The Classical Reviewer
"Vladimir Feltsman probes Schubert’s inner world more deeply than most in Volume One of his new cycle for Nimbus"
by Bruce Reader
Vladimir Feltsman has built a considerable catalogue of recordings for Nimbus in recent years. A quick look at the list of his recordings on the Nimbus website shows the breadth of his repertoire with A Tribute to Rachmaninoff (NI6148), A Tribute to Scriabin (NI6198), A Tribute to Tchaikovsky (NI6162), Beethoven Diabelli Variations (NI6257), Beethoven Piano Sonatas (NI6120), Chopin Waltzes and Impromptus (NI6184), Liszt - Bénédiction de Dieu (NI6212), Bach - The English Suites (NI6176), Bach Six Partitas (NI6207), Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition & Tchaikovsky Album for the Young (NI6211), Haydn Keyboard Sonatas (NI6242),Schnittke Sonata No.1 and Schubert Sonata 'Reliquie' (NI6284), Chopin Ballades (NI6128) and Chopin Nocturnes (NI6126).
Vladimir Feltsman picks up wonderfully on the bold rhythmic qualities of the opening theme to the Allegro ma non troppo of Schubert’s earliest surviving complete sonata, his Sonata in A minor, D.537 (1817) which he subtly develops throughout with some very fine phrasing. He soon allows some darkness to intrude but moves swiftly between moments of depth and passages of confident rhythmic momentum with lovely phrasing and beautifully fluent, light textured playing.
Feltsman gives the Allegretto quasi andantino a nice lift in the offset little rhythm, soon followed by playing with a lovely natural flow. This pianist is so aware of the varying rhythmic facets of this movement, observing Schubert’s markings so well and bringing out so much of the strange beauty.
The Allegro Vivace opens with some fine flourishes, Feltsman soon letting the music rush ahead before steadying to a more flowing tempo. Again Feltsman manages Schubert’s sudden changes of tempi and direction perfectly, allowing a freedom and spontaneity to Schubert’s creation.
This is a very fine performance to which, for all the assurance and experience, Feltsman brings an added sense of discovery.
The lovely little Adagio in E major, D.612 (1818) moves between gentle introspection and moments of sparkling playfulness in Feltsman’s hands. His touch is exquisite as is his fine phrasing, with more wonderfully spontaneous scales and flourishes.
With the B flat major Scherzo, Allegretto of Schubert’s 2 Scherzos, D.593 (1817), Feltsman’s fine rhythmic playing again reveals so much of the attractions of this little piece, making it an absolute delight. He brings a sense of fun to every bar and his well-judged little pauses add a terrific sense of anticipation. With its lightly flowing middle section he shows it to be a little gem.
Feltsman brings a lovely forward momentum to the second of these Scherzi, the D flat major, Allegro moderato.There is a sense of light hearted enjoyment not to mention a fine flowing central section.
The Sonata in G major, D.894 (1826) brings such a change, with Feltsman’s fine pacing and phrasing drawing out much tension and depth in the opening of the Molto moderato e cantabile. He subtly and slowly builds the drama and tension before finding a lighter mood with some most delicate, exquisite passages. This pianist also brings moments of great authority as he develops the drama, offset by passages of terrific spontaneity. There are some beautifully judged phrases and tempi and the way he offsets dramatic, darker passages with lighter passages is quite special. One becomes aware, for all Feltsman’s fine detail, of a strong structural understanding. What a journey this first movement proves to be, never rushed, impressively visualised.
The Andante follows perfectly with Feltsman allowing a slow, thoughtful flow of invention. Soon he lets go with a great outburst as the music develops in dynamics. Later there are so many fine moments before the music rises again with playing of great authority, leading to the gentle coda.
Feltsman brings a fine sense of rhythmic phrasing to the lighter Menuetto. Allegro moderato with some beautifully hushed delicate moments before suddenly coming alive with fine dynamic phrases.
Schubert’s playfulness is heard in Allegretto with Feltsman’s fine touch and fluidity bringing much to this movement, beautifully paced and realised, with exquisitely pointed rhythmic phrases before the music leads fluently to its lovely little coda.
Vladimir Feltsman probes Schubert’s inner world more deeply than most in this sonata.
This is an impressive start to Feltsman’s Schubert series which I look forward to hearing. The recording is first rate and there are excellent booklet notes from the pianist.
CVNC: An Online Arts Journal in North Carolina
"Vladimir Feltsman's Enterprising and Intriguing Program Whetted Music Lovers' Appetite for More"
by William Thomas Walker
Spring break had little effect on the turnout of eager music lovers in the beautifully restored Baldwin Auditorium on the East Campus of Duke University for the penultimate concert in Duke Performances’ Piano Recital Series. The featured artist was Vladimir Feltsman who has given many memorable recitals in both the Triangle and Triad regions of our state. This concert was no exception. He chose to pair stylistically pivotal sonatas by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) and Franz Schubert (1797-1828) with a showpiece and warhorse from the repertoire of Modest Mussorgsky (1839-81).
Haydn did so much to establish the forms that would become standard for most of the Classical and Romantic era, such as the four movements used for quartets and symphonies. His piano sonatas gradually evolved from "divertimentos" through an irregular number of movements. Haydn was heavily influenced by Carl Philippe Emanuel Bach's use of Empfindsamkeit- a musical language of heightened sensibility. Sonata No. 31 in A-flat, Hob. XVI: 46 was composed around 1767-68 and is from Haydn's "middle" creative period. The first movement, with its irregular phrases, delicate ornaments, and sighing appoggiaturas, reflects C.P.E. Bach’s model of volatility. There is a free fantasia in the middle. The use of the key A-flat in the first movement is remarkable. Even rarer is the D-flat used in the wonderful Adagio which has a quality of unusually intimate expression. The brilliant finale continues the composer's exploration of harmonies.
Feltsman played with great care for color, dynamics, and rhythm. The clarity of his articulation was remarkable as was his refined palette of dynamics. Ornaments were gorgeous jewels and Haydn's use of baroque forms, polyphony and contrapuntal writing were carefully delineated.
Bold experimentation with key is central to the Sonata No. 4 in A minor, D. 537, one of six sonatas composed by Schubert in 1817. It is in three movements. In the first movement, the exposition is very long while the development is relatively short. Extensive use is made of repetition as well as of long sequential patterns. Throughout all three movements, Schubert modulates to wander pretty far from key to key. The middle movement, Allegretto quasi Andantino, has a wonderful singing line interrupted by a series of chromatic harmonies midway. The finale, Allegro vivace, juxtaposes its two halves against each other. It is sparkling and carefree and the composer makes much use of repetition and many dramatic pauses.
Feltsman's interpretation was brilliant. Schubert's seamless singing line was spun out, and there was nothing stale about the repeated phrases. Feltsman brought a drama to his gestures to heighten the composer's significant pauses. It reminded me of an older generation of pianists who have long since passed.
This area has not lacked for performances of Pictures at an Exposition by Mussorgsky. It is one of the few works that the composer quickly completed in a short period of time! The music evokes the composer walking about and looking at various paintings by his late friend Victor Hartmann. The promenade music which opens the piece is subtly changed to link each vividly characterized picture: "The Gnome," "Tuileries," "Cattle," "Bydlo," "Ballet of the Chicks in their Shells," "Samuel Goldenberg and Shmuyle," "The Marketplace in Limoges," "The Catacombs," followed by "Cum Mortuis in Lingua Mortua," "The Hut of Baba Yaga," and "The Great Gate of Kiev."
Feltsman's interpretation and playing of this well-known piece of the repertoire will stay at the top of my short list of memorable performances. I liked the variety of nuance he brought to each return of the promenade theme. He brought great power and rich sonority to such sections as "The Old Castle," "Bydlo," "The Catacombs," and not least, the magnificent "The Great Gate of Kiev." This was done without the least bit of pounding or tonal distortion (unlike another Russian pianist I heard in the 80s). Grotesque episodes such as "The Gnome" or "Goldenberg and Schmuyle" were vividly characterized. Playful details abounded in "Tuileries" and "Ballet of the Chicks." Feltman's palette of color was breathtaking.
