Saturday, April 27, 2002

[4/27/2012] Preview: Is this the most beautiful recording ever made? (continued)


Pianists Leon Fleisher and Gil Kalish


As I mentioned, last week on consecutive nights I happened to attend the American Symphony Orchestra's tribute to composer George Crumb and then the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center "Evening with" pianists Leon Fleisher and Gilbert Kalish, and this week I've devoted two nights to the string quartets of Bartók. At some point, or points, I definitely want to write more about a host of issues prompted by those events. For now, let me explain the link -- in my mind, at least -- between last week's pair of events last week and also the link between them and the recording of "Beautiful Child of Song" we heard before the click-through.

First, Gil Kalish has throughout his distinguished career been closely associated with contemporary music, emphatically including that of George Crumb (born 1929, and conspicuously and apparently delightedly present Friday night). And as it happens, when I think of Crumb, my strongest association is a performance of his Ancient Voices of Children featuring one of the most charismatic performances I've ever heard, by the much-missed mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani. (She also recorded the piece for Nonesuch, with Arthur Weisberg and the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble. I've never gotten the same experience from the recording, though.)

Jan D and Gil K in fact performed and recorded music of Crumb together -- and, fortunately, a whole lot of other music as well. It was a great musical partnership, which I hope we'll be investigating further in the not-too-distant future. For now, though, I'm not sure I know of a more beautiful piece of music-making than their "Beautiful Child of Song," another of those recordings I've been known to sit and listen to over and over and over again.

As for Leon Fleisher, as I expect most Sunday Classics readers know, he suffered a hiatus of some 40 years in his two-handed piano-playing career when, having established himself at a remarkably young age as one of his time's preeminent pianists, he lost the use of his right hand. That didn't end his career, though. He took to what he could still do: play the surprisingly substantial left-hand piano repertory, conduct, and teach -- including a 13- year stint as artistic director of one of the country's most important music-education institutions, the summer Tanglewood Music Center -- alongside chairman of the faculty Gil Kalish, as we were reminded in the background note on the program by CMS directors Wu Han and David Finckel.

At last Friday's CMS "Evening with Fleisher & Kalish," in addition to playing the haunting Schubert F minor Four-Hand Piano Fantasy, D. 940, with Gil Kalish and a suite by Erich Korngold for left-hand piano, two violins, and cello (Op. 23), he played this beautiful little number, which had been included in the first two-handed recording he made after that 40-year hiatus, Egon Petri's solo-piano arrangement of Bach's "Sheep may safely graze."

BACH-PETRI: "Sheep may safely graze"
(from Cantata No. 208)

Finally, this week I've reexperienced that formidable body of 20th-century chamber music, the six string quartets of Bartók, in chronological order, in a pair of concerts by the San Francisco-based Alexander Quartet, which is quartet in residence at New York's Baruch Performing Arts Center. And I thought we would listen to just one movement, the opening movement of the last quartet, of 1939, in this lovely 1992 performance by the New Budapest Quartet (violinists András Kiss and Ferenc Balogh, violist Laszlo Barsony, and cellist Károly Botvay -- and yes, we just heard Botvay, with two of his then-colleagues in the Bartók Quartet and pianist István Lantos, playing the first movement of the Brahms A major Piano Quartet).

BARTÓK: String Quartet No. 6:
i. Mesto; Più mosso, pesante; Vivace


The present projection is that we're going to finish up with the opening scene of Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila. Things change, though, so I can't say for sure.


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