Sunday, 12 August 2012

Baroque Conversations - A remarkable recital from David Greilsammer

It has long been controversial to programme contemporary music with established classical works. The BBC Promenade Concerts have always introduced new music to audiences. When the impresario Robert Newman, manager of the newly built Queen's Hall in London, met Henry Wood in 1894 to talk about a series of Promenade Concerts he made his intention clear that they were to educate the listening public ‘in easy stages…popular at first, gradually raising the standard until I have created a public for classical and modern music.’

Nowhere has this been so clearly demonstrated this season than in the cycle of Beethoven Symphonies interspersed with works by Pierre Boulez, given by the West Eastern Divan Orchestra under their joint founder and conductor Daniel Barenboim.

When I heard the concert of Beethoven’s First and Second Symphonies (20th July 2012), I was beginning to have doubts about the programming of Boulez’s 45 minute Dérive 2, which was much longer than either of the two Beethoven symphonies either side of it. I think the issue with the programming is that of balance.

Interestingly, I see that Ilan Volkov, the new Music Director of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra is programming Morton Feldman’s Coptic Light alongside Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony at their new Harpa Hall in Reykjavik. This late work, with its shimmering sounds, should prove an interesting work to precede Bruckner’s final work.

All of this brought me rather neatly to a new release from Sony Classical with David Greilsammer entitled Baroque Conversations.


The placing of contemporary piano pieces with Baroque masters such as Rameau, Couperin, Handel and Frescobaldi is bound to prove difficult for some listeners but such is the care put into the programming of this fascinating disc that I feel sure that anyone approaching it with open ears will enjoy this disc immensely. The recital is grouped in four sections each of three works, two baroque and one contemporary.

Rameau’s Gavotte et Six Doubles has a thoughtfully played Gavotte with attractive little flourishes. The six doubles have rhythmic panache and bounce with a lovely flourish at the end. It is the way David Greilsammer phrases the piece that sheds new light on the work, so that the transition into the Feldman that follows seems completely natural.

Morton Feldman’s Piano Piece of 1964 seems to reflect on the Gavotte of the Rameau and rather than clashing with it, seems to gain immensely from its juxtaposition with the earlier work.  The sudden change to Soler’s Sonata No.84 in D major is no more out of keeping than the change in the Rameau from the Gavotte to Six Doubles. Greilsammer really brings this piece to life with his rhythm and phrasing.

Francois Couperin’s Les Barricades mystérieuses is played with sophistication and warmth, making it the perfect foil for the dissonance and exoticism of Matan Porat (b.1982). There are conventional sounds in this piece written for David Greilsammer, entitled Whaam!, but they are effectively deconstructed into a completely different sound world where Messiaen shows a heavy influence alongside jazzy exotic rhythms. The jazz rhythms of the coda are simply stunning.

Handel’s Suite in D minor brings a sense of order but with the same sense of care, phrasing and rhythm carried over from the Porat. The Sarabande is played with a sensibility and thoughtfulness that adds feeling not often displayed in Handel’s keyboard music.

Greilsammer plays Johann Jacob Froberger’s Tombeau de Monsieur Blancrocher with a beautiful breadth and sonority that allows for a transition to Aux murailles rougies commissioned by David Greilsammer from Nimrod Sahar (b.1978) where there are attractive string harmonies from the prepared piano. It is difficult not to enjoy this strangely attractive piece where its conciseness allows for a readily understandable sense of form.

Orlando Gibbons’ Lord Salisbury’s Pavan and Galliard follows perfectly and it is odd that the Sahar work sounds so natural next to a 16th Century pavane.

Frescobaldi’s Toccata ottava di durezze e ligature is beautifully paced and perfectly phrased leading to Helmut Lachenmann’s (b.1935) Wiegenmusik. It is the ‘disengaging … from tonality and pitch’ referred to in the notes that allows this piece to achieve a complementary feel of analysing the baroque by breaking down of sounds and structure. In many ways this is the most fragmentary sounding piece.

Sweelinck’s Mein junges Leben hat ein End opens with a calm that makes a perfect transition from the Lachenmann piece before the attractive set of variations that concludes this piece.

It is David Greilsammer’s freedom of playing and his exquisite phrasing that helps to make these seemingly disparate works from such different eras work so well in this remarkable recital. The recording is first rate and the notes by Jorg Hillebrand are extremely informative. This is an outstanding recital which I heartily recommend.

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