The enthusiastic audience response was rewarded with a glowing performance of the Liebestraume No. 3, Nocturne in A-flat, S. 541/R. 211:3 by Franz Liszt (1811-86).
International Record Review
"Liszt Bénédiction de Dieu"
by Stephen Pruslin
The title of this disc, ‘Bénédiction de Dieu’, is a contraction of the full title of Liszt’s ‘Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude’, which is itself the third of the ten pieces that comprise his Harmonies poétiques et religieuses. The Russian pianist Vladimir Feltsman (who emigrated to the USA in 1987 and is now an American citizen) is justified in having chosen this work as the emblem of his entire recital because the pianistic texture of its substantial opening section must surely be one of the most gorgeous piano sonorities in the entire literature. In the key of F sharp major, it acts as the centre of an arc that joins Chopin’s Barcarolle, Op. 60 (in the same key) and Ravel’s ‘Ondine’ (the first piece of Gaspard de la nuit).
Notwithstanding its lyrical, ecstatic nature, ‘Bénédiction’ is very demanding pianistically, and Feltsman meets its challenges with superb accomplishment. After a brief Introduction, the opening pages have a texture composed of simultaneous intervals in each hand that are different in each hand, and are constantly fluctuating. These are much harder to play than they look, yet they must never sound as if they are difficult.
Feltsman plays the other well-known pieces – the A flat ‘Liebestraum’ (by far the best known of the six), the Six Consolations and the great B minor Ballade – with equal beauty and (in the Ballade) great power. What also impresses me, though, is his inclusion of four late, superficially ‘simple’ short pieces (on the last four tracks) that reveal a completely different side of Liszt’s musical personality. The ‘Schlummerlied’/’Berceuse’ in F sharp major (1876) is one of the movements of the charming collection called the Christmas Tree Suite. I was particularly interested in hearing this because I love Liszt’s two better-known Berceuses in D flat major, S174, which are, no doubt, his tribute to Chopin’s single late Berceuse, Op.57 in the same key. Liszt’s second version has much more pianistic fioritura than his first. The Elegie (1874) is also a berceuse, but of a very different kind: its original title was Schlummerlied im Grabe (‘Lullaby in the Grave’). Liszt’s two versions of La lugubre gondola (the second one, included here, dates from 1885) are somewhat better known without being really familiar to many listeners. The nocturne En rêve (1886) is described in Feltsman’s own highly informed and informative booklet note as ‘one of the last sweet musical dreams of Liszt’ (which obviously means that he relates it to the much more famous Sechs Liebesträume). All of these late pieces reveal the radical and original composer that Liszt was. Their harmonic style prefigures the atonal, freely chromatic style of early Schoenberg, e.g. the song cycle Das Buch der hängednden Gärten (‘The Book of the Hanging Garden’s), Op.15, with its use of ‘contextual’ harmony wherein augmented or diminished triads are used as pseudo-tonics and dominants, notwithstanding their dissonance and tonal ambiguity or instability.
The recorded sound admirably conveys the dynamic range of Feltsman’s playing, whether dramatic or intimate. The close-up colour photograph of him on the front cover of the booklet, and the full length one on the back, each show a man with intense, soulful eyes, a rather saturnine expression, broad shoulders and a large frame. In effect, he looks quite like what his playing sounds like, which has to be a good thing. There is a plethora of recordings of many of the included pieces, but if you want to get to know a really individual and interesting pianist, acquiring this release is the way to do it. Hearing it might well encourage you to hear and acquire some of Feltsman’s other recordings for Nimbus, which include six discs or sets of J.S. Bach, three discs each of Beethoven and Chopin and three ‘Tributes’ to Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff (sic) and Scriabin. This discs is very highly recommended.
The Classical Reviewer
May 11, 2013
"Vladimir Feltsman, on Nimbus, provides one of the finest performances of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition currently on disc"
The story of how Mussorgsky came to write his Pictures at an Exhibition is well known. It was following the death of his artist and architect friend Viktor Hartmann in 1873, when an exhibition of over 400 Hartmann works in the Academy of Fine Arts in Saint Petersburg, organised with the help of the influential critic, Vladimir Stasov, was viewed by Mussorgsky. It inspired the composer to write a piano work based on his viewing of the exhibition.
Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition have, of course, been recorded many times both in their original piano version as well as in the orchestral versions by such figures as Ravel and Stokowski.
Nimbus Alliance www.wyastone.co.uk have just released a recording of Vladimir Feltsman playing Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition coupled with Tchaikovsky’s Album for the Young. Despite the number of previous recordings of the Mussorgsky this recording should not be missed.
Vladimir Feltsman www.feltsman.com was born in Moscow in 1952. He debuted with the Moscow Philharmonic at age 11 and in 1969, entered the Moscow Tchaikovsky State Conservatory of Music to study piano under the guidance of Professor Jacob Flier. He also studied conducting at both the Moscow and Leningrad Conservatories. In 1971Feltsman won the Grand Prix at the Marguerite Long International Piano Competition in Paris leading to extensive touring throughout the former Soviet Union, Europe and Japan. In 1979, because of his growing discontent with the restrictions on artistic freedom under the Soviet regime, Feltsman signalled his intention to emigrate by applying for an exit visa. In response, he was immediately banned from performing in public and his recordings were suppressed. After eight years of virtual artistic exile, in 1987 he was finally granted permission to leave the Soviet Union for the United States. Vladimir Feltsman performed his first recital in North America at the White House and, the same year, his debut at Carnegie Hall established him as a major pianist on the American and international scene. Feltsman holds the Distinguished Chair of Professor of Piano at the State University of New York, New Paltz, and is a member of the piano faculty at the Mannes College of Music in New York City. He is the founder and Artistic Director of the International Festival-Institute PianoSummer at New Paltz.
In addition to an extensive discography released on the Melodiya, Sony Classical, and Musical Heritage Society labels he has issued a number of recordings for Nimbus Alliance www.wyastone.co.uk, in particular highly acclaimed recordings featuring the music of Tchaikovsky and Scriabin as well as recordings of Chopin’s Ballades, Waltzes and Impromptus.
There is a pretty forthright opening Promenade to begin Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (1878), a real allegro giusto which is so often lacking in other performances, clearly showing that Vladimir Feltsman is not going to give anything like a middle of the road performance.
In Gnomus, the way that Felstsman characterises the music, depicting the frightening nature of the subject, is terrific. There is some stupendous playing here with some beautifully strong left hand trills. Feltsman correctly takes a more leisurely return to Promenade observing the marking Moderato comodo assai con delicatezza. Il vecchio castello has a strong Mediterranean lilt with Feltsman creating a feeling of wonder in viewing this scene with the troubadour singing outside the castle. This pianist creates a rarely achieved intense atmosphere.
Returning to Promenade, Feltsman again adjusts his tempo to follow the marking Moderato non tanto, pesante, though in a quite forceful manner. Tuileries: Dispute d’enfants après jeux has such delicacy and lightness of touch with fleeting feelings. Bydlo again shows Feltsman’s strong left hand with the theme played in the right hand conjuring up such a formidable view of a heavy Polish cart pulled by oxen. With Promenade, Feltsman plays a thoughtful tranquillo leading mysteriously into the brilliant Ballet of the unhatched chicks with some wonderfully skittish playing, quite spontaneous in manner with such a lightness of touch.
Samuel Goldenberg and Scmuyle receives some very direct playing in the striking opening with a heavily characterised impression of these two opposite Jewish characters, one rich, the other poor. Feltsman takes note of every nuance and dynamic to create a vivid impression. With Promenade the tempo returns to the opening Allegro giusto before some wonderful playing in Limoges, le marché (The Market Place at Limoges), a real allegretto vivo but never losing sight of little details. This is fine playing with such control of dynamics and, as the section progresses, Feltsman is stunning.
