Discussion:
Bolet's Chopin in Concert
(too old to reply)
Tom Deacon
2004-06-22 14:38:22 UTC
Permalink
As one of those who usually adheres to the dictum on Jorge Bolet "The better
the music, the worse he plays" or, more positively, "The worse the music,
the better he plays", I have approached the impending release of some live
Chopin from Bolet with considerable trepidation, Chopin belonging, you see,
to the group of composers who write good music. The first pleas for support
for this project came well over a year ago from a variety of sources, most
of whom are connected with the producers. The Dead Pianists Society. You
know whom I mean. I balked at the idea and said so: commercial projects
should sink or swim on their own merits. Without advance knowledge of the
quality of the enterprise, why would one support it?

Anyway, now the set has been released. Apparently 200 people around the
world signed up and the thing got the green light from the powers that be at
Marston.

As expected, my fears were well founded.

Despite the various tributes to Bolet's Chopin in the booklet - he had big
hands, and so on - he was not by nature a Chopinzee. (Artur, you can relax
in your comfortable grave, or, as I imagine, playing the piano for God and
his minions. Bolet provides absolutely no competition for your outstanding
work on behalf of Chopin over many decades.)

So, what's wrong with this Chopin?

Well, let's start with what is right. Bolet can play fast - in fact mostly
he plays fast - and all the running notes come off like little pearls. He
can play loudly and softly, when Chopin asks him to.

And speaking of softly, I should put in a least a good word for the few
Nocturnes which are to be found on CD # 2. Beautiful tone, of course, as one
would expect of Bolet. The beautiful tone school had no more fervent
practitioner than Jorge "I studied with Godowsky" Bolet.

Then there are the two Polonaises, Op. 26 Nos 1 & 2. Here Bolet seems really
in his element. The playing is poetic and yet forceful, rhythmically tight
and yet supple. Gorgeous tone, of course. The two pieces are played almost
as one piece, with No. 1 running right into No. 2. Some of the best playing
in Chopin I have heard from Bolet.

So much for the good.

Now on to the bad.

The tone, beautiful in conception, has that threadbare quality typical of
the sound a Baldwin piano makes throughout many of the recordings. Kind of
like chalk on a blackboard, blank, without much in the way of texture or
ping. You know, in your heart of hearts, that Bolet heard it beautifully, if
only his piano had cooperated. Never is this more obvious than on the very
first piece, the Andante spianato, which is as unpoetic an interpretation -
blank is a good word for it - as I have heard. So blank that one has to
question the validity of the story surrounding its composition.

The three impromptus (No. 2 is not included) are OK, but the Fantasite
Impromptu is run off its little feet. The annotator was delighted. I just
wondered why. Probably because Bolet could, that's why. Like Clinton and
Monica Lewinsky?

And there are the many and obvious mistakes throughout. Bolet is unusually
sloppy, particularly in the 4 Scherzi. Clinkers abound throughout and as we
will have to listen to these CDs over and over again, the recordings will
have reduced appeal to most record buyers. Over and over again Bolet misses
his top notes when he has to leap; perhaps that evening his hand-to-eye
coordination was off. In any event, the averagely good piano student of
Adele Marcus could have done better at the same time these recordings were
made with these four scherzi. And did. The inaccuracies are to be found even
in the Nocturnes. It is a bit like finding a bit of grit in your foie gras,
irksome, although forgiveable, once. But unfortunately it will come back to
haunt you each and every time you listen.

The sound will also be a problem for many listeners. The scherzi sound as
though they were recorded on a cassette player without Dolby
noise-reduction. This is immune to tone controls, of course. So, you just
have to live with it. When I listened from another part of the room, it
sounded as though it was raining outside. A real bummer! The jacket does
announce this problem and claims that the producers didn't want to reduce
the noise, for fear of having a negative impact on Bolet's playing. They
needn't have feared, of course.

Bolet tries, and fails, to inject a note of charm in his playing,
particularly in pieces like the "Minute" waltz, but it simply comes across
as coy, with little spit-curls added to the music, and then the requisite
Hofmannesque double-note passage at the end. A dollop of whipped cream on
the music. Just musical bad taste, in my opinion, although those who like
that sort of thing will coo with delight. The other example of a similar
treatment of Chopin's music comes in the Liszt arrangement of My Joys, one
of Chopin's songs. Here Bolet ripples and purrs and subito-pianissimos to
his heart's content. Proving that the dictum I quoted at the top of this
post is still alive and well. The worse the music, the better Bolet plays.
And in the E minor waltz he cannot resist trailing off into a progressive
pianissimo at the end, something I thought went out of fashion with De
Pachmann!

