Recent Listening

Not new recordings, just items that have passed through my CD player in recent weeks.

Schubert: The Piano Sonatas. András Schiff. It’s a safe bet that there are pieces here that will be new to you. One that was new to me was a tantalizing opening fragment of a sonata in f-sharp minor, exquisite in its delicate melancholy. Schiff plays a Bösendorfer with myriad colors, orchestral grandeur, and a touch of harshness in the loudest moments. He makes teasing reference to players of fortepianos in his program note – a judgement he seems to have changed since he has recently recorded Schubert on a fortepiano for ECM himself.

Bernard Rands: Now Again. It’s the vivid harmony that most often strikes me about Rands’s music; certainly there are scintillating gestures and plentiful lyricism, but the pitches in the music always feel right. Wonderful performances by Philadelphia’s Network for New Music, featuring the superb mezzo Janice Felty.

Amy Williams: Cineshape & Duos. I love the intensely characterful writing in this music, so vivid and clear in expressive intent. The pitches matter, the phrases are elegantly shaped, and the timing is just right, things never outstay their welcome. And the performances are splendid, Williams herself is the superb pianist for six of the titles, including the dramatic and virtuosic piano solo Cineshape 4. In a program note, Williams explains the title, saying that it is part of a series of works “based on a close and selective reading of an existing film”, in this case the German film Run Lola Run. The piece certainly does “run”, but you don’t need to know the film to enjoy the musical shape.

“Listen to the slow movement”

“What we can say, a saying both exceeding and falling short of responsible knowledge, is that there is music which conveys both the grave constancy, the finality of death and a certain refusal of that very finality. This dual motion, instinctual to humanity but scandalous to reason, is evident, it is made transparent to spiritual, intellectual and physical notice, in Schubert’s C-major Quintet. Listen to the slow movement.”

– George Steiner in the book Real Presences.

Paul Lewis podcast

Go here for the first in a series of podcasts in which pianist Paul Lewis discusses and plays the Drei Klavierstücke of Franz Schubert – late pieces that are not terribly well known. I admire Lewis’ playing very much, though I think he starts the first piece a shade too fast. Perhaps I have the Kalish and Brendel versions too fixed in my mind’s ear. Hear Brendel – with the score – here.