New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: chopin

Intimate Electricity From Joshua Bell

Isn’t it funny how some of the world’s most exciting sounds get lumped into a category with the most boring name? And who would have thought there would be such a mighty upsurge in chamber music in 2020? With established concert venues padlocked and imperiled – outside of Sweden, Moscow and Nicaragua, anyway – intimate performances largely by and for family and friends have become the new paradigm in classical music, at least until the lockdown is over.

And in keeping with the zeitgeist, some of the biggest names in the field are making intimate recordings. None other than Joshua Bell has made a diverse and often electrifying new live album, At Home with Music, streaming at Spotify. Although virtually all of it is arrangements of standard repertoire, the violinist seems especially amped to play it.

He opens with the famous first movement from Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Major, Op. 24, jauntily trading riffs with pianist Jeremy Denk. The two play it fast: in their most animated moments, the lack of digital separation between the instruments enhances the carefree energy.

Peter Dugan takes over the piano, joining Bell for a much more rubato, Romantic take of Dvořák’s Slavonic Fantasy in B minor. Bell’s rise from silken vibrato to raw, Romany intensity is unselfconsciously electrifying, a real crowd-pleaser.

Next, he teams up with soprano Larisa Martínez and pianist Kamal Khan for a somewhat understatedly lyrical take of Mendelssohn’s “Ah, ritorna, età dell’oro” from the opera Infelice. They return to tackle a Puccini aria later on.

The rare treat here is Wieniawski’s Polonaise de Concert in D Major, Op. 4, with Dugan back on piano, both musicians digging in hard for its anthemic leaps, slashes and devious dips. Their remarkably steady, unvarnished take of Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2 makes a good segue, quiet as it generally is. And hearing Bell revel in the virtuoso ornamentation of the Jascha Heifetz arrangement of Gershwin’s Summertime is an expected thrill.

Martínez and Khan return for the closer, an alternately bracing and warmly familiar medley from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. with a triumphant coda.

Fearlessly Individualistic, Counterintuitive Classical Hits From Pianist Khatia Buniatishvili

By oldschool record label standards, releasing an album of greatest hits from the classical canon guarantees yourself a pretty wide audience. The theory is that most of the crowd who will buy it doesn’t know anything beyond the standard repertoire and can’t differentiate between interpretations. From a critical perspective, this kind of album invites disaster, a minefield of crushing comparisons to every great artist who has recorded those same pieces over the past century. How does pianist Khatia Buniatishvili‘s new album Labyrinth – streaming at Spotify – stack up against the competition? Spoiler alert: this is a very individualistic record. And that’s a very good thing.

Consider the opening number, Deborah’s Theme, from the late, great Ennio Morricone’s score to the film Once Upon a Time in America. Buniatishvili plays it with such limpidness, such tenderness, such spaciousness that plenty of listeners could call it extreme.

Then she tackles Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 1: so easy to play, but so brutally challenging to figure out rhythmically. Buniatishvili gives it just enough rubato to avoid falling into the trap so many other pianists have, taking the easy way out and turning it into a maudlin waltz. This is haunting, and revelatory, and augurs well for the rest of the record.

Other pianists approach Chopin’s E Minor Prelude with a nervous, scurrying attack. Buniatishvili lets it linger in a ineffable sadness before she chooses her escape route. Again, it’s an unorthodox path to take, but once again she validates her approach. The Ligeti etude Arc-en-ciel, one of the lesser-known works here gets a similar treatment, its belltone sonics exploding just when not expected to.

Not all of the rest of the record is this dark. Her piano-four-hands take of Bach’s Badinerie, from Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, BWV 1067 with Gvantsa Buniatishvili is a clenched-teeth romp. Yet the Air on the G String gets reinvented as a dirge: the first instinct is to laugh, but then again the choice to play it as Procol Harum actually works. She does the same with Scarlatti later on.

Buniatishvili builds baroque counterpoint in an increasingly crushing take of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise: probably not what the composer envisioned, although there’s no arguing with the logic of her dynamic contrasts. She follows a deviously ragtimey arrangement of Serge Gainsbourg’s La Javanaise with a haphazardly pummeling and then luxuriant version of Villa-Lobos’ Valsa da Dor, which also works in context.

