Johannes Brahms sitting at the piano in the music room of his friends, Richard and Maria Fellinger

Wiederkehr ans Leben wiederholt: Gerhard Oppitz plays the complete piano music of Brahms, Part II

As it turns out, the impression that Brahms himself was performing his own piano music at Tanglewood this summer proved to be illusory, compounded of the modest and Brahmsian demeanor of the actual performer, German pianist Gerhard Oppitz, his serious and total identification with the voice of the composer, and a certain hypnotic spell cast by his unhesitating progress from work to work, as if to say “and then I wrote…”. Oppitz’s performances showed characteristics that would be easy to ascribe to Brahms himself: a completely unfussy treatment of details to keep attention on the large structural sweep of each composition, of which he maintained a clear and magisterial vision at all times; a coloristic differentiation between secondary harmonic figuration and foregrounded contrapuntal activity; and a refusal to be brilliant simply for the sake of being brilliant.

Kurt Masur and Ken- David Masur at Tanglewood in 2011. Photo Michael J. Lutch.

Father and Son Mozart: Kurt and Ken-David Masur conduct the Boston Symphony, with Gerhard Oppitz Playing Mozart’s C Minor Piano Concerto, K. 491

I have read that Kurt Masur has shared concerts with his estimable son, Ken-David, several times over the past year or so, before his fall from the podium in April caused an interruption in his concert schedule. This concert at Tanglewood is, I believe, the only appearance he will make until his broken shoulder blade heals entirely. Mr. Masur is looking forward to a full recovery, and we can only wish him a rapid and complete one. Meanwhile, Ken-David is in his second summer as a Conducting Fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center. Last summer, he made a strong impression on me with Beethoven’s Leonore No. 3 Overture with the TMC Orchestra in Ozawa Hall. Unfortunately I missed his other concerts then, but this year I have heard more, with some very challenging pieces among them, including Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto and Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques. Everything augurs an important career ahead for Ken-David Masur and a cherishable contribution to our musical lives.

Johannes Brahms

Wiederkehr ans Leben: Brahms’ Piano Music, Part I (a Hoffmannesque fantasy with assistance by Gerhard Oppitz)

So Brahms is in the next world, lounging around the heavenly Viennese café drinking beer, eating liver sausage, and listening to the band play Gypsy music and Strauss waltzes, when St. Peter arrives with a message: Tanglewood programmers are praying that Brahms return to earth to perform his piano music, some of which is in danger of being totally forgotten. They feel that, of all the great music by all the great composers, Brahms’ early work has been the most egregiously neglected, and furthermore, Brahms’ unique style of playing has been long out of fashion and is almost forgotten, replaced by note-perfect, squeaky clean but emotionally sterile performances of pianists stamped out by the conservatory music factories for the purpose of being recorded digitally and listened to on cell-phones. Tanglewood can promise that there will be an elite group of music lovers and dedicated students who will sit worshipfully at the master’s feet if he would only agree to share his music once more on earth. St. Peter himself can think of no more important reason to breach the boundary between heaven and earth than to offer loyal music-lovers this worldly/other-worldly experience.

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