Faust Harrison Piano Studios
Frederic Chopin: Two Waltzes, Two Nocturnes
Robert Schumann: Kinderszenen
Johannes Brahms: Three Intermezzi from Op. 118
Claude Debussy: La Cathedrale engloutie
Maurice Ravel: Ondine
Paul Badura-Skoda (piano)
If you want to buy a spaghetti strainer in this town, then you must go down to the Bowery where all of the commercial restaurant equipment shops compete in very close proximity. If you need a mouthpiece for a Conn 8D horn or a Yamaha trumpet, then 46th Street is your destination. And if in the market for a piano, then the two blocks around Carnegie Hall form the only place to go. On Friday evening, the Faust Harrison Piano studio hosted a recital by one of the most highly respected pianists alive today whose live appearances, at least on this side of the pond, are rare indeed.
Paul Badura-Skoda has recently released many of his private recordings and the 7-CD set was recently reviewed here in the pages of concertonet. It seems that his 75th birthday a few years ago has re-energized him and those of us lucky enough to be invited to this particular soiree were the beneficiaries of wonderful pianism in a style now almost a memory. Badura-Skoda studied with the great Edwin Fischer and forms one of the last links in the post-war chain of acolytes who still attempted to carry on a pure, Classical tradition of pianism, even if the piece in question was written in the 20th century.
The recital was being recorded for future publication and limited to about thirty audience members. The unique aspect of the presentation was Mr. Badura-Skoda’s alternation of two very different pianos. One was a Steinway concert grand built in 1877 out of a gleaming rosewood, the doppelganger of the one that the company presented as a gift to Franz Liszt, complete with filigreed music desk. The other was a modern Mason and Hamlin. The difference in sound was staggering and revelatory: Each was eloquent in its own way.
I could rhapsodize for weeks on the playing of the Chopin pieces on the old piano, even making a case for some of the wrong notes being atmospheric and evocative of a bygone era (Fischer, for example, was justly famous for his inclusion of these apparent mistakes). Suffice it to say that this was romanticism of the most exquisite kind.
The music history professor within Mr. B took over for a talk delineating all twelve of the tableaux of Kinderszenen complete with musical examples. There was a touch of Victor Borge at work here. For example, in the piece describing a child crying, Mr. B commented, after his rather sloppy snippet, that he himself wanted to cry because he played so poorly. The master showman was revealed to be a fake, however, when the actual performance was flawless.
The most impressive performances of the evening were the extremely authoritative renditions of three of the Brahms Intermezzi. Such a strong left hand made me think of the composer himself, or at least how his style was described by his contemporaries. And the French set was also delightful and authoritative, deep and watery.
Most concerts are enjoyable, some are memorable. This one was quite simply a true privilege.
Frederick L. Kirshnit