Eli, Eli, lama asabthani?

No music captures the solemnity of Good Friday quite like St. Matthew Passion. As I once had occasion to tell the great Margaret Throsby on her radio program, one of the truly miraculous moments in that work—and in all music—comes when Jesus cries out, "Eli, Eli, lama asabthani?", and the Evangelist translates, "Mein Gott, mein Gott, warum hast du mich verlassen?" ["My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"].  I've always thought Bach's simple transposition of this replica up a fourth (to E-flat minor) to be an utter masterstroke. Here it is, with Peter Schreier as Evangelist and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Jesus:

Interview: "Интервью с Игнатом Солженицыным"

В сегодняшнем интервью меня спрашивают, могут ли люди искусства влиять на политическую ситуацию в мире? Я отвечаю:

И да, и нет. Конечно искусство – самый великий дар человечеству от Господа Бога и большая сила, способная сделать многое. Но мне непонятно мнение коллег, приписывающих искусству магические качества. Магия в музыке, несомненно, есть, только она влияет на внутренний рост человека. А к мысли о том, что музыка в состоянии остановить войну или накормить голодных, я не могу относиться серьёзно.

Listen: Beethoven Sonata, Op. 26 I

The question of how much to vary the tempo in a set of classical variations—or in a variation movement—is a thorny one.  My teachers were students of Serkin and Schnabel, so I was brought up to think twice before changing tempo to suit each variation.  Doing so might well rob the power of such tempo changes as the author does indicate; or negate, from one variation to the next, the progression of note-values designed to feint an increase or decrease in speed (while in fact keeping a steady pulse and harmonic rhythm); or flatten the effect of other contrasts the composer may be concerned with, perhaps of articulation, dynamics, or register.  A great example of these challenges is the bewitchingly elegant opening movement of Beethoven's Piano Sonata in A-flat major, Op. 26:  how to allow for a certain ebb and flow, for an elasticity in the music, but without changing tempo in an obvious way.  (Incidentally, it is in the coda of this movement that Beethoven, for the very first time in his piano sonatas, explicitly marks senza sordino, i.e. to be played with damper pedal—a wonderful nugget courtesy of Barry Cooper and his invaluable new edition of the sonatas.) Here is this movement from my recent performance at the December Evenings Festival—was it successful in reconciling those conflicting goals?..

Review: "Rachmaninoff's First"

Another review of my concerts last week with the Fort Worth Symphony.

He keeps his clear and precise beat pattern in front of his body, only rarely extending his arms further when the music demands. Within these parameters, he is every bit as expressive as the most profusely active conductors.

Solzhenitsyn’s careful interpretation [of Ravel’s Ma Mere l’Oye], with every detail made prominent, proved to be involving. The audience began to listen more and more carefully, as if they were hearing a speaker who had a soft voice. Thus, when the rare big brilliant swaths of sound rose out of the texture, they were impressive and thrilling.

I listened to Solzhenitsyn’s methodical building of [Rachmaninoff’s First] symphony, like a building made of individual bricks. Conducting without a score, he exuded confidence and no superfluous gestures got in his way. It is a truism that you start and the beginning and work to the end, but in a piece like this (and the composer’s later works as well), you start at the beginning but you must have the end in your sights the whole way. In Solzhenitsyn’s interpretation, he left no passage, no matter how tempting, that would overplay the ending. Thus, instead of the first symphony appearing to be devoid of Rachmaninoff’s big song-like tunes, when one does appear in the last movement, it is all the more impressive. Solzhenitsyn let it bloom—like a promise kept.
— Gregory Sullivan Isaacs, Theater Jones

Review: "Fort Worth Symphony Concert Honors Victims of Paris Attack"

A review of my concerts last week with the Fort Worth Symphony.

Guest conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn strode to the podium in Bass Hall, asked for a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the attacks in Paris, and stressed the difference between the high culture of France represented by the first work on the program and the violence of the terrorists.

Solzhenitsyn led a gorgeous performance that was full of lyrical beauty and elegant atmosphere and showed the orchestra, especially the woodwinds, to great advantage.
— Olin Chism, Fort Worth Star-Telegraph

Final stage of illumination

Just finished re-reading the strange and striking Beethoven: His Spiritual Development by J. W. N. Sullivan, justly considered to be one of the most unusual books about music.  One would like to quote from almost every page.  Here’s from the last chapter:

An inner life of quite extraordinary intensity was in process of development till the very end. Other artists, of those few whose spirits were both sensitive and free, seem to have passed through similar stages of development. But perhaps even Shakespeare never reached that final stage of illumination that is expressed in some of Beethoven’s late music. The other steps of the journey he knew, but Shakespeare never wrote his C-sharp-minor quartet. It is possible, indeed, that Beethoven’s late music is unique, not only in music, but in the whole of art.