And then there is the one "statement" in this set, the Sonata in B minor.
Bolet chooses a good tempo for the first movement, not too fast, but
unfortunately he is unable to inject any tension in this movement and that
despite the inherent tension in the sonata form and Chopin's view of it. So,
the whole movement just sounds flabby. The same approach succeeds
marvelously in the hands of Emil Gilels, and Claudio Arrau, both of whom
knew precisely how to gauge this music to maximum emotional impact. The
Scherzo is fleet, of course, as it should be, and as any pianist can
deliver. Nothing unusual here. The slow movement is ponderous, however, and
that despite the "beautiful tone" Bolet lavishes on each and every note and
chord. I got bored half way through, which is not a good sign, I think.
Admittedly this movement is one of Chopin's more lavish statements of
romantic sentiment, but still. The finale? The best part, I think. Well
judged, and not a mad dash to the finish a la Argerich. In all, though, this
performance does not achieve what it starts out to be. That first movement
is just not good enough and by a long stretch.

So, to buy or not to buy, that is the question.

I have already made my choice, obviously, and hope to be rewarded in heaven
for doing so. But those in search of some really good Chopin would do better
to investigate the APR releases of Moiseiwitsch, any Artur Rubinstein
compendium, particularly that of the Scherzi, Arrau's Nocturnes, Argerich,
Freire, and any number of younger pianists in a variety recordings, not to
speak of the special pleasures of Michelangeli's Chopin. Even Cziffra, who
was no Chopinist, at least makes you sit up and listen, and is now available
at a ridiculously low price from EMI.

And then there is Earl Wild, any of whose Chopin recordings I would trade
for this whole set. Charm, technique to burn, tone like the evening stars,
rhythmic drive, passion. You name it and Wild's got it. And fortunately for
him he has in his producer someone who is smart enough to know what to
release and what not to.

TD
Dan Koren
2004-06-22 17:26:02 UTC
Permalink
Post by Tom Deacon
Despite the various tributes to Bolet's Chopin in
the booklet - he had big hands, and so on - he was
not by nature a Chopinzee.
Of course not, he was a Gorilla!



dk
Tom Deacon
2004-06-22 19:07:09 UTC
Permalink
Post by Dan Koren
Post by Tom Deacon
Despite the various tributes to Bolet's Chopin in
the booklet - he had big hands, and so on - he was
not by nature a Chopinzee.
Of course not, he was a Gorilla!
Koren seems obsessed by Bolet's physical appearance.

Personally I am only interested in his piano-playing, and that only some
times.

When push comes to shove, Bolet never played better than he did in the live
CH recital which appeared, in part, on RCA CD, and in full in the GPOC.

Even his Chopin there was better than anything included on these two Marston
CDs. And much better recorded, of course.

TD
Dan Koren
2004-06-22 21:28:45 UTC
Permalink
Post by Tom Deacon
Post by Dan Koren
Post by Tom Deacon
Despite the various tributes to Bolet's Chopin in
the booklet - he had big hands, and so on - he was
not by nature a Chopinzee.
Of course not, he was a Gorilla!
Koren seems obsessed by Bolet's physical appearance.
Personally I am only interested in his piano-playing, and that only some
times.
When push comes to shove, Bolet never played better than he did in the live
CH recital which appeared, in part, on RCA CD, and in full in the GPOC.
Even his Chopin there was better than anything included on these two Marston
CDs. And much better recorded, of course.
But not nearly as well praised.



dk
Tom Deacon
2004-06-22 22:20:59 UTC
Permalink
Post by Tom Deacon
Post by Tom Deacon
Even his Chopin there was better than anything included on these two
Marston
Post by Tom Deacon
CDs. And much better recorded, of course.
But not nearly as well praised.
Praise is in the ear of the beholder, assuming, of course, that his ears
still work.

TD
Peter Lemken
2004-06-23 06:32:24 UTC
Permalink
Dan Koren <***@yahoo.com> wrote:

[Bolet at Carnegie Hall]
Post by Tom Deacon
Post by Tom Deacon
Even his Chopin there was better than anything included on these two
Marston
Post by Tom Deacon
CDs. And much better recorded, of course.
But not nearly as well praised.
Not true. Even back in LP times this recital has always been praised by
critics all around the globe for its interesting repertoire and monumental
piano playing. As a matter of fact, there were times when this was the only
available recording by Bolet on a less than obscure label, way before his
contract with Decca.

Peter Lemken
Berlin
--
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in
a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly
used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming, 'Wow, what a ride!'
Tom Deacon
2004-06-23 10:18:30 UTC
Permalink
Post by Peter Lemken
[Bolet at Carnegie Hall]
Post by Tom Deacon
Post by Tom Deacon
Even his Chopin there was better than anything included on these two
Marston
Post by Tom Deacon
CDs. And much better recorded, of course.
But not nearly as well praised.
Not true. Even back in LP times this recital has always been praised by
critics all around the globe for its interesting repertoire and monumental
piano playing. As a matter of fact, there were times when this was the only
available recording by Bolet on a less than obscure label, way before his
contract with Decca.
You're right. Great playing. Perhaps his best concert. Ever.

TD
Steve Emerson
2004-06-24 02:37:06 UTC
Permalink
Post by Tom Deacon
Post by Peter Lemken
[Bolet at Carnegie Hall]
Post by Tom Deacon
Post by Tom Deacon
Even his Chopin there was better than anything included on these two
Marston
Post by Tom Deacon
CDs. And much better recorded, of course.
But not nearly as well praised.
Not true. Even back in LP times this recital has always been praised by
critics all around the globe for its interesting repertoire and monumental
piano playing. As a matter of fact, there were times when this was the only
available recording by Bolet on a less than obscure label, way before his
contract with Decca.
You're right. Great playing. Perhaps his best concert. Ever.
The Chopin Preludes are not of the very highest order, but his concentration
and sense of continuity and build are remarkable. As a live performance, I
think it's extraordinary.

SE.
John Turner
2004-07-06 18:15:57 UTC
Permalink
Post by Tom Deacon
Post by Dan Koren
Post by Tom Deacon
Despite the various tributes to Bolet's Chopin in
the booklet - he had big hands, and so on - he was
not by nature a Chopinzee.
Of course not, he was a Gorilla!
Koren seems obsessed by Bolet's physical appearance.
Personally I am only interested in his piano-playing, and that only some
times.
When push comes to shove, Bolet never played better than he did in the live
CH recital which appeared, in part, on RCA CD, and in full in the GPOC.
To that, in large part, I heartily agree, and for the BoletI in GPOC,
I understand we largely have you to thank, which I do (not RCA!).
Have you listened, <really listened> to either the RCA/BMG "Bolet
Rediscovered" or to the latest (of several) incarnations on Ensayo of
his Liszt Transcriptions CD? How about his recordings of the
Prokofiev PC#2 (either one, first one, preferabaly) or his recording
of the Sgambati Concerto on Genesis (US or Euorpean LP or CD)? How
about the Reger "Telemann Variations" or the "Encores" CD for Decca?
How about the Rachmaninoff LP (all (except the two Preludes not
included) on BoletI, {the rest Transcrions -- excepting the
Mendelssohn "Scherzo" -- which is uniformly disliked})? Obviously I
pretty much know the answers to these largely rhetorical questions --
you have listened to all these (although I haven't read your thoughts
about the RCA/BMG "Liszt Rediscovered" CD, nor the recital CD
(mentioned below). I read (in Gramophone, I think) that a second
Encores Decca CD was planned, as were the Chopin Sonatas, more Chopin
Nocturnes, the Chopin Scherzi, and a Mendelssohn/Brahms CD, but he was
quite ill, and these did not come to fruitition -- although he still
could play! The (Decca) recital CD (never issued in the US, even
though the recital was in the US!) is amazing! One reviewer said that
the Mendelssohn P&F was as close to "perfect" as piano playing can
ever be. His "Norma Reminiscences" has been included in at least two
Decca re-issues, and rightly so -- mistakes and all, it is
spell-binding and a phenomenal performance for anyone, especially for
someone mortally ill. The Franck P,C,&F is better than the studio
recording, albeit neiter matches Moravec. I <think> that the second
Decca "Encores" CD was to include many more Godowsky "Transcriptions".
All this is something of a prelude to my own opinion of the playing
on the Marston CDs -- not surprisingly, I am enthralled, and glad to
have them! My understanding about the considerable delay in their
release is that there were at least two issues: obtaining commitments
from a sufficient number of buyers to warrant making 1,000 copies; and
there was a delay at the manufacturer, over which Marston had no
control.

I think that it is somewhat likely that we will have to allow
ourselves to both agree and disagree when it comes to Bolet's playing.
I heard him several times, both in recitals and with orchestra; only
once was he less than astounding, IMO. That time, his playing was
truly disappointing, and became worse and worse as the evening dragged
on. Oddly, most of the program was Liszt (Dante, Petrac Sonnets, and
more such). The encores were great: Mendelssohn and Chopin.

The delay in my posting this (and the incoherences) are a result of a
delay of over four days between beginning and completing (well,
stopping, at least) -- due to unexpected problems and a strenuous trip
out of town. But, then, I have been known to meander, even under the
best of conditions. Perhaps I should try using shorter paragraphs,
and plain shorter responses in general!

John Turner
Post by Tom Deacon
Even his Chopin there was better than anything included on these two Marston
CDs. And much better recorded, of course.
TD
Tom Deacon
2004-07-06 19:28:27 UTC
Permalink
On 7/6/04 2:15 PM, in article
Post by John Turner
Post by Tom Deacon
Post by Dan Koren
Post by Tom Deacon
Despite the various tributes to Bolet's Chopin in
the booklet - he had big hands, and so on - he was
not by nature a Chopinzee.
Of course not, he was a Gorilla!
Koren seems obsessed by Bolet's physical appearance.
Personally I am only interested in his piano-playing, and that only some
times.
When push comes to shove, Bolet never played better than he did in the live
CH recital which appeared, in part, on RCA CD, and in full in the GPOC.
To that, in large part, I heartily agree, and for the BoletI in GPOC,
I understand we largely have you to thank, which I do (not RCA!).
Have you listened, <really listened> to either the RCA/BMG "Bolet
Rediscovered" or to the latest (of several) incarnations on Ensayo of
his Liszt Transcriptions CD?
Of course.
Post by John Turner
How about his recordings of the
Prokofiev PC#2 (either one, first one, preferabaly
Not only preferably, but of necessity, as the second is a pale shadow.

