Zimerman’s Chopin

His latest recording, mature thoughts on one of the great monuments of piano repertoire.

The world is full of magnificent pianists–every generation provides its gems–but for me, the Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman has always set the standard. I first heard him in the 80s in DC in a luminous performance of the complete Chopin Preludes at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater. Later he came (with his own piano I think) to Jordan Hall in Boston for a solo recital, and then  all three Brahms Violin Sonatas with Gidon Kremer (a musical odd couple, given Kremer’s impulsiveness versus Zimerman’s poise).

He is, like many a great musician, apparently a squirrely character. He has disowned some of his earliest recordings, despite their glories, and has gone into the studio only sparingly in recent years. He also is fanatical about the exact sound of the piano, and its technical maintenance, traveling with his own instrument when possible, and more recently, with a keyboard he created himself!

Here he is as a young man, the picture of musical elegance, the gesture of his hands alone enough to see how attuned his whole being is to the musical purpose.

Zimerman, after trouble with U.S. customs, and also strong disagreement with some U.S. policies, has forsworn touring in the U.S. Our loss.

Monday Morning: Winter Rain

Snow promised, but only rain so far in DC. Not quite Dickensian, but still poetic, as rain always seems to be (when it’s not dire, that is):

The Fitful Alternations of the Rain
By Percy Bysshe Shelley

The fitful alternations of the rain,
When the chill wind, languid as with pain
Of its own heavy moisture, here and there
Drives through the gray and beamless atmosphere.


"Alleys; Pedestrians; Umbrellas; Boston (Mass.)" from the BPL's great Flickr stream. (Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.)
“Alleys; Pedestrians; Umbrellas; Boston (Mass.)” from the BPL’s great Flickr stream. (Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.)


And for musical rain: Horowitz playing the “Raindrop” Prelude of Chopin, Op. 28, No. 15…although there seems to be some doubt about whether the “Raindrop” nickname really came from the composer or not.

Reasonable Words: Play it Again

TLS has a review of a new entry in the “middle age journalist writes a book about playing the piano” genre. (Well, there are two, so maybe genre is over stating it).

The lead (whole review behind their paywall, sorry:

Screen Shot 2013-07-23 at 10.29.36 AMThe businessman Gilbert Kaplan decided to master the art of conducting for a single piece: he taught himself Mahler’s Second Symphony, and has become a world expert on the work. That was a quixotic undertaking, for if he could conduct one piece, why not another? Alan Rusbridger undertook a similarly limited task: during the few minutes he could find each day while being Editor of the Guardian, he taught himself to play Chopin’s Ballade No 1, Op 23. Unlike Kaplan as a conductor, Rusbridger was already a good amateur pianist, and was not starting from scratch; perhaps he was deliberately conceiving a literary as well as a musical conceit, so that the process of mastery could be turned into an approachable diary. The result is an absorbing and technically detailed book, in which the daily events of a newspaper during a tempestuous year play only a walk-on role. Rusbridger has to bring in Arnold Bennett to vouch for the importance of his leisure-time activity; he is inspired by regular chamber music playing with a group of upmarket intellectuals, and by the words of the critic Irving Wardle, who coins the delightful aphorism: “I am an excellent pianist. The only snag is that I don’t play very well”.

That Wardle bit describes me to a T! I didn’t know about Kaplan, but certainly do know the Ballads, which I am unequal to as a pianist, and will ever be so.

Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, mentioned at the end of Nicholas Kenyon’s lively review certain is equal to it and then some.

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