Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Downward to darkness, on extended wings

Chopin's health began to seriously deteriorate around 1842, and his final works have a valedictory quality. By the time he wrote the Barcarolle (one of his final works) in 1845-6 he surely knew that his death was near. Some of the brilliance of his earlier music is gone, though his special genius for writing piano music is still evident, even enhanced. His music is more refined, more concentrated, and his ornamentation more organic. Chopin's last works differ from each other, but each of them is somehow surprising.

The Barcarolle is an amazing work. Choppy waves on the Venetian canals gently rock Chopin's gondola, but this isn't a dreamy piece. His physical strength might have been ebbing, but there is still great power in this piece, and great virtuosity is required of the performer. Charles Rosen speaks of the piece's "long-range uninterrupted flow".
Above all the large-scale rhythm is worked out with an ease absolutely unique for Chopin’s time, and the final pages of the Barcarolle create a sense of triumph at once passionate and serene that has never been surpassed.
I listened to a whole bunch of great pianists playing this work: Perahia, Barenboim, Rubinstein, Argerich, Ashkenazy, Pollini, Rosen, Cortot, Lipatti. At one point I started to get sea-sick. While there are major differences between performances I'm not really sure what to make of them. Pollini's performance is taut, and Rubinstein's rather more leisurely.  At this level the real difference between these pianists is one of sensibility. One thing I learned for sure is that Jane Coop belongs in this company. Control, virtuosity, colour: everything is here in this smartly emotional performance.

So it goes in the whole disc, a re-release of Coop's 1999 recording. It's great that Skylark is re-releasing most of Coop's discs in 2016; though it was probably possible to buy any of these, now we can be sure.

When I listen to this music, I think of Sunday Morning, a poem by Wallace Stevens
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,
Alone, shall come fulfilment to our dreams
And our desires. Although she strews the leaves
Of sure obliteration on our paths,
The path sick sorrow took, the many paths
Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love
Whispered a little out of tenderness,
She makes the willow shiver in the sun
For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze
Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet.
She causes boys to pile new plums and pears
On disregarded plate. The maidens taste
And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.

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