Five Great Lazar Berman Recordings

The legendary Russian pianist Lazar Berman was born in Saint Petersburg on this date in 1930. At first confined to the Soviet Union and its satellite countries (the 12-year travel ban may have been the result of his marriage to a French woman), Berman burst onto the international music scene in the mid-1970s, following American and European tours. His playing often exuded a stunning dramatic power. In a 2005 New York Times …

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The 2018 Classical Grammys

We’ll finish the week with an overview of last Sunday’s 60th Annual Grammy Awards in the classical categories. As you’ll see below, it was a good night for Second Viennese twentieth century composer, Alban Berg. Best Orchestral Performance This album was recorded live in June (Shostakovich) and October (Barber) of 2013. It’s the second Pittsburgh Symphony album to be honored with a Grammy. (The first came in 1992). The album was also a …

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Christmas Liszt

When considering sacred Christmas music, Franz Liszt probably isn’t the first composer to come to mind. But Liszt, in fact, wrote a strange outlier of a Christmas Oratorio. It forms the first part of the sprawling Christus, composed between 1862 and 1866, which follows the example of Handel’s Messiah, dramatizing the life of Jesus Christ from birth, to passion, to resurrection. Liszt’s Christmas Oratorio unfolds over a long, Wagnerian arc. Its five movements feel as much like a …

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Solitary Liszt

Supreme serenity still remains the Ideal of great Art. The shapes and transitory forms of life are but stages toward this Ideal, which Christ’s religion illuminates with His divine light. -Franz Liszt We often think of Franz Liszt (1811-1886) as a kind of nineteenth century rock star whose piano music is filled with dazzling displays of bravado and virtuosity. But there’s another more contemplative side of Liszt which seems to transport us …

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10 Musical Adaptations of “God Save the Queen”

On Monday, Britain celebrated Queen Elizabeth II’s Sapphire Jubilee, marking her 65 years on the throne. At 90, Her Majesty is the world’s longest-reigning monarch. The milestone reminded me of the nearly 140 composers who have created musical adaptations of God Save the Queen, an ancient melody that may have originated in plainchant long before it was attributed to the English composer and organ-builder John Bull in 1619. Here are ten of the most …

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The Wild Harmonic Adventures of Liszt’s Concert Study No. 3, “Un Sospiro”

On a technical level, Franz Liszt’s Concert Study No. 3 in D-flat Major, “Un Sospiro” is a skillfully delivered magic trick. Its score sprawls onto three musical staves and it sounds as if it requires, at minimum, three large and dexterous hands. But all of these voluptuous tones are played using an amazing slight of hand. The melody line alternates between the pianist’s left and right hands while the surrounding arpeggios remain smooth and …

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Gabriela Montero’s New Recording: Rachmaninov and “Ex Patria"

Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero is reinvigorating an old tradition: She performs all of the standard repertoire, yet she’s equally dedicated to improvising and performing her own compositions. She infuses her concerts with a refreshing sense of excitement and spontaneity, frequently improvising on melodies volunteered by the audience. The subjects of her improvisations have run the gamut from the theme from Harry Potter  and “Happy Birthday” to J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, …

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