Seen & Heard: Throwbacks

A cigarette card helpfully explains how a gramphone works.

I’m not one for musical nostalgia. (Or any nostalgia for that matter: using the past to spank the present is a default trope in many areas, but one that throws off more heat than light, particularly corrosive in education.)

But musical pasts are fascinating in their own right and today three examples of “old style” (although not all from old musicians).

Jorge Bolet was a virtuoso in the old mold (which includes sometimes less than total adherence to the letter of the score), championing the romantics and playing with what piano expert Blake Morrison calls “epic virtuosity….fleet and lavish.” At the same time, he was dour in his stage manner, something that perhaps worked against his achieving the kind of fame that more demonstrative communicators like Horowitz and Rubinstein achieved.

Here he is in a Chopin Nocturne, with hands and a technique that fascinate. (What’s the deal with that left thumb?!) But so much to marvel at: the range of dynamics, control and poetry…how he puts forth the drama of the piece: moving from shadow/light, small scale/large scale, simplicity/elaboration. It’s hard not to imagine you are listening to a time capsule of a great pianist of the late 19th century.

Next a more complicated throw back: the Baroque cellist Anner Bylsma playing Duport études. Bylsma, like many musicians over the last 30 years, aims to recover the performance approaches and styles that prevailed when the piece was first composed. (Bach as Bach would have played and heard it, etc. A sort of musical ‘originalism’ that fomented much resistance and debate in the 80s, but has now settled down.)

Whatever your view of merits of this approach, it is eye, ear, and repertoire expanding. To me this Bylsma here evokes an almost folk music feel, which is an association that the 18th century classical tradition doesn’t usually prompt.

Finally, a musical argument for re-incarnation. How on earth does Javier Camarena sing like this…golden age style, glowing tone, manner, and timbre? Complete with a messa di voce that would make Donizetti smile.

Seleh and happy Tuesday.

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