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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Vast, Darkly Colorful Collection of Short Piano Pieces From Nathalia Milstein

Pianist Nathalia Milstein’s latest album Visions Fugitives – streaming at Spotify – is aptly titled. It’s classical music as entertainment, a picturesque collection of short and often undeservedly obscure pieces by iconic composers.

But there’s a lot of detail in these small packages, and Milstein’s joy in unpacking them is visceral. In Bartok’s Out of Doors suite, she brings a gritty, punchy wit to the fife and drum interlude, a steady, rolling calm to the barcarolle, and insistent surrealism to the “musette,” a deliciously acerbic. chiming number that isn’t a musette at all. The Night’s Music is as full of ghostly moths and goofy poltergeists as anyone could wish for, setting up the cruelly challenging pointillisms of the chase scene, which Milstein handles with a stunning, steady resilience.

There are a grand total of 39 pieces here, far too many to enumerate. Milstein parses the album’s central suite of Prokofiev miniatures with lingering phantasmagorical restraint but also peek-a-boo humor, meticulously charging Romanticism and, forty-one seconds into the “ridicolosamente” moment, we get an iconic circus riff. There’s icy menace to rival Satie: Milstein deserves immense credit for recording this.

She brings a merciless irreverence to the tempo of Liszt’s Valse Oubliee No. 1, then puckishly attacks the bounding riffage and feathery staccato of No. 2. Her take of Chopin’s Mazurka, Op. 63 is rollicking, and playful, but just as sobering in the quiet moments.

The rarest works here are by Valery Arzoumanov. Highlights include an etude-like series of rapid spirals; a fleetingly chromatic “valsette;” Temple Invisible, a mystical, Near Eastern-flavored tableau; and a twisted, marionettish march.

December 21, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cellist Hee-Young Lim Channels the Highest of the High Romantic

Cellist Hee-Young Lim‘s new album Russian Elegie with pianist Natalia Milstein – streaming at Spotify – is as evocative as you could possibly want from a collection of some of the most gorgeously emotional music ever written. Yet the two don’t overdo it. Sergei Rachmaninoff’s performances of his own work had a remarkable restraint, and the two seem to base their interpretations on that model.

They start with the iconic Rachmaninoff Cello Sonata in G minor: brief plaintive exchanges, a hint of gospel, bustling piano and a melody very close to the quiet section of the famous G minor prelude, also more than hinting at the Piano Concerto No. 2’s more scampering riffage. There are striking contrasts between the glitter and energy of the piano and the cello’s brooding cantabile, and a welcome, understatement when the music calms, in contrast with Lim’s vigorous pizzicato in places.

There’s a devious noir cabaret energy to the second movement, but the gentle High Romantic ballad at the center is completely straightforward and gives both musicians some of their most vividly expressive moments. The same rings true with the lingering, nocturnal third movement, a rare love song that isn’t mawkish or cliched. By contrast, they really nail the conclusion’s symphonic grandeur yet draw the listener in with the stunning intimacy of the next-to-last theme, one of the most unselfconsciously beautiful moments in the entire classical canon.

Next on the bill is Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata in C Major. It’s more enigmatic and maybe for that reason the duo approach the first couple of movements more emphatically and vigorously, particularly in Lim’s ferocious pizzicato chords and the second’s triumphant, bell-like false ending. The coyly carnivalesque third movement is irresistbly funny in these two’s hands; the majesty that follows comes as quite a surprise, as does the wistfulness in the final movement.

They close the album with an especially lithe interpretation of Vocalise, another iconic Rachmaninoff piece. It seems a little on the fast side, which actually works out well considering the duo’s light-fingered, remarkably subtle approach, sidestepping weepiness for a very matter-of-fact delivery. How lucky listeners are if they discover this repertoire via this particular album.

September 9, 2020 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment