2010-04-04 01:19:17 UTC
beauty of his sound, the completeness of his technique, the mastery he
brought to everything he played.
And there's the rub. There are always caveats that follow such
I was reminded of this in listening again to his last recorded
recital, a Decca CD produced by Frank Bell in Atlanta in 1988, just a
few years before Bolet's death from AIDS.
He plays a Mendelssohn Prelude and Fugue, Franck's Prelude Choral and
Fugue, and the Bellini-Liszt Norma Paraphrase.
The Mendelssohn flows beautifully, just like a good Mendelssohn stream
of notes should flow. Ripples of notes, enchanting melodies, etc.
The problems come in the Franck, where instead of an almost cathartic
high point (try Moravec, particularly in recital) you get the
emotional mountain tops lopped off. Everything proceeds smoothly, as
always, but nothing, simply nothing, serves to move this listener, at
least. Just ravishingly beautiful note-spinning.
The Norma Paraphrase continues in this vein. No singer could ever sing
the famous melodies at the tempo Bolet tries to do. Bellini is, in
this manner, totally neutered, with his soaring melodies starved of
the oxygen required to make them really sing at the piano.
There are a few clinkers as well - unusual for Bolet - including a
rather squished penultimate chord I'll bet he wished he could have
corrected. However, if you saw Bolet in recital in his final years,
with his tails hanging loosely off his enormous but wasted frame, you
can forgive him such tiny lapses.
What is harder to forgive him is the absence of emotional drive.
And there we are forced to fall back on the "beautiful sound" defence.
Yes, Bolet was capable of moving an audience and not simply "placing"
notes and chords in a sequence involving truly balletic hand
movements. But those occasions, it seems to me, were rare.
As one looks at his teachers, Hofmann, Godowsky, Saperton, et al, you
have to wonder whether beautiful sound and smooth effortless note-
spinning was what they thought music was all about. And you wonder
what would have happened if the young Jorge Bolet had studied with
Artur Schnabel, or his predecessor at Curtis, Rudolf Serkin, or Edwin
Still a great pianist.
Incidentally, because this recital was quicly withdrawn and probably
printed in 1000 copies, it seems that it is rare. Fetches the usual
astronomical prices on eBay and other similar sites.
Well, Bolet does make lovely sounds, of course.