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Album Notes

Dear Friends~

The works I have chosen to share with you on A New View are all close to my heart in that the majority of them are pieces I have loved and studied over a period of time. The intervening years between first learning these works and subsequently revisiting them have naturally brought me fresh perspective on life and music alike—vistas I trust are present in this recording. It is my hope that the following notes enhance your listening and enlighten you as to why I chose to record these pieces at this point in my career.

 

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Waldstein Sonata, Op. 53

Following my move to New Zealand, I was looking for inspiration for a new recital program and I happened to hear the Waldstein Sonata broadcast on Radio NZ Concert one day while I was driving. My affection for the piece (which I had first studied as a young teenager) was instantly renewed and I knew I must set forth to relearn and rediscover it. Hailed as ‘a heroic symphony for the piano’ by 19th century critic Wilhelm von Lenz, this sonata indeed encapsulates the best of Beethoven’s orchestral style of writing and his inimitable, unquenchably triumphant spirit. With its virtuosity and largeness of scale, this sonata also paved the way for some of his greatest piano sonatas to come. It is appropriately dedicated to Count Ferdinand Waldstein, who was a steadfast supporter, friend, and patron of Beethoven for many years. The sonata is a complete journey in and of itself, with a beautifully complete emotional scope. The first movement (Allegro con brio) is brimming with anticipation from the first pulsing chords, and courageously carries us through all manner of metaphorical hills and valleys. The Adagio movement, while giving repose from the intensity of the first movement, is nonetheless full of searching and longing, finding sure reward in the glorious Rondo, announced by a long-ringing high ‘G’ that links the movements. It is in the very opening of the Rondo that we hear why this sonata is affectionately known in Italian as L’Aurora (The Dawn). In this instance I feel the name is a worthy one, because as we listen to unfolding theme of the final movement, we can indeed imagine the gentle breaking of a new day, which expands into full-orbed grandeur. What’s more, Beethoven does not simply treat us to this music once, but multiple times—thus the title ‘Rondo’ which means to ‘go round’ and return to the same theme several times in the course of the movement. The word ‘heavenly’ comes to mind when describing this movement, not only for the image of dawn, but for the qualities of harmony, strength and joy that prevail. Surely Beethoven knew we could all appreciate an endless supply of those.

 

Victor Herbert (1859-1924)

Indian Summer (An American Idyl)

One of my aims with this album is to give you, the listener, opportunities to listen intently (as with the Beethoven sonata and the Chopin set) and then to relax a bit with shorter, less intense repertoire—‘sorbets’ to cleanse the palate, if you will. Indian Summer is a little piece contained in a volume entitled American Piano Classics, which I picked up on my final trip to Old Town Music in Pasadena, California, before getting on the plane to New Zealand. I found it a sweet, pleasing trifle with an easy-going melody that’s hard to dislike. Victor Herbert was one of the most well-known figures on the American music scene at the turn of the 20th century. He is most famous for his numerous operettas performed on Broadway, and also for his compositions for cello, which have been recorded by no lesser names than Yo-Yo Ma and Lynn Harrell.

 

George Gershwin (1898-1937)

Three Preludes for Piano

As probably often happens when one moves from his or her original country to another land, I have taken a fresh interest in programming music from my homeland. This album wouldn’t have been complete without these wonderful representations of American music by one of our American treasures, George Gershwin. His Preludes are wonderful miniatures of jazz and blues styles. In just over 5 minutes, the ever-dashing George takes us from the streets and jazz clubs of Manhattan, to a hot summer’s day in the soulful South, then back to the noise and bustle of the city.  If we haven’t all ‘…got rhythm’ after hearing these gems, I’ll be surprised!

 

Paul Ben-Haim (1897-1984)

Intermezzo from Five Pieces for Piano, Op. 34

As perhaps its very name alludes, the term ‘intermezzo’ originally referred to a shorter piece inserted between larger movements or opera acts, intended to break the seriousness of the large work with a bit of light relief. While the term has gradually come to mean an independent instrumental work of a small scale, I think that for this album, shades of the former definition fit our purposes most ideally. Jewish composer Paul Ben-Haim was born Paul Frankenburger in Germany.  He fled to Palestine in 1933 and there changed his name to Ben-Haim. He is now regarded as one of Israel’s finest composers.  I decided to include two pieces from this suite on a recital last year, to complement the Christmas music on the same program. I became especially enamored of the Intermezzo for its serenity and haunting harmonies, and I hope you, too, will appreciate the reflective space it provides when placed in between Gershwin and Chopin.

