Nelson Freire in Ozawa Hall. Photo Hilary Scott.

Nelson Freire at Tanglewood: Third Sonatas, Early and Late

Nelson Freire is a past master in multiple senses. His virtues as a pianist have been well-known for decades. But his playing brings to us hints of older school virtuosity, not only of his own generation (including his friend and musical partner Martha Argerich) but of even earlier schools of pianists, including the Hoffmann-Friedman-Rachmaninoff generation. He shares with those legendary virtuosi not only a technique that barely recognizes technical difficulties, but also a kind of sprezzatura, a slightly off-handed way of tossing off passages, runs, glittering ornaments, and the rest of the grand pianistic arsenal (or clap-trap, depending on your point of view) that others have approached with either gritty determination or a show-off’s urge to impress.

Pianist Stephen Porter

Stephen Porter to play late works by Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin and Debussy at the House of the Redeemer in Manhattan, Thursday May 1, at 7.30 pm—a presentation of New York Arts

I am extremely proud to present, as our single concert of this season, a piano recital by Stephen Porter, a musician of supreme intelligence, sensitivity, and learning. His pianism is equally developed on the fortepiano as on the modern piano, and we are fortunate that his curious ear for historical instruments has drawn him to the unique qualities of the House of the Redeemer’s Grotrian-Steinweg grand in the intimate acoustics of its Library.

The Pollini Project: Chopin, Debussy, Boulez, Royal Festival Hall, June 28, 2011

This was originally intended to be the penultimate programme of Pollini’s five-concert Project spanning the gamut of keyboard repertoire from Bach to Boulez (albeit with a large Classical Period-sized gap), but has been postponed for a couple of months due to illness. In my opinion this has made for a more fitting end to the series, not only following chronological order but also concluding by challenging the audience with something ‘modern’ rather than the obvious crowd-pleasing Chopin of what became the fourth Project concert. Appropriately, this concert in fact draws a connection, perhaps not immediately obvious, between the hugely different Chopin and Boulez.

The Pollini Project – Stockhausen, Schumann, Chopin, Royal Festival Hall May 25, 2011

More years ago than I care to remember (OK, about ten), Edward Moore, my piano teacher at university, told me he used to be a great fan of Maurizio Pollini, but had grown disenchanted with him because he thought his playing had become completely dry, overly safe and devoid of emotion. Perhaps because he was by far the best teacher I’d ever had, I took this opinion seriously and allowed it to influence my perception of Pollini ever after, remaining a devout sceptic despite his evidently immense popularity.

The Young Russian Pianist, Gleb Ivanov, triumphs in Haydn, Chopin, and Prokofiev at a Tannery Pond benefit

Another most impressive discovery of Christian Steiner’s, pianist Gleb Ivanov, a twenty-eight-year-old M.A. from the Manhattan School of Music, played a stirring program of Haydn, Chopin, and Prokofiev at a private benefit concert for Mr. Steiner’s Tannery Pond Concerts. Here was a pianist of impeccable—really formidable—technique, powerful intelligence, and marked individuality, playing with a concentration that made the audience hang on every note, putting across his point of view with full conviction. And this point of view was most definitely worth hearing—and that is an understatement. Any musician who can play with such polish, grandeur, and intelligence has my deep respect.

Thoughts on Schumann and the 2nd Symphony

I yearn for the day when a thoroughly sympathetic view of Schumann emerges, one supplanting the lingering idea, passed on from biographer to musician to music-lover and back, insinuating that his music, while selectively inspired, was hampered by enough contrapuntal inexperience, unevenness in motivic invention, formal insecurity, and outright incompetence in orchestration that it should not be considered in the same sphere with Chopin’s, Liszt’s, or even Brahms’s.

Stephen Hough, piano, Troy Chromatic Concerts

Behind Stephen Hough’s astonishing recital in Troy, there are significant connections with two others I recently heard in Boston, both with the American pianist Jeremy Denk. In one of these Mr. Denk collaborated with the great cellist Stephen Isserlis (review forthcoming), with whom Stephen Hough often plays and with whom he has made several recordings.

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