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Beauties of Brevities

New York
09/06/2019 -  
Timo Andres: Moving Etudes
Franz Schubert: Impromptus in F Minor, Opus 142, No. 1, G-flat Major, Opus 90, No. 3, & C Minor, Opus 90, No. 1
Philip Glass: Etudes No. 16, No. 14, & No. 20

Timo Andres (Pianist)

T. Andres (©Courtesy of the artist)

The music of Schubert and Glass seem to be written by the same composer, 200 years apart.
Timo Andres from a Washington Post interview

Comparisons are oderous.
William Shakespeare, from Much Ado About Nothing

Let’s ignore the well-known coincidences: that Philip Glass and Franz Schubert shared the same birthday, that Glass frequently cites Schubert’s influence (as well as Anton Bruckner!). Instead, one must affirm that last night’s recital by Timo Andres with shorter works by Glass, Schubert and himself, was one of lapidary gorgeousness.

In a single hour, Mr. Andres–one of the finest pianist-composers of our day–characteristically arranged a program of seamless beauty. No applause between the works was necessary. Each Schubert impromptu was complete in itself. Each Glass étude transcended mere study, its emblematic repetitions cut short by the brevity of the subject.

The Schubert feelings began simply, the F Minor Impromptu grew into–no, like a Eucharist, it was transformed–into one of the most radiant songs any mortal could proclaim. The Glass Etudes, part of a group he had written over several years, had that same balancing-on-a-tightrope equilibrium. Played right after the Schubert F Minor, the 14th Etude was almost lush. The Schubert was an affirmation of the Romantic age, the Glass 14th was more earthly.

P. Glass/F. Schubert

One heard the same contrast in the Schubert G-flat Impromptu, a delicate essay in arpeggios with the Glass 16th Étude, lightly bluesy, but never jazzy.

The final duo, Schubert’s first Impromptu, started with, I believe, the only fortissimo note in the whole evening, which continued with a near march. The Philip Glass 20th Etude could have been labeled, like Mahler’s movement, Abschied. It was quiet, it contained long pauses, reflective pauses. And while Philip Glass has continued to write, this was like a valedictory to his decades as America’s most prominent composer.

And now we come to Mr. Andres himself. Another composer might have played his own composition at the finish of the concert. Mr. Andres modestly started with his Moving Etudes. I had never heard them before, but each quasi-bagatelle was, yes, moving, in both senses.

Mr. Andres’ pianism was shown in the six works after his own. This was sensitive playing, deliberate, un-idiomatic, not relishing each note but appreciating each note. Nothing was pulled or urged: rather, Mr. Andres let the music play itself. Longer works might have demanded more organic interest. These were 19th, 20th and 21st Century jewels, and were played as such.

For his own music, it was apparent that only a pianist could have written these pieces. The first Good Word had a variety of textures, Bewegt (emotional) was a gratuitous description: all three of these etudes had their own description. Here, he minimalized Minimalism to a pair of accented notes, repeated over and over in different octaves, each pair introducing a new theme: a chorale, a figuration...

The final Everything Changes seemed improvisational, a downward flourish leading to a variety of interesting ideas.

How did Mr. Andres’ pieces fit in with the rest of the concert? A silly question. The seven works fit into one architecture. Each jewel an illumination, a spark, a glow. Within an hour, Mr. Andres had given us a series of stars which formed his own personal constellation.

And forgive, please, the mixed metaphors. Walking back from BargeMusic to the subway–a trail I had taken literally hundreds of times–I actually lost my way, so enthralled was I at Timo Andres’ short, sweet series of serious revelations.

Harry Rolnick



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