Pretty Little Picture

Well, I finally made it last evening, I went to my first concert since the pandemic began.

I had skipped several of the earlier chamber music concerts for which I had tickets because, well, I just wasn’t comfortable going to a gathering of hundreds of people and having to wear a mask for well over an hour, even though the concert hall protocols require proof of vaccination as well as mask wearing.

But I finally went last evening because the pianist, Paul Lewis, included one of my all time favorite piano pieces in his program.

Among other things, I discovered that wearing a mask for well over an hour is not all that difficult.

The concert began with Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A Major, K. 331—that’s the one that has perhaps the most famous tune that Wolfgang ever wrote: marked Alla turca, it’s popularly known as the Turkish Rondo or Turkish March. Trust me, you know that tune.

Mozart Turkish Rondo

This was supposed to be followed by a selection of Mendelssohn’s delightful Songs Without Words, but since there would not be an intermission (to reduce the urge to mingle), the songs were cut to keep the total time to a little over an hour. Mr. Lewis did play the Five Preludes, Op, 74 by Scriabin.

After which, without pausing for applause, he segued directly into the evening’s main work, the one that I had come to hear, Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

And he played it brilliantly.

I’m also pleased to announce that he played Mussorgsky’s original version, not the “corrected” edition prepared by his friend Rimsky-Korsakov. (In fairness to Rimsky, he was only trying to make the piece more acceptable to contemporary audiences by taming some of Mussorgsky’s harmonies (although he added or changed dynamic markings as well, tsk-tsk); at least Rimsky had the sense not to try to orchestrate the piece, although hasn’t stopped dozens of others (including, sad to say, Ravel, who did it for money) from creating orchestral showpieces out of Modest’s carefully composed piano work).

I’ve been meaning for some time to create a video of everything that I think folks oughta know about Pictures, and maybe I will someday.

As I was seated in the first row, directly in front of the piano, I got to see Mr. Lewis’s pedaling. In my opinion he used it too much, even in the Mozart (who didn’t provide any pedaling instructions) although for the most part it wasn’t a problem—except in the Baba Yaga movement of Pictures, where I thought the textures got a bit cloudy. But who am I to judge? I wish I could play the piano with half the proficiency of Mr. Lewis.

Piano on stage at Perelman Theater

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