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Archive for September, 2009

Alicia de Larrocha
Alicia de Larrocha

Pianist Mitsuko Uchida’s latest Mozart recording — the 23rd and 24th concertos — landed on my desk Monday. She’s accompanied by the Cleveland Orchestra, continuing a partnership which has lasted well beyond her 2002 – 2007 residency with the orchestra.

Though I never expect to see Mitsuko Uchida at the keyboard of a classical fortepiano, or playing in front of the Academy of Ancient Music, her career trajectory has in some ways paralleled that of the Historically Informed Performance (HIP) movement. She was winning prizes in the early 1970s, at about the time the (modern) Academy of Ancient Music played its first concerts. Her New York debut was in 1985, the same year that Cleveland’s Early Music America was founded.

I went straight to the second movement of her Mozart 24th, that gorgeous, wistful respite Mozart gave us between the dense, dark outer movements of his c-minor concerto. As I listened to Uchida’s lucid, gentle, and thoroughly unsentimental playing, I opened my computer’s web browser and discovered that another great Mozart interpreter had left this world.

Alicia de Larrocha, who died last Friday (25 September 2009) in Barcelona, her birthplace, came from the generation before Uchida’s. Make no mistake, she brought to the table much of her own generation’s musical sensibility. When she recorded the Beethoven concertos in the mid-1980s, for example, she didn’t play Beethoven’s own cadenzas. She used the late-Romantic-era cadenzas of Carl Reinecke – the ones she grew up playing.

She wasn’t particularly glamorous, and she was rather shy. But by God she could play the piano.

          – Herbert Breslin

The world recognizes de Larrocha for pushing Spanish keyboard music into the Classical mainstream. To name only one example, a quick glance at one of the online CD retailers shows nearly 4 dozen current recordings of the Suite Iberia by Isaac Albeniz, a cycle she first recorded in the late 1950s. Would there be half as many choices today, had she not championed the work? If she’d accomplished nothing else, that would have been enough.

She performed and recorded plenty of full-bore romantic music — Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Liszt. But it’s for her Mozart that I remember Alicia de Larrocha best. Well before the HIP movement, she was infusing Mozart (and Haydn and Beethoven) with a luminous delicacy that few other pianists could match.

So what am I leading up to here? That Mitsuko Uchida is heir to a mantle that Alicia de Larrocha wore, one with a badge that says "Mozart Pianist"? Not at all. Both of them would have to share that garment with too many other fine pianists.

But I do think we should remember de Larrocha as part of that generation of musicians who rethought the way we approach early music. She wasn’t a Steven Lubin or a Gustav Leonhardt, of course. That wasn’t her way. But she still helped lay the groundwork for a kind of music making that assigns great importance to discovering and communicating not just the musician’s own interpretation of the music – though that’s vital – but also the composer’s intent.

She will be missed.

So what about that Mozart concerto, the one Mitsuko Uchida has just released? Alicia de Larrocha recorded it too, for RCA, back in 1991, with Colin Davis and the English Chamber Orchestra. Do the two recordings help us draw a line from the older pianist to the younger? Not on your life! All it takes is a few bars of that middle movement to telegraph how differently she and Mitsuko Uchida viewed Mozart and his 24th concerto. Bravo for that – we’re richer for having both. Listen for yourself.

Mozart 24 with de Larrocha Mozart 24 - Uchida
Alicia de Larrocha Mitsuko Uchida

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Further reading:

Alicia de Larrocha Obituary at New York Times (registration may be required)

Alicia de Larrocha at the Daily Telegraph

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Menahem Pressler and Philip Thomson
Menahem Pressler (l), Philip Thomson (r)

The orchestras of Akron and Canton will kick off their 2009-10 classical series seasons with guest pianists performing concertos.

The Canton Symphony welcomes Menahem Pressler as part of their "American Living Legends" series. Pressler made over 50 recordings (most of them for Philips) as pianist for the Beaux Arts Trio, arguably the world’s best known piano trio. After over a half-century of acclaimed music making, Beaux Arts disbanded late last year (see Beaux Arts Trio Bows Out in WKSU Classical), and Pressler vowed to continue performing as a soloist. The Canton Symphony will accompany him in Mozart’s 17th piano concerto (K453).

Pressler hails from Bloomington, Indiana, but the Akron Symphony found their soloist right in their own back yard, so to speak: though Canadian-born, Philip Thomson is currently on the faculty of the University of Akron. Thomson is recognized for his interpretations of Liszt’s music and has recorded for Hungaroton, Naxos and Ivory Classics. He will join the orchestra for the Grieg concerto.

The Akron Symphony’s opening concert will be on Sunday, 13 September at E J Thomas Hall. Canton’s is set for Saturday, 10 October at Umstattd Hall. Tickets are available at their respective websites, or by phone at 330 535-8131 (Akron) and 330 452-2094 (Canton).

Further reading:

American Living Legends Concert at Canton Symphony

Northern Lights Concert at Akron Symphony

Menahem Pressler’s website

Philip Thomson’s biography (pdf) at University of Akron

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Erich Kunzel
Erich Kunzel

"The world has lost a musical giant and we have lost a dear friend." Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra President Trey Devey speaks for all of us in his statement.

Erich Kunzel, the longtime conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony and Cincinnati Pops — he ruled the podium for 44 years — died this morning at a hospital in Bar Harbor, Maine, near his home on Swan’s Island.

In late April Kunzel was diagnosed with pancreatic, liver and colon cancer. "It wasn’t supposed to happen. It wasn’t on the schedule," was his response.

Kunzel was famous as one of the world’s busiest conductors, and he refused to let the disease halt his music making. Even as he was undergoing first one round and then another of chemotherapy, he maintained a full schedule.

However, Kunzel appeared drawn and thinner on the first of August (2009), when he conducted his last Cincinnati Pops Orchestra concert at Riverbend Music Center. Kunzel handed the baton to associate conductor Steven Reineke for the first half of the concert. He then led the remainder of the program from a stool onstage, with Reineke close by.

Among Erich Kunzel’s many legacies in Cincinnati are the Pops’ 38 year series of public park concerts. Through these performances, Kunzel introduced thousands of Cincinnati area residents to classical music.

Kunzel also recognized that young people are the future of classical music. He took a personal interest in promoting the now nearly finished School for Creative & Performing Arts, the nation’s first K-12 performing arts public school. It’s set to open in the fall of 2010. And his last recording, just released by Telarc Records, showcases soloists — and even a composer — under the age of 20.

Kunzel was a faculty member at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music from 1966 through 1972, where he taught orchestral conducting.

The Cincinnati Pops has set up a memorial Web page, and is accepting cards and notes for Kunzel’s family. Write to Cincinnati Symphony, 1241 Elm Street, Cincinnati OH 45202.

Erich Kunzel is survived by his wife of 44 years, Brunhilde.

Further reading:

Erich Kunzel dies at 74 at the Cincinnati Enquirer

Erich Kunzel’s website

Review of Erich Kunzel’s Last Concert at the Cincinnati Enquirer

Erich Kunzel Tribute Page at the Cincinnati Pops

Discussion of Erich Kunzel’s Health at Film Score Monthly’s Message Board

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