The pairing of French baroque composer Francois Couperin’s circling, delicately ornamented Les Barricades Mystérieuses with a Bach ripoff of a famous Vivaldi theme is an even whiter shade of pale. Fans of 20th century repertoire are rewarded with richly lingering version of Part’s stark Pari Intervallo and a hauntingly enveloping performance of Philip Glass’ I’m Going to Make a Cake (from the film The Hours).

There’s also an opulent interpretation of the well-known Brahms Intermezzo, Liszt’s nocturnal Consolation (Pensée poétique) and another Bach piece, the brooding Adagio from the Concerto in D minor, BWV 974. Oh yeah – there’s another famous thing here that clocks in at 4:33. Don’t let that lead you to believe that the album’s over yet. Stodgier classical music fans will hear this and dismiss much of it as punk rock. Let them. Their loss.

Colorful, Entertaining Reinventions of Famous Classical Themes From the Mike Fahie Jazz Orchestra

The Mike Fahie Jazz Orchestra‘s new album Urban(e) – streaming at Bandcamp – is one of the most genuinely orchestral jazz records ever made. On one level, it’s all about imaginative, outside-the-box arranging and playing. On another, it’s part of a long tradition of musicians appropriating tunes from every style imaginable: Bach writing variations on country dances; southern preachers making hymns out of old blues songs; the Electric Light Orchestra making surf rock out of a Grieg piano concerto. Here, Fahie takes a bunch of mostly-famous classical themes to places most people would never dare. It’s closer to ELO than, say, the NY Philharmonic.

Is this hubristic? Sure. Fahie addresses that issue in the album’s liner notes, assuring listeners he’s tried to be true to the intrinsic mood of each particular piece. The group’s reinvention of the third movement from Bartok’s String Quartet No. 1 – from when the composer was still more or less a Late Romantic – is a trip. Guitarist Jeff Miles gets to have fun with a few savage flares before Fahie makes chugging art-punk out of it, trombonist Daniel Linden’s blitheness offering no hint of how much further out the group are going to from there, through Vegas noir, a deliciously sinister Brad Mason trumpet solo, and more. It’s fun beyond belief.

To open the record, the group tackle Chopin’s iconic C minor prelude, beginning with a somber, massed lustre, bassist Pedro Giraudo and pianist Randy Ingram offering the first hints of revelry, Miles adding a word of caution. From there Fahie expands the harmonies many times over and the group make a latin-tinged romp out of it.

Tenor saxophonist Chet Doxas steps into the aria role in an easygoing remake of a piece from Puccini’s opera. There’s plenty of tasty suspense as Fahie’s epic suite of themes from Stravinsky’s Firebird coalesces from lush swells and glittery piano, through more carefree terrain, to a pensive yet technically daunting duet between the bandleader’s euphonium and Jennifer Wharton’s tuba.

Hearing Fahie play the opening riff from Debussy’s La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin on trombone is a revelation: that’s Pictures at an Exhibition! So much for musical appropriation, right? The rest of Fahie’s punchy, lustrous arrangement comes across as vintage, orchestral Moody Blues with brass instead of mellotron.

Fahie turns the second movement from Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony into a jaunty Swan Lake set piece, with a wistful solo from alto sax player Aaron Irwin and a more sobering one from trombonist Nick Grinder.

The group close the record with a lavish, nocturnal take of a brooding section of Bach’s Cantata, BWV 21. The theme is basically “troubles, troubles, troubles” – from Fahie’s clear-eyed opening solo, the counterpoint grows more envelopingly somber, up to some neat rhythmic inventions and a return back. This inspired cast also includes saxophonists Anton Denner, Quinsin Nachoff and Carl Maraghi; trumpeters Brian Pareschi, David Smith and Sam Hoyt; tombonist Matthew McDonald and drummer Jeff Davis.

Melody Fader Channels the Deepest Side of Chopin and More in Manhattan and Brooklyn

Pianist Melody Fader’s favorite composer is Chopin. And it shows. The audience at her intimate, solo Soho Silk Series show last month gave her a standing ovation that went on and on, after she’d ended the program with a characteristically intuitive take of the composer’s famous Fantasie-Impromptu op. 66. Maybe that’s because she didn’t play it as if it was the Minute Waltz, as certain hotshot players tend to do.

