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Ecstasy & Poetry
Daniel Beliavsky

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Impromptu Op. 90, No. 3,(1827) [5:35] and No. 4 (1827) [6:18]
Impromptu Op. 142, No. 2 (1827) [5:43] and No. 3 (1827) [11:21]
Moment Musicaux Op. 94, No. 3 (c1824) [1:53] and No. 6 (1825-1827) [6:57]
Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
Fantasy-Impromptu Op. 66 (1834) [4:42]
Nocturne Op. 9, No. 2 (1830/31)[4:33]
Nocturne Op. 32, No. 1 (1836/37) (1827) [4:25]
Nocturne Op. 72, No. 1 (1827) [4:05]  
Ballade Op. 23, No. 1 (1831-1835) [8:54]
Mazurka Op. 7, No. 3 (1830/31) [2:22]
Mazurka Op. 17, No. 4 (1832/33) [3:56]
Mazurka Op. 41, No. 2 (1838) [2:26]
Polonaise Op. 53, "Heroic" (1842) [6:23]
CD 2:
1. Introduction, spoken by Daniel Beliavsky
2. A Conversation between Daniel Beliavsky and Professor Ulysses Kidgi
Daniel Beliavsky, piano (Steinway) recordings sb004
[CD1 79:45 and CD2 43:23]
Recorded 13th-14th July 2004 at the Schwan Concert Hall in the Center for Arts and Performance, Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee.

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The first thing I want to say is that I am not going to discuss all the works on this CD. In fact I intend to look at one piece in particular, another briefly and the rest I am going to deal with in these few opening words.

This is an excellent CD. The programme makes a fine introduction to the music of two of the greatest composers for piano the world has known. The first half of the recital is dedicated to four Impromptus by Schubert followed by his two of his Moments Musicaux – both works that date from the end of his life.

The second half is an all Chopin event. The pieces are culled from a 12 year period and reflect different moods and styles. Perhaps the greatest work here is the Ballade Op.23 No.1. Beliavsky’s presentation of this work is second to none. I have known this piece for most of my adult life, but this recording opened windows for me in my appreciation of it. And that ‘opening’ is the leitmotiv of this CD.

I sat and listened to the Schubert Impromptu in Gb with a friend of mine whom I value for comment and insight –especially when thinking about Schubert and Chopin. She, like me has a bit of a fetish about Alfred Brendel’s version of this work. In fact, up to press it was our favourite version by a good margin. After about two minutes of listening to Beliavsky play this work she said to me – ‘You know I think that I like this version better than Brendel.’ I was, to use a Yorkshire-ism ‘gob smacked.’ Rightly or wrongly I had been feeling my way to this conclusion too, but was afraid of admitting it, lest she thought I had lost the plot. I asked her why? And there was the problem. We disagreed as to the reason we thought this recording may be the new benchmark. So we dug out Brendel and ran him by. Obviously, the Brendel is well regarded as a masterpiece of playing and is perhaps considered by many as the ideal interpretation. So after a couple more hearings of each version we finally agreed that perhaps this present one has much to offer. Maybe this could be a new benchmark recording? At least for us it has become so…

I hasten to add that I listened to one or two other recordings of this piece and none came close!

Now as to the disagreement between us it went something like this. I felt that Beliavsky’s interpretation was more Classical and my friend felt that it was more romantic in its realisation. She used the expression ‘tentative Romanticism’ – in the sense that it was played in a manner which looked forward to Liszt than back to Beethoven. Yet I felt the opposite: I was of the opinion that ‘Classical confidence’ was at the back of this interpretation. There was only one way to get to the bottom of all this subjectivity. I emailed Daniel and received by return an excellent reply which helped me get to grips with this work and the recording as a whole.

The first thing that Beliavsky said was that there was ‘nothing tentative about his playing.’ So that was one up to me! However he went on to say that it was probably not accurate to say that the interpretation was Classical either. It is now a draw…

He went on to explain his ideas about the interpretation of this piece. The Impromptus were written towards the end of Schubert’s life - in fact the year before his death. At this time the composer was on the cusp between Classicism and Romanticism. In fact there were elements of both musical styles in this work. The Classical ethos considered formal structure very highly, whereas composers of the Romantic reaction tended towards ‘fantasy’ forms. We know this eventually resulted in cyclic forms and the final breakdown of structure in the ‘sixties and ‘seventies of the twentieth century.

Schubert’s Impromptu in Gb is in fantasy form. Yet there is a classical concentration here on harmonic structure and rhythm. There is no hierarchy of themes in this work – most of the interest is derived from the harmonic development of the basic motif.

Beliavsky concluded his thoughts by saying, that for him, Schubert in the Impromptus encompasses both late classical sensibility and the early romantic tendencies that were just appearing on the horizon. So, and I quote ‘the interpretive line [he] takes with this music combines both these elements, so maybe in the final analysis, there are parts that reflect BOTH tentative romanticism and the assured gestures of late Classicism.’

We both breathed a sigh of relief. We were both happy that our several assessments had been ‘correct.’

A few days later, I was listening to the Fantasie-Impromptu when another friend arrived on the scene. She sat down to listen carefully. Her ‘ideal’ performance of this piece is by Horowitz. [As an aside there are, at the moment approximately 129 recordings of this work in the catalogue!] I asked her what she thought of the present version of this work. Her comments were interesting. She said that it was as if no player were coming between the notes on the music desk and the sounds of the piano. It was not quite as if it was a Pianola or other mechanical music making machine – but somehow she felt it was just too perfect to be being played by anyone. I agreed with her that it was one of the most satisfying performances of this work I had heard. What my friend had said nodded unwittingly to the thoughts of Professor Kidgi…

The second CD in this Sonatabop production is rather unusual. Without spoiling the effect I just say that Daniel Beliavsky talks to this rather opinionated Professor Ulysses Kidgi. Now I am not quite sure if this adds a lot to the CD as Kidgi’s ideas are a little obtuse to say the least. However, the main reason that the interview is given is to allow the pianist to put forward his views on interpretation and performance of the works on this CD. I notice that the philosophy of Professor Kidgi is what might be called ‘anonymous perfection.’ In other words his ideal performance would be a listener sitting with the score of the work and imagining the music in his head. Only then would the perfect performance be ‘given.’ However, in the interview Beliavsky puts forward his own more practical view. If Kidgi had his way, Daniel would be on Welfare!

I hasten to add that none of this discussion is necessary to an understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of this fine disc. In fact I imagine for many people the interview will be superfluous.

The music is played on a Steinway piano and the recording certainly does justice to the piano and player. The programme notes are not particularly helpful – at least as far as the repertoire goes. The mini essay is really more of the pianist’s thoughts about interpretation rather than an exposition or history of the pieces. However it is fair to say that all these works are widely known and are well covered in the reference books – so it would not be too difficult to get to the bottom of the whys and wherefores.

The CD company Sonatabop seems to be a ‘new boy on the block’: they offer a small catalogue of classical music at this stage. Their operation appears to be confined to the Internet, so I doubt that this disc will be found in Banks Music in York or Forsyth’s in Manchester. Their current releases include works by Johannes Brahms, George Antheil and Edward MacDowell. However Daniel Beliavsky seems to be their leading luminary with three CDs to his credit. He has recorded Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Sonatas by Scarlatti. I recently reviewed his complete piano works of Lukas Foss and found this to be the definitive account.

I think that Daniel Beliavsky is a pianist to watch. He seems to have determined views as to how a piece should be interpreted and he is not afraid to take risks in order to make his point. His pianism is backed up by erudition: he is on record as saying that interpretations are very complex processes. Any one recording should not represent the only way a pianist handles his or her art.

We can only hope that more recordings are forthcoming from this pianist. One can perhaps imagine a complete cycle of Chopin or maybe all the Schubert Impromptus and Moment Musicaux. Yet I do know that he is keen on introducing American works into the legacy of recorded music, and this too is a vital project. I shall watch his career with considerable interest.


John France

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