Final Judgment: Alkan Drunken Ramblings: Final Judgment: Alkan

Joe on Wednesday, February 6, 2002 - 05:05 am:

    First: Mark: You seem to be an excellent Mensch & I like you & your Pictures (Mussorgsky) is quite good & your friends are wise & good & how can I not like a bunch of people who so unanimously despise "Titanic"? This much granted; but now I'm drunk & it's time to rage.

    Mark, I've come to call you to account. I'm the Stoned Guest. Yep. I'm finally here. I guess you know you're toast. You know that I will as a matter of course pick you apart nerve by nerve. Jesus may forgive you His disappointments in you, but I'm not so generous. I've got deadlines to meet. It's time I dragged you by your brittle fried-blonde forelock screaming to hell. Nothing personal.

    You stand warned. Now let's talk art, our favorite subject. Don't you think Ronald Smith is laughably inadequate for Alkan? Jesusmotherfuckingchrist we can both plow Ronald under. Poor Ronald. Hamelin is good. But don't you think Lewenthal is best FGP after all?? Hamelin's "Quasi-Faust" is full of senseless rubati. I do admit, though, that Hamelin's last mvt. of "Symphonie" is the best broomstick tour of Hell. Whadda ya think?

By semillama on Wednesday, February 6, 2002 - 10:01 am:

    "I think someone's had a little too much
    bourbon in his bourbon."
    -Jeffrey Jones, Ravenous.

By Cat on Wednesday, February 6, 2002 - 03:59 pm:

    "It's time I dragged you by your brittle fried-blonde forelock screaming to hell".

    Can I watch? Please.

By Sorabji on Wednesday, February 6, 2002 - 06:46 pm:

    Joe - There is a bar on 44th Street called Jimmy's Corner. It's probably my favorite bar in town. It is a boxing-themed place, with autographed pictures of all the great boxers at all the famous fights, as well as pictures of fighters no one ever heard of.

    I've always wished that there was a similar place that had a concert pianist theme, where people like you and I could gather to get tanked and intelligently argue about the great and not great pianists. As the night wore on the jukebox would blast the most raucous smashmouth piano music of Rzewski, Pabst, and Ives loud enough to scare them in the subways.

    Ronald Smith has a spotty record with Alkan. Where Lewenthal takes L'festin with spirits a little too high, Smith gets just the right sense of humor with L'festin, and that piano he plays it on (in the 1977 recording) itself conveys some of the ludicrousness of the music. But his airbrushing of the "Quasi-Faust" doesn't do anything for me. In fact, I blame that recording for giving me an excuse to not try so hard with contrary motion octave passages. In mm 96-98 Smith plucks at those octaves like he was playing a harp, but I'd been practicing that passage like an olympian trying to get as much sound as possible out of every note at the top and bottom of each octave in each hand. And that's how I would play that passage today if Smith hadn't given me the excuse to try half as hard.

    Hamelin's Alkan has never done much for me, with the possible exception of the Barcarolle, Op. 65 #6. That, my friend, is a perfectly desolate reading of a short piece of music that is so much more sad than appears at first blush. Lewenthal of all people also does a suitably bleak reading of what I think is among Alkan's most perfect scores.

    In fact, it reminds me of a comment a departed friend of mine (who would make for a great patron of the concert pianist version of Jimmy's Corner) once made about Emil Gilels' perfoemance of the Bach-Siloti B Minor Prelude at Carnegie. He said it was the only live performance of a piece of piano music he had ever seen that brought tears to his eyes. Tears of happiness and sadness and recognition of absolute beauty. He said it was strange how the piano just was not one of those instruments that inspires that kind of reaction.

    Well, that's how I've felt about those Lewenthal and Hamelin recordings of that Alkan Barcarolle.

    The only Hamelin I know that I listen to is his Sorabji 1st Sonata. I can't decide if it's a great piece, and I've never heard another performance to compare it to, but it's Hamelin in fine form. Hamelin beats the hell out of Ponti (who doesn't?), but to me Hamelin for all his skills gives in to the same old cliches. His Schubert B-Flat Sonata, 1st Movement, which he played at Merkin a year or so ago, was a case in point. It was maybe 10 minutes longer than it had to be, and he did a regular Richter-job on it by trying to make it out to be this mystical and heavenly song when as far as I've ever been able to tell it's really just a pretty simple (but effective) tune.

    I've never really warmed up to the Alkan symphony, but I do remember that Mark Salman did a fine job with it. That was years ago, though, and it was a live concert. So I may have been impressionable in some way that I would not be if I could listen to it when I was damn well ready.

    Alkan's Concerto for Solo Piano is probably the most frequently played Alkan around here, and with that I usually take John Ogdon for the 1st Movement and Jack Gibbons for the 2nd and 3rd. I think they both make up for each other's shortcomings in those performances. Gibbons just doesn't quite capture the spirit of solitary, self-absorbed grandeur that Alkan (consicously or not) communicates through that music. Ogdon does capture it, but his 2nd and 3rd Movements are relative disappointments in comparison. Gibbons brings that under-rated 2nd movement some real soul, and the 3rd movement he dishes out with just a touch of good humor. Hamelin, I am told, gave a smashmouth performance of that Concerto in New York some years ago, but I missed it.

    At any rate, I've got dinner to make.

By Ophelia on Thursday, February 7, 2002 - 03:49 pm:

    I dont know the music you're referring to, but I really loved the descriptions. I felt like I could hear it. Thank you for that.

    I agree about how emotional the piano can be, partly for the reason that it is very clean and clear. Like Mozart, not Beethoven, if you compare it to most other instruments. I never got very good at piano, but my brother plays and I love to listen to him practice. It's a wonderful instrument.

By Cat on Thursday, February 7, 2002 - 04:49 pm:

    I was listening to WSBJ (I got the link at home so I can't link here sowwy) the other day and the penisast let out a "whoa" in the middle of a very classical-sounding piece. It was ultra cool.

By The Watcher on Thursday, February 7, 2002 - 05:43 pm:

    I think perhaps you are all taking you music just a bit to serious.

    I find analyzing the music the way you just demonstrated here diminishes it.

    I think music should be heard and felt and experienced. But, if you analyze every performance or piece of music; that's all it becomes. Just another piece of music.

By heather on Thursday, February 7, 2002 - 05:52 pm:

    how can it diminish something you don't even know?

    i'm sorry if i seem to be following all of your posts, but PLEASE.

By patrick on Thursday, February 7, 2002 - 07:04 pm:

    i think music should be shoved squarely up your piece of ass watcher.

    discussion and interpretation of music IS a part of experiencing it.

By Dougie on Thursday, February 7, 2002 - 07:23 pm:

    Mark, what do you listen to mostly? Obscure classical composers, and if so, why? Are you tired of "mainstream" composers? Do you ever put on a Brahms symphony or a Schubert string quartet? Do you listen to a radio station in NYC? Probably not WQXR (All The Baroque Trio Sonatas That Are Fit To Air), but maybe WNYC or WFUV? Just curious.

By agatha on Thursday, February 7, 2002 - 10:27 pm:

    discussion of music is essential to musicians, watcher. i mean, DUH...

By Sorabji on Friday, February 8, 2002 - 10:57 am:

    i don't listen to a lot of music on the radio these days. i have about 20 radios, though (i collect them), and mostly i go for AM talk on WABC, Bloomberg on the Weekend, the former WEVD (i always wanted to call it WBVD), and WNYC AM. BBC3 and some French station i can't remember the name of are what i look for for anything else. you know what i'm surprised to find that i like are those music channels that they put on cable TV (the DTV lineup), up in the channel #500-599 range.

    i listen to a lot of things, but gravitate toward piano music because i play it myself and happen to know a lot about it. i also get something of a visceral thrill out of what i sometimes feel is the sense of combat between performer and piano. i listen to plenty of mainstream stuff, but have always found that appreciation of what makes it great is enhanced by appreciating what makes the obscure stuff stay obscure. i used to be a somewhat serious composer, and found that inspiration was more likely to come from listening to and trying to improve upon crappy music than trying to imitate the crowning achievements of the genre. but i go long periods of not listening to anything at all. lately i've been obsessing over old time mountain music like rose maddox and cutesy 50s stuff like teresa brewer, but i don't talk about that stuff so much because i don't consider myself much of an expert on it. just a fan.

By Dougie on Friday, February 8, 2002 - 03:24 pm:

    Hmm, the French radio must be RFI (Radio France International). Can't remember which station it's on --usually on late at night, and I usually find it by accident. I mostly listen to WNYC FM and WFUV and WBGO, except on the drive in, when I listen to Howard Stern.

    I go more with the mainstream composers, but always love to hear something I never heard of theirs previously (or never knew existed), like a couple of weeks ago, I heard Sibelius' Pelleas & Melisande on the radio. Hell, I know Debussy's and Faure's, but Sibelius? Who woulda thunk. It was really a nice piece too. Wracking my brain during it thinking who and what it could be. Then afterwards came on Copland's Organ Concerto which he wrote for Boulanger when he was in Paris. Copland wrote an organ concerto? Also, a nice piece, before his Americana style took hold, but you could hear foreshadowings of it in the 2nd movement. IMO, both excellent pieces, but overshadowed by the composers' more popular works to forever live in obscurity.

    I tend to listen more to strings, orchestral, and chamber music, but I know what you mean about the visceral thrill of watching a great pianist tackling something like Balakirov's (sp?) Islamy or Gaspard of the Morning (a little known collaboration between Ravel's grandson, Jimmy, and Juice Newton, and just now starting to find its way into the repertory). Just kidding. I don't know if it's laziness that I don't branch out more, or just comfort level with the old warhorses. Actually, I do know -- it's the laziness. I have a friend who bought that Bach2000 - the complete works on 150 cds, and he's making his way through them all. Now that's dedication.

By The Watcher on Friday, February 8, 2002 - 03:26 pm:

    Up your's Patrick.

    Discussion and interpretation is one thing disection another.

    Once a discussion of a performance goes beyond the general to the nit picky I prefer to stay away.

    In my mind either the whole performance was good and moved me or it wasn't. I don't need to think whether an artist played a certain note to loud or to soft. It just doesn't matter.

By Spider on Friday, February 8, 2002 - 03:51 pm:

    But it does matter to some people. I would guess that the people to whom it matters are musicians themselves.

    A few years ago, a young upstart pianist (whose name I unfortunately can't remember) came to Philadelphia to play at the Academy of Music. He was notorious for throwing all direction out the window and playing however he felt....accenting random notes, slowing down and speeding up at whim, etc. I read a few newspaper articles about him, and music critics were up in arms over this guy. How *dare* he? they said.

    I would have liked to hear him. I think he was performing Rachmaninoff.

    Does anyone know who I'm talking about?

    Right now I'm listening to a piece by an instrumental "band" called Rachel's. Their music is neo-classical but on a rock record label (Touch & Go). This particular piece has a repeated cello/violin line in which two notes are slurred together during one of the repetitions. I love that slur. I get excited each time I know it's approaching. If I heard that piece in a live performance and they didn't slur those two notes, I would probably become angry. They're very important notes.

By patrick on Friday, February 8, 2002 - 03:57 pm:

    watcher, im a musician. im self taught. i cant read sheet music, so HOW people play is of great importance to me. technique is of terribly importance. I WANT to disect Max Roach, its integral to my learning.

    as an audience member you don't have to think about anything at all if you dont want to.

    thats why pop and so called country sell millions. The riffs are easy, anthem-like, the lyrics are clear and easy to understand.

    Just accept the fact, that while you arent thinking, those who are creating and impacting the world with music are, and for that you should be grateful.

By Dougie on Friday, February 8, 2002 - 04:00 pm:

    Spider, was it Ivo Pogorelich? (not sure about speeling)

By Spider on Friday, February 8, 2002 - 04:02 pm:

    Also, a few years ago I did get to see Ravel's Concerto in G at the Academy of Music, and the second movement -- which is one of my very favorite pieces of music -- was ruined for me because the pianist (a French woman whose name I also forget) decided to syncopate the left hand's part from the right's just slightly. WHY, I ask. It was an unforgivable decision.

By Spider on Friday, February 8, 2002 - 04:08 pm:

    Yes, Dougie!

    I found the article about him from the online Philadelphia Inquirer archives, but you have to pay to see the full text. Hmph. The article was titled "Ivo Plays the Boos," to give you some idea of his reception.

By The Watcher on Friday, February 8, 2002 - 05:00 pm:

    I actually do like some classical music.

    And, I have actually sat in a Symphony Hall and listened to a classical concert or two. Not to mention an opera.

    So I guess the only difference is I'm not a musician. But, I am a music fan. So if a musician played a piece well and it moved me that is all I really care about. I don't have to compete with them or be better than them. I just have to appriciate their music.

By Cat on Friday, February 8, 2002 - 05:38 pm:

    "Actually sitting" in a "Symphony Hall", you say? Did they let you stay for the concert or did you have to get straight back on the short bus?

By Dougie on Friday, February 8, 2002 - 05:40 pm:

    Dammit Cat, I wanted that one.

By Cat on Friday, February 8, 2002 - 05:44 pm:

    I'm sorry Dougie. You shoulda put your hand up earlier.

    There's still "the only difference is I'm not a musician".

    Have fun.

By Dougie on Friday, February 8, 2002 - 05:49 pm:

    Ok, here goes:

    So if you're not a musician, then how the hell can you "compete with them or be better than them."?

    Gratuitous, yes, fulfilling, no.

By patrick on Friday, February 8, 2002 - 06:08 pm:

    "Gratuitous, yes, fulfilling, no"

    reminds me of that time antigone and i were backstage at that Barry Manil...

    i've said too much

By B.M. on Friday, February 8, 2002 - 06:15 pm:

    Speak for yourself. I found our threesome highly fulfilling, and not at all gratuitous.

By B.M. on Friday, February 8, 2002 - 06:37 pm:

    By the way, I bottled our secretions from that night. They have a treasured spot on my mantelpiece.

By Sorabji on Saturday, February 9, 2002 - 01:43 pm:

    actually the French station i was thinking of is Frances Musique, and i've never heard it on the radio. i get most non-talk radio over the internet. if i had a car or did much driving i'd probably get an XM radio. commercial radio drives me crazy.

    ivo pogorelich has a reputation for thinking very very highly of himself. a quote i've seen attributed to him is along the lines of "There were only three great pianists: Horowitz,
    Rachmaninoff, and myself." i've heard that quote attributed to him many times, but have never seen it fully cited or verified, so who knows if it's real.

    i found this writeup of that pogorelich concert

By Czarina on Sunday, February 10, 2002 - 02:40 am:

    I wanna see the stuff in the bottle.

By The Watcher on Wednesday, February 13, 2002 - 05:12 pm:

    Yes, cat they did let me stay.

    And, they played a beutiful rendition of Revels Bolerro.

    That's an interesting piece of music. It can either be exciting or boring.

By Joe on Tuesday, February 19, 2002 - 02:23 pm:


    Rubinstein made at least 2 awful recordings of Schubertís great Bb Sonata before he suddenly & startlingly, in his old age, got it just right. Itís a great recording, trust me. Iíll buy it from you if you donít like it. The sleeve shows him in silk nighties smoking a cigar on a balcony amidst flowers (as I seem to recall). Ivo Pogorelich can blow me. I have saved on audiotape a single cut from a long-ago-discarded album by Ivo Pogorelich: Chopinís latter Nocturne in Eb. I just now played back that cut. Ivo is not "exciting" or "original" or "dramatic" after all: heís just another pretentious eleven-fingered social-climbing Liberace-wannabe Third-World pain in the ass. Correct me if Iím wrong. What?! $42?! Hey, Mark, can you pick up the tab this time?

By Joe on Tuesday, February 19, 2002 - 02:47 pm:

    Never mind. You & Dougie & Cat are drinking on me tonight. Laissez les bons temps rouler.

By Dougie on Tuesday, February 19, 2002 - 06:55 pm:

    Ils roulent tres bien maintenant apres ma troisieme Bud, merci Joe. Mais malheureusement, les Buds sont sans leurs copines, les Marlboros, et je suis sans ma chatte, Emily. Les choses me semblent un peu vide ici.

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