Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 9/25/10

Happy birthday Rama!

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #857:

Chopin – 24 Preludes – Walter Klien, Piano

We began this countdown last month not with single album but with a page full of obvious choices: Dark Side of the Moon, London Calling, Sketches of Spain and a whole slew of iconic, well-known ones that we figured needed no explanation. This one doesn’t need much of that either. There are a million Chopin preludes collections out there; we chose this one out of familiarity (admittedly, not a very good reason), the quality of the pieces (one classic after another) and the fact that Klien’s 1960 recording is truly excellent. For anyone who might be new to his music, pianist and composer Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) was the godfather of gypsy rock, a paradigm shifter and the guy most responsible for jumpstarting the Romantic era (following the Classical era, of Haydn and Mozart) in western instrumental music. Much of his work is wrenchingly intense, dark, brooding and unselfconsciously anguished, as are many of these, notably the dirgelike C Minor Prelude and the otherwordly E Minor one, both of which have been in a million movies and which you will instantly recognize if you don’t already know them. More effectively than any other composer, he blended the austere, bitter minor key chromatics of eastern Europe with the simpler majors and minors of the west. Without Chopin, it’s hard to imagine Tschaikovsky, Rachmaninoff or for that matter Gogol Bordello. As popular as this particular album was, a search for torrents didn’t turn up anything promising, probably because search engines mistake Klien’s name for “klein.” So here’s one for a well-known, solidly good Maurizio Pollini collection.

September 25, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Matthew McCright Elevates New Work from Midwestern Composers

On his new solo album Second Childhood, Minnesota pianist Matthew McCright (who’s at Merkin Hall on 9/25) plays with nuance, fluidity and counterintuitivity on a diverse and eye-opening collection of new works by midwestern composers. He gives these pieces plenty of breathing room: it’s an album of melody and subtleties rather than overt technical prowess (although McCright has plenty of that). His presence is unobtrusive except when it needs to be more aggressive, and then it is, sometimes when least expected yet very welcome. Bruce Stark’s Five Preludes for Piano opens it: moody echoes of Satie with occasional jarring upper register atonal accents; an austere (one is tempted to say stark) moonlit miniature; a rippling, circular work that straddles calm and apprehension; a not quite heroic theme and a rapidfire passacaglia of sorts.

Evening Air, by Gregory Hutter is an insistent nocturne: McCright’s extra-precise articulation and deft sense of dynamics downplay its occasional ragtime flavor. The real gem here is Constellations, by Kirsten Broberg. This delightfully evocative partita artfully introduces icy, nebulously related clusters and after some otherworldly upper-register explorations watches the universe expand and cool down even further. John Halle is represented by two pieces, a ragtime-flavored lullaby and a straight-up rag that cleverly interpolates other, darker styles. Daniel Nass’s Dance Preludes expand, often eerily, on tango, ragtime and a heavily camouflaged waltz. The most playful material here is by Laura Caviani: her jazz etudes include an inventive series of variations on a saloon blues theme; an understatedly intense, chromatically charged tango and a boogie-woogie number, the only one of this vast range of styles that seems to be unfamiliar terrain for McCright. In its own subtle and emotionally attuned way, it’s a real tour de force. It’s out now on Innova.

September 15, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Amy Gustafson Awes the Crowd at Trinity Church

Pianist Amy Gustafson is VP of the Spanish American Music Council, which makes sense, considering her affinity for Spanish and latin composers. Her solo performance yesterday at Trinity Church emphasized this, but it also underscored her originality and sensitivity as an interpreter of both Romantic and 20th century music. What a pleasure to discover a talented player who doesn’t fit the cookie-cutter mold.

She opened with three sonatas by Antonio Soler, downplaying the courtly waltziness of a couple of bright, major key pieces bookended around a strikingly plaintive performance of the E Minor Sonata (R. 113), a wary, wounded work that foreshadows Chopin. That composer’s Nocturne in F Major, Op. 1, No. 1 was delivered with a matter-of-factness that again downplayed its thickets of grace notes, a more impressive achievement than it might seem: it’s fast and easy to overdramatize. By contrast, Chopin’s Nocturne in C Minor, Op. 48, No. 1, an obviously more mature work, vividly alternated sun-speckled and stormy textures.

Gustafson’s pacing had been finely nuanced all the way to this point, but her feel for the emotional push and pull of the material really came to the forefront in a richly varied series of eight preludes by Alexander Scriabin. Through rippling, distantly Asian notifs, poignantly flowing Chopinesque passages, a couple of roaring, chordally supercharged sprints that could have been Rachmaninoff, the occasional understated heroic theme and the warmly Schubert-tinged final Prelude No. 24 in D Minor with its fiery outro, she distinguished herself along with the music by pulling back whenever it threatened to get too “Romantic.” Scriabin bridged that era and the modern one, and one suspects he would have appreciated Gustafson’s renditions. Other pianists make this kind of stuff maudlin and campy; she made it plaintive and adrenalizing.

Yet during a particularly fast, percussive run up the scale in the El Puerto segment of Albeniz’ Iberia, Book 1, she made it look anything but easy, not only because it wasn’t, but because it made a perfect spot to emphasize apprehension and suspense in the midst of otherworldliness and flamenco-inflected grandeur. She closed with a romp through Ginastera’s Danzas Criollas, Op. 15, another study in contrasts, leaping from nocturnal wonder to a joyous bounce. Satisfied with a job well done, she pulled back from the piano after the strenuous chordal attack was finally over and almost fell over backwards. The audience agreed with her unanimously and demanded an encore, which turned out to be an unfamiliar but beautifully lyrical miniature titled The Secret. Gustafson has a southern tour coming up in November; watch this space for New York dates.

September 10, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Katya Grineva – Love and Fire: The Dances

The latest album by self-described Romantic pianist and Carnegie Hall favorite (she’s playing there on June 12 at 8 ) Katya Grineva is a treat for fans of canonical 19th century favorites, proudly idiosyncratic and unabashedly individualistic. Grineva was seemingly born to play the Romantics, wringing plenty of angst and longing out of a mix of familiar standards, Piazzolla classics and a perhaps predictably but aptly emotional take of the Ravel Bolero. On both the Chopin Mazurka in A Minor and the Waltz in E Minor, she mines the dynamics for heart-tugging shifts that stop just this side of overwrought – yet, by contrast, she lets the Albeniz Tango breathe for itself, a smart move. Granados’ Planera Spanish Dance is likewise allowed to shimmer and gleam, at a tastefully stately pace.

Most impressively, it’s the Piazzolla that best draws out Grineva’s intensity. Adios Nonino, a requiem written right after the death of the composer’s father, is stoic yet wrenching. An abbreviated arrangement of the sprawling crazy-love anthem Balada Para Un Loco is considerably more blazing and percussive than the original, and Grineva careens through its louder passages like a woman possessed, after which Manuel de Falla’s Ritual Fire Dances makes a perfect segue. The Bolero alternates between slinkiness and impatience, a nice contrast to see in a piece where some performers find none at all.  

Grineva’s Carnegie Hall show this week is billed as a family-friendly event, lots of familiar standards by Debussy, Satie and Chopin and others delivered with characteristic verve: bring a 15-year-old friend, family member or someone who looks hopelessly underage, and they get in free with your paid admission.

June 9, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment