Music Suite is where I talk and listen to one of the biggest passion in my life: Classical Music.
Tchaikovsky Piano Trio in A Minor Op. 50
Martha Argerich, Gidon Kremer, Mischa Maisky
Ever since I heard this recording on CD from Deutsche Grammophon, I've been longing to see the performance. It is epic in scale and in musical content. Martha is such an unstoppable storm. But she rarely performs this piece. At one time saying that she finds this Trio to be more challenging than his concerto. Indeed, it lasts just short of 50 minutes. Even Beethoven's concertos don't last that long.
The piece explored many forms such as variations, waltz, fugue, tempo di mazurka, virtuosic piano writing and the coda is such a tearing-your-heart-and-let-it-bleeds. This elegy is subtitled 'In Memory of a Great Artist'. It is remarkable that Tchaikovsky managed to paint this music with a medium of a piano trio. In Brahms' hands, I reckon it would be at a piano quartet or quintet.
Schumann, Brahms, Dietrich: F-A-E Sonata
Isabelle Faust, Alexander Melnikov
Brahms wrote only the Scherzo part (14:15) of this sonata when he was 20. It is bubbling with youthful explosive energy. The climax of the violin part on 18:13 is visceral and you can feel it in the pit of your stomach. This performance is especially magnificent with its pacing and boldness. Listen to it in high volume.
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto no. 3 in D Minor
Denis Matsuev, Leonard Slatkin
The 3rd Piano Concerto, nicknamed 'Rach 3' is known as the Everest of piano concertos for its severe difficulties. Massive chords that stretched the hand, the wide jumps up and down covering practically the entire span of the keyboard. But above all, there are just so MANY notes.
Despite its imposing challenges, many pianists still aspire to conquer it.
Chopin: Etude Op. 10 no.4
Chopin Etudes and Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier are my bread and butter in my daily practice. I'm constantly learning them and constantly playing them. Each of these etudes concentrates on a certain pianistic technique. The no. 1 stretches your hand as wide as possible. The no. 2 makes your hand as small as possible. And the no. 4 both stretches and contract the hand. The so-called "Torrent" etude is unrelenting one. Appropriately named because it's a flood of fast notes coming at you. You basically touch the ground running. There's no slow intro where you can prepare yourself. It is my war-horse but I always have massive trepidation of performing it in front of an audience. Mitsuko Uchida said that at the end of the day, Chopin etudes is an endurance test. Trying to perform the whole book in a single concert is like running a sprint-marathon with a grand piano strapped on your back.
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto no.2 in G Minor
Horacio Gutierrez, Neeme Järvi
It is one of the notoriously insanely difficult concerti. Sure, Rach 3 and Tchaikovsky are super hard but it seems that everybody's playing them. But Prokofiev 2nd is no joke. One of the highlights is the epic, Olympic-size cadenza in the 1st movement. The cadenza practically forms half of the entire movement. The longest ever cadenza. The hardest ever especially when it comes to the colossal part (08:07). Most pianists slow down and most have mistake notes. It's a complicated hand-crossing arpeggio that goes up and down. And you have to play it full force to try to balance the Behemoth-size orchestra that blares out the brass like the monsters from Pacific Rim. The 2nd mov. is an endurance test. It is in moto-perpetuo where you play this constant semi-quavers fast without a single rest. Any rubato is not allowed because you'll be out of sync with the orchestra. Pedaling is not advised because you'll blur the sound. And this whole concerto just doesn't relent. It's just go-go-go from the cadenza onward. The 4th mov. is maniacal and frantic.
This performance by Gutierrez is the perfect one. It is rippled with muscle. The orchestra sound is massive and daring. The balance of piano and orchestra is good. Gutierrez once joked about enticing his future wife with his Tchaikovsky concerto, saying "Some men show off their biceps, I show off my octaves."
Scarlatti: Piano Sonata in B Minor K.27
Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli
Michelangeli approached his music with scalpel blade precision. As Anderszewsky said, he calculates his appearance on stage. Not a hair out of place. No exageratted eccentrics. Absolute control of each shading of note. It is so refreshing to see among the young pianists today who seem to think that in addition to play the music, they would also have to mime, writhe, toss their hairs and make faces to express the music. His famous playing of the Sonata in b minor opened my ears to the wonderful world of Scarlatti. The piece invoke the Spanish guitar with its repeated notes and lush harmony. Hand crossing is also a unique mark of Scarlatti's musics. Michelangeli's famous student includes Maurizio Pollini and Martha Argerich whom according to him "tought from afar". His brilliance can be heard not only in this short pieces but also in virtuosic works like Bach/Busoni Chaccone, Ravel Gaspard de la Nuit and Brahms Paganini Variations. On those works, his playing is still regarded today as one of the most spectacular rendition. My teacher used to say that even after concerts, he went home not relaxing and drinking, but to practice again. He reportedly practice up to ten hours a day and advised his students to stop practicing only when the pain in the fingers and shoulders became too great for them to continue. Bloody hell!
