REFRESHMENT

REFRESHMENT: Hearing Carl Vine’s Piano Sonata once again was a stimulating and refreshing experience. I don’t understand why this marvelous work hasn’t assumed a prominent place in the repertory. Its language is sure and strong; if Elliott Carter is prominent among its forbears, as Vine has said, that is the aspect of Carter’s music I most admire: the driving force, the clarity, the gift of expressing so much with such admirable economy. Yes, Carter’s own Sonata, an early work, does accomplish much the same. I heard the Vine sonata first in 1993, when an unknown young Australian named Michael Kieran Harvey pleased and astonished us all and made off with a piano competition, run at Ambassador Auditorium by that brilliant if semi-crackpot pianistic genius Ivo Pogorelich (of “whatever happened to…?” fame). Harvey never went on to an internatiional career; the most operable explanation is that he didn’t want to play all the Chopin and Rachmaninoff that the big-time managers would have wanted. According to Liam Viney, who began his Piano Spheres program the other night with the Vine Sonata – brilliantly – Harvey does have a successful career in Australia. Just check out his website; his list of concert dates and recordings goes on for days! And according to Jim Svejda, who runs something of a one-man Carl Vine fan club on KUSC, Mr. Vine continues to write great music.
Now, to Liam Viney’s “Piano Spheres” concert of Australian music, at Zipper on Tuesday. He is 30, Australian, and has been on the piano faculty at CalArts for the past three years. Inevitably, a program that starts with the Vine Sonata is doomed to slump somewhat downhill thereafter, but there were bright spots. Matthew Hindson’s “Plastic Jubilation” came with a built-in program, something about revenge against some act of music criticism; this was executed with the aid of a click track and some raucous razzberries from a loudspeaker and was okay, I guess, of its kind. There were some small indigenous pieces by Peter Sculthorpe, the sort one expects as a nation’s composer approaches Grand Old Man status, and quite a strong one-movement Sonata by Nigel Westlake, who sounds worth investigating. So, by the way, is Mr. Viney, a terrific young pianist. There was no Times review of this, an important event.
SALVATION THROUGH K. 448There was one of next night’s concert, however, a glamorous, celebrity event of less musical importance. The repertory for two pianos has some attractive works —  Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, Bartók (with percussion), Debussy – but nothing to compare in richness and depth with the small-but-select  repertory for four hands at one piano. One work for two pianos by Mozart is the sole exception, and psychiatrists have studied the slow movement of that D-major Sonata (K. 448) as a paradigm of a work that stirs and moves young minds. It is, indeed, special music, and there may be something sublimely recognizable about its opening theme that makes it particularly easy to follow the unfolding of the classical form. I will settle for a hymn of praise for what happens in the last 30 seconds of that slow movement, when Mozart, halfway out the door, turns and flings one more handful of stardust at us all.  Go listen to it; I can’t say more without breaking up. Oh yes, there is one more place where the same thing happens: the “Sextet of Recognition” in the third act of “Figaro,” when Susanna comes around to accepting that matters have resolved themselves for the better and that Figaro is truly hers.
Anyhow, I will go anywhere within reason to hear K. 448 performed, but I wasn’t made to believe that Manny Ax and Fima Bronfman, who drew a full and happy house to Disney last Wednesday, cared more for playing this work than for the big noise of the rest of their program: the Brahms “Haydn” Variations and Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances” (both works originally composed for two pianos) and Bill Bolcom’s lightweight, charming, half-rag half-olé “Recuerdos,”
FRIDAY NIGHT AT THE PHIL: Tom Adès and Berlioz…no, Tom Adès IS Berlioz. From the arrogance of the lightning-strokes, the thunder-claps, the take-me-as-you-will amorosities in the “Royal Hunt” music from “The Trojans” it seemed a very short leap of cred toward the orchestral slashings, the choral outcries, the brooding cynicism of  “America: a Prophecy.” It was right for Tom, in his endearingly shy and halting way, to explain from the podium that his “America” in this instance referred to the arrogant, threatened Mayans facing their Spanish invaders. His music, nevertheless,  sounded a more universal – let’s even say “contemporary” — arrogance that caused many timid souls in the audience to depart before his second work on the program, the far gentler,  radiantly beautiful “Tevot.” Theirs the loss.
At 37, Adès stands alone, beyond imitation. Every new work defines him afresh. “Tevot,” a Hebrew word meaning “ark” as in the Noah legend,  the baby Moses and also the cabinet holding the sacred texts, is for Adès a symbol of peace. It is also for him a kind of Second Symphony, after the sensational “Asyla” that really sent him into orbit a mere decade ago. His orchestra is huge, not to batter down walls, but to achieve an exactitude  of rich, varied sound – as Berlioz also knew how to do, even in his youthful, dopey “Francs-juges” Overture. The music of “Tevot” rises out of turmoil, but subsides gradually, over some 15 minutes. Its last sound is an unforgettable almost-silence; it put me in mind of the Mahler Ninth, not for a similarity of actual sound, just for the feeling it created among my ribs.