Gounod’s piano music

I was looking for some choral music today, a piece out of Mors et Vita which I have already loved. Unfortunately I find it hard to find stuff on Google Music sometimes and a search brought up a load of Faust but no Mors et Vita. There aren’t too many recordings of the choral version of it lying around although an orchestra transcription pops up now and again. This is what I was looking for:

It is a great recording. Well worth buying. Michel Plasson did some great stuff with Gounod – I think it’s his recording of Faust I have too. Anyway the choir kicks in after about 2 minutes. Absolutely great stuff. I know this is a piano blog but seriously, you need to have an open mind.

However, Google did reveal that there was a new album of piano music by Gounod lying around, by Roberto Prosseda. I’ve been listening to it since I switched away from the Pearlfishers by Bizet this evening and I have to say it is gorgeous. From the opening La Veneziana, to the variations on Bach’s Ave Maria.

I’m not sure what sort of piano they used for the recording Prosseda seems to use some historic instruments and this has very much the feel of una corda. In particularly, I like this piece here:

It’s the opening track on the album and rather gorgeous. I’m tempted to go looking for it. ETA: Sheet music is here.

 

The death is announced…

I woke up on Thursday to the news that Micheál Ó Súilleabhán was dead.

Micheál Ó Súilleabhán was an iconic musician in the Irish world of music. He worked his way through academia – not a route commonly followed by musicians operating in the trad genre, and he pushed the music forward in ways which I’m sure shocked many people at the time. He put out some iconic albums – for me the Dolphin’s Way was life changing.

Most of the piano players operating in trad world at the time were pretty much background fulfilling the role of a base/percussion filler. Vamping, we called it and it’s all over albums from the 1960s, 1970s, any classic céilí band album. The first person really to do anything to bring the piano to the front and centre; to make it an instrument of melody was pretty much Micheál Ó Súilleabhán. At home alone, I could not really get the hang of vamping and I didn’t see why I should. I played the piano accordion and that was a melody instrument, so why not the piano also? I’m not saying I’m groundbreaking – I wasn’t. But I did things that I heard no one else doing.

The Dolphin’s Way changed all that. To my mind, it is one of the most influential albums of Irish music of all time, and the person behind it was Micheál Ó Súilleabhán. While the Dolphin’s Way was purely piano, he had also done some work with harpsichords on earlier albums.

The piano still isn’t really a central focal point of Irish music. Maybe in a way it is too classical, and most of the training in Ireland certainly is. But the thing is, people came after Micheál Ó Súilleabhán. Caoimhín Vallely for example. And Micheál Ó Súilleabhán pushed the forward and promoted them.

He is an awful loss to music in Ireland, and he was very young when he died. I was deeply shocked by the news.

Music to inspire – Valse Fantaisie

The National Symphony Orchestra in Ireland have a regular season of concerts during the winter months all of which are generally broadcast live on a Lyric FM. If you’re familiar with World Concert Hall, it’s usually linked from there on the date of broadcast. One day earlier this year, I was a bit late tuning in, much to my chagrin and disorganisation, and missed pretty much most of Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto (the single most popular piece of music over the life of Classic FM’s Hall of Fame). The soloist was not one I knew, but he was good enough to do an encore. He played a cheerful sounding short piece which I liked very much, so I went doing some investigating. It transpired his name was name was Vyacheslav Gryaznov. The piece was Italian Polka, and it was his own transcription. I liked it very much and I searched some more and came across a transcription he did of Glinka’s Valse Fantaisie. I thought it was fantastic.

I also figured it was going to be challenging. It is for various reasons. But it is also glorious. I love the opening chords. I love the fact that I have to work very hard at playing parts of it, in places because it is a big stretch for me. I know all about the dangers of short fingers – after all, I’ve tried and failed to play the opening chords of Rach 2m (but I don’t care. I still do it). But there is something very passionate about the opening few bars. I can play them ad infinitum on the odd occasion that I have free time enough to do it.

I ordered the music almost immediately – it is published by Schott who have an online shop – and it makes me happy that it is up on the piano. I have a lot of sheet music – and I will possibly never get to play all of it in my life.

But still.

Every once in a while, something comes along and punches you in the gut and says “this is what you want to be”. In a way that no other piece of music ever has, this piece did that. It isn’t awe inspiring in the way that Rach 2 is – it’s awe inspiring in the way it simply makes you want to play.

The Royal Irish Academy inflicted some Bartok and Kabelevsky on me when I was a teenager. I’ve never really forgiven them for that because I found both of them really unappealing and I didn’t have much room for manoeuvre on that front. I’ve often wondered how things would have been if I got more Mozart and Chopin as a teenager than a Pentatonic Tune that wrecked my head when I was about 14. And I would have loved to come across some of what Vyacheslav Gryaznov has done now, if only to be inspired to keep going.