Instead, revealingly, she took her time, letting the gritty Romany chromatics of those daunting cascades gleam, rather than just leaving momentary flickers behind in a race to the finish line. That was just one of the concert’s innumerable gorgeous details. On one hand, that’s to be expected on a program of music by a classical icon or two; still, Fader seems especially dedicated to finding those delicious bits and spotlighting them. She’s a pioneer of the house concert circuit (not to be confused with the evil and intrusive Groupmuse); her next Soho loft show is Feb 25 in a duo set with Momenta Quartet violinist Emilie-Anne Gendron playing  music of Ravel, Brahms and Schumann. You can rsvp for location and deets; for the Brooklyn posse, they’re repeating the program (from their forthcoming album) the following night, Feb 26 at 7 PM at Spectrum for a modest $15 cover.

The rest of the January bill was just as much of a revelation. It’s impossible to remember anyone playing more emotionally attuned versions of the E Minor and B Minor preludes. They’re standard repertoire, they don’t require virtuoso technique, but what a difference Fader’s subtle rubato and resoluteness in the face of sheer devastation meant to the former. Same with her crisp but muted arpeggios, bringing out all the longing in the latter. The dynamics in the rest of the first eight of Chopin’s preludes were just as vivid, from the warm cantabile she brought to the C major prelude, to the catacomb phantasmagoria of the one in A minor and a welcome suspense in A major later on.

From there, there seemed to be an inexhaustible supply of depth, and gravitas, but also in many places unselfconscious joy. Fader averred that as a kid, she didn’t like Bach: she found his music mechanical. These days, she’s done a 180, validating that with a dazzling, harpsichord-like precision but also fierce ornamentation throughout a rousing take of his French Suite in E, no. 6.

Kaija Saariaho is also a big Bach fan, so following with her Ballade was a great segue, even if the rhythms tended toward the tango Fader had found lurking inside the early part. The stygian boogie and jaunty cascades afterward were just as intense.

The wary, muted melancholy as she launched into the Chopin Ballade no. 2 in F major was a feature that sometimes gets lost in more ostentatious hands. By contrast, she pulled out an almost grand guignol attack for the Andante Spianato op. 22, yet pulled back with a guardedly hopeful understatement afterward. Amd the glittery tumbles of the Etude op. 25 no. 1 got the same kind of articulacy she’d given the Bach. By the time this was all over, pretty much everybody was out of breath.

An Elegantly Insightful, Unselfconsciously Vivid Performance by Pianist Melody Fader and Cellist Elinor Frey in Soho

“I don’t do intermissions,” Melody Fader grinned, almost breathlessly. She’d just played two Beethoven sonatas and a ravishing, opulent Chopin work, pretty much nonstop. During the reception after the latest performance at her intimate Soho Silk Series earlier this month, she explained that once she gets on a roll, she doesn’t like to quit. Maybe that’s because she and cellist Elinor Frey were obviously having so much fun, in an insightful, meticulously dynamic performance of Beethoven’s two Op. 5 cello sonatas as well as Fader’s literally transcendent performance of Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 27, no. 2 in D flat.

“These are really piano sonatas,” Fader laughed, introducing Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 1 in F Major. She and Frey bantered about the innovations Beethoven had introduced to a format that until after the baroque period had often been a springboard for improvisation. But as much as both pieces come across as works for piano with cello accompaniment rather than the other way around, there’s plenty of room for convivial interplay, and the duo’s sympatico performance more than validated that.

As Sonata No 1 gathered momentum, Fader parsed the work judiciously, with a muted staccato in the lefthand early on. As the two built to an effervescent romp, she gave the ornamentation considerable dignity, elegant flourishes not simply tossed off as grace notes. From there the two joined in a vivacious pulse that grew more acerbic as the allegro second movement and its bracing shift to minor kicked in.

Frey’s ambered lines as Cello Sonata No. 2 got underway underscored the first movement’s bittersweet cantabile sensibility. Fader’s vigorous, stilletto insistence and balletesque clusters followed in contrast up to a real hailstorm of a coda, with unwavering precision and power as Frey held the center.

