"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: Sviatislav Richter

“farewell” . . .

petit fleur

Okay so today, I take back every complaint I’ve ever made about the music composed by Robert Schumann.

I had discovered “Abschied” (“Farewell”) the last piece in his composition, “Waldszenen” (“In the Forest”) played by Clara Haskil over the weekend.

This morning, I located the score online and printed it out to sightread at the piano. Here it is performed by Sviatoslav Richter.





bach: the gift that keeps on giving . . .

rosemary, cyclamen and a kabocha squash on the kitchen counter . . .

rosemary, cyclamen and a kabocha squash on the kitchen counter . . .

As a pianist whose favorite composer is Johann Sebastian Bach, I have numerous recordings of the Well-Tempered Clavier, Books I and II. Any pianist who undertakes to learn them all and then perform them either by memory or using the music has my respect and admiration, even if their recordings aren’t necessarily my most favorite ones. Up to today, I owned Bach WTC I & II recordings by Glenn Gould, Sviatislav Richter and Angela Hewitt. I also have random prelude and fuge recordings by Clara Haskill, Maria Joao Pires, Martha Argerich and Peter Serkin among others.

Many of us recall the splash made by the Canadian pianist, Glenn Gould, when he came upon the music scene, seated on a sawed off wooden chair, humming to himself, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he was on stage in Carnegie Hall and playing the Goldberg Variations faster (and with more clarity) than anyone had ever imagined possible. Gould also recorded the Goldbergs, this time at a much slower tempo twenty years later and it’s interesting to listen to both sets one after the other. For a long time, my favorite pianist performing Bach was Angela Hewitt, also a Canadian pianist who has recorded just about everything Bach ever wrote for the keyboard: Inventions, Partitas, English and French Suites, the Goldberg Variations, both books of the Well-Tempered Clavier and other pieces like the Italian Concerto for solo piano and the keyboard concerti with orchestra.

Today, as I was finishing my breakfast, I came upon a review in the New York Times of the French pianist, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who performed the WTC – Book I, using the score at a Carnegie Hall recital. The reviewer noted that Andras Schiff performed the WTC by memory and seemed to “channel Bach.” I happen to disagree with this opinion because I have listened to a few clips of Schiff playing Bach and am bothered by the tempo and rubato liberties he takes with the score. That is, he plays unevenly and pauses at places that seem to please him, and not as Bach intended it–at least not to my ear. The photograph in the NYTimes article of the Steinway concert grand and the pianist on the wide stage was striking, a gorgeous snapshot depicting the glory of a pianist playing Bach on a concert stage. After reading the review, I listened to a few segments on I-Tunes and then purchased the album once I figured out what my Apple I-Tunes password was after a few futile attempts.

I listened to this new set of preludes and fuges while I did an hour or so of housework this morning, and found that I liked them a lot. I cleared off items crowding space in the plant room, fed the canary and rearranged sea things that I had found on the beach last year when we went to the Cape after Christmas. I made a new playlist for the downloaded disc and burned a CD for my car. As I pulled out of the driveway to go to the post office and grocery store, this new Bach piano music filled the car. The morning sun shone through the trees, many with brilliant yellow leaves that had not yet fallen. For me, there’s no simpler nirvana than to listen to Bach while doing chores inside and errands out and about.

So, heartfelt thanks first of all to Johann Sebastian Bach, for composing all that lovely music in the first place. Gratitude for the New York Times newspaper which also keeps on giving, introducing me to concerts, pianists and recordings that I might not otherwise come across. Kudos to Pierre-Laurent Aimard for playing Bach so beautifully and for making this recording. And a huzzah to Apple and I-Tunes for making equipment that enables someone like me to download, listen to, purchase and then copy a CD for my car in less time than it takes to sweep the floor!

All in all, I’m grateful for this rapturous confluence of art and technology on a brilliant Fall day here in New England. What a JOY!


Postscript: I noticed that the Aimard CD in hard copy on is listed for $16.99 while I downloaded it on I-Tunes for $11.99.


playing the piano . . .

~ photo by C., part of a Christmas diorama she made of me at my Steinway "B" grand piano named "Victor" rebuilt by G. 20 years ago ~

~ photo by C., part of a Christmas diorama she made of me at my Steinway “B” grand piano named “Victor” rebuilt by G. 20 years ago ~

As I’m writing this post, I’m listening to Paul Lewis, the British pianist, playing early Beethoven sonatas. Last night, as my Christmas gift to G., we went to hear Lewis play at Jordan Hall in Boston. I had managed to purchase the last two left-center balcony tickets for the recital.

There was a young (around 5) Chinese boy sitting behind me, his older sister (around 11) and his mother. The boy had the sniffles and kept blowing out of one nostril all the way through the concert. I ignored him because at least he didn’t talk while Lewis was playing. Another young boy around 8 years old sat beside G. These young children at this concert (at around $75 a ticket) reminded me of when my middle daughter, M., played the piano and we took her to hear Horowitz because we wanted her to have a chance to hear him play before he died some years later.

Paul Lewis played three Schubert sonatas for the program: the C minor, A major and B-flat major late sonatas that Schubert managed to write immediately before he died at the age of thirty-one. I’m familiar with these pieces and Lewis did everything and more than one might have hoped: wonderful, round tone, clarity, color with gorgeous pianissimo, a confident yet ego-less grasp of the music and just beautiful piano playing. People stood and called out “Bravo!” even before the intermission.

I thought I had heard a ringing of G# in the lower register during the A major sonata. The piano tuner came out, played the notes and adjusted a note in the upper register. Then distracted by someone on the auditorium floor, he left the instrument and didn’t touch it again. I thought that was a little odd. G. tunes and rebuilds pianos so he had some opinions of the piano too.

In any event, when Lewis came out to play the big B-flat sonata, I thought something was off from the way he had carried himself in the first half. Perhaps it’s because the piece itself has a shallower melody bed than the the other two sonatas, but I definitely had the uneasy feeling that Lewis was, well, uneasy too in the 2nd half of the program.

Even though there was much applause, he demurred from playing any encores. I had hoped we would hear some of the shorter Schubert pieces, “Moments Musicaux” but he didn’t play anything else.

I have to confess that hearing him play on the Steinway Concert Grand in Jordan Hall made me feel, once again, how proud I am to be married to G. who has dedicated his life to pianos. I think he felt something too in his own way. DSC_0006_2

During the intermission, I chatted with two couples who sat nearby. I said I had read online that Lewis’s father had been a dock worker, his mother a housewife and there had been no vestiges of music in his heritage. One said they had never heard of Paul Lewis before and had come as part of their Celebrity Series tickets. The other said he and his wife listened to Lewis’s recordings of these Schubert sonatas before they went to bed for the last two years!

He asked me what I thought of the way Lewis played Schubert compared to Alfred Brendel (with whom Lewis had studied for a short time,) and I said I thought Lewis’s was better than Brendel’s. I also volunteered that I thought Lewis’s recording of Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy was better than that of Sviatislav Richter, whose recording my daughter C. (the photographer) would listen to every night when she went to bed at the age of about eight. (What’s this thing about people listening to Schubert before going to bed?)

Anyhow, it turned out to be a most wonderful experience. It makes me think I’m getting ready to practice again: maybe the Schubert short pieces and definitely some of the early Beethoven sonatas. If you would like to listen to Paul Lewis, here is a link to the recording that got me hooked in the first place, especially the 6 Moments Musicaux: