Vlado Perlemuter plays Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit

As a young man the Polish-French pianist Vlado Perlemuter became fascinated with Maurice Ravel’s music, and he managed to persuade Ravel to teach him for several months. Perlemuter then became one of the most important champions of Ravel’s piano music. To the end of his 98 years Perlemuter was probably more closely associated with Ravel’s music than the music of any other composer. There was a good reason for that: Perlemuter’s style as a musician was especially well suited to Ravel.

Early in his career Perlemuter spoke of how much he admired Busoni and Rachmaninoff, two pianist-composers whose style he described as “orchestral.” You can hear an orchestral piano sound in Perlemuter’s playing too. He was sharply attentive to the architectural structure of the music, and he could produce remarkably weighty and complex sounds at the piano.

It is no coincidence that Ravel turned many of his piano pieces into orchestral gems. He seems to have been a composer who thought in deeply orchestral terms, and he was one of the great masters of orchestral color and texture. Of course, Ravel’s piano music can’t duplicate the range of sound that an orchestra can produce, but it still has especially orchestral qualities. Ravel’s piano can be shimmering and dense at the same time. However, the more common approach to Ravel seems to emphasize only its brilliance. If you’re used to crystal-clear Ravel performances, then Perlemuter’s Gaspard de la nuit might sound cluttered at first. In fact, though, Perlemuter was one of the few who can relish the depth and heft of Ravel’s textures without drowning in them.

Perlemuter gave this videotaped performance in 1991, when he was 87 years old. Even at his advanced age, Perlemuter’s technique was equal to the task, and his interpretive vision was undiminished.

Performed by Vlado Perlemuter  (piano) (23 minutes)

Frank Morgan, George Cables, Curtis Lundy & Billy Hart

The tune is “On Green Dolphin Street” in this performance recorded in 2003. Frank Morgan was almost seventy years old, and his saxophone was still pure. A great quartet.

Performed by Frank Morgan (alto sax), George Cables (piano), Curtis Lundy (bass), and Billy Hart (drums) (10 minutes)

Ives: String Quartet No. 2, second movement, “Arguments”

Charles Ives

Today is the 143rd anniversary of Charles Ives’s birth. He was an American original.

Ives wrote experimental music that constantly plays with musical forms. A lot of his music tosses out traditional harmony. But almost none of his music is entirely abstract, for it was always tied to places, people, and events that Ives saw vividly in his mind’s eye. Knowing something about Ives’s inspiration for a piece can be a key to unlock the experience of hearing it.

His Second String Quartet is from 1913. Ives wrote that the piece is “one of the best things I have but the old ladies (male and female) don’t like it anywhere at all. It makes them mad. . . . (more…)