Frederic Chopin: Prelude in D Flat, Valse in D Flat, Andante Spinato and Grande Polonaise Brilliante, Mazurka in C Sharp Minor, Polonaise-Fantasie in A Flat, Preludes in C Minor, D Major, B Minor, E Flat Minor, F Minor, B Flat Minor, Mazurka in A Minor, Ballade #3, Fantasie in F Minor
David Dubal (host)
One of the joys of living in New York is attending concerts in unusual venues. Many musical and historical societies host concerts, lectures and musicales in private homes of the past where the intimate setting adds a flavor of contemporary experience particularly to nineteenth century music. The excellent events of the Wagner Society of New York are usually held at the Liederkranz Foundation, an avion society in the best German singing tradition, and I am a frequent guest (although I do not review these evenings since my critical objectivity would be buried in an avalanche of bias towards these wonderful people, many of whom I count as my personal friends). The Kosciuszko Foundation is, of course, interested in promoting things Polish and does so from a lovely town house near Fifth Avenue which has the feel of the turn of the nineteenth century and features much memorabilia and art centered around the young patriot and friend to the United States. It is stirring to listen to the passionate music of Chopin surrounded by the portraits of the Revolutionary hero and surprising to appreciate the excellent acoustics of the salon.
Unlike the polished programs of, say, a Karl Haas, the lectures of pianist, author, teacher and radio personality David Dubal are more dependent on the lovably vulnerable personality of the man himself; full of self disclosure and comments about his own deterioration, Dubal sucks you in to his world and that of Chopin by slowly endearing himself through his obvious adoration of his subject matter (he tells a young pianist that, after all, this is just a high form of show business) and, in the process, educates his listeners about the life and loves of his hero and reveals some interesting views of this remarkable music from the pianist's perspective. Without question the most enjoyable part of this evening, one of six of a series, was the discussions between Dubal and two 19 year old pianists about the structure and thematic highlights of the pieces that they were about to perform and the emphasis in these demonstrations of the fragmentary nature of the musical ideas in Chopin, so brilliantly explored several years ago by Charles Rosen in his book The Romantic Generation. Dubal has that rare ability to make education palatable to all levels of musical expertise and the standing room only crowd (there were even people sitting on the stairs and above the stairs on platforms) left with a greater understanding and love of the man who tried to introduce a level of organic disorder into the otherwise mathematical world of pianism in the 1830's (Dubal's example of Carl Czerny was spot on).
The performances ran the gamut. One of the Juilliard students played embarrassingly (and surprisingly) badly, destroying all of the delicate musicality in a ham-fisted assault, but overall the quality was excellent. William Wolfram's athletic rendition of the Andante Spinato and Grande Polonaise Brilliante was of concert quality as was the sensitive performance of the first 19 year old Ronen Segev. The night belonged to Eastern Europeans and we were treated to a dramatic performance of the Polonaise-Fantasie by the Bulgarian Maria Martinova. The most stunning performance was that of the teacher extraordinaire Yoheved (Veda) Kaplinsky, whose reading of the ultramodern Mazurka in A Minor Op. 17, #4 sent chills through me. This is a performer who truly understands the quality of the Romantic fragment, inspired by ruins and the thanatological philosophy that transformed the deist age into the modern era. The revolutionary opening measures were aptly jarring and the whole was sublime. Also interesting were the miniatures performed by student Jung-Kuang Lin, some reminiscent of Webern in their thirty second durations.
The find of the evening was the second artist under twenty, the Manhattan School of Music student Cyril Gerstein. Quite able to hold his own with Dubal during the discussion (in which he illustrated his points with musical examples), Gerstein proceeded to perform a mature reading of the large canvas which is the amazing Fantasie in F Minor, Op.4, which Dubal rightly pointed out has fallen from favor over the last fifty years. Once a staple of the true Romantic pianist, this painting of broad and bold strokes, so evocative of Gericault, is not a temperamental match with the younger generation of analytical pianists, but Mr. Gerstein made a strong case for its revival. His sensitive playing of the Chorale ("the music of the Polish Cathedral" he called it during the discussion) was particularly moving. He appears to be on his way to a fine career, for he combines obvious dexterity and enthusiasm with a keen intellectual sense of his chosen art form. One had the feeling that this would be an evening recollected in years to come as the premiere of a major performer.
The series, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the death of Chopin, will encompass 130 works for the piano (virtually the entire output) and continues for the next two Tuesday evenings.
Frederick L. Kirshnit