Le Tombeau de Couperin: Post-Apocalyptic Ravel

Listening to Maurice Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, it’s easy to get a sense of altered reality. Outwardly, the original six movement suite, written for solo piano, responds to the horrors and devastation of the First World War, a conflict Ravel experienced first hand as a military ambulance driver. Ravel dedicated each movement of the work, written between 1914 and 1917, to the memory of a friend lost on the battlefield. But, interestingly, …

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Frank Huang Headed to New York

On Wednesday, the New York Philharmonic announced that violinist Frank Huang will become its new concertmaster, succeeding Glenn Dicterow who stepped down last June after 34 seasons. The 36-year-old Huang is currently concertmaster of the Houston Symphony. He has held that position since 2010. Before joining the Houston Symphony, he briefly served as first violinist of the Ying Quartet and professor of violin and chamber music at the Eastman School of Music. He …

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The Rise of Simone Dinnerstein

Rising to the top of the classical music world requires a combination of talent, hard work, determination, and luck. In 2007, American pianist Simone Dinnerstein’s career was “launched into the stratosphere” with the release of her self-financed recording of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations and an appearance at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall. The recording quickly soared to the top of the Amazon classical chart and more disks followed. This CBS Sunday Morning story profiles Dinnerstein’s miraculously …

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The Power of Simplicity: Satie’s Gymnopédies

Italian-born pianist Aldo Ciccolini passed away last week at the age of 89. He will be remembered as a champion of French piano music, especially the works of early twentieth century avant-garde composer Erik Satie (1866-1925). Here is Ciccolini performing Satie’s Trois Gymnopédies. This music was especially shocking in 1888 when it was published. It doesn’t drive towards any goal. Instead, it floats along with a powerful, hypnotic simplicity. Find Aldo Ciccolini’s recordings at iTunes Find …

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From Russia With Love

  From Russia With Love is a collection of violin and piano miniatures, recorded by violinist Oleh Krysa and pianist Tatiana Tchekina. The CD focuses on Russian composers, including Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky. Here are a few spectacular excerpts from the CD: A transcription of Masks from Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet, Romeo and Juliet: The haunting waltz from Prokofiev’s ballet, Cinderella, arranged by Mikhail Fichtenholtz: Russian Song, transcribed from Igor Stravinsky’s opera, Mavra, by Samuel Dushkin. Listen to the almost …

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Recommended Recording: Szymanowski and Shostakovich Sonatas

Canadian violinist Frédéric Bednarz and pianist Natsuki Hiratsuka have released an exciting new recording featuring sonatas for violin and piano by two giants of twentieth century music: Karol Szymanowski and Dmitri Shostakovich. Polish composer and pianist Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) is sometimes overlooked, but his music occupies an important position between Late Romanticism and the French Impressionism of Debussy and Ravel. Written in 1904, Szymanowski’s Violin Sonata Op. 9, grabs your attention with a powerfully brilliant opening. …

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The Eighteenth Variation

Last week we heard a sample of music inspired by Niccolò Paganini’s solo violin Caprice No. 24, which included Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43. Let’s return to the Rachmaninov and “drop the needle” at one of its most memorable moments, the Eighteenth Variation. This stunningly beautiful melody seems far removed from Paganini’s original bouncy theme in A minor, but it actually develops from the motivic seed of Paganini’s first five notes (the top …

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