the beginning of Ondine, the spiteful mermaid, was gorgeous, giving me high hopes for the rest of the piece, but in the middle of the first page, he played a notorious misprint where the figure appears to change (but is not supposed to!). I suppose he learned it that way, and such things are very difficult to change. His fluidity (in this ultimate water piece) was still gorgeous throughout, though I wish he had breathed more, and left her little “naked” solo without pedal, as indicated. Le Gibet, the story of the body of a hanged man swaying on the gallows in the red light of the setting sun, with bats bumping into it and insects abounding, simply was way too fast. It could not work its mesmerizing spell of dread at such a tempo. If Ravel had been present, he would have had the same falling out with Mr. Hobson that he did with Ricardo Viñes, over the same piece! Scarbo, the imp who tortures the insomniac by scratching at the bedsheets, bursting into flame, then vanishing, suited Mr. Hobson’s impetuousity. You must have that sort of fearlessness to attempt this monster, and he did. I do wish more details had been audible, and softer dynamics (when indicated) had been observed.

 

Mr. Hobson closed with the second book of Debussy’s Préludes, which still manage to sound really modern despite a lifetime of study and performance. Again, in terms of atmospheres Mr. Hobson nailed them. But there are so many subtleties that went by the wayside. Let me dwell on the best of his: La puerta del Vino (with brusque oppositions of extreme violence and passionate gentleness), Les fées sont d’exquises danseuses (rapid and light), “General Lavine”-eccentric (one of Debussy’s send-ups of then in-vogue cakewalk), Ondine (playful, less menacing than Ravel’s for sure), Les tierces alternées (really Debussy’s “thirteenth etude”), and Feux d’artifice (with its concluding broken, faraway evocation of La Marseillaise). Hey, that’s a pretty good average, six out of the twelve. What I missed in the others was the same as previously mentioned: whenever the music said Lent, it wasn’t, he seemed in a hurry to get through the material.

 

Of course, presenting the complete (and complex!) works of these two is a huge project: I hope Mr. Hobson will find the time to breathe more and enjoy the beautiful sounds he is capable of making, and transport his appreciative audiences even farther into the French soul.

 

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Appalachian Winter: A Bluegrass Christmas in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Appalachian Winter: A Bluegrass Christmas in Review

Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Joseph M. Martin, composer/conductor
Dailey & Vincent, special guests
Sue Martin, soprano; Sarah Whittemore, alto; Brad Nix, piano
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
November 27, 2017

The holiday season is now in full swing. The crowds are out in force, being enticed by all sorts of deals, and for those who want to shop at home, “Cyber Monday” is the game. For a few hours, one could escape this madness and go back to a simpler time, to thoughts of family, love, and the true meaning of the holidays, courtesy of Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY). Transforming Carnegie Hall into the heart of Appalachia, DCINY presented a concert entitled Appalachian Winter: A Bluegrass Christmas on November 27, 2017. The concert featured the music of Joseph M. Martin, including the World Premiere of his Rhapsody in Bluegrass, with special guests Dailey & Vincent, and singers from California, Oregon, Texas, Missouri, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Kansas, West Virginia, Iowa, Florida, South Carolina, Indiana, Louisiana, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and “individual singers from around the globe. One could feel the energy in the hall as the singers filed onto the stage even before a single note was sung.

Concerts of this crossover type present a challenge for the reviewer, even for one accustomed to such DCINY events. It has always been this reviewer’s belief that it is best to surrender to such an experience and judge it on its own merits, as opposed to making any attempt to offer criticism on conventional classical criteria.

Joseph M. Martin (b. 1959), a DCINY favorite, took the stage to conduct his Appalachian Winter, A Cantata for Christmas. There are ten movements in the work, using traditional choral writing with spirituals, Shaker hymns, rustic Sacred Harp and Appalachian country tunes. Each movement can easily stand on its own independent of the others. Soprano Sue Martin and alto Sarah Whittemore were the featured vocal soloists, and Dailey & Vincent was the consort.

It is beyond the scope of this review to detail each movement, so I will mention what I considered to be the highlights. The Prelude is Copland-esque in its sound, with quotes from “Simple Gifts” woven in throughout, which showed Mr. Martin’s fine hand as both a composer and sonic dramatist at setting the ideal mood. Hope and Expectation was powerful, with a steadfast determination that was brought to life by the two-hundred-plus chorus. The Appalachian sounds of Mountain Carol were both inspired and poignant.

Both Ms. Martin and Ms. Whittemore were exceptional in their solo roles, not only exceptional as singers, but for their stylistic understanding. There were no operatic vibratos or similar effects that would have been so very wrong, but just a crystalline clarity, a humble sincerity, and a child-like innocence that simply enchanted. Jamie Dailey’s distinctive soaring tenor was an added treat, and the ensemble of Dailey & Vincent – to be discussed later – provided colorful Appalachian flair.

After the final movement showstopper Children, Go Tell It on the Mountain ended the audience reacted with a standing ovation. The feeling of energy mentioned at the beginning of this review did not abate even with intermission. It was as if a spring were being coiled for the second half as the buzz in the hall continued throughout the intermission.

Dailey& Vincent kicked off the second half with a short set. Founded by Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent, this Grand Ole Opry member, five-time Grammy-winning group ranks among the elite entertainers in bluegrass, gospel, and country music. This was not this listener’s first occasion to hear Dailey& Vincent, so I had some idea what to expect. At this concert, though, there was a little less of the banter –perhaps time was an issue. In any case, these musicians know their craft and bring their considerable talents to the table. I may not be a bluegrass aficionado, but I know good playing when I hear it, and this ensemble is built to play. The other members of Dailey& Vincent are Patrick McAvinue, fiddle, Cory Piatt, mandolin, Jeff Parker, mandolin and vocals, Aaron McCune, guitar and vocals, Jessie Baker, banjo and guitar, Shaun Richardson, guitar, Buddy Hyatt, keyboards, Bob Mummert, percussion, and Scott Bolen, audio engineer. I will single out the a cappella rendition of “Wonderful Grace of Jesus,” with the tight harmonies, and the ground shaking descents into the subterranean bass register, that brought the audience to their feet. After this final set number, Dailey & Vincent gave an encore as they played the chorus members onto the stage.

