Category Archives: YouTube

Knigge Competition Winners Recital

The winners of the Knigge Competition in are as follows:

  1. Scott Meek, originally from Winnipeg Mantioba.
  2. Devon Joiner, Vancouver, British Columbia
  3. Magdelena von Eccher, Lethbridge, Alberta
  4. Christine Desjardins, Montreal, Quebec

The question about competition winners is always about consistency — that is can they do it again, and again. The answer for all of these performers is a resounding yes. You should look for all of the three award winning runners up in the future. As they continue studying, they will improve greatly.

Scott Meek again stands out as a finished pianist. There is no doubt in my mind that he can stand along side any of the biggest names in the world of concert pianists and hold his own. His playing of the Rachmaninov Etudes-Tableaux is as fine a reading as I’ve ever heard from the likes of even Sviatoslav Richter.

Of course I will be accused of grandstanding and over exaggerating. I deny that vehemently. There is a point during a performance, where you know that the performer has the strength of vision, the depth of understanding to paint the sound canvas with all the colours and drama the composer imbued his score with. In Rachmaninov’s case, that is the broadest of strokes the Romantic composers could use. It was crystal clear that Scott had control of the brush and knew how to paint the canvas with his own unique view of the composers work.

His Scriabin was as manic and frenetic as you would expect from the best Scriabin performers. The next work on his program showed off his uncanny ability to swtich gears and play in an entirely different style from another time period entirely and make it sound like it belonged in the program with the other more modern works.

The Mozart Fantasy in c minor K. 475 is justly famous, but is as enigmatic as it is famous. I confess that I have until now, not heard a performance I thought was convincing. Scott’s performance convinced me that the work was justly famous. Thank-you Scott.

With the required new composition by UBC composer Michael Tenzer, he showed himself capable of taking an unknown work, learning it, and performing it in a manner which made the work convincing as a composition. That is not easy to do with a work no one has heard and in a style he is unlikely to know well.

The last work on the program was the Ginastera Piano Sonata no. 1, opus 22. I have not heard this work for many years. It is rarely performed, unfortunately. It should be. It is a brilliant recital piece. Its fiendish difficulty should have convinced a few more pianists to attempt it just to prove they could play it. Unfortunately, we are more likely to hear Islamey; Balakirev ‘s massive error in judgement! This afternoon’s performance was exemplary. Scott managed the difficulties with apparent ease. I know the ease was only apparent, but part of the virtuosity is in making the impossibly difficult look dead easy.

One does not usually think of a classical piano recital in terms of visual effects, but there are times at which you had to actually see what was happening to appreciate it. There is a passage near the end of the work, the toccata-like section with the repeated notes in the base in a hammering spanish jota rhythm–left hand and right hand alternating like jack hammers. It appeared like one of Scott’s hands was poised motionless in one position above the keys for those minutes. This is an optical illusion which you are clearly aware of because you can hear that the sound coming from the piano means that the pianist is moving his hands–yet one hand appeared motionless in space while the other hand appeared as a transparent blurr near the level of the keys. As I said, you had to be there to believe it! This, I believe, is a YouTube moment if ever there was such a thing! Sadly, likely the frame rate of the video would not be sufficient to capture the action of the pianists fingers.

The instrument the competitors played on was in top form as well! It threw no unexpected curve balls Scott’s way–unlike the previous day! The problems present in Scott’s Rachmaninov the previous day were simply not there as I knew would be the case.

I anxiously await the next opportunity to hear Scott Meek play!

The First National Knigge Piano Competition Winner: Scott Meek

I was going to give a rundown of the days performances at the inaugural Knigge Piano Competition at the U.B.C. School of Music. However, on second thought, there is really no point in rehashing what the jurors have already done. There was a clear winner today. Of all the competitors, Scott Meek stood head and shoulders above the rest.

Scott’s program was challenging, Rachmianinov, Scriabin, Mozart and Ginastera. His performance of the Rachamaninov Etude-Talbeaux opus 39 No. 5 in e flat minor was flawed only by his miscalculating what the instrument was capable of. This meant Scott had pushed the instrument to its limits before the biggest climax of the piece. However, what I found out after was that the piano technician had altered the voicing of the instrument after Scott’s rehearsal the evening before. Scott could not have known that this had taken place. What is to his credit in this situation was how fast he was able to adapt the the new state of the instrument. By the end of the piece he had taken into account the new voicing and for the rest of his performance, he targeted his climaxes perfectly. The succeeding two Scriabin Etudes (opus 42, no. 4 and opus 65 no. 3) were brilliantly executed.

Listen to his performance of the Scriabin Etude opus 65 no. 3 from his DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) recital at Indiana University last year.