The Catacombae. Sepulcrum Romanum suddenly throws us into gloomy chords, low on the keyboard, with sudden outbursts that make one start and Cum mortuis in lingua morta is ghostly in its atmosphere as conjured up by Feltsman. The promenade theme lurks in the background but the right hand trills add a haunting feel. The Hut on Fowl’s Legs: Baba Yaga brings more superb playing from Feltsman with a sense of authority and command. Yet when the central section appears there is sensitivity in the intricate writing. The tension is built before strong chords return us to the manic, evil witch in playing that is formidable. The Great Gate of Kiev opens with firm, stately theme, growing imperceptibly stronger. The quiet section that follows makes a beautiful contrast before the music suddenly breaks out in bell like sounds becoming increasingly thunderous with tremendous chords providing a really virtuoso ending to this piece.
This surely must be one of the finest performances of this work currently on disc.
Tchaikovsky’s Album for the Young Op.39 (1878) makes an excellent coupling on this disc especially as played by Vladimir Feltsman. There are many lovely touches in this performance, at times beautifully restrained with attention to every nuance such as in the opening A Winter Morning/ and The New Doll. The Mazurka has lovely rhythms played with panache and the Old French Song receives a lovely performance to which Feltsman brings something special. Sweet Reverie, in Feltsman’s hands, becomes a much more substantial piece.
It is wonderful to hear just what a pianist of Feltsman’s calibre can bring to these little pieces.
To end, Feltsman plays Tchaikovsky’s Echo Rustique Op. 72, No.13, in a lovely performance, making a fine end to this terrific disc.
These performances, from 2002, are nicely recorded with excellent booklet notes by Vladimir Feltsman.
by Ralph Moore
From the contrapuntal rigours of Bach, to the coruscating soul-searching of Rachmaninov, to the perfumed velleities of Chopin, Vladimir Feltsman seems to be sovereign over every idiom he plays and records. Of modern pianists vying for the meaningless title of World No. 1, Feltsman must be up there with the likes of Sokolov, Volodos, Kissin, Pollini, Zimerman, Perahia, and, so as not to be sexist, Pires and Argerich. Every piano maven from here to Carnegie Hall will want to dispute, correct and modify that fairly random and doubtless incomplete roll of honour, but I hope that I may at least be allowed to observe that Feltsman is now surely in his mature prime, having a string of critically lauded recordings for Nimbus to his credit and performing to acclaim worldwide.
Coming to this recital having already very positively reviewed his “Tribute to Rachmaninov” and Bach English Suites for Nimbus, I was predisposed to like what I heard and was immediately struck by the ease and naturalness of his treatment of the celebrated E-flat major waltz which opens this recording. My enjoyment of the playing, already intrinsically great owing to the quality of Feltsman’s pianism, was greatly enhanced by reading the highly intelligent, informative and stimulating essay provided in the booklet by the pianist himself.
As with previous Nimbus issues, the sound is simply lovely: bright yet warm, as utterly beguiling as Feltsman’s playing. His command of rubato and rallentando is subtle and deeply satisfying, never “applied” but always cognisant of the need for a degree of Schwung to recall the origins of the music in dance. This elasticity, grounded in the dominant figure of one long and two short notes, is key to our enjoyment of these most cheerful of Chopin’s generally melancholy output. His choices of tempi are generally as airy as his playing yet there is no sense of hurry, just an insouciant propulsiveness.
I have remarked while listening to his Bach at the fleetness and lightness of touch Feltsman can command; he is the most deft of practitioners yet the left hand is always weighty and sonorous when required. In my experience only Vasary and perhaps Freire are as ethereal yet soulful; I listened to the whole disc straight through with unalloyed delight.
The four Impromptus forming the coda to the sequence are delicate and rhapsodic by turns. They are evidently a little more serious and quizzical in tone, posing some questions more searching than the generally reassuring waltzes.
This goes straight to the top of my list of favourite Chopin CDs; I begin to wonder if there is any mode or composer in which this magnificent artist cannot excel.
January 13, 2012
"Vladimir Feltsman gives his Chopin the kind of detail that reveals the music’s meticulous craftsmanship"
by David Patrick Stearns
Even when the piano on the Perelman Theater stage is a sturdy Steinway concert grand, an on-site tuner is needed when the recitalist is Vladimir Feltsman. On Wednesday, the need arose first at intermission, after a pair of Haydn sonatas. Then, midway through Chopin's four ballades, more was required, though Feltsman probably wouldn't have stopped otherwise for anything less than an earthquake.
The 60-year-old Russian-born, U.S.-based pianist is not a pounder. But he plays a piano as though he is speaking through it. And he has a lot to say, which meant that the Haydn Piano Sonatas No. 34 and 49 - conversational even in the most conventional performances - have rarely seemed more eventful. And Chopin's downright confessional ballades were almost epic in scope, unfolding one trauma at a time. Like Feltsman or not (and I do), you're bound to remember his Philadelphia Chamber Music Society concert for awhile. Rarely do I spend so much time at the edge of my seat.
After some extreme years when Feltsman seemed to be in his own stormy world, rather distant from that of his audiences, his playing here felt consolidated. His inner coiled spring was less tense, bouncier. He has spent years as a Bach specialist, and that composer's rigorous logic has given his Chopin the kind of detail that reveals the music's meticulous craftsmanship. Each ballade felt like a mass of wildly dispersed notes on an inevitable path toward coherence, but one full of diversions even for listeners who think they know the way.
In the recitative-like opening of the first ballade, Feltsman organized phrases so that each seemed to have a few stray notes at its conclusion, as if the musical thoughts had no end. Though Feltsman has the fingers to keep every note in its place and the razor-sharp sonority to show you how everything could fit, he kept the music in shouting distance of chaos. Hand coordination was often a nanosecond off, giving the music's passion an extra sweatiness. In playing the four ballades as a cycle of sorts, with little pause between, the dramatic apex was the third ballade. But in yet another surprise, the devastated melancholy that begins the fourth had great surface charm, as if the music wore a party mask - though one that didn't stay on very long.
For all of Haydn's external elegance and the crystalline sonority Feltsman brought to the music, each movement seemed full of loose ends, delightfully so, in performances so elegantly layered that the mere shift in piano texture, such as the entrance of a bass figure, had a quietly seismic effect. And to think that it wasn't so long ago that Haydn's piano sonatas were considered inconsequential.
"Pianist Vladimir Feltsman is crazy good at SummerFest"
by James Chutet
It’s tempting to call Vladimir Feltsman a madman. It’s crazy what he can do at the piano. He has an effortless yet Herculean technique and an even more formidable ability to stretch a piece to its stylistic limits and beyond. You expect the whole thing is going to come apart at the seams, that the elements holding the structure of the piece together are simply going to break apart, like a bridge compromised by a gale force wind.
In Feltsman’s SummerFest program Wednesday at Sherwood Auditorium, everything not only held together, but the concert was one of the festival’s highlights, even one of the most memorable concerts of the year. Victor Kissine’s 1998 Partita for Piano, Harp and Strings that opened the program is a dissonant, overtly contemporary, highly idiosyncratic work. With its soft, buzzing sounds and pointillistic writing, it sounded a bit like otherworldly Boulez. It demanded absolute precision, and the focused performance from Feltsman, harpist Deborah Hoffman, violinists David Chan and David Coucheron, violist Cynthia Phelps, cellist Andrew Shulman and double bassist Chris Hanulik, made the piece sing.
In Arensky’s Piano Trio in D Minor that followed, Feltsman was joined by violinist Cho-Liang Lin and cellist Gary Hoffman in an equally committed interpretation.
When you play chamber music with Feltsman, you’d better be prepared to hold your own. He’s not going to be your demure accompanist; he’s going to be your partner and at times, your provocateur. But Lin was equal to the challenge. He was in his most inspired, I-don’t-care-if-this-is-Arensky-I’m-going-to-play-it-as-if-God-wrote-it mode. And Hoffman wasn’t about to get left behind. They made the late 19th century Arensky, the colleague of Tchaikovsky and teacher of Rachmaninoff, sound every bit as inspired as his more famous associates. The piece contains an assortment of juicy melodies that Lin and Hoffman devoured, and Feltsman supplied the requisite drama on the piano, every flourish in perfect synch with the violin and cello.