 

Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)

Grand Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. 42

Nocturne in C minor, Op. 48, no. 1

Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp minor, Op. 39

Very few of my solo recitals (or in this case, recordings) are ever without at least one work of Frederic Chopin, known as the ‘poet of the piano’.  His writing has enabled pianists to gracefully attempt the art of singing with our fingers, by which we may express some of the most intimate emotions of the human heart. I chose these three pieces because they highlight the wonderful variety of Chopin’s expressive palette. The A-flat Major Waltz is pure delight to play, and is as festive, delicious and entertaining a dance as we could wish. I particularly enjoy the surprise twists and turns which Chopin inserts towards the end…..pointing to a well-known fact that he never intended his music to be played the same way, or even with exactly the same notes, twice. In contrast, the C minor Nocturne (by definition, a ‘song of the night’) is deeply and dramatically plaintive, but not altogether hopeless, as so beautifully spoken by its middle section in C Major. When the initial C minor theme returns in the final section, Chopin has marked it to be played ‘twice as fast and in an agitated manner’. This swirl of emotion finally exhausts itself and only a single melody line remains, winding its way up to a high C and concluding with three poignant C minor chords deep in the bass. I know of few other pieces of only six minutes duration that leave as lasting an impression on one’s heart and mind as does this Nocturne.

The C-sharp minor Scherzo I first learned when I was sixteen, after having studied the 1st and 2nd Scherzi.  In these works, Chopin employs the title ‘Scherzo’ not in reference to its Italian meaning of a ‘musical joke’, but rather in its capacity as a middle movement in symphonies and sonatas of the time, usually written in rapid ¾ time as is the case with this scherzo. For me, it will always be a piece that is inextricably linked to my dear teacher, Jane Allen. As with all pieces she herself played and assigned to her pupils, it is one of highest order of musical quality, blending imposing virtuoso elements (listen for the rapid parallel octaves which form the 1st theme) with moments of great tenderness. One fond memory is Miss Allen’s description of the chorale sections, which appear in twice in two different keys during the course of the piece. She likened the rich, sustained chords to a hymn sung by a choir, and the shimmering, descending broken chords that follow to the angels responding from heaven. I have never forgotten this inspired depiction and feel it suits the music perfectly.

 

Johannes Brahms (1833-97)

Intermezzo in A Major, Op. 118, no. 2

One of my earliest memories of piano music has to do with hearing my mother play this piece, working from the score she used when she studied it with Jane Allen, who was also her teacher. To this day, it always gives me a sense of home to hear and/or play this Intermezzo its peaceful key of A Major.  Its sweet simplicity and conversational manner, combined with sections of melancholy and nostalgia (belying Brahms’ sensitivity to the human spirit), perhaps represent close friends reminiscing together. I know that this is a favorite piece of several of my own friends, so it has given me great pleasure to finally record it.

 

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

L’isle joyeuse (The Joyous Island) is a work full of exuberance, spontaneity, and lush beauty, delivered by Debussy’s genius for creating images in sound. His inspiration for the piece was the painting ‘L’Embarquement pour Cythere’ by 18th century artist Jean-Antoine Watteau, depicting a blissful outing to the island of Cythera, thought to be birthplace of Venus. Further personal inspiration followed Debussy when he eloped to the island of Jersey with Emma Bardac in summer 1904. It was here that he finished writing L’isle joyeuse.  Its boundless energy, sparkle, and vigor make it a fitting piece with which to end this album. An interesting little fact is that the very last note in the very last flourish at very end of the piece is also the very last note on the piano—a big, low A, and thus we really cannot go any further! Hoping not to seem overly sentimental but rather just happily sincere, I must admit that this piece has taken on special significance for me since moving to New Zealand.  Growing up the United States in the very middle of the country with no ocean in sight, I could never have imagined I would eventually be transplanted to an island in the South Pacific!  But, here I am….with a grateful heart for this splendid place I now call home.

 

©Melanie Lina

March 2013