Ravel: Piano Concerto in G major
Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Sergui Celibidache
The appearance aloof and rather imperious. The platform manner detached, withdrawn, even a little disdainful. The playing that of the ultimate virtuoso displaying a command of the keyboard which no other pianist alive can surpass and which few can equal." That description of the elusive Michelangeli in the opening bio is absolutely perfect. Michelangeli was indeed all of that and more. He is somewhat similar to Jascha Heifetz: Regarded by other musicians as the ultimate best of their instrument, Perfectionist, Never played a wrong note, Stoic, Cold, Intimidating, and Absolute minimal movement on stage. Celibidache even didn't allow the orchestra to talk, whisper nor smile in front of him. If he doesn't like the piano, or if there was a draft in the hall or if his tea was a few degrees too cold, he will cancel his concert. He canceled more than he played. And yet when he did play it was magical.
Schubert: Piano Sonata in B-flat Major D.960
The last sonata in B-flat Major is the longest essay by Schubert and in the wrong hand it can sound redundant and repetitive. Cliford Curzon's swift pacing and brilliant playing just brings this piece to life. I especially love the minimal pedalling on 03:06 that brings out the left hand. But in the second movement, he appropriately play it like a funeral march. Schubert wrote this in the last months of his life. In the last movement, by contrast is like a picture of a sunny day by Vincent van Gogh.
Bach-Liszt: Organ Prelude & Fugue in A minor
Jorge Luis Prats
Currently learning this piece. The way he hit that low A on 00:30 is mesmerising. A single note but full of nuance.
The Prelude is easy enough. The Fugue is not as easy to approach at the beginning, but it's not as bad as the Chaconne. (Boy, that one is so hard.) As usual with Liszt, it stretches the hand into 10th and even fills it with chords.
Rachmaninoff: Etude-Tableaux Op. 39 no. 6
This is one exceptional playing from the pianist. Nicknamed "Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf" by the composer, this "Study-Picture" painted a scene of a little girl being chased by the monster wolf. This etude explores the jagged edge characterized by chromatic notes which give its sinister quality. The middle part is the chase scene, where the pianis starts slowly, getting accelerated and then bursts into a frantic "Presto". The moment at 01:14 is truly remarkable. She highlights the left hands note (D#, G, B) as it rises higher. Very imaginative and almost no one plays it like her. Not to mention her ferocity and amazing left hand leaps. My take is that the story ends with the Wolf swallowing the Red Riding Hood. That dry note at the end sounds like the Wolf gives up a burp or a hiccup after a satisfying meal. Yum!
Schubert: Piano Sonata in A Major, mov. 2: Andantino
This particular movement is A Meditation on the Theme of Death. It is one of the tragic and melancholy music ever written. The music quitely becomes darker to a point of mental breakdown (starting from 03:05). The sombre sadness in this is almost unbearable. And when the theme returns with those repeated notes obligato at the top, it becomes painfully beautiful (06:39). This performance by Uchida perfectly captures the bitter tears and stormy middle part of the music.
Schubert: Fantasia in F Minor for Four Hands D.940
Evgeny Kissin, James Levine
In the last year of his life, Schubert seemed to be in a flood of ideas and frantic writing. Many of the music he had written in this last period becomes his best regarded pieces, including this Fantasia for four hands. The piece has a continuous 4 movements. The theme is bitter-sweet and after adequate repeat burst into a stormy second theme (02:28). This performance by Kissin and Levine moves in a good pace and passionate all-out finale. The playing is utterly perfect technical wise (which is surprising because James Levine is known more as a conductor) and mature in its interpretation of such a dolorous piece. The last movement begins in a fugue just like the Wanderer Fantasy, and you know how much I adore fugue writing.
Beethoven: Piano Sonata no. 31 in A-flat Major mov. 3: Adagio ma non troppo
For someone who dared to be critical towards Beethoven, Glenn Gould has the most immaculate performance of this sonata particularly this last movement. His playing is meditative and has that hymnal quality to it. Because of his slow and devotional tempo, it is almost feel religious in a way. That Arioso dolente is heart-rendering. The fugue section build up into an epic mountain. The influence of Bach is prominent in this piece and Gould's genius really shines through. For example in the return of the theme I (10:08) where he plays it staccato.
Mozart: Der Hölle Rache
Be careful! This goddess spits venom and eats vengeance for breakfast! One of the most vindictive character in opera. As Queen of the Night plotting the murder of Sarastro whom her daughter loves and threatens her with curses and calling forth the hell's vengeance. She was like "You better kill your boyfriend or you are no longer my daughter. And don't even think to try to defy me or did you not know how terrifying I can be." And indeed the music is such a killer for coloraturas for obvious reason: the sky-high notes up to high F. Damrau's pitch control is beyond remarkable in this particular performance, married with such an intense radiating fury.
Vivaldi: Armatae face anguibus (Juditha triumphans)
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Bartoli looks like she can lop off someone's head in this. Vivaldi is known for his merciless melisma (long line of fast notes) as he wrote music for voice as if he was writing for violin. Like singer doesn't need to take a breath and can sing for days without air. Cecilia has the perfect technique to pull this off with her ability to sing this fast, each note is distinct and yet with controlled pitch. Not to mention her fire (Furiae, Furiae, Furiae!). Also listen to her Agitata da due venti. It's spectacular.
Mozart: Great mass in C minor, KV 427
John E. Gardiner
The Mozart Mass in C minor starts at 42:10. When Mozart writes in the minor key, it always becomes a masterpiece. One of the most amazing opening ever written. Listen to the dramatic high A by the sopranos 43:22 as the timpani enters for a heightened drama. Shivers down the spine!
Stravinsky: Trois Mouvements De "Pétroushka"
This is an unspeakably challenging piece. Just try and count how many pianist play this on concert or in competitions. Quite a lot of them crash and burn especially in the last movement which is the real killer: La Semaine Grasse. Let me count the ways it earns the title of The Most Difficult Music: fast double notes 00:16, then to fast octaves 00:21, ridiculous left hand jumps 00:46, cramp-inducing double thirds 06:50, rhythm meter that feels like changes almost every bar, octave glissandos. The second movement is nothing to be scoff at too. I've heard a pianist had a memory blackout during it because they were lulled by the sense of dreaminess. Other pianist lose steam at the beginning of the 3rd movement and the notes just became stuck. Even after all that, things becomes insane towards the end of Semaine Grasse. Pollini's recording possess the right tempo, he doesn't shy away in the challenging bits, he has a big sound with enough hardness required for this modern piece and a fireworks of virtuoso playing all around. Everything in this CD is amazing. Listen to the Prokofiev's Precipitato.
Stravinsky-Agosti: Firebird Suite
What the hell? Are you joking me with this transcription? Quite certainly, this piece in included in my "Impossible Music to Master" list. I'm not sure which one is more difficult, the Petrushka or this. My guess is Petrushka because of the endurance over such a long piece. While the unapproachable part of this is only the Infernal Dance. In an attempt to imitate the richness of orchestral sound, Agosti has employ complicated figurations. In the opening scene, you have the rumbling of the timpani. But Agosti has spread the notes wide making it rather difficult. Having said that, it is a genius transcription. It has a very pianistic flash and flair such as the glissando and the dry percusiveness of the bass which you don't hear in an orchestra. The speed in which Piemontesi takes is even faster then the usual orchestral performance making it sounds aggresive. The Berceuse is no less beautiful.
Ravel: Gaspard de la Nuit
Talking about Impossible Music to Master, Gaspard de la Nuit is the quintessential sublty complicated music. It may not sound like it but it is one of the most difficult piece written in the piano repertoire. Trust me, just read the score. Ravel actually set out to make it dificult to upstage the Islamey. It consists of 3 movement: Ondine, Le Gibet and Scarbo and structurally similar to concerto form of fast-slow-fast. This performance by Pogorelich is my definitive performance. One of the highlight is at 20:10 where he plays the low notes to mimic the chimes of the grandfather's clock. It's a genius move that fits the narrative, rarely done by anyone else. His Scarbo is terrifying and very clean playing especially in the Ondine. The build up at 03:37 that climaxed in a crashing wave is massive. The other definitive performance is by Argerich in the 1960s. She also recently ressurected this in her concert repertoire and she's now 76 years old. Yep, let that sink in.
Steinway & Sons in Hamburg
My Dream Piano
Most guys dream of having fast and super expensive cars. As for myself, this is what I salivate over: An 8 feet Concert Grand D model Steinway. The excitement of men when they see the flawless gloss of a cars body is what I have for the gleaming black varnish of a Steinway. The best one has to be imported from Hamburg. It has fatter tone and the quality between one piano to another is rather similar. At the cost of over $250.000 (almost as much as buying a house!) it is a far-fetched dream, I'm afraid. Even if I had one, it would be too precious to bang out a satisying Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C-sharp minor on it.
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