The stage was now set for the World Premiere of Mr. Martin’s Rhapsody in Bluegrass. Mr. Martin addressed the audience to talk a bit about how he was approached by DCINY to create this piece. He was humble, gracious, and his winning personality was most apparent in his self-effacing humor. His quip about his hometown being so small that the 7-11 was a “3-and-a-half” even made this oh-so-serious reviewer roar in laughter!

Scored for choir and bluegrass consort, the forty-five-minute, nine-movement Rhapsody in Bluegrass is stylistically similar to Appalachian Winter. Mr. Martin even refers to the Rhapsody as a seasonal cantata in his notes. Also similar is that each movement can stand alone without any loss of effect, although there is a certain continuity in each movement as to propel the story. Ms. Martin and Ms. Whittemore returned as featured vocal soloists, and once again their beautiful voices and intelligent grasp of style were every bit in evidence in their winning performances. Mr. Martin hit the nail squarely on the head when he said DCINY “picked the right man” for this work. Rhapsody in Bluegrass is a welcome and much-needed addition to the holiday music canon.

In the final movement, A Little Light Was Born, all the stops were pulled out in a big finish. Every member of Dailey & Vincent had an extended solo that built up the excitement to a fever pitch. The audience could no longer restrain themselves and leapt to their feet in a standing ovation while the last notes were sounded. It was a joyous reaction to a wonderful evening. Congratulations to DCINY, Mr. Martin, Dailey & Vincent, and all performers for this gift of music!

 


New Asia Chamber Music Society presents New Asia Chamber Music Society with Zhang Fang, Piano in Review

New Asia Chamber Music Society presents New Asia Chamber Music Society with Zhang Fang, Piano in Review

Max Tan, William Wei, Ji In Yang; violin
Wei-Yang Andy Lin, viola
Nan-Cheng Chen, Grace Ho; cello
Zhou Yi, pipa
Zhang Fang, guest pianist
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
November 20, 2017

 

The New Asia Chamber Music Society was founded in 2010 by a group of young Asian-American musicians who were graduates of prestigious American music schools, among them The Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute. Their mission statement says that they are “committed to bringing audiences exceptional performances of the chamber music repertoire drawn from the canon of western music as well as contemporary Asian culture.” This concert shows that they are certainly succeeding in their mission.

Zhang Fang
Photo by Ben Tso Photography

 

The concert began with a performance of Eight Drunken Immortals, a trio for piano, pipa (Chinese lute), and cello composed in 2013 by Dong-Qing Fang (b.1981). According to Wikipedia, “The Eight Immortals are a group of legendary xian (immortals) in Chinese mythology… Some drunken boxing styles make extensive use of the Eight Immortals archetypes for conditioning, qigong/meditation and combat training.” The composer chose six of these archetypes (drunken- intention, drinking, hitting, steps, playfulness, fists) and wrote a short “character piece, a la Robert Schumann” for each archetype. Each received a brilliant performance. Cellist Grace Ho drew a beautiful sound from her instrument during the lyrical passages, and she was equally compelling during the wilder movements. Pianist Zhang Fang was in constant synch with his colleagues, acting as a supportive accompanist when needed and exhibiting virtuosic skill when called for, but it was the playing of the pipa by Zhou Yi which made the deepest impression on this listener. We first heard rapidly repeated notes which reminded one of the mandolin. Using this technique, Ms. Zhou spun out finely shaped melodies. In one especially beautiful passage, a melody played by Ms. Zhou was repeated by the cello and then played by both performers. This melding of the east and the west was most beguiling. The pipa is capable of many sounds – harmonics and wonderful percussive effects. All were beautifully performed by Ms. Zhou.

From left to right: Max Tan, Ji In Yang, Zhang Fang, Nan-Cheng Chen, Wei-Yang Andy Lin
Photo by Ben Tso Photography

 

A work for solo piano, Poetry with Silent Mountain (2011), by Wantong Jiang (b.1957) followed. To be frank, I couldn’t quite understand what the program notes meant, other than the relaxed sounds we were to hear symbolized “the self-singing” of silence. Pianist Zhang Fang, who was most impressive in the rapid loud fast passages of the previous work, beautifully shaped the sounds and silences of this quasi impressionistic composition, producing wonderfully varied pianistic colors A recurring passage of low rumbling sounds in the piano’s lowest register followed by descending open fourths and fifths and concluding with louder octave passages gave the composition a discernable shape. Prepared piano sounds were created by pulling two “trussed horsetails,” one at the instrument’s lowest string at the beginning of the work, and one at the highest string at the conclusion.

From left to right: Zhou Yi,  Zhang Fang, Grace Ho
Photo by Ben Tso Photography

 

The first half of the concert ended with a wonderful performance of Claude Debussy’s String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 10 (1893.) I am very happy to report that the fine ensemble playing we heard in tonight’s first work was heard both during the Debussy and the Brahms Piano Quintet heard after intermission. Each work was played with fine intonation, attention to detail and with the cohesiveness of an ensemble that had played together for a long time. The Debussy was performed by violinists William Wei and Ji In Yang, violist Wei-Yang Andy Lin, and cellist Grace Ho. Mr. Wei was a fine leader who played with energy and precision up to the very heights of the E-string. The other players weren’t “shrinking violets.” They perfectly balanced Mr. Wei and, when called for, spun out beautifully shaped melodies.

