Posts tagged ‘pianists’

February 4, 2015

Blackberry Tart and De Pachmann

This is a companion piece to the wonderful account I published in this blog of a Caruso performance, by the early 20th-century journalist and author Thomas Burke. This time it’s a performance by the pianist Vladimir de Pachmann, taken from the same essay, “A Musical Night: The Opera, the Promenades,” a delightful piece of writing for anyone who loves music (as Burke certainly did). In it you’ll make the acquaintance not only of Caruso but get to glimpse a young Thomas Beecham and Misha Elman, among others. The rest of the essays in Burke’s book, Nights in London, available for free at the Gutenberg Project (, are accounts of different neighborhoods of the author’s beloved city, London, and are just as delightful as what you’ll find in this piece.



We had dined solidly, with old English ale, at “The Cock,” in Fleet Street. Perhaps tomato soup, mutton cutlets, quarts of bitter, apple and blackberry tart and cream, macaroni cheese, coffee, and kümmel are hardly in the right key for an evening with Chopin. But I am not one of those who take their pleasures Vladimir_Pachmann_1848_-_1933sadly. If I am to appreciate delicate art, I must be physically well prepared. It may be picturesque to sit through a Bayreuth Festival on three dates and a nut, but monkey-tricks of that kind are really a slight on one’s host. However, I felt very fat, physically, and very Maeterlinckian, spiritually, as we clambered into a cab and swung up the great bleak space of Kingsway.

At the entrance to the Steinway we ran against a bunch of critics, and adjourned to the little place at the opposite corner, so that one of the critics might learn from us what he ought to say about the concert. We had just time to slip into our seats, and then Pachmann, sleek and bullet-headed, minced on to the platform. I said that I felt fat, physically, and Maeterlinckian or Burne-Jonesy, or anything else that suggests the twilight mood, spiritually. But the moment Pachmann came on he drove the mood clean out of us. Obviously, he wasn’t feeling Maeterlinckian or Chopinesque. He was feeling very full of Pachmann, one could see. Nothing die-away or poetic about him. He was fat physically, and he looked fat spiritually. One conceived him much more readily nodding over the fire with the old port, than playing Chopin in a bleak concert-hall, laden with solemn purples and drabs, stark and ungarnished save for a few cold flowers and ferns.

However, there he was; and after he had played games and cracked jokes, of which nobody knew the secrets but himself, with the piano-stool, his hair, and his handkerchief, he set to work. He flourished a few scales; looked up; giggled; said something to the front row; looked off and nodded; rubbed his fingers; gently patted his ashen cheek; then stretched both hands to the keys.

He played first a group of Preludes. What is there to say about him? Nothing. Surely never, since Chopin went from us, has Chopin been so played. The memory of my Fleet Street dinner vanished. The hall vanished. All surroundings vanished. Vladimir, the antic, took us by the hand and led us forth into a new country: a country like nothing that we have seen or dreamed of, and therefore a country of which not the vaguest image can be created. It was a country, or, perhaps, a street of pale shadows … and that is all I know. Its name is Pachmann-land.

Before he was through the first short prelude, he had us in his snare. One by one the details of the room faded, and nothing was left but a cloud of lilac in which were Pachmann and the sleek, gleaming piano. As he played, change succeeded change. The piano was labelled Chappell, but it might just as well have been labelled Bill Bailey. Under Pachmann, the wooden structure took life, as it were, and became a living thing, breathing, murmuring, clamouring, shrieking. Soon there was neither Chappell, nor Pachmann, nor Chopin; only a black creature—Piano. One shivered, and felt curiously afraid.

Then, suddenly, there was a crash of chords—and silence. That crash had shattered everything, and, looking up, we saw nothing but the grinning Pachmann. One half-remembered that he had been grinning and gesturing and grimacing with ape-like imbecility all the time, yet, somehow, one had not noticed it. He bobbed up and down, and grinned, and applauded himself. But there was something uncanny, mysterious. We looked at one another uneasily, afraid to exchange glances. Nobody spoke. Nobody wanted to speak. A few smiled shy, secret smiles, half-afraid of themselves. For some moments nobody even applauded. Something had been with us. Something strange and sad and exquisitely fragile had gone from us.

Pachmann looked at us, noted our dumb wonder, and—giggled like an idiot.

