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Category Archives: Live Performance Reviews
Austin City Limits Music Festival is an extremely well run event. We are a little late getting to the event but that was our own fault. As we walked in to the front gate “Asleep at the Wheel” was already performing on the AMD stage. I guess it’s in my Texas blood, but I really love Texas Swing. This is original Texas music invented in Texas by the great Bob Wills. We watched half their set and they were awesome. We didn’t want to miss another band that overlapped ASW so moved over to the BMI stage to catch ha-Ha Tonka.
It rained on us during the ha-Ha Tonka set. People were dancing and laughing because they were so glad to see rain in Central Texas! It has been a long hot summer!
The bands I saw yesterday are as follows:
Asleep at the Wheel, ha-Ha Tonka, Wild Beasts, Brandi Carlile, James Blake, Ray LaMontagne, Cold War Kids, Bright Eyes, and Cold Play.
ha-Ha Tonka was a mandolin driven country rock band. More rock than country. They had a great positive vibe to their music. Wild Beast was Spacey, they had a great lead singer. Their sound was almost spooky. It was a layered synthesizer sound. Moody, with falsetto vocals and a hint of The Killers. They were from England. Brandi Carlile is from Seattle Washington. She has an awesome country rock band! She is a very charismatic performer. They played an awesome set. Next was the very strange and weird James Blake. I don’t know what to say about him. Dubb Step? Sub Dubb? Rub-a-dub? Who knows? total club music. The sound system was amazing. You could here the sound spinning around you like a Pink Floyd show. Ray LaMontagne put on a great show that everyone wanted to be at, but no one wanted to listen to. Great artist in the wrong venue. I’d love to see him in a small hall where you could really enjoy the subtle intricacy of his music. Cold War Kids were the surprise of the day to me. They totally Rocked!!! They also had a cool funk edge to their sound that really gets under your skin. They had lots of fans there and they only have two records out. I predict big things from Cold War Kids. Bright Eyes seized the stage the moment they came out and just relentlessly burned the house down. Their set can only be described as searing. Wow! What a band! Last but far from least Cold Play was just awesome! They just make you feel good. A huge crowd singing and dancing full of happiness. The world could use a little more positive vibe today. Their sound was amazing and the light show was mind boggling. My piano teacher used to tell me that a sound wave traveled into space forever once you released it into your universe. In the case of Cold Play, I hope they keep sending those positive vibes out for a long, long time to come…
Headed to the largest annual Rock show in the state of Texas! Here’s a picture of the 3 day wrist band.
I just got back from the final performance of this years Basically Beethoven festival. The Basically Beethoven festival is an annual event every July. The principal organization that is behind the event is The Fine Arts Chamber Players. The first half of the program featured 3 young students from the Suzuki Institute of Dallas. An 8 year old boy played the first movement of a Haydn Sonata, a 9 year girl played Csardas by Vittorio Monti, and a 14 year old boy played the Ballade No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 52 of Chopin. It was an amazing display of talent by some very young and very seasoned performers.
Another great thing about this concert was the attendance. There were probably more than 400 people there and they were from all walks of life and age groups. It was great to see so many young people at a concert of this type of music.
After the intermission the Aeolus Quartet took the stage. The Aeolus Quartet is a fairly new group that was formed in 2008 at the Cleveland Institute of Music. (By the way, before they performed they announced that they were all also Suzuki school graduates.) They are already making a big name for themselves. They took their name from the Greek god Aeolus who was god of the wind. An interesting name for a group of string players.
The first piece they performed was by an American composer named Michael Torke (b.1961) Torke studied composition at Yale University where he emerged as a major force in the “post-Minimalism” movement. At the very young age of 23 he launched his professional career. He has written scores for the New York City Ballet, the New York Philharmonic, and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra as well as other commissions. The composition was called “Corner in Manhattan. It is a descriptive composition of a three way intersection near Tocke’s home in New York. The first movement is called “Sixth Ave. in the Afternoon”, the second is called “Bedford St. at Night”, and the third movement is called “Houston St. in the Morning.”
Usually contemporary compositions send most audiences scurrying for the exits. This however was a very easy piece to listen to. In the first movement you could really hear the rushing of traffic and people on the streets. The second movement was quiet and very melodic. It featured a haunting melody that was passed from player to player. The last movement was descriptive of a city slowly waking up. The starting and stopping of cars, the constant but irregular noise that slowly builds until finally the day begins.
The piece received a spirited and accomplished performance. The quartet played as one person in perfect symmetry.
The featured work was the great masterpiece of Beethoven: String Quartet No. 15 in A minor Op. 132. This quartet was finished in 1825; just two years before Beethoven’s death. He had been extremely sick and even his Doctor thought Beethoven might not recover. Although the quartet is not programmatic (like the Torker piece) , it does mirror Beethoven’s feelings of near death, recovery, and renewed hope for the future. Just like the 5th and 9th symphony the quartet takes a journey from darkness to light.
When the quartet started quietly,with great mystery and foreboding; I thought it sounded more modern than the Toche composition. I believe I see the seed of every Mahler Symphony in this quartet. First there is the way Beethoven repeats the exposition differently every time it appears. He expands and modifies the Sonata Allegro form to the point that it is almost unrecognizable. Transition sections sound like mini development sections. The recapitulation occurs in a totally different and distant key. The linear line of the music is far more important than the vertical structure. Tonality is beginning to erode. This movement received a dense and intense performance of high musicality.
The second movement surprisingly is not a Scherzo but more of a minuet. Here is Mahler’s inspiration for all the Landlers in his symphony’s. The Aeolus quartet had a great sense of the description Beethoven attached to the movement “Allegro ma non tanto”. (Meaning “Fast but not to much”). You could easily feel the momentum of the minuet.
The heart of this masterwork is the third movement Adagio. Again Beethoven blazes the trail for Mahler with this stunning, long, beautiful Adagio. Beethoven attached a tittle to this movement that translates: “A Holy Song of Thanksgiving to the Divinity, in the Lydian Mode.” Lydian mode is just like the scale of F major except the note of B is not flat. In other words, you would play in the key of F but use only the white keys. It is an ancient church mode that goes back to the days of Gregorian Chant. In this movement the Aeolus players cast a spell upon the audience. I was transfixed and transported into a world of complete and heavenly beauty. When the movement ended I could tell I was not alone. There was one of those rare moments when a movement ends and total silence was all one could hear. Not a paper rattled, not a chair squeaked, not a person coughed, etc… Total silence as the spell of this great performance died away in the performance hall.
The last two movements are joined by a violin recitative that is featured in the first movement. The fourth movement is a very short march (Again a feature of several Mahler Symphonies.) The brief march leads directly into the finale. This movement was originally intended to be the last movement of the 9th symphony, but Beethoven abandoned it for the Choral finale that the 9th now ends with. In this movement the music takes us through the catharsis that ultimately leads to Triumph. The Aeolus quartet was more than up for the challenges as they easily scaled the mountaintop of music making. Overall their playing was laser sharp and musically brilliant. I expect we will be hearing more and more from this group of wonderful talented musicians.
Congratulations to the festival, the Fine Arts Chamber Players, and to the many people that came out to hear great music wonderfully played on a VERY HOT SUNDAY AFTERNOON!
What a music month April was for me. I got to see a live performance of the Beethoven 9th and then on Good Friday I got to see a live performance of the Mozart Requiem! My friend John A and his son Jim A (of the Polk audio event) asked me to attend their Church Concert on Good Friday. Jim performs in the Choir. The Concert consisted of a performance of the Albinoni Adagio in G -Minor, the Mozart Requiem, and Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, K. 618. The church had hired an entire orchestra in order to perform these compositions.
The evening started with the Albinoni Adagio. This is a very beautiful and quiet piece. It is scored for solo violin, strings and organ. The adagio has a haunting melody that floats over the quiet muted sound of the organ. The piece builds to a climax that leads into a highly emotional and beautiful cadenza from the first violin. The first violin’s solos were just fantastic. She is quite a good musician. The entire adagio was admirably performed with quiet dignity and introspection, setting up the reverent atmosphere for the performance of the Requiem.
Although this piece is attributed to Albinoni, it is largely the work of his 20th century biographer, Remo Gizaotto. Remo found a small fragment of the composition in the Saxon State Library in Dresden, Germany shortly after the end of World War II. The Library had been destroyed in the Fire Bombing of Dresden but the staff had already evacuated and preserved most of its collection. It is believed that the fragment was a portion of Albinoni’s Sonata de Chiesa Opus 4 written around 1709. I think it is an interesting programing choice because it is really an unfinished composition that was finished by someone other than the composer; just as Mozart’s Requiem was finished by his student, Sussmayr.
The Mozart Requiem is one of the true masterpieces of music. It is scored for 4 Soloist, Choir, I and II Violins, Viola, Cello, Bass, 2 Basset Horns, 2 Bassoons, 2 Trumpets, 3 Trombones, Timpani, and Organ. The entire evening was directed by Jody Lindh, who is the director of music ministries for the University Park United Methodist Church. Two soloist were from the SMU school of music and two were from the church choir.
This composition is extremely challenging to professional singers let alone a church choir and student soloists. But this group was up to the challenge. Each soloist did a great job. I thought the standouts were the soprano, Tiffany Roberts Silva and the baritone, Ken Carroll. The orchestra played flawlessly, and choir was extremely well rehearsed for the occasion. There were a few ragged moments and some phrases were not ended as cleanly as they could have been and you could occasionally hear the strain on the choir in some of the more difficult parts, but overall it was a magnificent effort! The Director, Jody Lindh had the right mix of forward looking Romantic era emotion and structured Classical era restraint. At the request of the music director, applause was reserved until the completion of the Ave Verum Corpus, K. 618. This was probably because of Easter and the need to celebrate the resurrection, not just remember the death or Jesus Christ.
Congratulations to all involved in this moving ceremony on Good Friday!
I thought this was a great opportunity to blog about the controversy surrounding the composing of the Mozart Requiem. The controversy has even become more fueled by the romanticized fantasy of the play and movie Amadeus. How much of the Mozart Requiem is Mozart’s own work and how much had to be filled in by Sussmayr?
Sussmayr claimed to have written the last three movements in their entirety. (Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus dei, Communion). Hmm….
Let’s go back and revisit the history. In the summer of 1791a mysterious messenger came to Mozart with a commission to compose a Requiem Mass. Mozart, being in difficult financial straits and failing health accepted the offer. He was already very busy composing his last two operas: The Magic Flute, and La Clemanza di Tito. The operas overwhelmed his task to write the Requiem so he set it aside to complete the two operas. In September of 1791 he began anew the effort to complete the Requiem, after another visit came from the mysterious messenger. In Mozart’s fragile physical condition he began to imagine that the commission from the mysterious visitor was from the other world and that the Requiem was for himself. It turned out to be from Count Franz von Walsegg, who wanted to remain anonymous because he intended to pass the work off as his own composition in honor of his recently deceased wife. A short distance from his home where he lay ill, The Magic Flute was having a very successful run. Mozart worked as quickly as his failing health would allow. Occasionally some of the cast would come over and sing through some of the portions of the Requiem. The last time this happened was on December 4th, 1791. Mozart sang the alto part and they got as far as the Lacrimosa. Later that night he lapsed in to a comma and died the next day. The Requiem was unfinished.
Constanze(Mozart’s wife) was left with many debts. She desperately needed the money from the commission. She turned to Josef Ebler, a local musician. He felt he could not fulfill the task. She appealed to Albrechtsberger and Stadler. (Albrechtsberger taught Beethoven and Stadler was one of Beethoven’s friends). They could not or would not help. As a last resort she turned to Mozart’s 25 year old student Franz Sussmayr. Constanze stated that she gave Sussmayr all of the sketches that Mozart had left. In addition, Sussmayr stated that on Mozart’s death bed he had carefully explained his intentions on completing the Requiem. Sussmayr said that Mozart’s last breath was expended phrasing a drum passage.
The autograph manuscript contained only the completed Introit and Kyrie and the vocal parts and figured bass (a type of musical short hand) of the Dies Irae sequence (Movemetns II-VII) up to the 9th bar of the Lacrimosa. The Offertory (Domine Jesu and Hostias) had only the vocal parts and figured bass. Nothing has ever been found in Mozart’s own hand of the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei. This is one of the reasons that Sussmayr claimed that he had written these movements himself. Constanze, who gave him what she described as “slips of paper” on which Mozart had written his ideas for the Requiem, insisted that Sussmayr only did what anyone else could have done.
One thing is certain, the quality of the music far exceeds anything Sussmayr ever came up with before or after. Was he really capable of echoing the masters voice so faithfully with any real guidance? I doubt it. This music is far too complex for a mortal to have come up with. The Requiem looks back to Bach while looking forward to Beethoven, Shubert, and Brahms. Just as in the final Symphonies Mozart inserts amazing fugues and double fugues, summoning up the spirit of Bach. But the emotional content is distinctly forward looking to the more emotional, expressive content of the Romantic era.
Sussmayr had two duties: first he had to provide the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei with the Communio. He also had to score a lot of the Requiem. Mozart chose the specialized scoring. (Strings, organ, trumpets, drums, trombones, bassoons, and basset horns.) The omission of flutes, oboes, and horns is carefully calculated to create a more austere and archaic tone and mood.
There is an alternate version of the Requiem that was produced by Franz Beyer, a professor of Music from Munich, Germany. His goal was to restore the Requiem to it’s more pristine colours and to correct the factual mistakes in the score. He felt that Sussmayr had some very incorrect instrumental accompaniment and enriched harmonies that attempted to prettify the work instead of it’s more stark intention. An obvious misrepresentation is in the Tuba Mirum where the trumpet continues to sound even after the dead are already called to Judgement. Beyer extensively reworked the basset horns and trombones to bring it into line with practice. He fixes the tuba mirum trumpet miss-step. He makes some small corrections to the vocal lines, the dynamic marks and tempi indications and adds an extra cadence to fix the fore shortened Osanna fugues.
I offer to you now both versions of the Requiem. The original Sussmayr (the version I heard on Good Friday) and the newer Beyer edition. The Sussmayr is performed by Bruno Walter and the New York Philharmonic and the Beyer edition performed by the The Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields conducted by Neville Marriner. I am placing the movements side by side so that you can more easily compare them.
The Neville Marriner -Beyer perfomance is my own LP and the Bruno Walter-Sussmayr performance is an LP I borrowed from my brother Joe.
So is the Requiem written by Mozart or not? My opinion is the same as Beethoven. When Beethoven was asked about the Mozart Requiem he said, “If Mozart did not write this music, then the man who wrote it was a Mozart!” Sounds almost like a Yogi Berra comment doesn’t it?
Marriner – Beyer Edition Introitus –Requiem
Marriner – Beyer Edition Kyrie
Walter -Sussmayr Edition Introitus and Kyrie
It is interesting that Walter envisions the first two movements as one movement. He leads the orchestra directly into the Kyrie without pause. Marriner makes sure to signal that they are separate movements.
Marriner – Beyer Dies Irae
Walter – Sussmayr Dies Irae
Marriner – Beyer Tuba Mirum
Walter – Sussmayr Tuba Mirum
Marriner – Beyer Rex Tremendae Majestatis
Walter Sussmayr Rex Tremendae Majestatis
Marriner – Beyer Recordare
Walter – Sussmayr Recordare
Marriner – Beyer Confutatis
Walter – Sussmayr Confutatis
Marriner – Beyer Lacrimosa
Walter – Sussmayr Lacrimosa
Marriner – Beyer Domine Jesu
Walter – Sussmayr Domine Jesu
Marriner – Beyer Hostias
Walter – Sssmayr Hostias
Marriner – Beyer Sanctus
Walter -Sussmayr Sanctus
Marriner – Beyer Benedictus
Walter – Sussmayr Benedictus
Marriner – Beyer Agnus Dei
Marriner – Beyer Communio
Walter – Sussmayr Agnus Dei and Communio
Once again Walter envisions the last two movements as one movement; where as Marriner envisions them as two distinct movements.
So what do you think? Is the Requiem Mozart or Mozart/Sussmayr? Which edition of the Requiem do you prefer? Let me know your thoughts. Personally, I prefer the Beyer edition. I think it is more true to the intention of Mozart. He did not want the Requiem to be Operatic. His intention was to look back to the time of Handel and Bach while looking forward to the highly emotional Romantic era. Any thoughts?
Last night my wife andI attended our first concert of the Plano Symphony Orchestra. This is kind of embarrassing because Plano has had a symphony since 1983. It has grown from a chamber orchestra to a full fledged orchestra.
The performance of the Beethoven 9th is a test for any orchestra and conductor in the world. It is a massive composition of over one hour in length and requires a large orchestra, a full chorus, and four solo singers. It is a piece of music that is wired into my psyche. I have seen it performed live twice before and I listen to it every December 16th in honor of the birth of Beethoven. (So what if you think its silly:-) The attempt to perform such a masterpiece is a statement by the Plano Symphony that they feel they have arrived. After last night I would say they largely succeeded.
The evening began with the Mozart Symphony No 40 in G minor K.550. Mozart wrote this symphony late in his short life and he may never have seen it performed live. Hector Guzman, the conductor of the the Plano Symphony, set his tempo’s largely on the slower side. I for one like this approach to Mozart. Some time the tempo’s of Mozart performances are so fast that it seems like a race to see who finishes first. This is somber, uneasy music and Mr Guzman brought out the more romantic forward looking side of Mozart that led directly to the symphonies of Beethoven and everyone who followed. The andante is sometimes played too slow but Guzman and the orchestra nailed the Andante “walking pace” of the movement. The Menuetto/Allegretto was muscular and dramatic. Because Mr. Guzman didn’t play the first movement at a break neck pace, it set up the finale “Allegro assai” beautifully and it raced ahead full of angst, anxiety and drama. This was music making at a very high level.
The first movement of the Beethoven was again taken a little slower than I’ve heard. This added weight and foreboding to the music. I noticed that Maestro Guzman chose to skip the repeat in the opening Allegro. I think because of time concerns. The performance started at 8:15 and was delayed by a special presentation to the retiring executive director Alice Hobbs, who is responsible for bringing the orchestra to the level of success they have achieved. Usually when the 9th is performed only a short composition is performed before because the 9th is so long. In any case the first movement was performed deliberately and workman like. It never rose to the point of magic but still admirably executed. The Scherzo is almost as famous as the “Ode to Joy” Choral finale. It was wonderfully played with crisp and emotional execution by the orchestra although I did notice a few spots where co-ordination between sections was a little off. Unless you have heard the work as much as I have it was probably not noticed by the general public. It was in the third movement that had the most problems. Many people mistakenly feel that playing fast must be much more difficult than playing slow. It is my feeling that the reverse is true. First, when you play slow your rythme must be perfect andthe music must not lose it’s forward momentum. Second, mistakes are more easy to notice and so you are much more exposed during slow compositions. Both things seemed to affect the orchestra. There are several moments in the Adagio where various woodwind and horn players have solo moments. Not all of these were executed flawlessly. (By the way, these solo’s are also very demanding.) In the end the “molto cantablie” was achieved and set up the orchestral blast that leads to the finally beautifully.
The four soloist came out to be seated after the 2nd movement so that the orchestra could go straight into the finale with almost no break. The soloist were as follows: Alex Bumpas, Tenor; Blake Davidson, Bass; Laura Mercado-Wright, Mezzo Soprano; and(A last minute substitution) Algela Turner Wilson, Soprano. The finale was very well done with only a few minor faux pas. It is always so dramatic to me when the chorus stands up to sing. The chorus was very well prepared and performed admirably. Of the four soloist I thought that the Tenor, Alex Bumpas and the Soprano Angela Turner Wilson were fantastic. I predict that Alex Bumpas is going places. He was just amazing. Angela Wilson has a huge but beautiful voice. Even though the 9th taxes every singers range there was not sign of it last night from these two singers. What a performance!
So in the end I give the performance a B. Quite an accomplishment for a organization that was a chamber orchestra just a few years ago. The future is bright and Hector Guzman is quite a talented conduct and music director. I for one am going to buy season tickets for next year. This was the final performance of their 8 concert season. Congratulation to Hector Guzman, the Plano Symphony, it’s staff and to Alice Hobbs who played such an important role in bringing the symphony to this point. ENCORE!!
I was lucky enough to be at Bass Hall in Fort Worth Texas Tuesday night March 1, 2011 to witness the performance of a piano recital by Stephen Hough. I feel that Stephen is one of the top pianists performing today. Stephen was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship in 2001, the Northwestern University Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance in 2008, and won the 2010 Royal Philharmonic Society Instrumentalist Award. He is one of the top selling “classical artist” ( I hate the phrase “Classical Music!) working today. The awards his recordings have received are way to numerous to list here. I will strongly recommend his recordings of the complete Saint-Saens Piano Concerto’s and the Complete Rachmaninoff Piano Concertos. These are must have recordings! He has recently recorded the complete works for Piano and Orchestra of Tchaikovsky with the Minnesota Orchestra led by Osmo Vanska. I can’t wait to get my hands on that set of CD’s. Stephen is a resident of London, England and holds the International Chair of Piano Studies at the Royal Northem College in Manchester, England.
The choice of compositions was fascinating. The program was made up of all piano sonatas. (Except for the Encores) Here is the program that Stephen Performed Tuesday night:
Beethoven: Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp Minor Opus 27 No. 2. (Popularly known as the “Moonlight Sonata”)
Janacek: Sonata 1.X.1905 z Ulicy
Scriabin: Sonata No. 4 in F-sharp Major, Opus 30
Scriabin: Sonata No. 5, Opus 53
Liszt: Sonata in B minor
Chopin: Nocturne in E-flat Major Opus 9 No. 2
Paderewski: Nocturne in B-flat Major Opus 16 No. 4
Wow, what a night! I’ll just begin at the beginning. What is a Sonata? The piano sonata is a formal Structure that composers used over the years to develop musical ideas. The form grew out of the late Baroque period of music. The Father of the piano sonata was the Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti. These short sonatas echoed the form in poetry called the Sonnet. The idea was to give form to longer compositions. So the piece took on a A-B-A-B them followed by a Development Section; and then a recapitulation to the A-B-A-B section and sometimes ending with a Coda section. This form that became known as Sonata Allegro form was very ingrained by the time of Mozart and Hayden. Hayden wrote between 50 and 60 piano sonatas and they almost all follow the formal structure of a sonata. (Some of them have Slow adagio openings before the formal A-B-A-B themes begin.) Mozart wrote about 18 sonatas. It may come as no surprise that Mozart became bored with the strict structural form of the sonata; so, some of his begin to break down the strict rules that are typical of this form of composition. What was so interesting about the sonata’s Mr. Hough chose for this recital is that none of them could be considered typical of the traditional form
Beethoven (1770 – 1827) wrote 32 piano sonatas. These works are the ultimate in all of piano compositions in my humble opinion. By the time of Beethoven’s death he had completely transformed, expanded and exploded what a piano sonata could be. One of his earliest attempts to expand and innovate the sonata is Opus 27 number 1 & 2. These sonatas were subtitled “Sonata quasi una fantasia” (Meaning: Sonata in the manner of a Fantasy”. Instead of the typical A-B-A-B theme the Sonata Opus 27 No. 2 begins as a mournful song. Quiet arpeggio’s rock along as the little finger of the right hand mainly plays out the somber melody. This music is so familiar and so many people can play this movement that that creates the difficulty of performing it. (This was one of the first pieces I ever learned to play). Stephen Hough’s performance was just beautiful. The minuet second movement was great in his emphasis of the syncopation in the rhythm. Beethoven was a real innovator of syncopation and rhythm. The second movement is followed by the wild and difficult third movement. This movement follows the traditional form of the sonata. Mr. Hough’s tempo was electrifying. I’ve heard this movement played fast before but fast and artistically is a different story. I just don’t see how it could have been played any better.
Leos Janacek (1854 – 1928) wrote only one piano sonata. This sonata is in two movements and this sonata is also not in any typical sonata Allegro form. It was composed when Janacek was 51 years old. The title refers to the date October 1, 1905. The composition is a protest piece composed in reaction to the bayoneting of an innocent peasant who had come out to show his support to students peacefully demonstrating the need for a Czech university to the German Authorities. The other part of the tittle “z Ulicy” is translated “from the street”. I am a great student of piano literature but I had never heard of this composition before. Originally the sonata was supposed to have three movements but Janacek did not believe the music was worthy of the subject matter so he destroyed the last movement. The sonata is only 12 minutes long but very concentrated with emotion. Mr. Hough played the first movement with bittersweet and restless momentum. It is entitled “The Presentiment” . The second movement was entitled “Death”. The notes I made during this movement were: “More like a life remembered than a death mourned.” This movement has all the typical open tonality of other masterworks by Janacek. It was simply heartrendingly played by a master performer.
Scriabin (1872-1915) wrote the sonata number 4 in 1903 when he was 31 years old. This was his last sonata that could be said to be in any key (F-sharp major). The difference between the 4th and 5th sonata is dramatic. He left traditional tonality behind for ever. Scriabin wrote 10 sonatas during his life. This sonata has two movements. The first movement was taken at a walking pace and played with sweetness and quietness. It is a tribute to Bass Hall that the softest notes could be so clearly heard. I was in the left orchestra section about 15 rows back but I would bet that no matter where you sat the beautiful quite playing of Mr. Hough could be clearly heard. The second movement is played as fast as possible. Because of the flawless technique of Mr. Hough, this was mind-blowing fast! The theme of the first movement returns with great drama and ecstasy. The concert hall erupted with applause. So much incredible music and it was only intermission.
The Scriabin Sonata number 5 is well known mainly because Vladamir Horowitz played it often in recital. It is a one movement masterpiece and very difficult to play. It is so different than sonata number four it’s hard to believe the same composer wrote. It has stanza from a poem written on the tittle page. “I summon you to life, hidden longings! you, drowned in the dark depths of the creative spirit, you fearful embryos of life, I bring you daring!” In order to play this piece the pianist must totally risk everything. Sviatoslav Richer thought it was one of the two most difficult pieces in all of piano literature to play. Mr. Hough was more than up to the task as he tore his Steinway apart! At the end of the sonata Mr. Hough moved his 9 foot Steinway a foot and a half to the right with the force of the last cord! It was not just virtuosic, it was dazzlingly musical. I thought no one could play this piece like Horowitz, but I was fortunate to see a man be able to recreate with is hands exactly what he heard in his mind. I used to think that only Horowitz could do that. Welcome Stephen Hough to the Pantheon of the Gods.
Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886) This too, is one of the most difficult compositions for piano that was ever conceived by the mind of man. I love that Mr. Hough closed with this piece. It is the perfect bookend to the Beethoven. Beethoven, the master of the motif (Like the entire 5th symphony of Beethoven built out of the fate motif); inspiring Franz Liszt to attempt to out motif Beethoven. Two basic motives built this entire 20 minute plus single movement work. The first motive is ominous bass notes followed by the almost Wagnerian more melodic second motive. I have heard this piece performed many many times. Sometimes very badly and a few times ingeniously. This performance is up there with the very best ever. To make music so beautifully Mr. Hough had to be completely unconscious of the enormous technical difficulties the composition presents. His performance was simply beautiful.
After a long standing ovation Mr. Hough returned to play two quite and beautiful Nocturne to calm us all down so we could go to sleep. The first was the very famous Chopin Nocturne in E-flat Major Opus 9 no 2. It was exactly what it was supposed to be: a beautiful night song. I love the Bel Canto melodic sense of Chopin. He wrote these pieces as a tribute to Bel Canto style singing. What a song it was. again the quietness of the ending could be heard clearly and was spellbinding.
Last was the Paderewski Nocturne in B-flat major Opus 16 No. 4 by Jan Paderewski. I had never heard this piece before and it was such a nice surprise and a beautiful way to end the concert. I have attached a You-tube video of Stephen Hough performing this very piece. Enjoy.