From left to right: William Wei, Ji In Yang, Grace Ho, Wei-Yang Andy Lin
Photo by Ben Tso Photography

 

The Brahms Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34 (1864), one of chamber music’s most monumental works, poses great musical and technical challenges for its five performers. Violinists Max Tang and Ji In Yang, violists Wei-Yang and Andy Lin, cellist Nan-Cheng, and pianist Zhang Fang, were up to the task. Readers of my reviews must know by now how I feel when performers do not obey the composer’s instructions to repeat a first movement’s exposition. They can imagine my joy when, for the first time while attending a live performance of this piece, I heard the beginning of the first ending and, after five measures, again heard the beginning of the exposition. I would like to publically offer my thanks to the performers for their bravery in doing the right thing. But, as the saying goes, “Beware of getting what you wish for.” It seemed to me that the tempo of the second playing of the exposition was a bit faster than the first. I ask the players to listen to the performance tape and, if I am incorrect, I will be the first to admit being in error. In any case, I am sure of the fact that there was a tendency to rush in movements two and three, especially during crescendi and loud passages, but these were just tiny blemishes on what was a thrilling performance.

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) Presents “Messiah … Refreshed!” in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) Presents “Messiah … Refreshed!” in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York; Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Jonathan Griffith, Conductor
Penelope Shumate, Soprano; Claudia Chapa, Mezzo-Soprano;
John McVeigh, Tenor; Christopher Job, Baritone
Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall
New York, NY
November 26, 2017

 

DCINY has a magic touch. Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) under the direction of Jonathan Griffith has made a name since 2008 with extravagant large-scale productions, but their performance this weekend of Handel’s Messiah (the larger-than-life Goossens version) just may have topped all.

 

The sounds at their fullest were glorious, thanks to an enormous cast of musicians supporting fine soloists Penelope Shumate, Claudia Chapa, Christopher Job, and John McVeigh. Not only does DCINY have its own capable orchestra for such occasions, but it gathered close to five-hundred singers from Arizona, California, Georgia, Indiana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Ohio, as well as international choruses from Austria, Canada, France, Hong Kong, Mexico, and “individual singers from around the globe.” The emotions created by such large musical forces, mirrored and magnified by the excitement of the packed hall of music-lovers, have to be experienced to be believed. Suffice it to say that anyone proclaiming the end of classical music needs to crawl out from under his rock and witness it.

 

This reviewer was on a cloud of joy and admiration, a remarkable state in view of the fact that she has heard the entire piece many dozens of times in various incarnations, not counting excerpt performances, collectively bringing the tally into the hundreds. One might expect this music to feel “old hat” but Sunday’s concert was the farthest thing from it.

 

The overriding thrill has to be expressed first, as it is a shame to leave a concert floating on air, only to lose that spirit in the myriad details of the music’s history, its different arrangements, its performance practice, and more – though those details are rich and important in this much-storied work. Fortunately, for several years now, the illustrious reviewers of New York Concert Review have written about DCINY’s “Messiah … Refreshed!” as it has been titled, and so for background one can read their work here, Messiah Refreshed 2016 and here, Messiah Refreshed 2015. Because many among the personnel have been the same, even much of that information is still pertinent, though of course the performances are new each time.

 

The first solo of the day was from tenor John McVeigh in the recitative “Comfort ye my people.” He projected a warm sound and beautiful clarity of diction here, though he truly seemed at his best in the aria “Ev’ry valley shall be exalted.” Where some singers blur Handel’s long lines with indistinct pitches, and others manage the pitches with machine-gun-like attack, Mr. McVeigh established the perfect balance of flow and precision.

 

Baritone Christopher Job made his strong entrance with the recitative “This saith the Lord” but was particularly impressive in the “Why do the nations so furiously rage together?” (hundreds of years later, as relevant as ever!). In the latter, thanks to Goossens’ expanded forces, Mr. Job had much to compete with, but he was more than up to the challenge.

 

Mezzo-soprano Claudia Chapa, with arguably the most to contend with in terms of balance against a similar range orchestrally, emerged victorious with her warm burnished phrases. What struck one about this singer was her musical sensitivity in subtly inflecting her held notes in “O thou that tellest good tidings in Zion.” She seemed responsive to each nuance in the orchestral parts, performing as a true ensemble member. Also excellent was her “He was despised.”

 

Soprano Penelope Shumate projected her bright sound quite powerfully, and there was never a hint of being overwhelmed by the substantial forces of chorus and orchestra. Her “How beautiful are the feet” was delivered with devout feeling, but perhaps her most memorable moments were in “I know that my redeemer liveth,” in which her softer dynamic levels were absolutely haunting.

 

Bringing everything together was Maestro Griffith, who managed the veritable army of musicians with heroic energy and skill. At times Handel – and Goossens – left an easier task than at others. For example, there are stretches of more homophonic textures, fairly cut and dried, in which Goossens’ ample orchestration simply makes everything fuller. On the other hand, in some of the more polyphonic sections where one part’s melismatic lines interweave, overlap, or synchronize with others’ – or in the rapid sixteenth notes of the chorus “And he shall purify” – ensemble matters become more daunting, not unlike getting several hundred centipedes to march in tandem. Occasionally a section of the chorus tended to dwell a bit too lovingly on their own lines, threatening to upset the rhythm by just a crucial nanosecond, but miraculously Maestro Griffith held them together throughout the entire concert. He is part conductor, part ringmaster, and part magician. Bravo!