But the real piece de resistance on the bill was the Chopin. Other pianists go for starry ripple, but Fader took her time, bringing out all the longing and angst in the opening movement, setting the scene for a big payoff when the starlight really started beaming down and the famous hook from all the excerpts you hear in movies first appears:, ironically where other pianists often pull back. Fader parsed the melodies with rubato to spotlight ideas and transitions instead of going for drama. Imbuing the finale with lingering tenderness, Fader left no doubt that this is a love song. Which made even more sense considering that Fader had dedicated it to her girlfriend, Laura Segal, a woman with a wry sense of humor and unselfconscious joie de vivre.

Fader’s next performance in the southern part of Manhattan is Nov 13 at 8 PM at Greenwich House Music School, where she’ll be joined by violinist Sophie Ackermann and cellist Nicolas Deletaille,, playing works by Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn and Dalit Warshaw. Cover is $20/$15 stud/srs. and there’s a reception afterward.

High-Voltage Intensity and a Stunning Surprise from Cellist Kian Soltani and Pianist Julio Elizalde at Lincoln Center

“We’re going to do the slow movement from the Rachmaninoff Cello Sonata in G minor,” pianist Julio Elizalde told the crowd at the Kaplan Penthouse at Lincoln Center last night. This was the encore. It wasn’t on the program, at least formally. A murmur went through the audience: had the general public know this was going to happen, his debut duo performance with cellist Kian Soltani at this year’s Mostly Mozart Festival probably would have sold out the moment tickets went onsale.

It was at this point where Soltani, who’d played with a stunningly straighttforward, emotionally piercing approach for the previous hour, decided to turn his vibrato loose. Yet the result turned out to be less full-blown angst than persistent, haunting resonance, punctuted by twin peaks where he dug in and went for the windswept poignancy and several bittersweetly elegant exchanges with Elizalde’s eerily floating, perfectly articulated pointillisms.

That all this wasn’t anticlimactic speaks to how compellingly the two had performed the material that was officially on the bill. There were two particular pièces de résistance. The first comprised a triptych from Reza Vali‘s Persian Folk Songs collection. The Austrian-born Soltani explained how this material dovetailed with his dual immersion in both western classical and traditional Iranian music, as a child of expatriates. The wary introduction approximated an opening improvisation, followed by a lost-love ballad, each awash in aching, Arabic-tinged chromatics. To balance thie plaintiveness, the two leapt into a final love-drunk tableau with jaunty, trickily rhythmic abandon.

Soltani’s own solo performance of his Persian Fire Dance, also drawing on folk themes from his heritage, was arguably even more compelling and required considerably more extended technique, from wispy harmonics to a prelude to the mighty coda where he tapped out a beat, essentially playing between the raindrops. In between, he built and then fanned the flames as the firestorm’s waves rose higher and higher.

The two opened with a comfortable, glitteringly faithful take of the Romanticisms of a trio of Schumann Fantasiestucke pieces. Elizalde negotiated the lickety-split cascades of Chopin’s Introduction and Polonaise Brillante, No. 3 with steely focus and a slithery legato, while Soltani attacked the obstacle course of David Popper’s Hungarian Rhapsody with similar aplomb and even more vigor, through innunerable, thorny thickets of staccato sixteenth notes. A sold-out audience had to catch their breath afterward.

Transcendent Jazz Reinventions of Chopin Classics by the Dead Composers Club

Gotta love the cd cover of the The Chopin Project, the debut album from Noah Preminger and Rob Garcia’s Dead Composers Club. It’s a bluelit nocturnal shot of a bridge across the Central Park Lake: creepy and Romantic, perfectly capsulizing the appeal of this kind of music. Jazz grinches have long made fun of “jazzing up the classics,” but if you were around in the past century and you missed iconoclastic pianist Dorothy Donegan playing Rachmaninoff, that’s tragic. 

And there’s more precedent for the Dead Composers Club’s reinvention of Chopin preludes and nocturnes than there might seem. Chopin didn’t have Romany ancestry, but he drew from the same tradition as  Django Reinhardt. Yet this isn’t Romany jazz. This music is closer to the trio Little Worlds’ shapeshifting spinoffs on Bartok etudes, and guitarist Dan Willis’ chilling Satie Project. it’s not out of the question that Preminger might air some of these out at his gig on May 31 at 7:30 PM at Smalls, where he’s leading his Genuinuity quartet, with Jason Palmer on trumpet, Kim Cass on bass and Dan Weiss on drums.

