The Keys to Solomonic Wisdom
Le Poisson Rouge
J.S. Bach: Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue
Jonathan Keren: Fantaisie, mais 2 Fantastrophes
Johannes Brahms: Two Fantasies, Opus 76
Arnold Schoenberg: Six Little Piano Pieces, Opus 19
G. Ligeti: Two pieces from Musica Ricercata
Leos Janacek: Sonata “October 1, 1905”
John Cage: Two Sonatas for Prepared Piano
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Fantasy in C Minor, K. 475
David Greilsammer (Piano)
David Greilsammer (© Antoine LeGrand/Naïve)
The young energetic Israeli pianist David Greilsammer took the wisdom of Solomon to heart last night, chopping seven musical babies in half for the first half, but restoring them towards the end. In a fascinating program called fantasie_fantasme (“Fantasy”) (sic), he formed a musical arch of fantasies by eight different composers, with only Mozart at the centre apex, offering afull performance of that futuristic Fantasy. Others were given an early reading, and were completed in reverse order by the end.
One must question whether Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy should be separated by 70 minutes from the Fugue, or whether the increasingly complex Ligeti Musica Ricarata should have two single pieces out of the seven. Add to this the command not to applaud until the end, and the lack of intermission, and we know that the daring Mr. Greilsammer was attempting to make a single mood—or, in his own words, “The calm and the violent, the extraordinary and the absurd, the sublime and the grotesque facing each other as they do in (my) dream.”
Certain aestheticians might approve this non-stop non-chronological program, since, by definition, one can hear only a single second of music at a time, so continuity is logically impossible. But a concert isn’t a Wittgensteinian treatise, so the stream of notes last night, while never jarring, inevitably lacked the sounds of surprise or satisfaction. (Augmenting this problem was Le Poisson Rouge itself, where waiters served drinks and greasy fishcakes, a family with their monster-children were playing and the atmosphere was hardly Elysian.)
On the other hand, certain relationships did, unconsciously perhaps, pan out. Hearing Mozart’s full Fantasy bookended by Cage’s prepared piano was like listening to Wolfgang, surrounded by Papa Leopold’s Toy Symphony. We know how much Schoenberg revered Brahms, so listening to the adjacent two was interesting. Granted, the first and last movements of the Janacek Sonata separated by three other composers was unnerving. Janacek is mesmeric to open ears, and breaking that spell is counter-productive.
But now we come to the unquestioned part, Mr. Greilsammer himself. His fans were legion, his leather jacket was cool, his attitude to the surrounding audience was friendly enough, never fawning. And his performance, while often questionable, was always deft and athletic
On the most positive side, he is born for modern music. The Schoenberg Six Little Pieces are not the most technically difficult, but their very brevity precludes immediate love. Yet Mr. Greilsammer played with such a lithe touch, that each work (hardly a minute long at most) had the lightness of breath. Schoenberg is hardly a “dancing” composer, but Mr. Greilsammer emphasized beat and rhythm, so they seemed to fly by.
The same was true with the Janacek, equally difficult to come across. Yet the pianist was not shy of giving those Janacek spurts and sudden pianistic hiccups all the dynamics they deserved. The final “Death” movement was very sharp indeed.
The 11 Ligeti Musica Ricercata form such a totality that a mere two seemed like children’s exercises. But a work by one Jonathan Keren, like a jazzy 12-tone exercise, was swung around with great conviction.
Yet here was the paradox. The final Keren movement finished just before the Bach Fugue, and Mr. Greilsammer didn’t even leave a pause before starting that majestic masterpiece. If he was looking for a special effect, it was hardly achieved.
The juxtaposition of very serious Mozart and very jocular Cage was like a combo of caviar and blinis: not bad at all. The prepared piano summoned up the avant-garde of the 1960’s, and its sounds were jingle-jangley youthful. The two Brahms fantasies, the intermezzo and the capriccio, were played so well and were so well-contained that they almost were lost in this four-century mishmash of music.
Onto the Bach Chromatic Fantasy. The last I looked, Bach’s score did have bar lines and measures. Mr. Greilsammer, though whizzing up and down the keyboard, didn’t see them. Since he insisted on the most radical retards and accelerations, one had to listen to his own point of view, though it had a certain pretension. Not, though the Fugue, where, hemmed in by the form (which was hardly fantasy), he ended the program with true majesty.
The Solomonic wisdom, though, I still must question. Mr. Greilsammer explains that “in looking at all these pieces, they now composed a new Fantasy.” That might be clever for philosophers and Biblical kings. For the rest of us, this young pianist is so proficient in his instrument that my own fantasy would be to hear him play a real concert featuring these real composers giving them individual adoration, rather than a dumping them into a spicy bouillabaisse.