The program’s second half, Chopin’s Ballades Nos. 1-4, allowed Feltsman to really push the envelope. How far is too far in the music of this composer who embodies the very essence of romanticism? It’s as far as you can get away with. For every pianist that’s a different point, but there are few pianists that can go as far as Feltsman and still maintain a sense of forward motion and structural coherence. In the first statement of the primary theme of the Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Opus 23, Feltsman held up the beat in just about every measure. Throughout all four Ballades, there were constant tempo changes, huge contrasts in dynamics, sudden changes in character, thundering chords and octaves followed by the softest utterances.
Remarkably, none of it sounded willful, capricious or superimposed on the music. Especially considering how extreme it was, his approach sounded surprisingly organic.
For an encore, Feltsman offered the ever-popular Chopin Waltz in C-sharp Minor. As he finished the final run at the very top of the keyboard his hand kept going and he seemed to wave goodbye to the audience. Then he smiled – like a madman.
by Brian Reinhart
I recall a statement which has been attributed to many pianists and teachers: anyone can play the notes, but only the best performers know how to play the pauses between the notes. Or, in Artur Schnabel’s words, “The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes - ah, that is where the art resides!” Vladimir Feltsman is a master of the pauses. The lead-in to the first Ballade’s main theme is an immediate example of this gift: Feltsman waits long enough to excite my anticipation, but not long enough to interrupt the flow. In the second Ballade, when the opening theme returns after the first “storm,” a few notes are missing from the melody and Feltsman underlines this. Out of a perfectly timed quiet, the second theme of Ballade No 3 flows forth like spring water. The coda of the fourth Ballade explodes out of some of the most poignant pauses on disc.
Listening to these performances, one does not take Chopin’s genius for granted so much as marvel at how it operates. Feltsman’s playing is not smooth enough to make this an easy ride; instead our attention is constantly brought to Chopin’s deft writing and the pianist’s poetic touch. I would not hesitate, then, to call these thought-provoking performances. Feltsman’s interpretations are his own; they are an interesting paradox, poetic readings delivered with force.
These ballades do not have the immaculate beauty of Ivan Moravec, or the smooth perfection of Maurizio Pollini, or the straightforward purity of Artur Rubinstein on RCA. In comparison with Rubinstein, Feltsman seems slightly mannered, more willing to dawdle over notes and phrases and less so to give the tunes some shape if it means playing too quickly. The second theme of Ballade No 3, which I mentioned earlier, begins so promisingly but loses steam in such hesitations, although it still reaches an impressive climax at about 6:00 and the rest of the Ballade is handled wonderfully. The coda of Ballade No 4 left me wishing for less obvious exertion, or nearly any other pianist’s ability to give the final four chords equal weight. (I know the last one has a fermata, but I prefer readings like Richter’s, in which it is cut short, like the other three, bleakly and brutally.) On the other hand, Feltsman introduces the same Ballade beautifully, resisting the urge to slow the murmuring opening bars to a crawl and even here finding rarely-heard inner voices. And before the main tune is introduced we have another glorious pause. There is an even better one at 3:06, better because the tempo remains steady afterwards, as if nothing has happened. Magic!
I love these performances of the Fantasie and Polonaise-Fantasie. The former is begun with great simplicity, the music speaking for itself; the slow episode from 1:14 is divine. By contrast, Feltsman plunges headlong into the more feverish passages later on; I recall my paradoxical description of his playing as sensitive, but with great force. In the introduction to the polonaise, Feltsman emphasizes the mysteriousness of the music – the sense of being lost. This is not my favorite Chopin work, actually not even close, but I can live with it when played as probingly as it is here.
The first thing I noticed about this disc was the quality of the sound. It seems dated, antiquated in some way: the highest registers are just a bit glassy and bright, the piano sounds not quite as full as the best of today’s recordings. I wondered if this recital, like several of Vladimir Feltsman’s other albums now appearing on the Nimbus label, was a reissue of a recording from the early 1990s. But no: this is a new release of recordings from June 2008. According to the booklet, “This CD was recorded with microphones, tube preamplifier, and A/D converter, designed and built by Mark Fouxman.” Now, this is quite intriguing, and I would have liked to hear more about it. Apart from any question of whether the sound could be better, I would like to know what inspired Mark Fouxman to build all his own recording equipment, how he went about it, and how he came to partner with performer-producer Vladimir Feltsman and engineer this album. The one-sentence liner note conceals what sounds like quite an interesting story.
So these are very good new performances to have. Vladimir Feltsman shines in the Second and Third Ballades and the Fantasie, and even when he does not he is still quite interesting. That is more than can be said about most pianists. His liner notes exhibit the same intelligence and occasional idiosyncrasies which color his pianism, and the passages on which Feltsman lavishes special attention in performance are the same as those which he singles out for discussion in the booklet, making it clear how sincerely (and with how much care) he has formed his interpretations. I prefer the authoritative directness, the definitiveness, of Rubinstein’s ballades, the coolness of Pollini’s newest DG Ballade No 2, or the effortless lyricism of Moravec, but there is always room on the shelf for another good Chopin recital.
And remember what Schnabel said about the pauses between notes: “that is where art resides!” Art is truly in residence here.
Chicago Classical Review
"Feltsman’s remarkable virtuosity cuts to the music’s heart of darkness"
by Lawrence A. Johnson
Vladimir Feltsman is one of those musicians who often divide critical opinion, a pianist possessed of a stainless-steel technique but one who tends to come across as a cold, even prickly personality who often holds the music at arms’ length.
In his recital Sunday afternoon at Symphony Center, the Russian pianist showed that in the right repertoire he remains just as formidable an artist as a blazing technician. Feltsman’s meat-and-potatoes program of Mozart, Schubert and Chopin offered some astounding feats of prestidigitation, but more impressive still was his engagement with the music, in a program with a heart of darkness that played to his strengths.
The Fantasy in D minor, K. 397, is that rarest of creations, an unfinished work by Mozart. The spirited Rococo element is overshadowed by a fragile lyricism and mercurial sturm und drang, venturing into dark regions that seem to anticipate Beethoven. Feltsman emphasized the fleeting bleakness and shadows effectively, which made his opting for the light-heartedly inapt Breitkopf and Hartel coda rather baffling.
Schubert’s Impromptus fit the Russian’s sensibility especially well, with their singing lines and hair-trigger emotional gear-shifts. In the first set of four (D.899), Feltsman had the full measure of this mercurial music, assaying the imposing technical demands nearly flawlessly and showing himself in synch with the music’s blend of bravura and stark lyric intimacy.
He was especially inspired at conveying that Schubertian stare into the abyss as with the bleak rumination of No. 1 in C minor, taking an expansive view that he managed to sustain, with even the drawn-out, Romanticized coda convincing. The ensuing Impromptu in E flat major provided immediate contrast with the swirling right-hand waltz-theme and the passing shadows of the ben marcato section firmly contrasted.
Feltsman showed less engagement with the sunnier outer sections of No. 3 in G flat, yet his fluency and grace were unassailable, transitions deftly turned. The final Impromptu in A flat was exceptional, the cascading virtuosity and stromy drama held in a finely judged balance.
Tackling just one of Chopin’s knuckle-busting Ballades is a daunting challenge for most pianists. Leave it to Feltsman to program all four in a single unbroken arc, and, amazingly, pull off the feat so well, in performances that offered depth and eloquence as well as old-fashioned-thrilling keyboard razzle-dazzle.
The bardic story-telling element was made clear at the outset of No. 1, with Feltsman importing a definitive "once upon a time" feeling to the opening measures. Rarely will one hear the ludicrous difficulties of these works thrown off with such power and velocity, the bravura sections of the First and Third Ballades jaw-dropping in their finely chiseled virtuosity.
Again, Feltsman may be too cool for some in this repertoire, but his playing is not without feeling—even it’s more lucidly elegant than expressively yielding, as with the poised nostalgia of No. 4, which surely set the scene for the explosive climax that followed.
