Henryk Szeryng: Eight Great Recordings

Tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Henryk Szeryng (1918-1988), one of the twentieth century’s greatest violinists. “When hearing Szeryng in live performances, one is always struck by the nobility and aristocracy of his concept,” wrote Boris Schwarz in his book, Great Masters of the Violin. In the recordings below, we hear effortlessly shaped phrases and a sense of singing through every note. Born in Poland, Szeryng studied with Carl Flesch in Berlin and was later …

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Prokofiev’s Seventh Symphony: A Quiet Farewell

The Seventh was Sergei Prokofiev’s final symphony. Completed in 1952, a year before the composer’s death, it ventures into a sparkling, colorful world of innocence, fantasy, and wistful nostalgia. At the time this music was written, Prokofiev was battling deteriorating health as well as denunciation by Stalin’s cultural police, who banned the Sixth Symphony on the grounds of the work’s perceived “decadent formalism.” Prokofiev offered a letter of apology which was published widely. Perhaps to placate …

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Clara Schumann “Romances for Violin and Piano”: Stefan Jackiw

Last week, I had the pleasure of performing with Stefan Jackiw. The young American violinist played the Beethoven Concerto with the Williamsburg (VA) Symphony Orchestra. Jackiw’s playing is characterized by an unusual sense of elegance and refinement. He paints with a wide array of colors and dynamics. In the most intimate passages of the slow movement of the Beethoven, he was not afraid to play just above a whisper. Jackiw’s elegant and stylish approach …

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Ravel’s “Mother Goose”: Entering the World of the Child

It has been said that Maurice Ravel saw the world through the eyes of a child. Although he had no children of his own, Ravel had a lifelong fascination with elaborate mechanical toys, and frequently read fairy tales aloud to the children of his friends. Two of these children were Jean and Mimi Godebski, the son and daughter of Cipa and Ida Godebski, a Polish couple who frequently brought together some of the greatest …

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Poulenc’s “Concerto for Two Pianos”: An Exuberant, Childlike Romp

A spirt of childlike exuberance permeates Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, completed in 1932, the same year that saw the premiere of Ravel’s G Major Concerto. It’s bright, ebullient music filled with teasing, innocence, and caricature. Strands of jazz mix with the sounds of the Parisian street cafe. As with Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony (1917) and the neoclassical works of Stravinsky, this double concerto arrives in a fresh, new place by looking …

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Brahms’ “Rain Song” and the First Violin Sonata

Regenlied (“Rain Song”) is the third of Brahms’ 8 Lieder, Op. 59, published in 1873. The text by Klaus Groth is a wistful remembrance of the dreams and sense of awe experienced in childhood. The fourth song in the set, Nachklang (“Lingering Sound”) returns to the same thematic material. In this text, raindrops are equated with tears. In both songs, the piano evokes the patter of gently falling rain. Notice the way the three-note dotted rhythm …

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Aftertones of Ives

Mahler, Schoenberg, Sibelius, Debussy, Ives, and other voices from the past emerge throughout the music of John Adams like fleeting ghosts. These voices are present in Adams’ towering neo-minimalist, neo-romantic symphony, Harmonielehre. They can also be heard in Slonimsky’s Earbox, the composer’s brief 1995 tone poem, premiered by Kent Nagano and the Manchester, UK-based Hallé Orchestra on the occasion of the September, 1996 opening of Bridgewater Hall. The title refers to Nicolas Slonimsky (1894-1995), the Russian-born American conductor, composer, musical theorist, and author. …

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