 

There is not much space here to engage in debate on the relative merits of Goossens’ vs. Handel’s orchestrations (or Mozart’s), but there is, after all, much to appreciate in each one. The Goosens version, with expanded percussion, winds, and brass was first made famous by Thomas Beecham’s 1959 recording with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and has, despite much controversy, earned a rightful place in the music world. The numerous voices decrying it as a bombastic juggernaut will eventually have to accept that it is here to stay along with its earlier versions – one can always simply opt to listen only to one’s preferred versions.

 

Yes, there are moments in the Goossens when the use of the tuba seems superfluous, or harps and piccolo seem like so much window-dressing, but at the same time, the expanded forces make possible some gripping contrasts. The tender quietude of the pastoral “Pifa” movement, for example, stands out precisely because of the full orchestral sonorities preceding it.

 

Most of all, though, there is just nothing quite like the full orchestral forces unleashed in the famous Hallelujah, an apotheosis augmented by full brass, crashing cymbals, and the heightened decibels of hundreds of choristers singing from the balconies. The movement can be a life-affirming musical high, and we can thank Goossens for making that high even higher.

 

In the world of historic performance practice, if a musician is to be faithful to the spirit rather than the letter of musical “law,” then one perhaps ought to consider Handel’s own famed remark upon writing the Hallelujah chorus, “I did think I saw heaven open, and saw the very face of God.” If the music is to suggest such a revelation, then it might not be considered outrageous for the floors of Carnegie Hall to vibrate with the thundering resonance – and they did just that. It might also be considered appropriate that the audience leave a Messiah performance with mouths agape from wonderment – and they did just that, after a prolonged and deafening ovation.

 

Under the circumstances, one can best close this review with just one more word – Hallelujah!

 


Young Concert Artists (YCA) presents PyeongChang Music Festival and Young Concert Artist Series in Celebration of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Review

Young Concert Artists (YCA) presents PyeongChang Music Festival and Young Concert Artist Series in Celebration of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Review

Sumi Hwang, soprano, Paul Huang, violin, Todd Phillips, violin, Stephen Waarts, violin, Ida Kavafian, viola, Ziyu Shen, viola, Edward Arron, cello, Myung-Wha Chung, cello, Sang-Eun Lee, cello. Dasol Kim, piano
Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, NY
November 21, 2017

In celebration of the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympic Games to be held in PyeongChang, South Korea, Young Concert Artists (YCA) presented a concert combining the talents of both YCA and the PyeongChang Music Festival at Alice Tully Hall on November 21, 2017. Official mascots of the games, the tiger Soohorang and the bear Bandabi, were in the foyer to greet all, much to the delight of many children (and adults as well!).

YCA, founded and directed by Susan Wadsworth, is now celebrating its 57th season. YCA has launched the careers of hundreds of artists, many of whom went on to world-wide fame. Just to name a few, Emanuel Ax, Murray Perahia, Ida Kavafian, Pinchas Zukerman, and Dawn Upshaw are all YCA alumni. To view the entire roster, and to learn more about YCA, visit www.yca.org

PyeongChang Music Festival is now in its 15th year. Under the artistic direction of Myung-Wha Chung and Kyung-Wha Chung, the festival and school present both Distinguished Artists and Rising Stars series as well as master classes, student and children’s concerts, and conversation with artists.

Before the concert started, both Ms. Wadsworth and Chairman Kim spoke in welcoming the audience. Ms. Wadsworth added the request for the audience to hold their applause between movements and had Mr. Kim translate that request as well. Alas, it was all for naught, as the enthusiastic audience members could not restrain themselves, and the “request” was ignored immediately! In the grand scheme of things, this is not so bad, as it is infinitely better to have an energized audience that “breaks the rules” as opposed to one that claps at the right time, but without any joy.

This was the pairing of two high-powered organizations, so there would be no question about the credentials of the players. The only question that remained was how well they would mesh together, and how the pairings of the “veteran all-stars” with the “rising stars” would work. Suffice it to say, it all worked wonderfully, in the kind of concert reviewers dream about. No need to obsess over spotty intonation and ensemble balance, tug-of-wars between pianists and strings, or wild histrionics. These musicians came to play, and play they did!

Violinists Paul Huang and Stephen Waarts, violists Ziyu Shen and Ida Kavafian, and cellists Sang-Eun Lee and Edward Arron took the stage for the only work on the first half, Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, Op. 70. This work, completed in 1890, has nothing “Italian” about it, but is a tribute to Florence, a city Tchaikovsky adored. The combination of younger artists with more seasoned ones was inspired. The insights and wisdom of the veterans Ms. Kavafian and Mr. Arron were clearly apparent, and played off of the youthful energy of Mr. Huang, Mr. Waarts, Ms. Shen, and Ms. Lee. The combined energies and immense technical prowess resulted in a thoroughly engaging performance. The audience members applauded with gusto after each movement, and really let loose at the end. It was an exceptional performance from six outstanding artists.

 

 

 

Violinists Paul Huang and Stephen Waarts, cellists Edward Arron and Sang-Eun Lee, violists Ida Kavafian and Ziyu Shen -Photo Credit: Sua Kim

 

After intermission, soprano Sumi Hwang took the stage with cellist Edward Arron and pianist Dasol Kim for the New York premiere of “Told Tales Sweet as Untold”: Three Poems of Fernando Pessoa for soprano, cello, and piano, by Christopher Berg (b. 1949). Commissioned by the PyeongChang Music Festival, the interesting combination of voice with cello and piano was suggested by arts manager John Gingrich, who had suggested the need for more chamber music for voice with more than just piano accompaniment.

The three Pessoa poems Mr. Berg used were “The Poem,” “The Children’s Poet,” and “Elsewhere.” The “Poem” suggests the creative process of the poet, while “The Children’s Poet” does the same from the perspective of a child. “Elsewhere” is suggestive of a place of paradise. Whether or not that is Heaven is for the reader to decide. In Mr. Berg’s conception, only the cello and soprano are used. Quoting the composer, “The desire to go Elsewhere is one of man’s basic needs – and ultimately, both his hope and tragedy. As the representative of this world of ours, the piano (an instrument that does not ‘sing’) is not to be found in that other world.”

