The Virtuoso I
CD 10 of 24
The first quarter of the nineteenth century saw sweeping changes in the design of the piano. It was now a much sturdier instrument with iron being used in its construction; new materials in the manufacturing of the hammers were utilised; and the “double-escape action”, the precursor of what is used today, was evolving. Concurrently, composers and teachers, often one and the same, were developing systems to advance a player’s technique. To the bane of budding pianists were added volumes of études, exercises designed to increase one’s facility at the keyboard and prepare musicians for the challenges ahead.
This did produce pianists with greater technical ability, but it also led to lesser composers writing works that were designed to show off their abilities; the “let’s see how many notes I can cram into this bar”, school of piano playing. These composers, popular in their day, have sunk into obscurity: Friedrich Kalkbrenner, anyone?
The composers on CD 10 used their virtuosity to serve their musical ideas, Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1849) best exemplifying this. In his Scherzo No. 3, digital dexterity is evident everywhere, melodic invention front and centre. Chopin, being of consummate taste and elegance, could not compose any other way. Into this work Chopin inserts a lyrical and serene passage, providing relief to the preceding cascade of notes.
Before Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897) wrote his First Symphony (CD 8) he was known for his expertise in handling smaller forms, the chamber and solo piano music on which his reputation was built. While composed late in his life his two Rhapsodies are representative of the music he wrote throughout his career; compact pieces full of invention.
Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886) was a rock star before there were rock stars. In his youth he cut a dashing figure, travelled incessantly and had numerous love affairs worthy of the tabloids – but most of all he was known for his pianistic prowess and composition. His fame rested on performing his own works for an admiring public; one such work, the Sonata in B minor, was one of the greatest works of the Romantic Era. Beginning on a single note ominous in its simplicity, the calm opening is rent asunder by an explosion akin to a rifle going off in your ear, (Track 9 – 0:34), heralding the melodies and motifs used to drive this piece to its conclusion. Bravura playing at its finest!
The works by Sergei Prokofiev (1891 – 1953) and Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937), though chronologically out of order, are included as twentieth-century representatives of the virtuosic school. Written 26 years after Liszt’s death, Prokofiev’s Toccata shares the same intensity as the Liszt B minor Sonata and employs a similar motivic engine to thrust it forward. The many notes in Ravel’s Jeux d’eau (Water Games) conjure images of mermaids, frolicking in the H²O, water droplets glistening in the sun. Though technically difficult, the effect is one of playfulness, not of showing off.
(Please find our recommended audio excerpts for this CD on the bottom of the "Overview" page.)
- Frédéric Chopin (1810 - 1849)
- 1. Scherzo No.3 in C sharp minor, Op.396:32
- Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
- 2. Rhapsody in B Minor, Op.79, No.18:28
- 3. Rhapsody in G minor, Op.79, No.26:32
- Sergei Prokofiev (1891 - 1953)
- 4. Toccata, Op.114:09
- Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937)
- 5. Jeux d'eau, M. 305:27
- Frédéric Chopin (1810 - 1849)
- 6. Barcarolle in F Sharp, Op.608:06
- Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886)
- 7. Hungarian Rhapsody No.6 in D flat, S.2446:20
- Piano Sonata In B Minor, S.178
- 8. Lento assai - Allegro energico3:02
- 9. Grandioso1:59
- 10. Cantando espressivo3:40
- 11. Pesante - Recitativo2:05
- 12. Andante sostenuto0:46
- 13. Quasi Adagio4:49
- 14. Allegro energico2:13
- 15. Più mosso1:52
- 16. Cantando espressivo senza slentare1:14
- 17. Stretta quasi Presto - Presto - Prestissimo1:13
- 18. Andante sostenuto - Allegro moderato - Lento assai2:54Martha Argerich