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Historical-Piano Pilgrimage Worthwhile

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 “Teach us about listening” and “if you have one of these wretched noisemaking things, turn it off, ”declared the eager impresario in introducing the Kurganov-Finehouse Historical Piano Concert. The duo performed French music on a piano by Erard from 1877 Paris and a 2013 violin patterned after a 1732 Antonio Guarnieri example by luthier Andrew Ryan, who was in attendance.

What did we learn in the mostly serene and quiet country Ashburnham Community Church (a rainstorm developed midway through, providing only the slightest distraction)? On a first-ever visit, meeting Edmund Michael Frederick topped the afternoon.  

In its 34th concert season, The Frederick Collection of Historical Pianos boasts an extraordinary range of artists and audiences, including music historians and curators. After the Sunday concert, one of a growing number of recording sessions would continue the activity.

Russian-American violinist Daniel Kurganov and Ryan’s Boston recreation infused the live sanctuary, gut strings slightly shading richness toward eventide. Constantine Finehouse and Erard’s “extra-grand modèle de concert” verified the acoustics, 90 keys nourishing clarity and a closely tempered lushness.

Finehouse and Kurganov

Already with the opener, a Debussy-Heifetz Beau Soir, à la Erard arpeggios diverted expectations as well as raised questions. Immersed in Steinways, as I imagine most of us are these days, comparisons were inevitable. Because of its quicker decay, Erard’s carryover is briefer, less luxurious harmonically. Kurganov might well have reined in his robust “Ryan” as Finehouse explored the soft-swept tenderness of Debussy/Erard.

In Aprés un Rêve, a Fauré favorite, the 19th-century piano’s warmth and friendliness, if you will, remained fetching. The song’s simple accompaniment pulsed metrically in lieu of a heartbeat from an Italian love poem behind the composition. Moments of exquisiteness on both the Erard and the Ryan tempted again and again.

Poème, Op. 25 by Ernest Chausson, written originally for violin and orchestra, became another matter, the piano now a poseur. That may have been one reason the five-movement work did not play well in this venue. Another reason could have been the reoccurring imbalances between the duo. Finally, a certain high decibel fatigue from the violin figured in prominently.

The promise of gleaning more about the piano with Chopin’s Ballad No. 4 in F Minor ultimately met with more questions. What connections Finehouse made with Ballad and Erard eluded me. After the performance, Frederick commented that this Erard may be too large an instrument for the Chopin.

Performers instruments an repertoire matched up best in Franck’s Sonata in A Major, where, above their various capabilities reconciled. Admirable technical prowess and consideration of instruments aside, focus turned back to meaningful music making.   

Their encore, Fritz Kreisler’s Liebesleid, shaped in attractive lighter vein, provided a nostalgic ride.

Before the concert Edmund Frederick opened up to me with an avalanche of expert shoptalk over the attributes of boxwood and historic performance practice with regard to how the likes of Chopin, Liszt, and Debussy celebrated the Erard. And if this seems somewhat academic, know that Frederick brings plentiful opinion and passion to his life’s work.

You may wish to take the one-hour trek from Boston  to Ashburnham for a concert or to visit the collection. In the meanwhile, as Fredrick’s wife Patricia had advised me, you can simply click on Frederick Historic Piano Collection

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University.  He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).  www.notescape.net

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  1. A more Chopin-appropriate piano from the Frederick Collection is the 1845 Pleyel, heard in the three-CD album recorded at the Ashburnham church by Yuan Sheng. The album, on the Piano Classics label, includes Chopin’s complete Ballades, four Impromptus, twenty Nocturnes, and the 24 Préludes, Op.28. Also good for Chopin’s music is the 1840 Erard in the collection, which Mr. Finehouse has played for audiences at the more intimate, off-season “house concerts” at the collection, housed in Ashburnham’s former town library.

    Comment by Patricia Frederick — June 3, 2019 at 7:11 pm

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