) or his recording
Post by John Turner
of the Sgambati Concerto on Genesis (US or Euorpean LP or CD)?
Of course. But the music. Please, John. You only add fuel to my thesis.
Post by John Turner
How
about the Reger "Telemann Variations"
Ditto.

or the "Encores" CD for Decca?

Is this what you are going to base Bolet's reputation on? Really?
Post by John Turner
How about the Rachmaninoff LP (all (except the two Preludes not
included) on BoletI, {the rest Transcrions -- excepting the
Mendelssohn "Scherzo" -- which is uniformly disliked})? Obviously I
pretty much know the answers to these largely rhetorical questions
Surely they are, as you must know I have weighed the matter considerably.
Post by John Turner
you have listened to all these (although I haven't read your thoughts
about the RCA/BMG "Liszt Rediscovered" CD, nor the recital CD
(mentioned below).
Only upon release. I don't remember being drawn to listen for a second time.
Post by John Turner
I read (in Gramophone, I think) that a second
Encores Decca CD was planned, as were the Chopin Sonatas, more Chopin
Nocturnes, the Chopin Scherzi, and a Mendelssohn/Brahms CD, but he was
quite ill, and these did not come to fruitition -- although he still
could play!
Well, yes, sort of. I heard him do the Chopin Variations by Rachmaninoff in
Toronto. His tails were falling off the man. And his performance was really
quite sad.
Post by John Turner
The (Decca) recital CD (never issued in the US, even
though the recital was in the US!) is amazing! One reviewer said that
the Mendelssohn P&F was as close to "perfect" as piano playing can
ever be. His "Norma Reminiscences" has been included in at least two
Decca re-issues, and rightly so -- mistakes and all, it is
spell-binding and a phenomenal performance for anyone, especially for
someone mortally ill. The Franck P,C,&F is better than the studio
recording, albeit neiter matches Moravec. I <think> that the second
Decca "Encores" CD was to include many more Godowsky "Transcriptions".
All this is something of a prelude to my own opinion of the playing
on the Marston CDs -- not surprisingly, I am enthralled, and glad to
have them! My understanding about the considerable delay in their
release is that there were at least two issues: obtaining commitments
from a sufficient number of buyers to warrant making 1,000 copies; and
there was a delay at the manufacturer, over which Marston had no
control.
I think that it is somewhat likely that we will have to allow
ourselves to both agree and disagree when it comes to Bolet's playing.
I heard him several times, both in recitals and with orchestra; only
once was he less than astounding, IMO. That time, his playing was
truly disappointing, and became worse and worse as the evening dragged
on. Oddly, most of the program was Liszt (Dante, Petrac Sonnets, and
more such). The encores were great: Mendelssohn and Chopin.
The delay in my posting this (and the incoherences) are a result of a
delay of over four days between beginning and completing (well,
stopping, at least) -- due to unexpected problems and a strenuous trip
out of town. But, then, I have been known to meander, even under the
best of conditions. Perhaps I should try using shorter paragraphs,
and plain shorter responses in general!
Please make no apologies for incoherence. I got the drift quite well, John.

We will just have to differ on the merits of Bolet in "standard repertoire",
where, to my mind, he failed to live up to his billing as a GPOC. In
alternative repertoire, however, he could often shine. There are exceptions
to the rule, which only prove the rule.

TD
Matthew B. Tepper
2004-07-06 20:03:48 UTC
Permalink
You've nailed several of the Bolet recordings I find terriffic -- the live
Carnegie Hall recital edges out the studio recordings in the "Rediscovered"
RCA CD, at least for me. And he makes a masterpiece of Reger's Telemann
Variations, which is now my favorite Reger work.
--
Matthew B. Tepper: WWW, science fiction, classical music, ducks!
My personal home page -- http://home.earthlink.net/~oy/index.html
My main music page --- http://home.earthlink.net/~oy/berlioz.html
To write to me, do for my address what Androcles did for the lion
Take THAT, Daniel Lin, Mark Sadek, James Lin & Christopher Chung!
John Turner
2004-07-02 17:33:27 UTC
Permalink
Post by Tom Deacon
As one of those who usually adheres to the dictum on Jorge Bolet "The better
the music, the worse he plays" or, more positively, "The worse the music,
the better he plays", I have approached the impending release of some live
Chopin from Bolet with considerable trepidation, Chopin belonging, you see,
to the group of composers who write good music.
I fear that we will have to disagree about your "dictum", Tom-- sorry.


John Turner, Philadelphia


The first pleas for support
Post by Tom Deacon
for this project came well over a year ago from a variety of sources, most
of whom are connected with the producers. The Dead Pianists Society. You
know whom I mean. I balked at the idea and said so: commercial projects
should sink or swim on their own merits. Without advance knowledge of the
quality of the enterprise, why would one support it?
Anyway, now the set has been released. Apparently 200 people around the
world signed up and the thing got the green light from the powers that be at
Marston.
As expected, my fears were well founded.
Despite the various tributes to Bolet's Chopin in the booklet - he had big
hands, and so on - he was not by nature a Chopinzee. (Artur, you can relax
in your comfortable grave, or, as I imagine, playing the piano for God and
his minions. Bolet provides absolutely no competition for your outstanding
work on behalf of Chopin over many decades.)
So, what's wrong with this Chopin?
Well, let's start with what is right. Bolet can play fast - in fact mostly
he plays fast - and all the running notes come off like little pearls. He
can play loudly and softly, when Chopin asks him to.
And speaking of softly, I should put in a least a good word for the few
Nocturnes which are to be found on CD # 2. Beautiful tone, of course, as one
would expect of Bolet. The beautiful tone school had no more fervent
practitioner than Jorge "I studied with Godowsky" Bolet.
Then there are the two Polonaises, Op. 26 Nos 1 & 2. Here Bolet seems really
in his element. The playing is poetic and yet forceful, rhythmically tight
and yet supple. Gorgeous tone, of course. The two pieces are played almost
as one piece, with No. 1 running right into No. 2. Some of the best playing
in Chopin I have heard from Bolet.
So much for the good.
Now on to the bad.
The tone, beautiful in conception, has that threadbare quality typical of
the sound a Baldwin piano makes throughout many of the recordings. Kind of
like chalk on a blackboard, blank, without much in the way of texture or
ping. You know, in your heart of hearts, that Bolet heard it beautifully, if
only his piano had cooperated. Never is this more obvious than on the very
first piece, the Andante spianato, which is as unpoetic an interpretation -
blank is a good word for it - as I have heard. So blank that one has to
question the validity of the story surrounding its composition.
The three impromptus (No. 2 is not included) are OK, but the Fantasite
Impromptu is run off its little feet. The annotator was delighted. I just
wondered why. Probably because Bolet could, that's why. Like Clinton and
Monica Lewinsky?
And there are the many and obvious mistakes throughout. Bolet is unusually
sloppy, particularly in the 4 Scherzi. Clinkers abound throughout and as we
will have to listen to these CDs over and over again, the recordings will
have reduced appeal to most record buyers. Over and over again Bolet misses
his top notes when he has to leap; perhaps that evening his hand-to-eye
coordination was off. In any event, the averagely good piano student of
Adele Marcus could have done better at the same time these recordings were
made with these four scherzi. And did. The inaccuracies are to be found even
in the Nocturnes. It is a bit like finding a bit of grit in your foie gras,
irksome, although forgiveable, once. But unfortunately it will come back to
haunt you each and every time you listen.
The sound will also be a problem for many listeners. The scherzi sound as
though they were recorded on a cassette player without Dolby
noise-reduction. This is immune to tone controls, of course. So, you just
have to live with it. When I listened from another part of the room, it
sounded as though it was raining outside. A real bummer! The jacket does
announce this problem and claims that the producers didn't want to reduce
the noise, for fear of having a negative impact on Bolet's playing. They
needn't have feared, of course.
Bolet tries, and fails, to inject a note of charm in his playing,
particularly in pieces like the "Minute" waltz, but it simply comes across
as coy, with little spit-curls added to the music, and then the requisite
Hofmannesque double-note passage at the end. A dollop of whipped cream on
the music. Just musical bad taste, in my opinion, although those who like
that sort of thing will coo with delight. The other example of a similar
treatment of Chopin's music comes in the Liszt arrangement of My Joys, one
of Chopin's songs. Here Bolet ripples and purrs and subito-pianissimos to
his heart's content. Proving that the dictum I quoted at the top of this
post is still alive and well. The worse the music, the better Bolet plays.
And in the E minor waltz he cannot resist trailing off into a progressive
pianissimo at the end, something I thought went out of fashion with De
Pachmann!
And then there is the one "statement" in this set, the Sonata in B minor.
Bolet chooses a good tempo for the first movement, not too fast, but
unfortunately he is unable to inject any tension in this movement and that
despite the inherent tension in the sonata form and Chopin's view of it. So,
the whole movement just sounds flabby. The same approach succeeds
marvelously in the hands of Emil Gilels, and Claudio Arrau, both of whom
knew precisely how to gauge this music to maximum emotional impact. The
Scherzo is fleet, of course, as it should be, and as any pianist can
deliver. Nothing unusual here. The slow movement is ponderous, however, and
that despite the "beautiful tone" Bolet lavishes on each and every note and
chord. I got bored half way through, which is not a good sign, I think.
Admittedly this movement is one of Chopin's more lavish statements of
romantic sentiment, but still. The finale? The best part, I think. Well
judged, and not a mad dash to the finish a la Argerich. In all, though, this
performance does not achieve what it starts out to be. That first movement
is just not good enough and by a long stretch.
So, to buy or not to buy, that is the question.
I have already made my choice, obviously, and hope to be rewarded in heaven
for doing so. But those in search of some really good Chopin would do better
to investigate the APR releases of Moiseiwitsch, any Artur Rubinstein
compendium, particularly that of the Scherzi, Arrau's Nocturnes, Argerich,
Freire, and any number of younger pianists in a variety recordings, not to
speak of the special pleasures of Michelangeli's Chopin. Even Cziffra, who
was no Chopinist, at least makes you sit up and listen, and is now available
at a ridiculously low price from EMI.
And then there is Earl Wild, any of whose Chopin recordings I would trade
for this whole set. Charm, technique to burn, tone like the evening stars,
rhythmic drive, passion. You name it and Wild's got it. And fortunately for
him he has in his producer someone who is smart enough to know what to
release and what not to.
TD
Tom Deacon
2004-07-02 21:05:56 UTC
Permalink
On 7/2/04 1:33 PM, in article
Post by John Turner
Post by Tom Deacon
As one of those who usually adheres to the dictum on Jorge Bolet "The better
the music, the worse he plays" or, more positively, "The worse the music,
the better he plays", I have approached the impending release of some live
Chopin from Bolet with considerable trepidation, Chopin belonging, you see,
to the group of composers who write good music.
I fear that we will have to disagree about your "dictum", Tom-- sorry.
John Turner, Philadelphia
Possibly, John.

