I’m always combing through You Tube videos to unearth treasures that have escaped me. One gem turned up recently that was celebrated in my blog a few weeks ago: Gina Bachauer at the Jerusalem Music Center with teenage prodigy, Yefim Bronfman. It preceded my dip into the well of Seymour Bernstein’s amazing talent. He’s in conversation with a Juilliard grad who queries Seymour about the art of piano playing, eventually meandering to the sensitive, nuanced phrasing of Chopin’s B-flat minor Nocturne, Op. 9, No. 1 (the opening theme)
For me, Bernstein’s culminating suggestion that repeated notes have unique color, spacing, and transit, is so well demonstrated in his beautiful tapestry of seamless, expressive legato playing. (there’s no squeezing, punching, or pencil-point poking) It’s Seymour’s “choreography” of resting from one key bed to another… “not dead weight,” he insists. The pianist rises above a “percussion” dimension of the instrument by crafting well spun phrases with “rotations” as needed. He compares phrase shaping at the piano to the workings of a violinist’s bow.
Likewise, in the realm of expressive playing, Gina Bachauer in her filmed masterclass, coaches Yefim Bronfman to avoid detached, fingers down playing through expressive intervals of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491: “You play with your arms” through supple wrists. Her student responds with nuanced adjustments.
To add to a spree of good fortune, I stumbled upon a documentary with rare footage of Vladimir Horowitz. It was not the well publicized Maysles brothers feature, The Last Romantic (1985) which invited viewers into the intimacy of the pianist’s living room with his wife’s indomitable presence.
The newer 1993 film, Horowitz, A Reminiscence–English, has the uniqueness of freshly captured footage. Wanda Toscanini Horowitz’s posthumously delivers a narration of her husband’s life that includes his exquisitely rendered excerpts from Clementi’s Sonata in F-sharp minor, Op. 25, No. 5 among other masterpieces; rare photos, footage of Volodya’s early years in his home country leading to his Russian debut in Kharkiv and well beyond.
“He was a matinee idol in Leningrad,” Wanda insists. A photo of a singularly handsome young pianist with well defined features resembles Chopin in profile.
In the wake of tours across Russia, Horowitz descends upon Berlin as his testing ground for further career pursuits.
Following a series of European successes, Volodya makes his 1928 American debut in Carnegie Hall, “blazing through Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto — the next day’s headline in the New York Times reads, “Pianist Creates Furor.” Years later, Horowitz would leave the concert stage for long periods, making a few historical returns. (I was present at one of these in the 1970’s–a $50 stage seat gifted to me by a friend.)
The pianist’s intervals of hiatus are sensitively explored by Horowitz and his wife with the added touch of a looking back perspective. The latter is a poignant ingredient of the 1993 documentary. (Wanda survived her husband by 9 years, passing away in 1998)
Horowitz in this feature, repeats what we’ve heard before–that he eschews facial mannerisms of any kind at the keyboard. “It’s all inside, not outside.” He’s still, channeling in his hands what he internalizes —his fingers are unusually long and flat as he plays, with technical fluency and synthesized musicality on display. It’s heaven on earth artistry.
In this newer documentary, Wanda narrates her husband’s life to its conclusion, recapitulating his final day. It’s a dedicated remembrance with interspersed, touching flashbacks that transport the viewer to another universe.