For all the demands of Sunday’s program, Feltsman seemed to be enjoying himself more than is often the case. After a woman’s mezzo-forte "woo" prematurely broke the silence from the unusually quiet and attentive audience following Ballade No. 3, the pianist held out an index finger in a gesture of mock-warning, as if to say, "Just one more work, then you can applaud."
And applaud they did, for a remarkable afternoon of keyboard artistry. The enthusiastic ovations brought the pianist out for more relaxed and nimble Chopin encores, his second perfectly timed so the last notes at the top of the keyboard were tossed off with a quick goodbye wave.
"... Authentically Slavic, too, was the LSO’s account of the Second Piano Concerto, prime nuts-and-bolts Prokofiev whose murderous technical and musical demands held no terrors for the soloist, Vladimir Feltsman.
His big hands took the awkward melodic leaps, rapid hand-crossings and torrential chordal volleys without breaking a sweat. The long firstmovement cadenza emerged as both weighty and propulsive. Feltsman’s performance was not note-perfect, but who cared? Its sheer volatile excitement, matched at every turn by Gergiev and his elite orchestra, laid any possible quibble to rest.
Feltsman himself was obliged to deliver an encore, Alexander Siloti’s transcription of Bach prelude in B Minor, long a specialty of pianist Emil Gilels. It was beautifully played here... "
The New York Times
March 20th, 2007
"What the Left Hand Can Do, Hands in the Audience Applaud"
by Vivien Schweitzer
Most pianists who had lost an arm would probably give up performing. But Paul Wittgenstein, the Austrian pianist who lost his right arm while serving on the Russian front during World War I, commissioned a number of works for left hand only.
The most famous of these is Ravel’s one-movement Concerto for the Left Hand, which received an excellent performance at Carnegie Hall on Sunday by the pianist Vladimir Feltsman and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, led by Myung-Whun Chung, their Korean-born music director.
Ravel’s piece, composed simultaneously with his saucy Piano Concerto in G, is serious (albeit with jazzy overtones that Wittgenstein initially disliked) and fiendishly difficult, so texturally dense that it sounds as if two hands are playing. At least it should sound that way, and it did here. Mr. Feltsman, who stretched and flexed his left hand during pauses in the piece, had no trouble with the virtuosic cadenza, in which his fingers blurred across the keys. He also beautifully conveyed the introspective, wistful nature of the rhapsodic passages.
The orchestra, which accompanied Mr. Feltsman with flair, opened the program with a dreamy, delicate rendition of Ravel’s charming “Mother Goose,” written as a piano duo for two children of a friend.
December 1st, 2006
"Feltsman finds a near-perfect match to his raw touch"
by David Patrick Stearns
Pianist Vladimir Feltsman left Soviet Russia vowing not to be caught in the repertoire typecasting that confines musicians of his nationality to a career of playing Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff and not a lot else. Though he has a powerhouse technique well-suited to Russian music, he was all-too-true to his word with a number of seasons full of Bach and Mozart, but in a bullying sort of way.
That's why he seemed to be emerging from a long artistic tunnel Wednesday when, in a Philadelphia Chamber Music Society concert at the Kimmel Center, he sat in front of a sturdy Steinway and played the best live performance of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition in my experience. There were also two Beethoven sonatas, played with the kind of interpretive genius you often knew Feltsman possessed but seemed too prickly to show.
There's nobody like him as a presence. He lopes quickly toward the piano, and begins playing with a lack of deliberation that could seem businesslike were his playing not so urgent. Given that, Beethoven seemed like a near-perfect temperamental match. The density of ideas and lack of any superficial prettiness offered Feltsman much to work with, and he gave Beethoven's contrasting musical ideas a somewhat irritable life of their own.
Though all the components of the Piano Sonatas Op. 13 (Pathetique) and Op. 110 hung together in a reasonably unified expression, dynamic tension was everywhere, even in left-hand accompanying figures that usually are just supportive, but here often seemed on the verge of decamping from the rest of the piece. You could disagree with a lot of it, but you always had to respect the interpretive honesty that comes with playing that's entirely about variations in touch and phrasing without pedaling shortcuts. In fact, pedals went unused for long periods.
The fact that Feltsman's Mussorgsky was something of a peak experience isn't saying as much as it might: So many pianists just bash their way through the work. Feltsman knows how to get a lot of sound out of the piano, but it's well-considered sound - the main theme sounded like bells pealing - and even in repertoire this romantic, pedaling was at a minimum.
Also, Feltsman recognizes that the composer's hallmark is translating characters' human psychology into sound, even if, in this case, the psychology arrives from a series of paintings by Viktor Hartmann. Feltsman rendered Mussorgsky's musical descriptions with such personal but convincing characterizations that you'd think he wrote the piece.
The "Two Polish Jews" section treads on sensitive territory these days - it can easily sound like caricaturing - but came out of Feltsman with a distinctive sense of melancholy, musically nattering as a distraction from unbearable realities of life. That was only one of many original strokes that left me convinced this is one great pianist.
New York Times
September 30, 2006
"Mozart, in the delicate voice of Fortepiano "
by Allan Kozinn
Whatever else might be said of Vladimir Feltsman, he has become a master at reinventing himself.
When he arrived in New York from Moscow in 1987, he was promoted as a Russian Romantic firebrand, yet his debut recital consisted of works by Schubert, Schumann and Messiaen. Five years later, he was devoting himself to Bach, offering expressively shaped and thoughtfully ornamented performances on a modern piano. Then it was back to the standard repertory — Haydn, Beethoven, Mussorgsky — in the big-toned, blockbuster style that everyone expected in the first place.
Now Mr. Feltsman is on to something new — or old, depending on how you look at it. As his contribution to the Mozart anniversary year, he commissioned the keyboard builder Paul McNulty to construct a fortepiano modeled after an Anton Walter instrument from Mozart’s time. And he is using it to play all the Mozart sonatas and a handful of fantasias and other works in five concerts at the New School and the Mannes College of Music.
At the opening concert, on Wednesday night in Tishman Hall at the New School, Mr. Feltsman played five of the six sonatas Mozart wrote on a visit to Munich in 1775, when he was 19. These works (K. 279 through 283) aren’t just youthful; they bubble over with playful, unabashedly showy touches — melodies bejeweled with grace notes, dialogues between flighty top lines and rumbling basses, and speed-demon finales — meant to demonstrate the composer-pianist’s invention and wit.
This was especially true in the E major Sonata (K. 282), structurally the oddest in the set, with its opening adagio instead of the more typical sonata-form allegro, and its central menuetto. It probably raised eyebrows in Mozart’s day. The creamy timbre of the modern piano can dull the edges. Mr. Feltsman’s reading on the fortepiano, with its sometimes gritty, sometimes slightly metallic sound, preserved the music’s oddity and surprise, and amplified its fleetness.
He showed the other side of the coin as well, giving the melody lines of the slow movements a graceful, songlike quality and proving along the way that if the fortepiano’s dynamic range is smaller than the modern piano’s, it is enough to give a line both shape and nuance.
You can safely set aside concerns about the delicate voice of the fortepiano. In the last row at Tishman Hall, Mr. Feltsman’s sound was robust and finely detailed, and the bass octaves in the Sonata in G (K. 283), though not quite Lisztian, packed a hefty punch.
Mr. Feltsman’s series continues at the Mannes College of Music (150 West 85th Street, Manhattan) on Saturday, with other installments at Mannes on Tuesday and Oct. 10, and a final concert at the New School (66 West 12th Street, Greenwich Village) on Oct. 12. (212) 229-5488.
New York Times
March 14, 2006
"A Firm Hand for Light Sounds"
by Allan Kozinn
Vladimir Feltsman is said to be contemplating performing Mozart's sonatas on a fortepiano next season. It will be fascinating to hear, because on a modern piano Mr. Feltsman's sound is big and meaty, even in 18th-century works to which most players bring a lighter touch. The fortepiano won't allow that, but given Mr. Feltsman's ability to recreate himself persuasively— his move from the Russian Romantics to Bach being a case in point — he is bound to find a way to bend the instrument to his ideas.
Still, it was hard to imagine Mr. Feltsman as a fortepianist on Saturday evening, when he played a recital at Washington Irving High School as part of the People's Symphony Concerts series. He began with Haydn's Sonata in E flat (Hob. XVI:49), and he made few concessions to the lightness and transparency of 18th-century timbre. But if his sound was weighty, his articulation was clean and precise, and the music's spirit — as well as the spicy dissonances of the opening Allegro and the songlike qualities of the slow movement — came through clearly.
And maybe, by his own lights, Mr. Feltsman was being restrained. The power and drama he brought to Beethoven's "Pathétique" Sonata, which shared the first half with the Haydn, made the Haydn sound dainty in retrospect. Dynamics were carefully and effectively manipulated, starting with the first chord, which Mr. Feltsman presented as a staccato explosion from which a single sustained note emerged. Even the comparatively gentle, straightforward Adagio cantabile was massaged to bring its tensions to the surface.
Similar qualities propelled Mr. Feltsman's account of Schumann's "Carnaval," although he added a current of dreamy serenity and bright-hued playfulness to his arsenal to give this parade of character pieces the breadth and variety it demands.
The Skampa String Quartet and Scott St. John, the violist, perform in the People's Symphony Concerts on March 25.
Palm Beach Post
Thursday, April 06, 2006
"Sleeping giant Rotterdam Philharmonic wakes up"
by Sharon McDaniel, Staff Writer
WEST PALM BEACH — If Tuesday afternoon was any indication, watch out when a Russian musician plays it cool and detached. It may sound safe for a while, but by the end of the piece, you may be picking yourself up off the floor.
We had to dust ourselves off a bit after pianist Vladimir Feltsman finished with the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3. Well, maybe more than bit — we had a lot of "floor" time to recover from.
Feltsman stopped at the Kravis Center, on tour with another Russian, podium superstar Valery Gergiev, and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra of which he is principal conductor. Their program — the famous "Rach 3" and the legendary Shostakovich Symphony No. 5 — closed the Regional Arts series.
A pair of Russian warhorses, to be sure; but a chance to hear what the Russians have to say about their national treasures can be most enlightening. Gergiev, a Shostakovich specialist, is leading his Kirov Orchestra in all of the complete symphonies at Lincoln Center for the composer's centennial.
Feltsman, though, seemed to have little to add — at first. Then, merely clean, fleet fingerwork turned luminous, then bloomed, as if out of nowhere, in his first cadenza. Without the orchestra, Feltsman would play like the heavens had opened. The initial burst of confidence and spirit led to more takeoffs, and soaring to greater altitudes, with each new cadenza.
By the final movement, Feltsman was power-cruising at 30,000 feet. When he landed
the audience leaped to its feet.
The Daily News
June 4, 2006
"Piano film strikes a chord"
Docu details young artists' study journey
by Veronika Belenkaya
World-class pianist Vladimir Feltsman plays a recital before screening of "PianoSummer" at Park Ave. home of Bob Millard.
How many ways are there to capture passion in black and white? Eighty-eight, as in keys, if you ask Vladimir Feltsman, a world-class pianist who heads a three-week summer seminar for gifted students from all over the globe at New Paltz University.This week, that passion for the piano was on display in a one-hour documentary, "PianoSummer," which chronicles the grueling yet rewarding experience of young pianists under the instruction of six top-notch teachers in Feltsman's program.
"I got a lot from my teachers, and in the end, I want to transport that," said Feltsman, the program's founder and artistic director, who came to the U.S. from the Soviet Union in 1987 to "pursue artistic freedom."
Upon his arrival, he began teaching at New Paltz, and 11 years ago, founded PianoSummer, a program that through the years has attracted superb students from all over the world, ranging in age from 11 to 50.
The students eat, sleep and live piano for three weeks, and that is the key to the program's uniqueness and success.
"This integrated approach to learning and performance propels the students to the next level of skill and confidence, and helps them to find their place in the next generation of musicians," said Feltsman, whose professional debut with the Moscow Philharmonic was at the age of 11 and who has since appeared in New York and Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestras.
His sentiment was echoed by Daria Rabotkina, 25, who was given a $2,400 grant to come to New Paltz from Russia to participate in the program in 1998.
"I'll remember this summer for the rest of my life," Rabotkina said. "I've never been to such an intensive music festival, this one is very special - it drives you to open up your best."
She has since toured with the Kirov Orchestra, and now lives in Philadelphia where she teaches piano.
"It would not be possible if I didn't know Vladimir. I didn't come to America, I came to him, because of this festival," she said.
This summer, the program features 40 students from all over the world, eight on full scholarship, something Feltsman hopes to improve in the future.
"My goal is to raise enough money so that we could accept kids on their ability to play, not pay," he said.
With all the money in the bank going toward sustaining the seminar and scholarships, "PianoSummer" was produced on "the budget of a cup of coffee," Feltsman said. It is costing $10,000, as opposed to a "minimal budget of $50,000," said Alex Grinshpun, the film's director, who donated his time, equipment and expertise to making the film.
"It was a gift. I thought it was a great opportunity for me to get different types of people," said Grinshpun, who admitted to minimal knowledge of classical piano and whose credits include a documentary on Libya and producing DMX's first video, "Stop, drop."
"I used myself as the basis for an audience - I had to like it," Grinshpun said, adding that his passion for directing fueled his understanding for pianists. "I wanted to show passion - that's what piano playing is about. We want to get PBS to play it," he said.
Several dozen patrons of the arts, gathered last week at the Park Ave. home of Bob Millard, managing director of Lehman Brothers, were treated to a screening of the one-hour film.
And as the seemingly ordinary teens, clad in shorts and T-shirts flashed on the screen, one could see that passion was indeed embodied in these young artists, whose fingers pirouette on the 88 keys.
The Journal Sentinel
February 24, 2006
"Tchaikovsky, daring and dangerous"
MSO, pianist Feltsman deliver thrilling program
by Tom Strini, Music critic
Once upon a time, Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 was a wild child of a piece, so radical in its techniques and construction that musicians found it hard to comprehend. It sounded that way again Friday, in a thrilling, daring performance by soloist Vladimir Feltsman, conductor Andreas Delfs and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Feltsman's earth-shaking sound, alone, took the music out of the ordinary. Beyond that, the breadth and intensity of his dramatic gestures and the extreme freedom of his phrasing restored the sense of danger to a piece that is more often than not comfortable in the way of an old shoe.
The interpretation grew and changed over the three movements. Feltsman was rangy and loping in the first and gave the phrases and rhythms a sort of reeling, lurching quality. I've never heard it played this way, and wouldn't have imagined that it would have worked, but it was exactly right. The pastorale that opens and closes the second movement was direct and simple by comparison, but there's that manic middle section. Feltsman and the orchestra played it as if a beehive had been knocked over. They swarmed through it with a buzzing, shocking intensity. Everything tightened up in the finale, as Feltsman turned on the hard precision and Delfs built up the tension in those rising sequences as if he were drilling into solid rock.
The big crowd applauded spontaneously at the end of the first movement. Feltsman
laughed and shushed the house. After the finale, he grinned at the audience and said, "Now!" Really, they didn't need prompting to leap to their feet.
CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEW
November 1, 2005
"Ferocious Beethoven Sonatas, Mussorgsky as a Tone Painting "
by Allan Kozinn
Vladimir Feltsman has adopted an ascetic look, with closely cropped silver hair and beard, a black high-collared suit and a stony, sometimes dour expression that seemed particularly well suited to staring down latecomers to his Carnegie Hall recital on Sunday afternoon. To go with this spare look - and perhaps to counteract it - Mr. Feltsman offered a ferocious brand of pianism and considerable interpretive audacity.
His program was suitably hefty. The first half was given over to Beethoven, with an explosive, high-tension account of the Sonata No. 8, the "Pathétique" (Op. 13), and a somewhat more philosophical but equally anxious reading of the Sonata No. 31 (Op. 110). After the intermission, the emotionality and depth of the Beethoven gave way to sheer tone-painting and overt virtuosity, by way of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition."
