Friday, September 11, 2009

Take this piano bench and...

Such fights these days over pianists! I am loving it. It bodes well for my book on Leonard Pennario that the world cares so passionately about classical piano.

There is this good fight going on in England over Angela Hewitt. This is from Damian Thompson's Web log at the Telegraph which I enjoy because he has that same Catholic/classical music thing going on that I do. Check out the comments! Hewitt herself jumps in.

That is Angela Hewitt up above in one of her glam gowns. She has the best dresses.

I have Angela Hewitt's new Handel and Haydn CD but I cannot weigh in just yet because I cannot get past the first track. The CD starts with this Handel Chaconne and I have just fallen in love with this piece. Because I have not heard any other versions yet I am not sure how Hewitt's compares. I have to say though that I have been enjoying it a lot.

One thing about this Chaconne, you can see what Beethoven got from Handel. I love that Beethoven variation trick where he gives you the theme, then gives you a variation with the notes twice as fast, then puts it in triplets, then in groups of four -- each time around it gains in power and it is like a train gathering speed. He does that in Opus 109, a sonata I love to play. I love playing that part. You can feel it under your fingers. He does it in the slow movement of the "Appassionata" though because it is slow the effect is different. Also in the slow movement of the "Archduke" Trio.

Anyway that is what Handel does in this Chaconne which, here it is played by Murray Perahia, in case you want to hear it. And that is the reason why I have been unable to move on to the rest of the disk. Or to judgment on Angela Hewitt.

So that is one fight, over Angela Hewitt.

There is also great squabbling surrounding Lang Lang.

In the New York Times yesterday Michael Kimmelman has at him. I feel I know Kimmelman even though I do not because he was a fellow contestant in the, ahem, Van Cliburn International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs that I was in. We chatted briefly backstage.

Me: Are you nervous?

Kimmelman: I think we're all nervous.

In the words of Joe Wilson, you lie! Michael Kimmelman is quite the accomplished pianist and I remember at the time of the competition he had just performed Bach's Goldberg Variations for a group of his friends as a birthday present for someone. Here is a picture of Michael Kimmelman.

Not the person you want to be up against in a piano contest, that is for sure!

Anyway, yesterday in the New York Times Kimmelman blasts Lang Lang ...

... and it is a pleasure to savor.

Then in the Baltimore Sun, critic Tim Smith gets in on it and that is fun too. He also does an interview with Lang Lang. It does not sound as if Lang Lang had a lot to say but that does not surprise me, his being from China and a superstar and young. I prefer my pianists over 80, keep that in mind. Me and Annabelle Whitestone. Sorry. I could not help that!

Tim Smith, on his Web log, posts a video of Lang Lang playing Chopin's Etude in E. The performance showed in my not so humble opinion that the pianist can have a wonderful tone and shape a phrase beautifully but he is too self-conscious and he over-engineers the piece.

You know what, though, I had the same thoughts listening to the newly released Horowitz performance of the Schumann Fantasy. It was too teasing for me and it got annoying. So there I am criticizing Horowitz.

Of course I have been listening to Pennario and one thing that makes working on this book such a joy is I have come to love his warm and direct and unselfconscious approach. There is a courage in that. It is like someone looking you right in the eyes.

No one has heard any of these recordings so here is the Schumann Fantasy, part one, part two and part three. Those videos are courtesy of my friend Larry the Rene Leibowitz fan. Thank you, Larry! And here is my own inimitable stereo playing the Etude in E.

Pennario is just better. I am sorry.

Listen to me. Now I am fighting too!

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