Richibi’s Weblog

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Month: September, 2011

Chopin piano concerto no 1, opus 11‏

Chopin doesn’t take you on a philosophical journey, he
just makes you fly    
psst: goes well with wine





a couple of violin concertos‏

a violin concerto is of course the same thing as a piano
concerto with a violin however where the piano would
be, performing histrionics before an orchestra for the
length of several movements, traditionally three, usually
fast, slow, fast, for reasons of presentation psychology,
a fast, arresting introduction, then a slow, languorous
beat to forcefully display an alternative musical sensibility,
then fast again for a big, splashy, electrifying finish, leaving
no question about outsized either compositional or
interpretive capabilities, or rather, about outright,
manifest, wizardries 
Beethoven and Tchaikowsky give us again the big ones,
Rachmaninoff, essentially a pianist, didn’t write for the
violin, composing to be able to play himself his own works, 
superbly in fact, even definitively, his performances of his
piano concertos are matchless 
Anne-Sophie Mutter, one of the brightest stars in
Herbert von Karajan‘s Deutsche Grammophon galaxy,
the company that he put on the international map in
the sixties to cast, magisterially, the richness of our
musical heritage upon that unsuspecting decade, and  
beyond, still commands rapt attention internationally 
though her mentor died in 1989, leaving the world
with less charisma, I might add, less glamour and
authority, less power and panache, in his musical
wake, though other concert luminaries shine
illustriously still, only without now the power of his
charged magnetism, his inspired musical sensibility
and the consummate ability to market his own and
his artistic community’s wares to an often otherwise
distracted audience
here he is a divinity overseeing the motion of the sun,
the moon, the stars in a universe of his own creation,
he is extraordinary, he is composed, supremely
confident, while his eyelids reveal the reaches of his
Anne-Sophie Mutter is impeccable, evidently a star
pupil in her master’s stable 
Sarah Chang, a mere child, is no less dazzling in her
piece, an old spirit in the guise of a sprite, she polishes
off a fiendish Tchaikowsky, an electrifying work, with
the invaluable help of her own conductor, the eminent,
Charles Dutoit, you can see it in her trusting, ever
soulful intermittent gaze 
be assured you will be dazzled 
the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, which accompanies
her, is a symphony orchestra of the Netherlands, considered
one of the very best in the world  



Tchaikowsky piano concerto no 1 in B flat minor, opus 23‏

the piano concerto no 3 of Rachmaninoff was written in 1909,
a hundred years after Beethoven’s piano concerto no 5, the
, 1811, to the attentive ear the intervening years
are present in the evolution of the music

the most evident structural alteration, sensed now rather
than consciously heard, though this change would’ve been
glaring during that period, is the often elastic rhythm, the
hesitation, the reserve, the recapitulation of forces before
a surging onslaught, before a turbulent apotheosis, as a
movement returns to its fundamental tempo

the beat ever essentially reigns

this will change

let me point out here that this rallentando wouldn’t’ve been
even conceivable before the invention of the piano, which
happened around the time of Mozart, the harpsichord before
that couldn’t do that, it was confined, you might say, to
only rallentandon’ts, the harpsichord didn’t provide the
possibility of resounding a note, neither of moderating of
course its volume, which the piano, by very definition, did,
“piano” means “soft”, “pianoforte” “soft loud”, the very
foundational elements of the instrument, the elaboration
of beat would thus perforce henceforward play a major role

between Rachmaninoff and Beethoven, these two pillars of
our musical Trinity, there is the mighty, the third supreme
immortal, Tchaikowsky, a Late Romantic, of all composers
perhaps to us the most familiar, his piano concerto no 1 in
B flat minor, opus 23, written in 1875, is the concerto most
associated with my generation, Van Cliburn was a rock star
then, after winning the Tchaikowsky Piano Competition in
Moscow, 1958, an achievement of the very highest order
for an American in that historical context

and his performance of it was spectacular

the most salient aspect of Tchaikowsky‘s music to my mind
is the charged dramatics, which is not surprising when you
consider that he wrote the music for “The Nutcracker”,
“Swan Lake”, musical story-telling, you’ll note he evokes
this dramatic tension by sustaining, withholding, then
unleashing the beat before a storm of prestidigitatori

Tchaikowsky tells grandiose stories, Rachmaninoff opens
an anguished heart, Beethoven speaks with God, they are
our foundational musical poets, our sonic oracles

the formidable Emil Gilels, 1916 – 1985, plays Tchaikowsky,
he is electric, he is epic, he is extraordinary

