in: Reviews

May 26, 2014

Erard Featured with Long at Helm

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Beatrice Long  plays 1893 Erard (Christopher Greenleaf photo)

Beatrice Long plays 1893 Erard (Christopher Greenleaf photo)

Beatrice Long is a strong pianist who is interpretatively mature compared with today’s whizkids; she resides in New Jersey and concertizes widely. Last Sunday afternoon in the Historic Piano Concerts at the Frederick Collection, , which would’ve been more interesting in this repertory, she switched to an 1893 Erard, an instrument and technology pretty much into the modern era. Ravel owned one. An 85-key straight-strung model, it’s beefed-up compared with its famous predecessors (as we were informed beforehand), yet light of action, and it certainly sounded to be in good shape, holding tune throughout this vigorous recital. Its lower registers are however sonically clumpy to modern ears, not sounding as even and distinct as any Steinway then or now. Long got lovely results much of the time, but I bet at least some of the bass clutter and thickness, and occasional pedal smearing (Long never did quite master the damper pedal), resulted from unfamiliarity. Long doesn’t appear to be a period-instrument performer, though her oeuvre includes a solid though delicate, fairly romantic Scarlatti recording.

The four D.899 Impromptus improved from page to page as Long settled in. While the C minor missed some of the major changeups to the major (not really, just the emphases, the concealed memories), the E-flat whispered many ravishing pianississimos. Clunkiness tapered, Schubert’s hidden beauties blossomed; the G-flat’s rippling lines were woven and blurred rather differently from the usual ways. The A-flat had the best balance among shapeliness, force, ache of loss, and songfulness. A fine set retrospectively, I felt.

Liszt’s Schubert song transcriptions are almost always gripping, actually close enough to melodrama. “To sing on the water” (Auf dem Wasser zu singen) is quite of the type, as Frederick recording engineer Christopher Greenleaf made clear in his fine reading of the German and the English beforehand. “… My soul glides along like the boat … Ah, time vanishes with dewy wings / From me on the rocking waves. / Tomorrow let time vanish … / Again as yesterday and today; / Till I, on higher, radiant wings, / Myself vanish from the changes of time” [in a different translation]. Long’s sensitive, Widmung-like take on this was followed by the Erlkönig, and she caught its horror well; so potent was her conveyance that it occurred to this new grandparent that, back then, this little tale was not so remote from human experience.

Ignaz Moscheles was a prolific composer, piano virtuoso, conductor: Jew, contemporary of Schubert, long-lived (d. 1870), worshiper and intense promoter of Beethoven, bff of Mendelssohn, champion of all of them—also effective counter-attacker of Wagner’s repellent “Jewishness in Music.” I was ignorant of his music, but Les Charmes de Paris (1822) charms indeed, being garrulous and undemanding (a Moscheles descendant called it “ephemeral music for salons and the new amateur market”). For this mini-suite Long was Rick Steves. It could’ve stood more dash and gaiety, but with so many repetitive ending cadences (chord, big fancy run, chord, rinse, repeat), surely it’s hard to make more of it than she did.

By the Chopin Sonata No. 3, Long was able to form her earlier occasionally episodic results into longer arcs. At the opening she took a brusquer approach than most, but soon enough came to feel the music’s soul, and brought out some of the counterpoint. With this Erard which she had accepted, her tack generally was more about weight than singing, and the Agitato at the end motored along with real power. Still, in the interior lines that everyone else exposes, she had little interest, and owing either to the instrument or to her abilities with it, partial dropouts recurred and clarity did not have the last say. I would seek out Beatrice Long on a piano of a sort to which she is accustomed.

David Moran has been an occasional Boston-area music critic for 45 years, with special interest in the keyboard.

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