But in that case you would have to put forward strong evidence for your
disagreement. That, I think, would be very difficult. But I would be happy
to hear your thoughts.

TD
John Turner
2004-07-07 22:06:03 UTC
Permalink
Post by Tom Deacon
As one of those who usually adheres to the dictum on Jorge Bolet "The better
the music, the worse he plays" or, more positively, "The worse the music,
the better he plays", I have approached the impending release of some live
Chopin from Bolet with considerable trepidation, Chopin belonging, you see,
to the group of composers who write good music.
Assuming the worst about the impending recording must somehow color
your ultimate response, don't you think? At least neutrality might be
a more reasonable way to audition these long-awaited CDs. Then one
can sort out the good, the bad, the ugly, or whatever according to how
each piece unfolds.

The first pleas for support
Post by Tom Deacon
for this project came well over a year ago from a variety of sources, most
of whom are connected with the producers. The Dead Pianists Society. You
know whom I mean.
No, I don't know whom you mean, but would like to learn. I learned
about the project from a note on one of the Yahoo Piano groups,
visited the Marston website, and placed a telephone call to ask for a
little more information. It was given to me over the telephone, I was
satisfied, and placed my order.

I balked at the idea and said so: commercial projects
Post by Tom Deacon
should sink or swim on their own merits. Without advance knowledge of the
quality of the enterprise, why would one support it?
I agree with you completely, if we still lived in the day when one
went into town now and then to a record store with listening booths in
order "audition" potential purchases. As I recall, 78s were never
wrapped, nor were early LPs or 45s -- maybe as far as into the late
1960s. That practicality no longer exists. For many years, choices
have been made on artists' reputations, choice of repertoire, reviews
in many publications, advice from friends whom were trusted, "wild
hopes" gleaned from reading as much information as can be crammed onto
that damned thing called a "jewel box", and many other factors.
Post by Tom Deacon
Anyway, now the set has been released. Apparently 200 people around the
world signed up and the thing got the green light from the powers that be at
Marston.
As expected, my fears were well founded.
Ditto what I said above -- your pre-conceived notions colored your
reaction.
Post by Tom Deacon
Despite the various tributes to Bolet's Chopin in the booklet - he had big
hands, and so on - he was not by nature a Chopinzee. (Artur, you can relax
in your comfortable grave, or, as I imagine, playing the piano for God and
his minions. Bolet provides absolutely no competition for your outstanding
work on behalf of Chopin over many decades.)
I have the complete RCA/BMG Rubinstein set, a phenomenal project --
and I bought it at some peril to my budget, believe me. I love it
completely. But I am keeping the Bolet Chopin CDs, and I think my
shelves have room for the addition. And, so far, I have immensely
enjoyed Bolet's Chopin playing. Somehow, there is room in the
universe (and on my shelves) for the Chopin of both Rubinstein and
Bolet (and a good many others).
Post by Tom Deacon
So, what's wrong with this Chopin?
Well, let's start with what is right. Bolet can play fast - in fact mostly
he plays fast - and all the running notes come off like little pearls. He
can play loudly and softly, when Chopin asks him to.
So far, I read no real criticism. Bolet could play fast, but slowed
appropriately, and I find his playing, in the main, to be beautifully
nuanced.
Post by Tom Deacon
And speaking of softly, I should put in a least a good word for the few
Nocturnes which are to be found on CD # 2. Beautiful tone, of course, as one
would expect of Bolet. The beautiful tone school had no more fervent
practitioner than Jorge "I studied with Godowsky" Bolet.
Beautiful tone is not a bad thing in piano playing -- at least for me.
I've been taught that, and tried to learn all the ways of producing
beautiful tone, for almost 55 years. Having the chance to study with
Godowsky must have been a great learning experience. My own first
teacher had the chance to study with Godowsky one summer while a pupil
at the Chicago Musical College in the early 1920s. She spent the
entire summer studying the Chopin Etudes, Waltzes, Ballades, and
Polonaises with Godowsky -- supposed to practice eight hours a day,
every day, in a tiny apartment in that Chicago heat! She cut it to
5-6 hours a day, and used to laugh about her "summer of perspiration".
But I remember to this day, the wall in her studio where she had