I take strong exception to the composer’s assertion that the piano does not “sing,” and I’m sure that this statement does not endear Mr. Berg to pianists everywhere. If “Elsewhere” does not have pianos, then I will give it a pass and stay “here.” This objection aside, I found “Told Tales as Sweet as Untold” to be work of an intelligent and talented composer. Mr. Berg captures the essence of Pessoa’s poetry with remarkable sensitivity. It poignant and ethereal, innocent and questioning, hopeful and ecstatic. Ms. Hwang has a powerful voice that rang through with utter clarity, even in the problematic acoustics of Alice Tully Hall. She navigated the extreme register without ever slipping into harsh sounds or loss of intonation. Other than the occasional clipped word, her diction was outstanding. Mr. Arron and Mr. Kim were first-rate as well. One also recalls Mr. Kim’s fine playing from the 15th Van Cliburn Competition this past season, and the outcry and justifiable indignation that he was passed over for all but a discretionary award. He is a remarkable talent who will undoubtedly enjoy the career that his gifts afford him.

 

 

Pianist Dasol Kim, violinist Todd Phillips, cellist Myung-Wha Chung -Photo Credit: Sua Kim

 

Despite my reservations about paradise and pianos, the composition “Elsewhere” was indeed spellbinding and as the end faded to silence, the rapt audience waited a moment before bursting into loud applause. Mr. Berg was in attendance and stood to accept the ovation.

The final work of the evening was the sublime Piano Trio No.1 in B major, Op. 8 of Brahms. Written when Brahms was only twenty-years old, this work is filled with all the hopes and stresses that the highly sensitive young composer was experiencing in his life. Mr. Kim joined with violinist Todd Phillips and cellist Myung-Wha Chung, another collaboration of “heavy hitters” that paid off handsomely in a top-notch performance. From the first measures of the noble opening of the first movement, to the mood-shifting scherzo, the heartrending Adagio, and the agitated finale, the players left no idea unexplored and no subtlety overlooked. It was a brilliant performance.

The turbulent final measures in B minor were played with élan, bringing the work to an exuberant close. The audience immediately sprung to its feet. The well-deserved standing ovation went on for several minutes, necessitating several returns to the stage for the fine performers.

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Suite Sounds of Christmas in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents The Suite Sounds of Christmas in Review

Distinguished Concerts Orchestra; Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Jonathan Griffith, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor
Randol Bass, composer-in-residence, and narrator
Mark Hayes, composer/conductor
Laura Sutton Floyd, soprano; Jessica Best, mezzo-soprano; Scott Joiner, tenor; Mark Gilgallon, baritone/bass
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
November 19, 2017

 

The holiday season is upon us, even before Thanksgiving. We are already being bombarded with early sales and “Black Friday” teasers, as people gear up for the latest crazes and finding special gifts for all on their shopping lists. It’s all so noisy and overwhelming that one can easily feel oppressed by it all. Thankfully, there are moments that remind us what Christmas was meant to be, and peace and serenity fill one’s heart despite it all. Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) gifted all those in attendance with a reminder of what the holidays can be. In a program entitled The Suite Sounds of Christmas, DCINY featured the music of Randol Bass and a suite of carols from around the world arranged by Mark Hayes. Singing them were groups from Texas, New Jersey, Montana, Florida, Idaho, South Carolina, New York, California, Kansas, Nevada, Maryland, Connecticut, Indiana, Canada, and “individual singers from around the globe.” It proved to be an evening filled with holiday magic.

The first half was dedicated to the music of Randol Bass (b. 1953). Opening with the popular Gloria, a dynamic work that is always a crowd pleaser, conductor Jonathan Griffith got things off to a fine start. His ability to take forces of singers in the several hundreds from many different choirs and get them to sound so polished is something that I have come to expect as par for the course, yet it continues to elicit my admiration time and time again.

Mr. Bass joined Maestro Griffith for an impromptu chat on stage. Regaling the audience with stories of the headaches that a composer has to deal with from commissioning groups, Mr. Bass proved to be a seasoned raconteur. He paraphrased a proposal by the commissioning as follows: “Do you know the style of John Williams? To be honest, there is no way we can afford John Williams, so we want you to write something in his style. And we want a bombastic ending!” Mr. Bass showed mock offense at this less-than-elegant request, but with a smile said to the audience, “You can decide how well I did.” (Spoiler alert: He did brilliantly!)

Seasonal Sounds is a medley of four well-loved Christmas songs (in order Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and Jingle Bells) played without pause. It was delightful.

The Night Before Christmas, with Mr. Bass narrating the famous poem A Visit From St. Nicholas, followed. It should be an instant classic. One imagines that it could be used for an animated or live-action video which would enchant audiences of any age. Mr. Bass writes in his notes that “the piece is cinematically conceived, and each poetic image of the narration is imaginatively colored in such a way that audiences can clearly visualize the happenings from passage to passage.” Mr. Bass’s narration was filled with dramatic flair, and though it was perhaps a bit over-the-top, it enthralled his audience. Even this jaded listener found the work completely mesmerizing. John Williams could not have done it any better (wink, wink)!

A Feast of Carols, a medley of six carols, Gloucester Wassail, Il est né, le divin enfant, O come, O Come Emmanuel, The Holly and the Ivy, God Rest Ye, Merry Gentleman, and We Wish you a Merry Christmas (again played without interruption), ended the first half in triumph. Mr. Bass came back to the stage to accept the loud ovation from the audience.

After intermission, Mark Hayes (b. 1953) took to the stage to conduct his International Carol Suite, a five-section work with thirty carols from twenty countries around the world. Starting in Western Europe, then moving onto Eastern Europe, then the British Isles, to Central and South America, and finally ending in North America, it was a remarkable fifty-five-minute musical journey. The featured vocal soloists were Laura Sutton Floyd, soprano, Jessica Best, mezzo-soprano, Scott Joiner, tenor, and Mark Gilgallon, baritone/bass. Mr. Hayes is a skilled composer and arranger, and he used his talents as a conductor to present his fine work in a winning performance.

 

It is not possible to comment on all thirty carols (for a list of the thirty, click Program Notes), so I will limit myself to my favorites from each region. For Western Europe, Angels We Have Heard on High; For Eastern Europe, Carol of the Russian Children; For the British Isles, Deck the Halls; For Central and South America, Song of the Wise Men; For North America, The Huron Carol. Likewise, I will mention the highlights from each of the four excellent soloists. Ms. Floyd showed the agility of her lovely voice in Song of the Wise Men. Ms. Best’s Infant Holy, Infant Lowly (in Polish) was very moving in its innocence. Mr. Joiner’s Gesu Bambino was delivered with a crystalline clarity, and Mr. Gilgallon’s strong voice filled the hall in Song of the Russian Children (In Russian). It reminded one of the great Russian bassos.

After the last notes of Go Tell it on the Mountain sounded, the audience leapt to their feet in a loud ovation for Mr. Hayes, the soloists, chorus and orchestra. Congratulation to all performers!

 


Hemsing Associates presents Kimiko Ishizaka in Review

Hemsing Associates presents Kimiko Ishizaka in Review

Kimiko Ishizaka, piano

Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY

November 19, 2017

 

Kimiko Ishizaka gave an energetic, somewhat dry reading of Bach’s last work, Die Kunst der Fuge (The Art of the Fugue), further demonstrating her lifelong involvement with the master’s works. She has previously performed and recorded the “Goldberg” variations and Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier.

 

She performed this gigantic series of fugues (referred to by the archaic term contrapunctus) and canons, all based on a single theme, from memory, an astonishing accomplishment, and she favored crisp touch, lots of détaché, generally brisk tempi, and absolutely no use of pedal. Andras Schiff also eschewed the pedal in his last presentation of the WTC at the 92nd Street Y a few years back, stating that although he had used it before, he preferred to find what he calls the “hand phrasing” that is only revealed when no pedal is used.

 

Now, I am an advocate of Bach on the modern piano, but if you’re going to use it, why deprive yourself of one of its principal resources? Of course, Baroque polyphony mustn’t “sound pedaled,” but the piano tone can be given much greater warmth and color variety with careful use.

 

I had that reservation about Ms. Ishizaka’s choices, as well as musical, dramatic, and philosophical reservations in general about this contrapuntal afternoon, as expertly played as it was. All Bach’s fugues and canons in this collection were written out in four-part open score, the standard for study—no instrumentation was ever specified. These were never intended for concert performance, or even private performance at one sitting, and though I enjoy hearing it that way, it simply lacked variety, mystery, a sense of the “sacred,” from which Bach’s entire oeuvre is never very far removed.

 

The most successful portion for me was, oddly, the four canons, in which her approach was perfectly united to the material. In the excellent program notes by Paul Griffiths, he mentions “creeping chromatic scale fragments” in one of the more complex fugues, but Ishizaka’s chromaticism lacked just that “creeping” quality, rather it danced, chirped, and just sounded busy.

 

Ms. Ishizaka also dared to complete the unfinished (projected quadruple) fugue. As Christoph Wolff points out, since combinatorial fugues like this are usually begun at the final, most complicated area, Bach had probably actually finished it (at least in his head) and was writing it out from the beginning when he died. That his death took place after the introduction of the third subject, the musical spelling of his own name (B-A-C-H is the German nomenclature for the notes Bb-C-A-B)), gave rise to generations of romanticization and speculation.

 

Completions are always a risk—none of us is J.S. Bach. Ms. Ishizaka’s while clever and not too lengthy, displayed more about Ms. Ishizaka than Bach, though she used many of the themes from previous fugues, and even a great reminder of the end of Contrapunctus I at the very end, thus coming full circle in a satisfying way. What her desire for completion tells me, however, is that perhaps she is uncomfortable with the mystery of just having it break off in midstream. Perhaps she has considered and rejected a “spiritual” approach to Bach, or perhaps this is her spiritual approach, but I can’t help wondering what a bit more legato and slightly slower tempi would have added to the music, even with no pedal.

 

Elsewhere, she had a few variant notes that I had learned differently, and altered rhythms, I’m sure intentional, in her incredible feat of precise memory. Contrapunctus IX was excellent in her hands, as were the two pairs of mirror fugues. The first eleven fugues were put in order by Bach himself. As for the rest, they were rather hastily cobbled together by C.P.E. Bach, his second son, for publication, hence some different accidentals, rhythms, etc, crept in.

 

Shortly after seeing to its publication, C.P.E. sold the engraver’s plates for the value of the metal—not too much respect to the “old wig,” as he called his father, whose style, sadly, was already superseded when he died. Paul Griffith mentioned that the modern premiere of the cycle was in Leipzig in 1927, in an orchestration by twenty-year-old Wolfgang Graeser. What he didn’t mention is that Graeser committed suicide right after the premiere. What Graeser’s friend, musicologist Erich Schwebsch said about it was “He took his life as one who, having penetrated through the mystery of life, no longer saw any need to continue therein.”

 

I’m almost apologetic about being so hard on such an obviously accomplished Bach pianist, but I do feel that there is much more that can be revealed in this monumental work. Ms. Ishizaka appears young, her stage presence is very upbeat, and as she lives with the work for years to come, I’m sure she will make ever-new discoveries.