Mr. Feltsman has been a more fastidious performer on other occasions - for example, in his Bach performances. But that wasn't the order of the day here. Now and then, in the "Pathétique" and in some of the denser passages of "Pictures," a hand sailing gracefully through the air landed on both a targeted note and an adjacent one, and there were rough-and-tumble textures in all three works. But the nervous energy and majestic shaping that Mr. Feltsman brought to his Beethoven and the varieties of light, shadow and almost demonic fantasy he wrung from the Mussorgsky, proved so electrifying that keeping track of occasional wrong notes or wayward balances was beside the point.
There were also provocative touches everywhere, from the hammered (and then immediately damped) opening chord of the "Pathétique" to the sudden release at the end of the intensely focused fugue in Opus 110. And there was plenty of the purely visceral in the Mussorgsky, including monumental renderings, by way of magnified bass lines and octaves, of the "Catacombs" and "Great Gate of Kiev."
Mr. Feltsman's concession to the gentler side of his playing came in an encore, a lovely account of the Schumann-Liszt "Liebeslied."
The Miami Herald
Wednesday, March 30,2005
"Linking Bach and Chopin, After Some Judicious Tweaking "
by Lawrence Budmen
Works from the final years of communist rule and the post-Soviet era started the New World Symphony's festival, The Russian Musical Soul, in a fascinating way Saturday at the Lincoln Theater. Michael Tilson Thomas and Vladimir Feltsman added musical glamour to scores by Victor Kissine, Sofia Gubaidulina, Alfred Schnittke and Valentine Silvestrov, which found the composersexperimenting with new instumental textures and complex harmonies.
Yet the deep shadows of Shostakovich and Estnian mystic Arvo Part remained evident. The program opened with the world premiere of After-sight for Vilolin and chamber Orchestra by Kissine, a New World Symphony commission.
Kissine'sevocative miniature concerto opens with a repetitive ostinato. The score proceeds to post-Romantic atonality akin to Alban Berg's Viloin Concerto. The rhapsodic violin line exquisitely dovetails gossamer harp and percussion. Alexander Barantschik, concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony, gave a searing performance of this impressive score,. Feltsman led a lucid account of the lovely orchestra subtext. The composer received an enthusiastic ovation.
Gubaidulina's steps is filled with magical sounds. Wonderful combinations of bells, harpsichord and percussion produce heavenly chaos. Bach-inspired contrapuntal writing in the strings and a seven-part verbal fugue on Rilke's poem The Angel add spice to this score's heady brew. This is musical influenced by Karlheinz Stockhausen and the Darmstadt School but with a Russian accent. Like Pierre Boulez, Feltsman conducts avant-garde scores with remarkable clarity and insight. A luminous viola solo by Joy Fellows highlighted a splendid orchestrsl performance. Schittke's In Memoriam is an orchestration of his Piano Quintet. The composer's favorate combination of harpsichord and strings provides musical irony. Much of the work is reminiscent of Shostakovich's film scores (Hamlet, The Gadfly), particularly in the sardonic waltz movement.
Tilson... ...The concert concluded with The Messenger a solo pianowork by Silvestrov. The ethereal lightness of Feltsman's pianism was intoxicationg. Hauting echoes of Mozart tinge Silvestrov's homage to the classical past as the sun rise on the dawn of musical New Russia.
Monday, March 28, 2005
by Lawrence A. Johnson
The concert of Russian modernism that kicked off the New World Symphony's mini-fest, " The Russian Musical Soul," is a prime example of what the Miami Beach Orchestra does best- - a bracing, smart program of cutting-edge music that no other presenter would touch with a bass clarinet... ...Michael Tilson Thomas was back in town for this Sounds of the Times event splitting podium duties with Vladimir Feltsman.
For the most part, the Russian pianist acquitted himself solidly, conducting some extremely difficult music. The evening led off wth the world premiere of Aftersight, by Victor Kissine, Scored for solo violin and chamber orchestra, this New World commission alternates Glass-ian rhythm figures for the soloist with spare hesitant fragments, backed by jumpy harp filigree, discordant string counterpoint and percussion washes. Kissine conjures up some striking sounds, including a theremin-like emanation from the woodwinds... ...Violinist Alexander Barantschik, San Francisco Symphony concert master, provided stella advocacy, playing with silvery, firmly focused line, sweet flickering vibrato and nuanced dynamics. Sofia Gubaidulina's Steps, written in1972, is scored for much larger forces.
The composer's combination of mystic spirituality and aggressive modernism is often compelling, but Steps now seems like something of a period piece, with its kitchen-sink grab-bag of asymmetric writing. Tuba solos and sections playing independently to chaotic effect. At the end the orchestra is silenced and Rilke's poetry (in Russian) is heard on tape. Feltsman held things together admirably, but this is not one of Gubaidulina's more convincing works... ...Feltsman returned to his usual role as pianist for the final work. The Messenger by Valetine Silvestrov. Another homage to the departed, the piece uses Mozart fragments as base material, slightly extending and varying the notes to form au intimate tribute to his late wife. This solo piano music would find full fruition in the Ukrainian composer's moving Requiem for Larissa, but Feltsman's beautifully floated performance made an apt valedictory close to the evening.
The Seattle Times
Saturday, March 19,2005
by Melinda Bargreen
Tentative applause rang out in Benaroya Hall as the new visiting maestro, Stephane Deneve, emerged from the wings. Who was this robust young man with the coffeur that looked like a nuclear explosion? The applause got considerably warmer after the first selection, a supercharged reading of Prokofiev's Suite from " Love for Three Oranges." By the time the eveing concluded, with an even more surcharged performance of Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique," there were sustained cheers... ...The conductor communicated the urgency of the music through broad gestures and occasional foot-stomping, but he also refined the sound in the concerto and maintained excellent balances with the soloist.
Deneve had the considerable advantage of a first-rate soloist in Vladimir Feltsman, a pianist who appears regularly in Seattle (most recently in a solo recital last January). Feltsman is always a pleasure, but in the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3 he was a revelation. He evoked the old metaphor of the iron fist in the velvet glove, combining a tremendous sensitivity with a steely power that was unleashed in rolling arpeggios and declamatory octaves. Feltsman has a dazzling technique, but he also has the patience and wisdom to let the slow movement Largo unfold with a leisurely tenderness and an obvious enjoyment. It's possible to imagine this concerto played differently, but not played better.
The New York Times
February 3, 2004
"Linking Bach and Chopin, After Some Judicious Tweaking "
by Allan Kozinn
At least until the playing started, the recital scheduled for Saturday evening at Carnegie Hall seemed decidedly star-crossed. The performer was to have been the young Russian firebrand Arcadi Volodos. His program the explosive Romanticism of Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Saint-Saëns and Scriabin, set against the architectural grandeur of a Schubert Sonata was to have played to some of his strengths and tested others. But late last week Mr. Volodos caught the flu and canceled his performance.
Vladimir Feltsman, who was pitched as a firebrand when he immigrated to the United States in 1987 but has recast himself as a deeper musical thinker, took over the concert, offering a very different program: Bach on the first half, Chopin after the intermission. Then, on Friday evening, the hall's executive and artistic director, Robert J. Harth, was found dead in his apartment. That didn't affect the atmosphere at the concert greatly since much of the audience had not heard of his death. But Carnegie Hall's staff seemed dazed, and Mr. Feltsman, after a few curtain calls, ended the performance by describing Mr. Harth as "a dear friend" and playing Chopin's wistful Waltz in C sharp minor (Op. 64, No. 2) in his memory.
Bach and Chopin make an odd couple, but by tweaking their compositional approach slightly nudging Bach forward and Chopin backward toward a modified Classicism, for example a pianist can find links between them. The Brazilian pianists João Carlos Martins and Arthur Moreira Lima took that approach in a 1981 concert by alternating Bach and Chopin preludes as a kind of panhistorical dialogue, and others have pointed up some not entirely obvious connections as well.
