Posts tagged ‘piano’

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.



September 15, 2011

Chopin Come Alive

Welcome to my music blog.

Despite the title, pianomusicman, I’ll be talking about any kind of music that tickles my fancy, on any kind of instrument.

I’ve had a love affair with music for as long as I’ve been alive, but it was only well into adulthood that I realized how deep the feelings went. Although I grew up in a musical environment and even briefly, all too briefly, took up a musical instrument in my childhood, I had not been conscious of how profoundly I feel music until fairly recently. Of course, none of us realizes how different our feelings may be from those of other people and assume what we feel, they feel and vice a versa. If I had to do it over again, though, and knew about myself what I know now, things would have been different. But, isn’t that true for most everybody?

I’ve only recently started to read about music and musicians, partly no doubt as a consequence of my taking up the piano. So, I’ll have more to say about various composers and performers on that account as well as from my own personal experience, impressions which go back now many decades.

I hope you’ll find all or at least some of my musings interesting and share your own thoughts with me.

But I don’t want to conclude this first posting without mentioning my latest and, at least as performers go, perhaps my greatest musical love: Yulianna Avdeeva, winner of last year’s (2010) Chopin Competition in Warsaw.  If you haven’t heard or heard of her, I suggest you go to YouTube and check out the videos available of her performance in Warsaw:

This young woman made Chopin come alive for me. Till then he was in the grips of what has always sounded to my ears as ‪a kind of bloodless salon playing, no matter how skillful or subtle. Through her hands I hear what the music is really about: the tragedy and beauty that is life, and death.

Partly as a result of these recent readings (which I used to avoid, on the theory that anything I need to know about a composer I can find in his or her music), I’ve been listening to various pianists (God bless YouTube) from the present day going all the way back to those who were born deep in the 19th century like Hofmann, Rachmaninoff, Saint-Saëns. For the first time, I’ve begun to realize that there are styles and even fads to performance playing just as much as there are in literature or anything else (my own profession is fiction writing). This, rather late, realization explains a great deal about my lack of response to most 20th-century pianists.

I suspect what Ms. Avdeeva is doing is re-creating a kind of playing that was more typical, in some ways, of the performers of the 19th century. They apparently went overboard (she does not, though some critics seem to think she does), behaving more like our present day rock stars and getting much the same response from their audiences of screaming, and sometimes fainting, fans. All that disappeared in the 20th century (not that star performers didn’t still have groupies, viz. Horowitz), when technique, fidelity to the printed notes and other post-Romantic attitudes produced what sounds to my ear too much of a cookie-cutter approach.

Some sort of reformation of 19th-century excess was certainly in order. Performers were getting away with musical murder, even while virtuosic geniuses arose them. But a great deal, to my way of thinking, or hearing, was lost. Avdeeva’s playing may indicate a return to that earlier kind of very expressive playing, without the flimflam and hype that accompanied it. If so, I say three cheers.