3 Etudes for piano by Bela Bartok

Etudes (French for “studies”) are instrumental works, usually requiring considerable athleticism or dexterity, intended to help develop particular technical skills at whatever instrument.  The great ones, like those of Chopin or Debussy, transcend the level of being mere exercises, and are great works of music, frequently preformed in concert halls.  Bartok wrote only these 3.  He performed them for the first (& last) time in 1918 to an unprepared and shocked audience.

This performance is by a young (age 25 at the time of this recording) Russian pianist Mark Taratushkin.  For whatever reason, even though I have heard various recordings of these works, his performance here really impressed me, somehow transcending the sheer virtuosity required.  Bravo!

Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G

A great performance by Yuja Wang, wonderfully photographed capturing all the major members of the orchestra. This bluesy jazz influenced work premiered in January 1932 with Ravel conducting the orchestra and Marguerite Long performing (the work is dedicated to her).  It is said that Ravel was influenced by Jazz idioms which were popular in both Paris and the United States.  Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was premiered in 1924.  Was Ravel influenced by Gershwin?  Certainly there was some mutual admiration.  They met in New York in 1928, Gershwin age 30, Ravel age 53.  Gershwin supposedly asked Ravel about the possibility of studying with him… to which Ravel replied:  “Why would you want to be a 2nd rate Ravel when you can be a 1st rate Gershwin?”

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Ravel at the piano with Gershwin looking on.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco – Opening Montage

The Last Black Man In San Francisco (2019) is a beautiful elegy of a film, and offers a truly unique view of the City as captured in the brilliant opening montage, which sets the tone for the film that follows.  The film has a great score by Emile Mosseri, but the music used in the opening montage is actually by Michael Nyman – “MGV (Musique a Grande Vitesse” originally commissioned to celebrate the inauguration of the TGV North-European Paris-Lille line in 1993.  The film also features an astounding cover of “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)” featuring Mike Marshall (vocals) & Daniel Herskedal (tuba).  Just see the film!

Scarlatti Sonatas

Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti was born in 1685 in Naples, Italy.  Same year Bach was born!  And Handel!  He wrote operas, cantatas, symphonies, liturgical pieces, etc, and LOTS of keyboard music, primarily intended for harpsichord (or very early pianofortes).  When I say a lot, consider his keyboard sonatas:  he cranked out 555 of them.  Be amazed at Martha Argerich’s precision rendition of one of these works.

Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata published 200 years ago.

Despite being nearly totally deaf, Beethoven managed to compose what has been termed the Mount Everest of piano literature, completing the work in 1818 at age 48.  It’s a massive work, containing generous amounts of Beethovian turbulence,  a moving (& bluesy) slow section lasting almost 20 minutes and…, a fugue!

I offer Yuja Wang’s incredibly focused performance at Carnegie Hall in May 2016.

Prokofiev: Suite 1 from Romeo & Juliet

Somewhere between a cello and a violin there is the viola, and wow,  here’s a soulful performance that showcases that oft neglected instrument.  Of course I’ve heard the orchestral score, the 10 pieces transcribed for solo piano, seen the ballet, but this take really nails the robust and moving score by Sergei Prokofiev.  Performed by Maxim Rysanov (viola) & Da Sol Kim (piano).