To a great degree Mr. Feltsman let the two composers inhabit their own universes, but where it made sense to find their common Classicism he took the opportunity. This was a comparatively easy job in two Bach Partitas, No. 1 in B flat (BWV 825) and No. 2 in C minor (BWV 826). Mr. Feltsman used the piano's dynamic flexibility and crisp articulation to highlight the sleekness of the architectural lines within these collections of dance movements. The best moments were in the exquisite dynamic shaping of the Second Partita's Sinfonia, and in the Gigue of the First Partita, where Bach's chromaticism, pointed up by the piano's timbre, sounds for a moment like a preview of 20th-century thorniness.
Mr. Feltsman's readings of Chopin's Four Ballades were pictures of structural clarity as well, but that precision did not come at a cost in the music's overt emotionalism. It was in Chopin's music that Mr. Feltsman was first heard in this country, by way of a pirated concert recording that was spirited out of the Soviet Union and released on disc. His musical associations have been elsewhere in recent years, but these performances were reminders of his passion for this music. The Ballade No. 3 in A flat (Op. 47), which touched extremes of introspection and turbulence, was probably the best example of his fluidity in this music.
The Philadelphia Inquirer
April 19, 2001
Beauty and Bluster Mingle with Feltsman at Piano
by David Patrick Stearns, Inquirer Music Critic
Pianist Vladimir Feltsman doesn't always play Bach and Chopin as much as hunt them down - like a wolf.
A moody, prickly but oddly dashing presence, Feltsman glowers over the keyboard in something resembling a pounce position that assures you predictability and tidy manners will be at a minimum. Recklessness and occasional tastelessness can obscure his interpretive intentions with a veil of pianistic bluster. But you hardly mind when he delivers moments that border on genius, when his technique, temperament and insight converge to give you a peak musical experience. It's possible that his performance of Chopin's Polonaise (Op. 26 No. 2) Tuesday at the Convention Center, presented by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, will ruin future performances for a good long time. The escalating tension of the music's question-and-answer interplay was characterized with such life-and-death conviction that you couldn't imagine hearing it any other way.
In Chopin's mournfully introspective Ballade No. 4, Feltsman's playing had at times an inward sense of deliberation reflective of a difficult emotional experience, one that seemed to be occurring right before you. That's a coup de theatre: You're not just on the edge of your seat, but wishing you could offer a cup of tea to make the pianist feel better.
Although Feltsman presented himself as a musically cosmopolitan modern when he arrived in the United States from the Soviet Union in 1987, he embodies distinctively Russian techniques that died out long ago in less-isolated areas. Forget cleanly executed chords: They're sounded in all manner of expressive ways, which put the gondola tunes of Chopin's Barcarolle in some rough waves - at the expense of emotional complexity.
Similarly, Feltsman's Bach will never be to all tastes. The Partitas Nos. 1 and 2 are full of repeats that some pianists, such as Glenn Gould, tended to ignore. Feltsman took them when the music gave him different things to say the second time through. Results ranged from a perverse underscoring of secondary elements to two views of the same music played with equal conviction, as in the Sarabande of Partita No. 1.
The New York Times
May 20, 2000
Switching Composers Midstream
by Allan Kozinn
Vladimir Feltsman has an extraordinary talent for recreating himself -- or at least, for toppling the expectations of listeners who think they have him figured out. When he came to the United States in 1987, in a blaze of publicity centering on his long fight to be allowed to leave the Soviet Union, he was encouraged to focus on the Russian repertory, apparently on the theory that this is what Russian pianists are meant to do.
He played that music with a certain splashy grandeur, but complained from the start that he was being unfairly typecast. His real interest, he said, was the Germanic classics, and about a decade ago, he decided to stray about as far from Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev as a pianist can go: he undertook a bold, inventive series of Bach concerts and recordings that showed his pianism in an entirely different light. For his recital at the 92nd Street Y last Saturday evening, Mr. Feltsman moved to ground somewhere between Bach and the virtuoso Russians. On the first half of the program he gave forceful, bright-edged accounts of Haydn's Sonata in E flat (Hob. XVI:49) and Brahms's "Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel." He devoted the second half of the concert to Chopin, which in a certain way brought the American part of his career full circle: it was through a recording of a Chopin recital in Moscow that most Americans first heard him.
The most pleasing aspect of Mr. Feltsman's performance was the personalization he brought to each of the works, or to put it differently, his refusal to adopt what has become the agreed-upon interpretive norm. His Haydn, like his Bach, bristled with a muscular energy that took the form of brisk tempos and sharply defined articulation. Yet there was flexibility as well, evident both in the sustained pauses in the opening Allegro non troppo and in the lighter touch that Mr. Feltsman brought to much of the Adagio cantabile.
The Brahms Handel Variations began in much the same spirit. As in the Haydn, Mr. Feltsman used only the lightest pedaling in the aria, and he kept the textures transparent and the ornamentation crisp. But as the variations flowed he drew on the piano's full spectrum of timbre and volume, moving between the delicate and the thunderous without seeming to be exaggerating either.
In his Chopin -- the Polonaises in C sharp minor and E flat minor (Op. 26, Nos. 1 and 2), the Barcarolle (Op. 60) and the Ballade No. 4 (Op. 52) -- he offered an overview of Chopin's range, from the drama of the minor-key Polonaises to the poetry of the Ballade. Mainly, this was highly rational Chopin -- poetic, beautiful and warm, but free of the swooning rubato that many pianists bring to it.
May 19, 1999
Feltsman's Clarity Sets Tone For 'Variations'
by Lawrence A. Johnson, Special to the Tribune
Few great musical works have emerged from such mundane circumstances as the "Goldberg Variations" of Johann Sebastian Bach. The set of 30 variations was composed, the story goes, by Bach for his student Johann Goldberg, whose insomnia-stricken royal patron demanded music to divert him from his sleepless nights.
The tale may be apocryphal, but there is no doubt about the greatness of the music. A perfect blending of form and utility, the work offers a virtual compendium of contemporary variation devices, combining mathematical precision, technical wizardry and a refined yet wide-ranging expression. As Artur Schnabel said of the late Beethoven piano sonatas, the music is probably greater than it can ever be played. Yet such was the intelligence, conviction and communicative intensity of pianist Vladimir Feltsman's extraordinary performance of the "Goldberg Variations" Sunday afternoon at Symphony Center that one felt that the essence of the music had indeed been presented.
One would be hard put to find a pianist whose approach to the daunting challenge of the Goldbergs is more divergent from that of Rosalyn Tureck (who was originally scheduled to perform Sunday, but withdrew because of illness) than Feltsman. Where Tureck brings an unabashedly Romantic sensibility and style to this music -- heard in its most extreme form in Tureck's recent bloated and ponderous Deutsche Grammophon recording -- Feltsman emphasizes structural rigor, clarity of counterpointal voices and rhythmic incisiveness.
The poise and crystalline clarity of the Russian musician's spacious opening Aria set the tone, contrast instantly registered with Feltsman's abrupt plunge into the ensuing two-part invention's polyphonal hurlyburly. Rarely have the rhythmic and expressive ingenuity of the variations been made so manifest. The regular appearance of the canons were tossed off with playful insouciance, the rigorous counterpoint boldly delineated.
While generous with repeats, Feltsman paced the music so skillfully that never did we have that "Here we go again" feeling. In the technical buzzsaw of the demanding hand-crossing variations, Feltsman offered dazzling prestidigitation, while maintaining rhythmic control and pulse in even the most florid counterpoint.
Yet what emerged so clearly from Feltsman's playing is the essentially genial nature of this music. The Siciliana (No. 7) was lithe and playful, the multipart voicings of the Fughetta (No. 10) neatly articulated. While the limpid, ruminative poise of the 13th variation was unerringly drawn, it was the "black pearl" 25th variation that elicited the finest playing of the afternoon. Hushed and withdrawn, Feltsman appeared to be making the music up on the spot, so natural and searching was his simplicity of expression.
One could quibble about some choppy phrasing of the canon in fifths and perhaps the climactic Quodlibet was something of a letdown, too strenuous and overemphatic, missing something of the relaxed Gemutlichkeit of this music.
Nonetheless, to hear one of the towering works of musical literature played with this level of technical finish and interpretive insight was a rare treat indeed. Vladimir Feltsman is clearly one of the supreme Bach keyboard exponents of our time.