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Samuel Post Back at Levine School

available at Amazon
Bach, Goldberg Variations,
G. Gould (DVD, 1981)
As we all know, classical music is dead. Young musicians, however, continue to forge ahead, in the "DIY spirit," as Anne Midgette has put it recently. One of the more successful music students from Washington's own Levine School of Music, Samuel Post, returned to the school for a special concert a couple days before Christmas. He was performing the long work that had been the focus of part of his Master's studies at Northwestern University, Bach's Goldberg Variations. Post had studied the work in great detail, as he demonstrated by introducing his performance with an explanation of the structure of the work, its many complexities of counterpoint and stylistic variation. And, thank goodness that he did, too, since I got lost on the way to the Levine School and heard only the end of his lecture but, fortunately, the entire performance.

The work is so often played and recorded, and we have written about it so extensively, that it probably goes without saying that Post's interpretation does not yet merit a place in the pantheon (not something even to be expected at this point in the young man's life), but he gave an intelligent, well-considered, and above all musically satisfying performance of this extremely complex work. This was true, above all, of the 25th variation, the G minor "black pearl" of the set (as Wanda Landowska once called it), where it is easy to get bogged down in chromatic vagaries. Post's analysis of the score came through in many surprising voicings, as he traced out unexpected interior voices in many movements, as well as stylistically sensitive renderings of dance rhythms and embedded forms (a flashy, attention-getting French ouverture, a raucous quodlibet almost like a medieval charivari), and he handled the finger-tangling hand-crossings with ease. (Bach had a two-manual harpsichord in mind when he composed the work -- Post has written about his approach to the "cheating" required for these movements on his entertaining blog, Sam's Posts.) Most pleasingly, Post added pretty and diverting embellishments to many movements, although he did not take all of the repeats (and those he did take were not in any discernible pattern). There were a few memory slips, the worst in the penultimate variation, but all were nicely recovered with little to draw attention in the correction.

I did not really care for the glacial tempo at which he took the aria, although it was still poetic -- as I suspected while listening to both performances of the aria, Post later stated that he most admired Glenn Gould's second recording -- the slightly different performance in the video version that was released, rather than the audio version, in which Gould's performance of the aria almost comes to a standstill. Post also performed an intriguing encore, his own jazz-inspired and harmonically rather wild arrangement of the Christmas carol Silent Night. Musical creativity is the hallmark of Post's teacher at the Levine School, Irena Orlov, whose remarkable life and teaching style are described in a film called Reaching Beyond, which also documents some of Post's achievements as a youth. (Irena, whom I admire greatly, invited me to the concert, making this post more of an appreciation than a true review.) Those curious to listen for themselves can watch the video embedded below, of his recital of the same work, at Northwestern University's Lutkin Hall (December 4, 2010).


Anonymous said...

Interesting you got lost going to the largest community music school in the DC area. Are community music schools serving the community's needs?

Charles T. Downey said...

The school is not that difficult to find, but (a) I had never been there before (having arrived in Washington as an adult); and (b) I rarely venture into that part of the city west of Rock Creek Park. My tardiness had mostly to do with not knowing the best way to get there, and nothing to do with the school!