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South Florida Classical Review

24 September 2021

Tetzloff traces the influence of Beethoven with thoughtful virtuosity

South Florida Classical Review

Ludwig van Beethoven changed the course of music history. The titan  from Bonn’s boldly original scores have echoed through the centuries and  inspired countless composers to pay tribute, both directly and through  thematic metamorphosis of his creations.

Kaleidoscope MusArt’s program “Beethoven in the New World” on  Thursday night at Granada Presbyterian Church in Coral Gables  illustrated the historical influence of that seminal genius on artists  past and present. The formidably gifted American pianist Reed Tetzloff’s  recital avoided the most obvious and overplayed works in favor of the  new and the challenging.

Born in Calcutta in 1945, Clarence Barlow studied with avant-garde  icon Karlheinz Stockhausen, taught at the famous Darmstadt Summer Course  for New Music, developed computer music software and installations and  worked in the computer music studios of Paris’ IRCAM and Chicago’s  Northwestern University. His scores are strongly influenced by the  relationship of music to mathematic, phonetic speech and science.

These wide-ranging interests are fully evident in Barlow’s No. V: Three Bagatelles, in  which three Beethoven melodies are constantly recycled simultaneously  between the bass line, accompaniment and main theme. “Für Elise” is  treated to wildly creative embellishments and the rumbling bass beneath  the iconic first movement melody of the Moonlight Sonata adds a touch of  wit. The humor and constantly surprising musical turns of Barlow’s  pastiche is like Beethoven filtered through the mind of John Cage.  Tetzloff approached this startling creation with big-boned intensity and  extremes of volume in tonal shadings that encompassed beauty and  pounding fury in equal measure.

American composer Jonathan Dawe studied at the Juilliard School with  Milton Babbitt and is now a faculty member of that elite conservatory.  His Ten Bagatelles (2013) offer modernist updates of  Beethoven’s pianistic vignettes. Wild harmonics, blues, jazz and  improvisation all enhance Dawe’s tremendously entertaining suite. The  nonstop energy of “Quarter Not=120”(No. 2) and the moody tone painting  of the Andante (No. 3) are particularly distinguished. Tetzloff’s  rock-solid technique was put to the test in Dawe’s daunting cameos but  he also was also eloquent in the final two, more lyric sections.

(The Barlow and Dawe works were winners of Kaleidoscope MuArt’s 2020  Call for Scores titled “Bagatelles for Beethoven.” Inesa Gegprifti, an  adjunct faculty member at the UM Frost School of Music and a critic for  South Florida Classical Review, is president of Kaleidoscope MusArt.)

Tetzloff’s reading of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 28 in A Major, Op. 101  was deeply reflective and illuminating. This first sonata of Beethoven’s  late period finds its creator in his most experimental and striking  mode. The serene introduction to the first movement was taken slowly,  allowing a natural flow and pulse to the Allegretto, ma non troppo.  Quirky accents at rapid pace fully captured the spirit of the Vivace  alla marcia. Tetzloff’s unconventional interpretive approach proved  diverting in its sheer extremes. Like the slow movements of Beethoven’s  late string quartets, the Adagio, ma non troppo, con affetto seems to  transcend earthly time and space. Played with expansive range and  luminous tone, Tetzloff captured the music’s stillness and pathos. There  was boisterous spirit and rhythmic buoyancy in the final Allegro. The  fugal voices were fully transparent under Tetzloff’s agile fingers.

Any performance of Charles Ives’ Sonata No. 2 (“Concord”) is an  event. Tetzloff called Ives “the founding father of American music” in  pre-performance remarks. He certainly was an American original and no  work quite illustrates Ives’ collage of thorny modernist strokes, church  hymns and patriotic songs and marches quite like the Concord. Add  repeated quotes from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and Ives’ own idiosyncratic paths and you have a one-of-a-kind musical bouillabaisse.

Paying tribute to New England’s Transcendentalist writers, Ives  launches the initial” Emerson” movement with hammer-like dissonant  chords that have not lost their ability to shock over 100 years after  the score’s genesis. Here and in the scherzo-like “Hawthorne” section,  Tetzloff was fully equal to the music’s Herculean demands. The repose of  the lyrical interludes was tinged with bitters, which made the  hard-driving volleys that much more effective.

“The Alcotts,” the sonata’s third movement, paints a quiet scene of  Louisa May Alcott and her sisters and parents practicing at the piano.  Replete with wrong notes, Ives’ portrait streams with homespun charm and  nobility. Tetzloff’s wonderfully varied gradations of softness and high  volume matched the intimacy of Ives’ vision.

From the mystery of the first bars of the concluding “Thoreau”  movement, Ives seems to embody the spirit of Transcendentalism in sound.  As in many of Beethoven’s late works, the music seems to reach a higher  plane of existence in its beauty and originality. Tetzloff brought  almost symphonic sonority to these extraordinary final pages.

For an encore, Tetzloff infused Schumann’s Arabesque in C Major with  verve while bringing a stately line to the contrasting episodes. Like  the late Peter Serkin, Tetzloff is an artist of broad musical tastes  and individuality. One looks forward to hearing more from this  fascinating interpreter.

Kaleidoscope MusArt will stream the entire concert 5 p.m.  October 9 with a live Q & A following the performance featuring Reed  Tetzloff, Clarence Barlow and Jonathan Dawe. The stream is free but  registration is required at KMA21Demio.

Lawrence Budmen


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