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Ionarts-at-Large: Countryside Chamber Music—Daniel Grimwood in Schwabach

The old stables of the medieval town of Schwabach—that famed gold leaf production center of the world—make for a very decent make-shift concert venue with a little regular series of classical music to which the locals—some more, some less, most very enthusiastically—allow themselves to be goaded.

Beneath the 450-some year old beams of the half-timbered house, which houses town council meetings when not filled with the gifts of Euterpe (that’s the muse of song, for those whose parents tried to save on their education), pianist Daniel Grimwood* and Nazrin Rashidova performed a mother’s day concert in which they dragged the Schwabachers sneakily from the classical period (Mozart) to the 20th century (Poulenc) by way of Beethoven, Fauré, and Moritz Moszkowski.

In Schwabach (40.000 souls, give or take a few), Daniel Grimwood – unknown the world over as a pianist – is a minor star, having played himself into the hearts of the good burghers by giving memorable concerts of the town’s tenuous musical claim to fame: Adolf von Henselt.

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W.A.Mozart, Sonataw f.Fortepiano & Violin K296, 379 & 454 ,
P.Müllejans, K.Bezuidenhout
Harmonia Mundi

The two started out with Mozart, and awkwardly so—a little anxious, a case of too much, and sounding like late Beethoven in gesture—but were quickly at home in the more lyrical bits of Sonata K.454. Still, it was a lesson in why Mozart should not be the warm-up of any recital, with any instrument or assortment of instruments. Mozart is tricky, of course; you don’t want timid Dresden-china tip-toeing, but it also better not sound like Mussolini’s architecture looked. In this case, a good deal of relaxed, liberated, jovial air would have done much to (further) improve the listener’s Mozart-enjoyment and to bring out more of the subtle humor and graceful touch.

The work is officially titled a sonata for pianoforte and violin, in that order, and Grimwood made no pretense of letting this be a showpiece for the violin. Nazrin Rashidova, meanwhile, is not a violinist who needs to fear an independent-minded, volume-lusty pianist: She’s got a sometimes piercing, sometimes feisty, certainly ambitious tone that would dominate many a more timid ivory-artist.

To indulge in simply throwing adjectives at the reader, however well considered a bunch of adjectives they are, is a disgraceful habit. It’s bad writing and makes for even worse reading. Take this less a sign of awareness on my part than a warning: Brace yourself, because here comes just such a (second) salvo describing Mlle. Rashidova’s playing, which I found scribbled on my notes and am too lazy to cleverly work into the text: Tenacious, determined, tensely unrelenting, and any lightness—if and when on display—coming with clenched teeth. (Now we should be over the hump.)

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L.v.Beethoven, Violin Sonatas,
C.Cerovsek, P.Jumppanen

Beethoven composed his op.12, No.3 some 13, 14 years after Mozart. To suggest that there was no audible difference to the preceding Mozart, as I was tempted to write, would be wrong. But it was the very same kind of playing, only a lot more of it. When I involuntarily grin during a performance, it often indicates an internal dilemma of the ears or the heart liking something but the hand and the brain shaking their head in reproach: Something is being done that probably ought not to be done, by some curmudgeon’s standard. Is that allowed? Usually, it turns out, the cause is—quite unforgivably—that fun is being had on stage and extremes of some sort explored. The veteran concert goer, who knows well enough to distrust when emotion wedges its foot into a concert of classical music, is disturbed. The naïve listeners who don’t know any better, meanwhile, show their ignorance in matters propriety by plainly enjoying themselves. Tut-tut. Wild, fast, and loud were only the most obvious and superficial reasons for my inner smile to emerge in this Beethoven. I hope no one noticed it.

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G.Fauré, Nocturnes,
Peters Edition (mp3)

Expectations rose as the music promised to adjust itself to the style of the music-making… starting with a little CD-sale-enhancing Fauré interlude (Nocturne No.6) with which Mr. Grimwood opened the second half, solo. This hit the spot for Mother’s day: gorgeous, sumptuous, and just loud enough in the small space so as to avoid a lulling-to-sleep—while not so aggressively in-your-face as the violin sonatas had been. Completely absorbed was the local music critic (his review here), who duly appeared in the trade’s prescribed uniform of shabby crumpled suit, hair to match, and shirt of sketchy provenance. He so much resembled, nay: defined a stock-character in the commedia that is the arts world, that he merits a short description: It was Type D (subsection 4): the know-it-all, vastly “here’s-a-massively-name-dropping-anecdote-of-me-and-the-pope-having-beers-skimpily-disguised-as-a-joke” self-important failed-musician-type, too-worldly-for-the-boonies, too-provincial-for-the-metropolis; ready to deliver the following excuse when found a smidgen hard to understand: “You-must-ekscyuse-my-Englisch—sometimes-I-speek-vith-a-very-Uhmärican-aksent”(why, naturally: his sister lives there!). In short: Tragic, jovial, fun, insufferable.

“Still better than being a judgmental, supercilious prat!” you might say. And if you (understandably) did, I would merely raise a dismissive eyebrow in mutually re-assuring response.

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F.Poulenc, Chamber Music (incl. Violin Sonata),
A.Tharaud, Graf Mourja et al.

Moritz Moszkowski’s Four Morceaux was written in 1909, the 19th century part of the 20th century (or vice versa?) and it sounded most suited to the violinist. Granted, with Moritz Moszkowski the mental comparisons and formed expectations are at zero, but upon that virgin snow of impression, these musical footsteps sounded (I embrace the mixed metaphor!) very well placed. The focused, steady tone of Nazrin Rashidova presented itself from its most easily appreciable side… something it continued doing in Poulenc’s Violin Sonata. An astounding lot of fun and exciting hypertension this Poulenc character displayed in 1942/43 in a piece thought to be on the grave side, seeing how it is dedicated to the memory of Federico García Lorca. Or was it fun? It does get a bit grim there, toward the end, and somber, if not that much. It was played in best flip-a-switch 20th century sound (except for unimaginative and dull pizzicatos); big-bear beautiful, with great dynamic variation (between mp and ffff).

Two Moszkowski firecracker encores were added, one show-off, one less so… and announced as being contained on an upcoming album. Musicians want to eat, after all. Another gratifying chamber in my chamber-music-in-the-countryside exploration, although I think it might have been more gratifying still if performed in exact reverse order.

* He is an acquaintance close—and, until now, dear—enough that it merits this disclosure.

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