Among tenor saxophonist/composers, Preminger is on a roll unrivalled by pretty much anyone these days. When he’s not writing some of the most viscerally affecting protest jazz out there, he’s reinventing Bartok and Chopin – and joining Jason Moran for a recording date early next month. Likewise, Garcia is not only one of the most purposeful, melodic, instantly recognizable drummers in jazz; he’s also a ferocious composer with a fearlessly populist sensibility. Joining the two here are Preminger’s longtime bassist Cass and guitarist Nate Radley.

The new album opens with the Nocturne Op27 Nº1 in C# minor, which gets an uneasily tiptoeing intro before the band expands, Garcia rustling while Preminger holds pretty close to the moody melody, fleshed out by Radley’s terse chords. A rather desolate guitar solo gives Preminger a launching pad to lift the music into somewhat brighter territory over Garcia and Cass’ floating swing.

Similarly, the band work unsettling close harmonies at the edges of the famous Prelude Op28 Nº2 in A minor, Preminger shifting between stark blues and fluttery postbop, Radley adding allusive angst over Garcia’s relentless, echoey suspense. it’s very close to Willis’ haunting take on Satie.

The band make aptly jaunty work of the Nocturne Op9 Nº2 in Eb major, a famously less gloomy piece that plenty of others have drawn on. The closest they get to Django jazz here is the Prelude Op28 Nº24 in D minor, a gorgeously bittersweet, jangly arrangement veering in and out of waltz time – although Radley lingers and clangs rather than hitting anything approaching a Reinhardt minor sixth shuffle. Garcia’s calmly predatory solo as the band vamps alongside him, and then the creepy chromatic outro, are the icing on the cake.

There’s a spare, searching quality to their version of the Etude Op25 Nº7 in C# minor; Radley’s plaintive, incisive solo is one of the album’s high points, Preminger floating in to offer some solace over Cass’ moodily dancing lines. They hint at Vegas noir with the rapidfire intro to the Prelude Op28 Nº8 in F# minor, then go as far outside as they ever do here, Radley clustering over a brisk dub-inflected groove, Garcia’s solo delivering as much foreshadowing as bluster.

The group walk the line between the boudoir and the ledge with the Nocturne Op62 Nº2 in E major: this album may be the high point in Radley’s recording career. Some of these Nocturnes, like the Nocturne Op32 Nº2 in Ab major, were Chopin’s top 40 pieces; the quartet give that one subtle latin and then early Ellingtonian allusions over a casual 6/8 stroll.

They bring back the full-throttle intensity, finding the inner bolero in the Prelude Op28 Nº6 in B minor, hanging in the shadows at the edge of macabre. Giving Cass a chance to move toward the forefront is a genius move, as is Preminger’s purist blues. The album’s final number, the Prelude Op28 Nº9 in E major, rises from a muted sway, propelled by Preminger’s colorful upper-register work and Radley’s unexpectedly sweet, spot-on Memphis flavor. Don’t be surprised to see this on the best jazz albums of 2018 page here at the end of the year.

In the meantime, where can you hear this masterpiece online? For starters, try youtube and Soundcloud, here and here.

Jazz Piano Icon Satoko Fujii Launches Her Ambitious 2018 Album-a-Month Project

What Wadada Leo Smith is to the trumpet, Satoko Fujii is to the piano: one of the most riveting improvisers to ever play the instrument. Like Smith, her themes can be epic and ambitious to the nth degree, yet her playing is meticulous and nuanced. Where a lot of musicians think in short phrases, Fujii thinks in paragraphs. Her most recent big band album, the harrowingly relevant Fukushima suite, topped the Best Albums of 2017 list here. Her latest project is to release an album a month this year to celebrate her sixtieth birthday. In person, beyond the sheer depth of her music, her indomitable joie de vivre, sense of wonder and daunting chops transcend preconceptions about age. The first release in the series is simply titled Satoko Fujii Solo.

Full disclosure: many of these albums seem to already be in the can. This first one was recorded live in concert in the fall of last year in Yawatahama, Japan. From the first magnificent, moody neoromantic chords of her eight-minute opening number, Inori, the way she distills them down to a simple, catchy three-chord riff and variations is a clinic in tunesmithing. Fujii is also a very site-specific pianist: she feels the room, figures out how long the reverb lasts,  then makes it an integral part of the music. She does that here with stabbing chords that build to a series of leaps and bounds. then a starlit outro. Chopin probably worked up a lot of his material this way.

This is a very otherworldly record, bristling with uneasy, insistently modal tangents. Don’t be fooled by the high drone that opens the second number, Geradeaus. That’s not a defect – that’s Fujii bowing and rustling around inside the piano. She finds a low pedal note, expands around it in an emphatic Keith Jarrett way, goes back inside and adjusts the timbre ever so slightly, then lightens a bit and dances around with uneasy chromatics. The few carefree flourishes turn out to be a red herring as this mood piece turns more savage and enigmatic.

As the twelve-minute Ninepin gets underway, Fujii juxtaposes muted gamelanesque taps on the strings…and what sounds like an electric sander on them. Slowly and methodically, she develops what could be a misterioso Indian wee-hours raga…but cuts off the pedal on each phrase suddenly – wherever this is going, we’re not there yet.  Some of it could be Satie, or Lennie Tristano, severity balanced against tongue-in-cheek humor.

The even longer Spring Storm is all about foreshadowing: stygian low torrents rise and then subside, give way to hints of a clearing, but that big black cloud is going to hang awhile! It’s Debussy’s garden in the hailstorm, but feeling the force of the elements row by row instead of the cloudburst simply shredding everything in its path.

In Gen Himmel, Fujii lets her Mompou-esque belltones linger, flits around under the lid, and cuts off phrases sharply, Intimations of gospel enter the picture, only to be elbowed out by funereal motives and restless close harmonies. The wryly titled Up Down Left Right begins as a funny study in how gremlins can pop up all over the keyboard, then morphs into twisted, bellicose quasi-boogie-woogie  Fujii closes the show by reinventing  Jimmy Giuffre’s Moonlight as a distantly menacing, saturnine elegy. “The stars settle slowly, in loneliness they lie,” Phil Ochs sang. Boy, do they ever.

Where does this rank in the immense Fujii catalog (over eighty albums)? Probably in the top ten, alongside her magical, mordant duo album with fellow pianist Myra Melford, for example.

Now where can you find this magical album…other than a Soundcloud page? Stay tuned!

A Rewarding, Revelatory Visit to Nancy Garniez’s Upper West Side Piano Salon

About four times a month, sometimes more frequently, pianist Nancy Garniez hosts a salon in an Upper West Side studio about three minutes from the train. She’s been doing this for the better part of ten years. Like Pauline Oliveros, Garniez devotes this delightfully informal series to deep listening, Her playing, and her repertoire, take into account that an audience is always an intrinsic part of the performance. That, and her (some would say quixotic) understanding of how the physics of sound applies to the mechanics of the piano.

Asked how the series was going lately, Garniez said earlier this evening that it’s become one of the most rewarding projects she’s ever been involved with – in a career as a concert pianist, organist, chamber musician and educator since the 1960s. She calls her approach Tonal Refraction: she considers the piano a post-tonal instrument. Anyone who disagrees should sit down at one, put the pedal down, play a chord, play another one and then just try to count the number of notes resonating from inside. The closer you listen, the faster you discover that most of them don’t even exist in the western scale.

Garniez’s stunningly legato touch on the keys, and her fondness for letting a note ring out for emphasis when a piece calls for it, are her main distinctions as a player. Great drummers also know what has become second nature for Garniez: sound is something that you let out of an instrument instead of trying to bang it in.

This past evening’s program was a typically relevatory mix. Garniez began with a small handful of Clementi sonatas, emphasizing how melody isn’t limited to tones: rhythm plays just as important a role. Methodical and carefree, she gave voice to the composer’s artful, sometimes devilishly fun metric variations and expansions. No wonder Beethoven and Brahms held him in such high esteem.