Alfred Wallenstein conducts


Beethoven piano concertos, complete‏

so that you may enjoy these masterpieces at your leisure, I’ve
compiled, for an online musical library you might easily store
among your “Folders”, the best I could find of Beethoven’s five
piano concertos on the Internet, all of them of course complete,
which is to say with all of their unabridged individual sections,
for what is a concerto by definition without its integral
movements, its parts, in Beethoven these fast, slow, fast, in
that order, fast first to draw in your attention, slow then to
signal the composer’s, the interpreters’ varied musical abilities,
versatility, then last fast again to send you off on your merry
way a happy, even exhilarated, camper, these are the
traditional, Classical, structural arrangements, this will change

there are better performances than the clutch of five here first
presented, a collaboration several years ago between a somewhat
celebrated, though inpressively able, performer, Krystian
Zimmerman – an especially European fame, which is of course not
surprising it being their very own music, which resounds for
them more than for us culturally, who only sporadically retained
some vestiges of it generally in our psyches across the pond,
we were busy building countries – and the illustrious, legendary
Leonard Bernstein, who died before finishing this august project
so that Zimerman had to continue on his own, he conducts from the
bench the 1, and the 2, having, I think, channeled his eminent
master for his conducting work sounds magnificently similar

there are better performances, I say, but there are also much,
much worse, and both Bernstein and Zimerman are entirely
worth the price of admission, only your time

the 1, in C major, opus 15 (1796/7)

the 2, in B flat major, opus 19 (1787/9)

the 3, in C minor, opus 37 (1800)

the 4, in G major, opus 58 (1805/6)

and the 5, in E flat major, the mighty, the “Emperor”, opus 73 (1809/11)

I couldn’t help adding to this compendium an alternate 2 of
great energy and enthusiasm, with younger and less austere
celebrants, Paul Lewis plays the piano with Andris Nelsons
conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
the Royal Albert Hall, London, July 29, 2010

what the old lack in dexterity, agility, they make up for in
tenderness, Alfred Brendel, another titan, sent shivers up my
spine early with the very first quiet notes he spun, delicately,
exquisitely, then intermittently again thrillingly throughout
so that I often swooned, flushed, he is led by Claudio Abbado,
whose silken sounds are never in the shadow of the great
pianist, the other equal part of that bilateral heaven

Claudio Abbado replaced Herbert von Karajan, that illustrious
luminary, at the head of the Berlin Philharmonic, with the Vienna
Philharmonic perhaps the two best orchestras then in the world,
when von Karajan died, 1989, this incidentally just after women
were being allowed in those orchestras, 1982 in Berlin, Karajan
was not amused, 1997 in Vienna, a contentious development still
over there, Vienna has only one yet, the harpist

they do a sublime, ravishing, utterly captivating Third, they are
at the Lucerne Festival with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra,
August 10, 2005

George Li is 15, Mark Churchill conducts the Symphony ProMusica,
somewhere, January 30, 2011, an intriguing curiosity, they do the
4, the enchanting unexpected encore is a piano transcription from
a flute obbligato, a required flute solo, from Glück’s wonderful
opera, “Orphée et Eurydice“, stick around

Beethoven transcends age incidentally, as well as cultures, races,
one might note, in that last production, the work, the sine qua
n indeed, the otherwise-there-is-none, of art

do not try to do all this at once, this is entirely for your delectation,
and further reference


psst: for the Beethoven, take out your metronome, or just
tap the beat, or nod to it, note again the rigidity of
the beat in Beethoven, you can even get up and
marvel, dance

Beethoven: piano concerto no 5, in E flat major, opus 73‏

"Beethoven" - Joseph Karl Stieler

A portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven (1820)

Joseph Karl Stieler


you might say a triumvirate of piano concertos dominate
our Western musical culture, a veritable trinity of pianistic
masterworks that tower over, and have ruled, our musical
consciousness throughout the modern epoch, the
Rachmaninoff 3 has been one of them, but the 5th of
n is surely the granddaddy, the “Guppa” as a
favourite grandchild I know would say, the Olympian
Zeus, the Christian God the Father, of them all, in majesty
and authority, others quake in its overwhelming aura, it is
the sun to all the other stars

Glenn Gould is the standard still by which it should be
played, none yet, to my mind, has surpassed him

Karel Ancerl conducts the Toronto Symphony Orchestra,
a competent orchestration, overshadowed inevitably by
this prodigy, who nevertheless doesn’t ever flaunt his
finger play but remains faithful throughout to the
dictates, the tonal balances, of the music, it is 1972

I had mentioned “variations in volume, tempo, tonality,
the play of harmonization and discords” in Rachmaninoff
note the strict adherence to tempo here, even the fastest
runs of notes are grounded in beat, more solid, less elusive
than the iridescent Rachmaninoffian allusions to Debussy,
you could set a metronome to the appropriate tempo of
each individual movement in Beethoven, it would remain
constant, apart from a few restrained ritardandos near
the end of some musical elaborations, until its very final
apotheosis, beat was ever an anchor for the fulgurating
Beethoven, an article of faith from which he strayed only
with great circumspection

note the language is not emotional, passionate and ardent,
but philosophical, metaphysical, Beethoven is confronting
cosmological considerations, existential realities, not the
more emotional concerns that confound us every day, it’s
God he’s talking to, eternity, not the incarnate tendrils
of the moment, not the poignant stuff even of soon
through Schubert a Chopin, Beethoven was at the start
of that Romantic Movement, indeed its very first
proponent, but not quite ready to wear his heart itself
on his sleeve, but a more spiritual, probing reason, whose
ardent metaphysical ratiocinations would set all the others
on fire, setting the stage for all the other stars

later, if you haven’t guessed what it’ll be already, I’ll
supply you with the third concerto, the Holy Ghost, of
the trinity, the Apollo, god of music and the sun, among
our concert greats


Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto no 3, in D minor, opus 30

fully 150 years after Mozart the concerto was still a thriving
musical form though it had undergone some modifications,
you’ll hear a more passionate account in Rachmaninoff than
the more lyrical, less emotionally overt compositions of
Mozart, the variations in volume, tempo, tonality, the play
of harmonization and discords, all incidentally within a single
movement, show the passage of time, of Beethoven, of Chopin,
of Debussy between Mozart and the more Romantic, Impressionistic
Rachmaninoff, note the sweeping ritardandos, where the beat is
drawn out, stretched for pathos, a Chopinesque insinuation into
music not found in earlier stuff, one imagines torrid expressions
of fervent sentiment, note the evanescent flurry of notes passing
by like the fleeting glitter of stars, the ephemerality of an
incorporeal idea that Debussy originated and brought to music,
and of course note the irrepressibility, the authority, the masculinity
of a volcanic Beethoven underpinning the lot, you can hear them all

the Vladimir Horowitz Piano Concerto no 3 of Rachmaninoff at
Carnegie Hall, January 8, 1978, with Eugene Ormandy leading the
New York Philharmonic Orchestra is, after Van Cliburn’s historic
1950s account, May 19, 1958, again at Carnegie Hall but under Kiril
Kondrashin this time, and the now defunct Symphony of the Air,
don’t ask, the one I then grew up with, it was riveting even without
the pictures

with pictures here he is again a few months later at Avery Fisher
Hall in New York, September 24, 1978, under Zubin Mehta with
again the New York Philharmonic, so good you’ll even forgive
Mehta his usual sentimental excesses

incidentally Horowitz was 74 at this concert, he is astounding

Vladimir Horowitz, colossus and legend, 1903 -1989

enjoy, be transported, be transfixed, you have been warned


piano concerto no 25, K.503, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart in our Western musical tradition is arguably the first
composer to write piano concertos, for two reasons, first
cause earlier there were no pianos, there were only
harpsichords, Bach wrote five wonderful concertos but for
the harpsichord 
secondly cause music was coming out of the shadow of the
Church in order to also cater to a more secular audience,
the monied aristocracy, who were looking for status through
art, personal portraits, music to make more illustrious their
already storied houses
Mozart is sprightly, unaffiliated, unopinionated, and
supremely talented, it was going to take a Beethoven to
make music more profound
meanwhile we have Mozart’s effervescent baubles, his
glistening, incandescent gems  
three movements
     1. allegro maestoso     
     2. andante    
     3. allegretto    
K is for KöchelLudwig von Köchel, the man who catalogued
Mozart’s works chronologically, of which there have been
accumulated after several revisions 626, none of which had
originally been given titles, though later sometimes
posthumously, for instance the “Jupiter” Symphony, his last,
no 41, K551  
no one plays Mozart like Mitsuko Uchida  

Beethoven, Triple Concerto in C major, op. 56

recently trying to familiarize a friend of mine with the idea
of the concerto, something I’d been working at with him for
quite some time, along with the related concepts of the
sonata, the trio, the quartet, quintet, sextet, and, following
those numerical indices, the symphony, when to count the
multiplicity of instruments involved would be asinine, I
asked, what do you think you’d hear if I said a triple concerto

after some polite leeway I answered for him, you’d need
a symphony of course, another word for an orchestra but
perhaps with some pedantry, showcasing in this case not
one, not two, but three soloists in conversation with
the band, another word again for orchestra, this time
connoting perhaps less pedantry, calibrating prestige
as it moves from the bar to the nightclub, to the more
rarefied air of the concert hall

most often a concerto will spotlight one only performer, one
must consider temperaments, finances, compositional ability,
three musical variables instead of the usual, and less demanding
but still impressive, hypothetically virtuosic, one

and indeed I knew of only one triple concerto then, Beethoven’s,
though I’ve since learned of another by Mozart, but that’s another

not only was this a triple concerto, I exhilarated, but one by
Beethoven, Nietzsche’s very superman, an entity of supreme
musical authority

and in my collection I had it performed by Yo-Yo Ma, the superstar
cellist, who needs no other introduction, Emanuel Ax at the piano,
whom I’ve admired for many years, dominating some of the most
difficult piano pieces in the catalogue with elegance and majesty,
often accompanying Ma, and Gil Shaham, an internationally famous
violin virtuoso of the very highest order

I trembled at the very thought, and hoped my friend would also thrill
at the opportunity

we watched

Ma, Ax, and Shaham did their usual unforgettable stuff

Alan Gilbert conducts the New York Philharmonic, another word for
symphony, that one, with perhaps a nod to a congruence of many
harmonies instead of merely an assemblage of sounds, both here
striving equally however for the undifferentiated sublime

my friend later found me the corresponding online video