Friedrich Kalkbrenner (1785-1849) – Part 7

After some biographical information as if he wanted to prove that Kalkbrenner had not only a nasty character, but was a mediocre musician as well, Mr. Nicholas inquires and answers himself: “What was he like as a pianist? Much can be gleaned from listening to the two concertos on this disc, written specially to show off every aspect of his technique – elegant execution (can one judge Kalkbrenner’s interpretation by listening to Howard Shelley’s?), rapid, even finger-work, emotionally and dynamically limited” (and again – whose interpretation is limited – Kalkbrenner’s? H.Shelley’s??). It seems to me that now Mr. Nicholas mixes it up completely. Not because of listening too long to Kalkbrenner’s music. No, but because Nicholas tries to stretch blindly copied phrases to make his point. Compare – from Harold Schonberg’s book “The great pianists”: “His (Kalkbrenner’s) playing might have been EMOTIONALLY AND DYNAMICALLY LIMITED, but there could be no denying the polish, elegance and accuracy of his performances”.

Now for a fairer “gleaning” I suggest to use a Kalkbrenner’s contemporary opinion, made just the year when he presented his first concerto in Europe. A contemporary whom I trust – the 19 -years old Fanny Mendelssohn. From her letter to Felix Mendelssohn: “Wir hören ihn oft und suchen von ihm zu lernen. Er vereinigt die verschiedensten Vorzüge in seinem Spiel: Präcision, Klarheit, Ausdruck, die grösste Fertigkeit, die unermüdlichste Kraft und Ausdauer. Er ist ein tüchtiger Musiker und besitzt einen ertaunlichen Ueberblick.“ – „We listen to him often and try to learn from him. He unites the various merits in his playing: precision, clearness, expression, the greatest dexterity, the most surprising strength and endurance. He is a proficient musician and posses an astonishing survey.”
And this is Chopin speaking: “If Paganini is perfection, Kalkbrenner is his parallel, only in a different way.”

Last glance at the booklet and I started to feel pity not only for Kalkbrenner but for poor Howard Shelley too – for besides all the rest Kalkbrenner was “fairly merciless in his demands on both fingers and stamina – there are few opportunities for Mr. Shelley to take his hands from the keyboard once he has begun”. One could just imagine exhausted Howard Shelley, complaining over a bottle (or two?) of wine his “merciless job” to understanding, sympathizing Jeremy Nicholas…

But seriously, how was it possible to unite in the same CD presentation two completely opposite attitudes?! This will remain a mystery for me.

Nevertheless, there is one important lesson I learned from Mr. Nicholas – think twice before asking somebody to write your booklet text!! Especially if you intend to play some unknown music you are fond of.

And now it is time to listen to Howard Shelley with Kalkbrenner’s first piano concerto, first movement:

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1 Response

  1. annapetrova | en » Musical critics – beware! Says:

    […] There are some aspects of the musical criticism which are hard (for me) to accept. The one is the incredible ease and carelessness with which people borrow and use (and sometimes even worse– misuse) citations. We have already seen it with Kalkbrenner’s concerto. […]

    Posted on April 6th, 2010 at 13:55

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