November 4, 2014

Vive la Jacquinot!

I would like to draw the world’s attention (are you listening, world?) to a neglected pianist — a virtually unknown pianist if my own, admittedly limited experience is any indication.

Fabienne Jacquinot was a superb musician, and it’s a shame upon the musical world that more of her performances were not recorded. The recordings she did make were done mainly in the 1950s, extraordinary renderings of JacquinotSchumann’s Études Symphoniques, L’Oiseau Prophète, Papillion, Davidsbündler, Carnival and Kinderszenen (Escenes d’Enfants). She also recorded  Dohnanyi’s Variations on a Nursery Theme and Strauss’s Burleske and the Saint-Saëns Concerto in F No. 5 with the Philharmonia orchestra under Anatole Fistoulari, as well as a few other pieces. But there is nothing extant of the Schumann concerto in A minor, the piano sonatas or any of the other works by Schumann and other composers I would dearly like, and would probably pay dearly, to hear. In fact, there is nothing but these few recordings available on CD, mp3 or on the second-hand vinyl market. There is not even a Wikipedia entry devoted to her!

Schumann, like Chopin, was not a composer I looked to when I turned to my stereo for all the different reasons I listen to music and now even attempt to play it. Chopin had seemed to me precious, a kind of high-falutin elevator music (I’m waiting for the lightning bolt to strike me). Schumann, apart from the concerto, I seemed to have no emotional access to.

Yulianna Avdeeva turned Chopin into a necessity of life for me. As one of the first writers on her Facebook page I wrote that her playing had made Chopin come alive for me — a trite, totally inadequate attempt in my boyish-like awe of her to describe what seemed almost to have literally happened. Chopin still gets on my nerves sometimes with his adolescent angst, and I would just as soon not have read anything about his life (always a mistake for me when it comes to artists of any kind). But the man’s music is now in my bloodstream and issues from the tips of my fingers, however ineptly, with the most exquisite pleasure I have ever known.

It was Yulianna who also gave me access to Schumann when I discovered her performance on YouTube of his first piano sonata, recorded in Switzerland in May of 2010, several months before her winning the Chopin competition in Warsaw which put her name securely on the musical map as a major artist. I was as gob-smacked by her performance of the Schumann sonata as I was by her Chopin, assuming wrongly that what I was watching and hearing occurred after, not before, the big boost the Chopin competition gave to her career and, I assumed, her confidence. But such was not the case, and to this day I have not heard her play better than she did at that Schumann or, for that matter, the Chopin pieces she also played that day to a half-filled auditorium, mostly women, not all of whom seemed to be paying attention.

And then I found Jacquinot, serendipitously, on YouTube. I don’t recall the circumstances. I may have been sampling other performances of Schumann by the big-name performers we mostly all assume are the best interpreters of this kind of music. And, to this day, many months later, I am astounded, intrigued and enraptured by her playing, not to mention being severely pissed-off that nothing more of her exists on recording than what I have already indicated. Even my searches on yield nothing further about her recordings or even biographical data. Such, I can only conclude, was the fate of women of talent fifty years ago.

I not only want more of her performances, I want to know what instrument she played. To my ear, it could have been a Steinway or any of a number of instruments I am not familiar enough with to recognize. But there is a special sound to it in some registers and passages, a kind of player-piano timbre. That may just have been the way a Steinway sounded fifty years ago, or she may have preferred an older instrument, but I’d like to know nonetheless. It’s the sort of biographical detail I do like to know, just as it was important to me to know it was a Yamaha that Yulianna played when she won that competition and that she tends to favor Steinways since.

I can’t characterize the qualities of Jacquinot’s playing the way more adept writers on this subject could (for an example of this, I recommend Rolf Kyburz’s music blog). I can only attest to the reaction it elicits from the deepest part of me. And that reaction is rich and satisfying and at times downright sublime. You may be lucky enough to feel the same way when you listen yourself, though I realize our brains are all configured uniquely with different tastes and needs as a consequence. But it your gray and red and white matter is configured anything like my own and you are not already familiar with Fabienne Jacquinot, you are in for not just a treat but a deeply moving experience.

And, please, if anyone can tell me where I can find out more about Mlle. Jacquinot’s career, discrography, etc.,  leave a comment. Thanks.