The Rosalyn Tureck International Bach Competition presents Tony Yun in Review

The Rosalyn Tureck International Bach Competition presents Tony Yun in Review

Tony Yun, piano
Steinway Hall, New York, NY
November 14, 2017

 

Though only sixteen years old, Tony Yun has enjoyed a robust performing career for some years now—he is currently a student in the prestigious Juilliard pre-college division and has won numerous competitions. On this occasion, he was presented at Steinway Hall by the Rosalyn Tureck International Bach Competition, of which he is the most recent prize winner (October 2017).

 

At times it seemed as though there were two pianists present (and not because of the enormous amount of notes played): one, an impetuous, boyish virtuoso with technique to burn, the other, an introspective poetic dreamer. I preferred the latter pianist, though impetuosity also has its place. I fervently wish that he will meld these aspects together as he matures. This is a big, big talent, and anything I have to say below is only meant in the spirit of getting Mr. Yun to scrutinize all his pianistic and musical decisions carefully.

 

The recital opened with Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, BWV 903. Rosalyn Tureck always said the Fantasy was as close as possible to hearing what Bach extemporizing might have sounded like. The great thing about it is that no two people ever realize it the same way. Mr. Yun displayed creativity in his rendering of the many arpeggios that are not written out, only signified by half- or whole-note chords. I did not feel that he revealed the full sorrow of the immense chromatically descending section at the end. His Fugue, more rapid than most, achieved a playful quality. That is a valid choice, though again I feel that the ascending half-steps of the subject, which mirror the descent previously mentioned, should be experienced with a greater sense of mystery and struggle. I think Ms. Tureck, a formidable woman, but an open-minded musician, would have been happy with it.

 

Next came the one Beethoven sonata that is forbidden on most conservatory audition programs: No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2, “Quasi una fantasia,” known universally as the “Moonlight.” The first movement had become so hackneyed through amateur renderings, even transposed in some “easy” piano methods to C minor (!). Nevertheless, it is a haunting and progressive member of Beethoven’s canon. Mr. Yun really observed the indication of “delicacy with the damper pedal depressed throughout,” managing to create some daring blends on the modern Steinway, whose tonal weight is way too large, necessitating some compromises. I felt the tempo, though musicologically defensible, was too fast. Liszt called the second movement “a flower between two abysses,” and here the articulation of the phrasing was charming. The third movement, a gigantic sonata-allegro form, was Mr. Yun’s best of the three, remaining light while really showing off his rapidity, and he took advantage of every lyrical moment.

 

The first half concluded with Liszt’s Réminiscences de Norma/Grande Fantaisie, S. 394, a huge potpourri of themes from Bellini’s opera Norma. The story of a Druid priestess who loves a Roman soldier who deserts her for her best friend, and who then eventually offers herself as a sacrificial victim, is heavy going for a teenage boy. However, Bellini was twenty when it was produced, and probably a teen himself when composing it. Here, the “two pianists” theory of Mr. Yun was fully in evidence. The stentorian louder sections were all projected with superior virtuosity, but sometimes too harsh a sound, and a forgetting of the vocal nature of the music (still: always exciting). But when it came to the long, melting B minor/major theme in the middle, his poetic side created absolutely mesmerizing sounds, full of longing, and the rubati were perfection. The grande réunion des thèmes, a staple of all such transcriptions (not just Liszt’s) and the “three-hand” work were presented with complete mastery. Of course, to be able to play this at all is a triumph.

 

After intermission, Mr. Yun returned with another gigantic transcription: Busoni’s fleshing out of Bach’s Chaconne in D minor originally for solo violin. Busoni, I always felt, created a piece that is one composer’s emotional response to the spiritual message of the older composer’s piece, nothing to do with “faithful adherence” to the texture of the original, which would have been restricting (see Brahms’s left-hand alone version). Mr. Yun alternately thundered and whispered wherever required, with superb voicing and control over this very busy score.

 

He followed this with an incredibly mature, poised performance of Première communion de la Vierge (No.11: First Communion of the Virgin), from Messiaen’s Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jésus. This is one of Messiaen’s twenty “looks” at the baby Jesus, in which Mary adores the baby still inside her, shortly after the Annunciation. Redolent with Messiaen’s system of mystical leitmotifs, established earlier in the cycle, the dynamic palette is mostly hushed, befitting the adoration. Mr. Yun’s colors and his patience with the slow tempo were exquisite. In fact, they made me think that if I was his current teacher I’d put him on a diet of only p, pp, or ppp pieces for a year, to develop this side of himself that is so hypnotic. Remember, you can always impress a lot of people with rapid, loud, accurate playing—but you will really move people emotionally with your lyric warmth.

 

Now with what could he possibly top that? Stravinsky’s Firebird of course (L’Oiseau de feu– ballet presented in Paris in 1910 by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes), in the fierce transcription by the neglected Italian virtuoso pianist/composer Guido Agosti. This again showed Mr. Yun’s affinity with bold, fearless virtuosity, which is the only way to negotiate such a monstrously difficult score. He also really tried to evoke the spastic orchestral outbursts, particularly the wind sonorities. His blurred hush in the Berceuse was trance-like, another example of the “two Yuns.”

 

Mr. Yun favored the audience with Schubert’s Moment Musical No. 3 in F Minor, which was presented with innocence.