photographs of her teachers, colleagues, and such. Godowsky's was
placed so that he seemed to stare at you during the most awkward
moments during a lesson -- I think she did it on purpose, frankly.
She quoted him often. And although she felt she had learned the most
during a year's study with Alexander Raab (who glared from that wall I
mentioned), she would always mention something useful from any of
those on that wall, including Raab, Edward Collins, Ganz, Godowsky,
Grainger, Stojowski -- something special she remembered about the work
in question, and when it came to Chopin, that was Godowsky.
Post by Tom Deacon
Then there are the two Polonaises, Op. 26 Nos 1 & 2. Here Bolet seems really
in his element. The playing is poetic and yet forceful, rhythmically tight
and yet supple. Gorgeous tone, of course. The two pieces are played almost
as one piece, with No. 1 running right into No. 2. Some of the best playing
in Chopin I have heard from Bolet.
Sounds highly complimentary, really, so far.
Post by Tom Deacon
So much for the good.
Now on to the bad.
The tone, beautiful in conception, has that threadbare quality typical of
the sound a Baldwin piano makes throughout many of the recordings. Kind of
like chalk on a blackboard, blank, without much in the way of texture or
ping. You know, in your heart of hearts, that Bolet heard it beautifully, if
only his piano had cooperated. Never is this more obvious than on the very
first piece, the Andante spianato, which is as unpoetic an interpretation -
blank is a good word for it - as I have heard. So blank that one has to
question the validity of the story surrounding its composition.
There are several pianos used, as mentioned in the booklet: Baldwin;
American Steinway; Bechstein; Hamburg Steinway. Since these
recordings stretch over a long time, many places, who knows how they
were all recorded? -- it's pretty difficult, I think to find any "one"
kind of tone among the tracks. The many European venues did not
likely have Baldwins. I agree that the overall sound of the Andante
spianato is not very wonderful. But I think you are trying to spread
your notion of a Baldwin's sound (they are all different, and, over
the years, have often been extremely good -- but the same could be
said for American Steinways) over the entire set of recordings. Maybe
the "sound problem" is more an unknown combination of engineering
techniques, recital hall acoustics (only two tracks are
studio-generated), philosophy of the producers and mastering engineer,
etc. Is that possible?
Post by Tom Deacon
The three impromptus (No. 2 is not included) are OK, but the Fantasite
Impromptu is run off its little feet.
Have you checked the time with others? This one is 4'57". His
commercial recording for Everest was 4'46". Rubinstein's three are:
5'20"; 5'28"; and 5'06" (the last one in 1964). I'm not going to haul
out others; these aren't so different, really.

The annotator was delighted.

The annotator did become somewhat hyperbolic about this (" . . .
whirling notes . . . great arches of sound . . . "). I still like
that performance (it is one of the two studio performances, Berlin,
1963). Doubt that I could have mustered that description, however.

I just
Post by Tom Deacon
wondered why. Probably because Bolet could, that's why. Like Clinton and
Monica Lewinsky?
That's cute. You gave me a good laugh, Tom. But does that really
have anything to do with the playing or the recording?
Post by Tom Deacon
And there are the many and obvious mistakes throughout.
No question about it. There are mistakes galore. It is well-known
that when he was having an "off" night, he dropped notes all over the
place. So did Rubinstein, who used to joke about himself to the
effect that there were enough notes dropped "under the piano" to make
another recital. Many of the truly great pianists have had off-nights
more than they would have liked, obviously.

Bolet is unusually
Post by Tom Deacon
sloppy, particularly in the 4 Scherzi.
Clinkers abound throughout

But Bolet did not choose these tapes to release as examples of his
Scherzi at their "best", so, again, there are imponderable issues here
-- how much can one overlook? how much can we just not repeat yet
enjoy the rest? For some, the answer will be to toss the set; for
others (and for me) the answer will be to keep the set and to listen
to it.

and as we
Post by Tom Deacon
will have to listen to these CDs over and over again, the recordings will
have reduced appeal to most record buyers. Over and over again Bolet misses
his top notes when he has to leap; perhaps that evening his hand-to-eye
coordination was off. In any event, the averagely good piano student of
Adele Marcus could have done better at the same time these recordings were
made with these four scherzi.
And did.