Next on the bill were Chopin mazurkas. In Garniez’s hands, they transcended any peasant dance connotation: these ballads were haunting! As kinetic as the rhythms were, Garniez approached them with economy and understatement: when a particularly emphatic phrase would appear, it was all the more striking.

She closed with a delicious series of Dvorak waltzes and “eclogues,” as he called them. Long before Leif Ove Andsnes released his popular album of Dvorak solo piano works, Garniez was hip to this vastly underrated side of the composer. And it doesn’t have the ornate architecture of his orchestral works – if anything, its transparency is even more striking. “What’s the likelihood – a couple of upbeat country dances wrapped around what sounds like a Bach invention?” one concertgoer marveled.

“I think he was drunk when he wrote it,” Garniez grinned. She might be right – there was a dissociatively cheerful glimmer to that midsection. The rest of the program was as methodically paced, with dynamics so subtle that it would have been a considerable stretch to imagine an audience being able to connect in a huge concert hall. “That ninth chord,” Garniez mused. “That was really something”

And it was – a lingering, bittersweet, muted coda that Garniez let resonate as long as the score would accommodate. Garniez’s next salon is at 4 PM this Sunday, Feb 18; email for location and information. After this performance, there was wine, and eclectic snacks, and passionate conversation – which you would expect after something this rapturously interesting. 

A Riveting, Revealing Evening of Rare Gems at Nancy Garniez’s Music Salon

Nancy Garniez runs one of Manhattan’s most rapturously entertaining concert series out of her Upper West Side apartment. Beyond its significance as the place where her daughter Rachelle Garniez – arguably this century’s greatest songwriter in any style of music – grew up, it’s a fertile greenhouse for discovery, and contemplation, and banter, and bliss.

Garniez mère has a very cantabile way of playing: her hands sing. “How do we get this off the page?” is her mantra, a constant search to bring to life every subtle joke, or allusion, or plunge into troubled waters that a composer might take. Her repertoire is vast. The first of this week’s two salons spanned from standard-repertoire Haydn to uncommon Chopin and Brahms and very rare Bartok.

She parsed those pieces at a comfortably strolling pace – composers and performers who show off do not sit well with her, at all  She’s been doing this for decades, yet has lost none of her joy of discovery. She opened with a deviously inquisitive improvisation. Before sitting down at the piano, she’d told the audience about how, as a student, she’d had difficulty handling single notes (as opposed to notes comfortably nested within chords). It was like Morton Feldman without the fussiness – hard as that might be to imagine, consider his obsession with a note’s attack and decay. But Garniez considers the big picture more than mere resonance, in the context of a work’s emotional content as well as the player’s frame of mind.

Graceful expanses of one hand answering the other bookended the performance. From listening to the opening Haydn Sonata in D, one astute observer picked up on how the composer would build conversational tension between right and left hand and then offer a moment of relief as a phrase would rise and then pause. There was more of a contemplatively strolling, candlelit quality in a pair of Brahms Intermezzi, like something a composer would play for his family. Garniez is quick to differentiate between a composer’s public persona and his inner self.

The pièces de résistance were dirges by Bartok. Who knew there were such things at all? Does anyone beside Garniez ever play them? What a revelation – like Satie on steroids, influenced by Debussy, and foreshadowing everybody from Messiaen to Jehan Alain. Stern close harmonies in the lefthand exchanging with mournful bell-like motives alluded to unrequited dreams, unfinished business and the sudden, lingering shock of emptiness.

Just as powerful was the relentless intensity of Chopin’s Polonaise in E Flat Minor. Garniez explained that she’d been blown away watching Arthur Rubinstein play it at Carnegie Hall and validated that epiphany. Just when you think its atmosphere is going to lighten, it sinks another step toward the abyss. This and the rest of the program made a heartfelt requiem for the late poet Michael O’Brien.

Afterward, as usual, there was wine, and tasty gluten-free dessert, and lively conversation. Ace drummer Eve Sicular, leader of Metropolitan Klezmer and Isle of Klezbos, shared her insight with the rest of the audience. These salons are like the protests popping up around town: you never know who you’ll run into, or who you’ll reconnect with from ten years ago. The next one is this Sunday, Feb 26 at 4 PM, possibly including some of the works on this bill. Email for location and info.