 


Mateusz Borowiak Third Recital in Review

Mateusz Borowiak Third Recital in Review

Mateusz Borowiak, piano
Merkin Concert Hall at Kaufman Center, New York, NY
Sunday, November 12, 2017, 8PM

Mateusz Borowiak’s series of three recitals came to a close on Sunday, with perhaps his most magisterial display of pianistic grandeur. It also gave me, now having heard all six of Louis Pelosi’s piano sonatas, a clear favorite. This is terrible to decide, a sort of musical “Sophie’s choice,” but his Sonata No. 3 in B-flat gets my vote. The crystalline piano sonorities juxtaposed with the characteristically dense ones, the overall playfulness of some of the material, and a certain resemblance (spiritual only, not imitative) to Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 3 (slow movement) in Pelosi’s slow movement, all endeared it to me.

Over the course of the three recitals, I heard numerous audience members grumbling that they couldn’t “follow” the structure, but make no mistake about it, Pelosi is a firm structuralist. It does take a certain fierce concentration, for it is more about densities, textures, and motives, things that the average listener has lost touch with identifying (a fault of society’s lack of music education, and the decline of home music making). I think someone clever could fashion two sonatas for every one of Pelosi’s, simply by removing about half the material and placing it on another manuscript page, but that is not for me to decide.

The Sonata No. 2 in A, a much fiercer, grimmer work, opened the recital, and it was presented perfectly by Mr. Borowiak, certainly Pelosi’s most capable advocate. Its principle of continuous evolving variation was clear, and there was even a Brahms-like consoling moment in the slow section.

After intermission, Mr. Borowiak presented the second set (Op. 39) of Rachmaninoff’s Études-Tableaux, which are programmatic, though the composer was often secretive about revealing specific images. They were composed near the end of 1916 to the beginning of 1917, just before the composer was driven from his native land, sorrowfully, by the turmoil of revolution. In fact, the famous E-flat minor etude (No. 5), the final one written, was completed just four days before the premiere of the set by Rachmaninoff himself. For who else could possibly have played these uncompromising, complicated studies?

Of course, today all young pianists grow up with these and other difficult repertoire firmly in their lesson plans, especially if they are serious about a career. In fact, through the course of Mr. Borowiak’s survey, I had to ponder how many physiological limitations have been conquered, how the landscape of what’s “possible” has evolved, even in my time, let alone since 1900.

Mr. Borowiak favored a “big-boned” approach to the Rachmaninoff, with gigantic sonority, big arching structure, clear voicing, and wonderful elasticity. Remember, Stravinsky referred to Rachmaninoff as a “six-and- a- half -foot scowl,” and it was mainly this person we hear in these distinctly anxiety-ridden works. For me, the stand-outs were No. 2 (“the sea and the seagull”), No. 5, No. 7 (“funeral march”), and No. 8, but they were all beautifully played, with complete fearless mastery. Mr. Borowiak organized their complexity with such assurance that the set sounded more coherent than I can recall from any recent artist.

After his customary tumultuous ovation, Mr. Borowiak, in a gesture of extreme modesty and renunciation, didn’t play an encore, though it was richly deserved (nor had he on any of the recitals).

When was the last time you saw the word aposiopesis in a program note? Yes, I had to look it up. Congratulations to you, Mateusz, and may you grace our shores again with more intelligent programming.


Mateusz Borowiak Second Recital in Review

Mateusz Borowiak Second Recital in Review

Mateusz Borowiak, piano
Merkin Concert Hall at Kaufman Center, New York, NY
November 8, 2017

 

As serendipity would have it, I saw a poster in a small restaurant prior to attending Mateusz Borowiak’s second recital (of three) comprising his US debut. The slogan said: “The only way to do great work is to love.” This seemed particularly apropos regarding the sonatas of Louis Pelosi, two more of which (Nos. 5 and 1) were played on November 8, 2017 by Mr. Borowiak.

 

Clearly, Pelosi works with a great deal of love: love of imitative counterpoint, love of tonal harmony with many layers of complexity, love of the piano and its possibilities, and love of expressing large feelings and ideas. My fear, if that is the right word, is that this literature will not appeal to other pianists en masse, or the wider audiences it merits (and perhaps that’s okay) for it seems to me now that I have heard four of the six that his music lacks one thing the average concertgoer wants: memorable melodies.

 

Pelosi works with “themes and motives” more than “tunes,” and this certainly is an honorable practice going all the way back through music history, but it does make his music harder to listen to for the novice, even for those with some experience. The Sonata No. 5 made a strong impression in Mr. Borowiak’s expert hands—he has a way of clarifying these extremely dense textures, leading the ear to where the main matter is. Sonata No. 1 alternated between playful imitative materials and darker forces, and again, one could not imagine a better performance.

 

After intermission, Mr. Borowiak continued his marathon presentation of three complete etude cycles with all twelve of Debussy’s etudes. These are great late works by the master, pointing the way to modern trends while remaining totally “Debussy” in style as well. Debussy probably had the deepest, most intimate knowledge of the potential for piano sonority of any composer since Chopin. Let me make absolutely clear that at no time was the technical prowess of Mr. Borowiak in doubt, however, those who know my background and writings know how fervent I am about French music and its style. I feel that Mr. Borowiak could benefit from a bit more in the way of tints and tones of the same color, delicacy, and an almost indefinable French “wit” so essential to this music. The “cinq doigts” needed more leggiero and its last note was cut way too short, the “Tièrces” and “Quartes” were very good, the “Sixtes” however needed more legato gliding and delicacy, as they were a bit too jumpy. The “Octaves” and the “huit doigts” were very good. In the second livre I felt he grasped the nature of each piece much better—these are frankly much less didactic and more imagistic in tone. Everything was just put perfectly in place by Mr. Borowiak, and his tempo for the concluding “accords” was the fastest I’ve ever heard, and accurate.

 

I’ll admit I do quibble about things, but the secret to French music is truly in the details. He has such a secure foundation already as a pianist, I hope Mr. Borowiak will continue to let these major accomplishments of his repertoire “sink in” to even deeper levels of refinement. Then he will truly be sans pareil.