Placing the Mozart after the two luxuriant romantic works was a calculated risk. Either it would work splendidly or fail miserably. In this case, Scott brought the transition from romantic to classical splendidly. The advantage of the placement in this position on the program is that it underlined the subtle streak of romanticism many people hear in Mozart. It is interesting to note that E.T.A. Hoffmann, the literary Romantic novelist, composer and music critic, considered Mozart a romantic composer. How different that is from our perception of Mozart!

The stunning moment in this short recital was Scott’s performance of Alberto Ginastera’s Sonata No. 1 opus 22. This is a fiendishly difficult work to play. It requires not only bravura piano technique, but also the subtle colourations found in Debussy’s writing. Accomplishing both as well as he did says that he is a pianist who’s reached a point where we must consider that he is one of Canada’s leading young pianists. The finalists will be heard in recital at the U.B.C. School of Music this Sunday at 2 PM. This is not to be missed!

A Passionate Evocation of Iberia

 

Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909) Iberia
Hyperion  CDA 67476/7
Marc-Andre Hamelin
, piano

Isaac Albeniz set of four books of piano pieces called “Iberia” are some of the most difficult works in the piano repertoire. They aren’t difficult from the perspective of the actual notes, it is the way in which Albeniz laid thses notes under the pianist fingers.

First, its difficult, second — and perhaps most importantly — they way Albeniz has written the score makes the pianist do some very strange and awkward (for most pianists) interlocking hand positions. Most who attempt the music, spend a great deal of time re-distributing the notes in a more logical manner. This seems to have been a barrier to more pianists attempting this wonderful piano music.

Although Albeniz was an accomplished and well known concert pianist he did not write these works for himself and almost destroyed the scores fearing that no pianist would be able to play them. These works were written with Catalan pianist Joaquin Malats in mind. They take advantage of his rather odd and unique abilities to play complex music using interlocking hand positions. That means playing with at least one or two of the fingers of each hand worked in between the fingers of the other. There is no real need to distribute the notes this way and Albeniz admittedly did it specifically for the Catalan pianists unique ability.

From the few historical recordings we have of his playing his reputation as an exquisite keyboard colourist are well deserved. However, knowing all this doesn’t make Albeniz writing any easier. All we know is that someone, long dead could do it with relative ease! These days, most pianists, including the highly regarded Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha, re-distributes the writing so the notes lay more conventionally under the pianists fingers.

All that said, this music is one of the landmarks in Spanish keyboard music and likely in Spanish music in general. The reason I’m going on about this is that there are new-ish recordings of these works by Quebecois pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin. Hamelin, as many of you know, is well known for playing the most torturously difficult works in the piano reportoire from Alkan to all of the ChopinGodowsky Etudes and doing not only brilliantly, but musically to!

It is always tempting to assume that because one is born in a particular country or local that the interpretation from that person is going to be more authoritative and closer to the spirit of that location than someone from another place. We have considered Alicia de Larrocha’s interpretation (Decca 2 CDs 448 1912) of these works as the panicle for many decades. Of course she had almost no competition in this area. Any other recordings of these works have long been absent from any catalogue. My memory of them fades, but I do remember that I was not impressed any of them. At that time Ms. de Larrocha’s interpretations were the bench mark. However, that said, I always had the nagging feeling that there was something missing from her brilliantly done recordings.

My suspicions have been validated by Quebecois pianist Marc-Andr√© Hamelin‘s recording of these works for Hyperion His work completely displaces Alicia de Larrocha’s reading. From the first notes of the Evocation you are aware that you are hearing something quite magical. In Hamelin’s hands, this piece breathes, it exudes Iberia from every pour, it becomes the hushed, passionate evocation of Iberia I think Albeniz intended.

Unlike the faux-Spanish music of Debussy, Ravel and Rimsky-Kosakov, Iberia is Spanish music written by a Spaniard. This music rings true to the spirit of Spain. Hamelin captures its unique beauty in a way which makes the music speak. I am always aware of thoughtful intelligence and passion when I listen to this recording.

I have listened to it in detail multiple times, and will do so again. I have always had my favourites, Triana, the Evocation, Lavapies and El Albecin; but as I listen, each one seems to me my favourite at that moment in time.

It is one thing for a pianist to play the notes as the composer wrote them; Hamelin, on the other hand, not only plays the notes but also communicates the intent, sets the scene and the drama of each piece. One can hear how each phrase answers or flows logically from one to another. Do not think for one second that this is only an intellectual exercise for Hamelin leads you though each piece in this large Suite with an emotional logic that is, in itself, undeniable.

If you thought about purchasing these recordings and didn’t, you should not hesitate the next time you see them. These are the new high water mark recordings of Albeniz Iberia and other late piano works.