Overall, I find the Scherzi more musical than you do, and agree they
would probably not pass muster at any of the innumerable competitions
that piano students are relentlessly marched through these days. I'll
give the Scherzi some more listening with the scores in hand, and
maybe I will ultimately find the missed leaps too much to take. And,
I will let you know.

The inaccuracies are to be found even
Post by Tom Deacon
in the Nocturnes. It is a bit like finding a bit of grit in your foie gras,
irksome, although forgiveable, once. But unfortunately it will come back to
haunt you each and every time you listen.
Here is the point where I use some version of "were we at the same
concert"? The Nocturnes are wonderful, I think. But I will continue
listening with fewer distractions a few times and see if I still feel
the same way.
Post by Tom Deacon
The sound will also be a problem for many listeners. The scherzi sound as
though they were recorded on a cassette player without Dolby
noise-reduction. This is immune to tone controls, of course. So, you just
have to live with it. When I listened from another part of the room, it
sounded as though it was raining outside. A real bummer! The jacket does
announce this problem and claims that the producers didn't want to reduce
the noise, for fear of having a negative impact on Bolet's playing. They
needn't have feared, of course.
As you note, it is clearly stated that no "tampering" was done with
the tape sources. Maybe they should have -- I don't know. But I knew
this before I placed my order, so . . .
Post by Tom Deacon
Bolet tries, and fails, to inject a note of charm in his playing,
particularly in pieces like the "Minute" waltz, but it simply comes across
as coy, with little spit-curls added to the music, and then the requisite
Hofmannesque double-note passage at the end.
The double note passage strikes me as more Godowsky-esque, although it
could be either one or both. Bolet did the same on his commercial
recording of the "Minute" Waltz for Decca, although not on his earlier
one for Everest.

A dollop of whipped cream on
Post by Tom Deacon
the music. Just musical bad taste, in my opinion, although those who like
that sort of thing will coo with delight. The other example of a similar
treatment of Chopin's music comes in the Liszt arrangement of My Joys, one
of Chopin's songs. Here Bolet ripples and purrs and subito-pianissimos to
his heart's content. Proving that the dictum I quoted at the top of this
post is still alive and well. The worse the music, the better Bolet plays.
And in the E minor waltz he cannot resist trailing off into a progressive
pianissimo at the end, something I thought went out of fashion with De
Pachmann!
Maybe these "dollops" should not have gone out of fashion? It is true
that they have. But I find his playing in all the above you describe
quite wonderful. It is not "definitive" Chopin, if there is such a
thing.
Post by Tom Deacon
And then there is the one "statement" in this set, the Sonata in B minor.
Bolet chooses a good tempo for the first movement, not too fast, but
unfortunately he is unable to inject any tension in this movement and that
despite the inherent tension in the sonata form and Chopin's view of it. So,
the whole movement just sounds flabby.
It is "stately", to say the least, but others have chosen similar
tempi for that first movement; after all, it is marked "Allegro
Maestoso".

The same approach succeeds
Post by Tom Deacon
marvelously in the hands of Emil Gilels, and Claudio Arrau, both of whom
knew precisely how to gauge this music to maximum emotional impact. The
Scherzo is fleet, of course, as it should be, and as any pianist can
deliver. Nothing unusual here. The slow movement is ponderous, however, and
that despite the "beautiful tone" Bolet lavishes on each and every note and
chord. I got bored half way through, which is not a good sign, I think.
Admittedly this movement is one of Chopin's more lavish statements of
romantic sentiment, but still. The finale? The best part, I think.
I would agree with most of what you have written -- but listen again
to the slow movement -- it is not "ponderous" at all, and the last
movement is the best I've heard, either in recital or from recordings.
Post by Tom Deacon
judged, and not a mad dash to the finish a la Argerich. In all, though, this
performance does not achieve what it starts out to be. That first movement
is just not good enough and by a long stretch.
So, to buy or not to buy, that is the question.
I have already made my choice, obviously, and hope to be rewarded in heaven
for doing so. But those in search of some really good Chopin would do better
to investigate the APR releases of Moiseiwitsch, any Artur Rubinstein
compendium, particularly that of the Scherzi, Arrau's Nocturnes, Argerich,
Freire, and any number of younger pianists in a variety recordings, not to
speak of the special pleasures of Michelangeli's Chopin. Even Cziffra, who
was no Chopinist, at least makes you sit up and listen, and is now available
at a ridiculously low price from EMI.
And then there is Earl Wild, any of whose Chopin recordings I would trade
for this whole set. Charm, technique to burn, tone like the evening stars,
rhythmic drive, passion. You name it and Wild's got it.
Including (usually) a Baldwin piano.

And fortunately for
Post by Tom Deacon
him he has in his producer someone who is smart enough to know what to
release and what not to.
I am still very happy to have the Bolet -- however it came to pass.
Some really good and some absolutely great Chopin, played by an
extraordinary pianist, who for various reasons, a few known, mostly
unknown, was not given an appropriate time and company to record him
when he was truly at his best.

John Turner, MD, Philadelphia
Post by Tom Deacon
TD
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