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The Classical Music Guide

27 July 2018

Reed Tetzloff - 20th International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Hunter College

The Classical Music Guide

Reed Tetzloff - IKIF
20th International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Hunter College
July 27th, 2018

Debussy: La Cathédral Engloutie from Preludes, Book I
Franck: Prélude, Choral, et Fugue, FWV 21
Ives: Piano Sonata No. 2, "Concord, Mass., 1840-1860"
    1) "Emerson" (after Ralph Waldo Emerson)
    2) "Hawthorne" (after Nathaniel Hawthorne)
    3) "The Alcotts" (after Bronson Alcott and Louisa May Alcott)
    4) "Thoreau" (after Henry David Thoreau)

Reed Tetzloff is a 26 year old pianist from Minnesota who has already  played all over this country, plus in numerous European countries, and  in China. He has also won quite a few prizes in competitions. From the  way he played this challenging recital one could tell why. He is not  only an excellent pianist, but also a wonderful musician. Everything he  does comes across as natural, organic to the music, and unforced,  especially his sense of pacing, and his tone, which is always round and  beautiful.

He began with the Sunken Cathedral Prelude of Debussy, played at a slow,  but effective speed. After the glorious moment in C Major, when the  cathedral has fully emerged from the deep, there was a finely measured  diminuendo before the (quasi) C-Sharp Minor section, and a beautifully  pedaled murmuring of the main theme near the end. One also noticed here  how well Tetzloff controls the instrument when playing softly.  

The Franck Prelude, Chorale and Fugue is one of the composer's major  piano works. The Prelude seems to be based on at least three motives:  the opening theme, one that seems like an outburst of emotion, and a  pleading theme. Here, and in the very chromatic Chorale, Tetzloff was  always expressively going somewhere, and doing something. He never  rushed his way through this dense material, and some of it sounded very  deeply felt by the pianist. The poco allegro introduction to the fugue  was played with great care, after which he solemnly intoned the first  statement of the fugue. There was a wide dynamic range in the fugue, and  all buildups of sound followed a fine musical logic. Later, he floated  the first theme from the Prelude against the theme of the Fugue, and  this led into the frenzied conclusion of the work.  

Before performing Ives' "Concord" Sonata, Tetzloff gave a short lecture  about the composer and the music. Ives, whom he called "the father of  modernism in American culture," was not in sync with the artistic ways  of his contemporaries. He was not a "bohemian" nor was he interested in  what the Wagnerites in Europe were doing. Also, quite atypical of most  composers, he was a very good baseball player (while at Yale), and he  ultimately became very successful in the insurance business.

Yet, perhaps like other "thinkers," his music was influenced by a  concern for the eternal questions of existence. That is symbolized in  this work, above all, by numerous repetitions of the first theme of  Beethoven's Fifth Symphony  (G-G-G-E Flat). Another point of interest in  the Sonata is that it has few barlines. Apparently the composer  considered the score just a "jumping off point." He felt that every  performance of it should be radically different. Tetzloff compared that  to sounds one hears in the morning which may seem quite different if  heard again in the evening.

The Sonata is based on Ives' reflections on five famous authors, all of whom lived in Concord, Massachusetts.

The first movement, Tetzloff told us, is about asking these important  questions. One hears the Beethoven motive repeatedly, and there are  spontaneous sounding meanderings which are interrupted by loud  explosions. The movement ends very softly with the Beethoven theme in  the left hand.

The second movement is based on the idea that “life is a dream and a  joke," according to the pianist. The music is alternately wild and  fantastic, then quiet. A wooden block was used to play tone clusters  with the right hand. Later there is a hymn fragment, which alternates  with a whirlwind, and still later comes a march.

The third movement is the slow movement. Here, again, are reiterations  of the Beethoven theme, this time all over the place, even hanging down  from one tonality into another, plus patriotic hymns, Scottish songs,  etc.

The last movement is a meditation on Thoreau, who said that he didn't  have to go to Boston to hear concerts; he could simply walk in the woods  and enjoy the sounds of nature instead. Much of this movement is quiet,  subdued, and spiritual, with beautiful shadings. At one point it seemed  to be softly marching away into the distance. At the end, one hears the  Beethoven theme again in the right hand, but with the same note  repeated four times, instead of dropping a minor third for the last  note, a soft left hand accompaniment underneath. Did Ives finally find  the answer(s) to his question(s)?!

I don't know. But in answer to the question "What kind of pianist is  Reed Tetzloff?" the answer would certainly be "One whom I'd like to hear  again!"

Donald Isler


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