About us / Contact

The Classical Music Network

New York

Europe : Paris, Londn, Zurich, Geneva, Strasbourg, Bruxelles, Gent
America : New York, San Francisco, Montreal                       WORLD

Your email :



Variations on Twelve Months

New York
12/17/2023 -  
Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky: Theme and Variations in F Major, Opus 18 – The Seasons, Opus 37a/37b
Jerome Lowenthal (Pianist)

P. Tchaikovsky/J. Lowenthal

I want music to be narrative. I want music to tell a story.
Jerome Lowenthal

Once upon a Christmas night/the girls were telling fortunes: taking their slippers off their feet/and throwing them out of the gate.
Vasily Zhukovsky, “December” poem for Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons

A glowing remembrance. Rudolf Nureyev, long retired, had come to Hong Kong with eight male dancers for a short performance when I lived there. His ensemble was half his age, twice his velocity, and they adeptly pranced and danced around the soloist. Nureyev himself started as a statue, then slowly moved...and his inner grace, his minimal motions were like diamonds glittering above a bale of hay.

Jerome Lowenthal, now in his tenth decade, hardly moved slowly. Peter Tchaikovsky, a composer with whom has been linked for a good three‑quarters of a century, was the single composer. And like Nureyev, one felt his experience, the assemblage of memories, as one of the world’s more distinguished soloists.

Mr. Lowenthal was one of two eminent pianists at BargeMusic this afternoon. Ursula Oppens, another ever‑ripening artist, continued two hours after Jerome Lowenthal. I was unable to stay. But was happily surprised that these two icons of the keyboard, had recently come together to record two‑piano music. And what were their choices? Not Mozart or Milhaud. But Corigliano, Debussy and Messiaen.

Great artists do not fade away. They only cultivate their talents.

Mr. Lowenthal’s program was a mere 45 minutes. But his digits belied his age. Tchaikovsky’s Theme and Variations could have been a longish bagatelle, the finale of four other short pieces. Yet within the twelve variations and a Presto coda, the composer offered abbreviated feelings, played with feeling by Mr. Lowenthal.

He played the unassuming theme with simplicity, but never allowed these brief variations to overcome their welcome. The fifth (the composer called it Andante amoroso!) was played like lost love. The following was like an unfinished fugue, and Mr. Lowenstein gave it a scintilla of Baroque color. Two of these variations were handled with real (if modest) joy. The mazurka was given a secondary dance‑like rhythm, and the 11th variation had the brilliance of a Schumann, without the profundity.

Then again, the following twelve pieces, The Seasons (more appropriately The Months) were more picturesque resembling Mr. Lowenthal’s epigraph above. Was this a particularly colorful performance? Partly. In “September’s” “The Hunt”, the pianist let loose with dogs, hunting horns, and–what seemed like–the fluttering of the poor victim birds. The ultra-famous “Song of the Lark” was a more wistful avian, played with tenderness. “May Nights” was equally gentle, a nocturnal paean.

Then again in other “months”, Mr. Lowenthal sounded as if he played this too many times. Colors for “Carnival” or “Song of the Reaper” were muted, and toward the end, tonal variety was unvarying, as if the last three months were simply images barren pines and grayish snowflakes.

Both the composer and the pianist redeemed themselves with “December.” Not with a dazzling coda, not with a Vivaldi shivering blizzards, but with utter simplicity, the simplicity of its appended poem above.

It was as if Jerome Lowenthal felt the prescience of this 2023 terrible December, and had to finish with a soft hopeful amen.

Harry Rolnick



Copyright ©ConcertoNet.com