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Monday, February 1, 2010

Pierre-Laurent Aimard

The French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard is in town. On Friday January 29th he was the guest of Cathy Fuller on WCRB.

Aimard is one of a few new music specialists who have made significant headway into the larger classical music tent. Completely at home with challenging works such as George Benjamin’s Piano Figures or Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Klavierstück IX, Aimard also plays more mainstream works by Ravel and Debussy with insight and passion.

He is in town to perform Elliott Carter's Dialogues (2003) and Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand with James Levine and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

After three performances, the pianist, conductor, and orchestra travel to Carnegie Hall for a performance in the Big Apple. The BSO program also includes two of my favorites: Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2 and Harold in Italy by Berlioz with the Steven Ansell as soloist.

On WCRB Airmad spoke and played a number of short pieces. His short program included Ravel, Messiaen, and four of the early 12-tone pieces from Notations by Pierre Boulez (numbers 7, 1, 9, and 10). These little piano pieces eventually ended up as humongous orchestral work - expanded and orchestrated by the composer many years after the fact. You can check out my review of the 2008 BSO performance of Notations I-IV (for grand orchestra)...

Aimard is a full-fledged member of the inner-circle of 20th century French music. His teacher was Yvonne Loriod - Oliver Messiaen's wife, and he worked a long stint as pianist in Boulez' Ensemble Intercomtemporain. In fact, after the concerts in Boston and NY, Aimard is off to Cleveland where he will make a recording of both the Ravel piano concertos with the 85 year old composer/conductor. Later, Aimard plans to record the Bartók Double Concerto with Maestro Boulez and the Chicago Symphony.

A huge fan of Elliott Carter, Aimard performed a short piece on WCRB written by the American composer for the birthday of James Levine's mother. It's called Matribute. I've heard it before. It consists of just two polyphonic lines (a little sparse for Carter), that contrast and interact with one another. One line is slow and sustained, the other more moody, scherzando, and percussive in nature. The two lines ultimately cross each other in register on the keyboard.

I heard James Levine premiere Matribute for a small group at Harvard last year, and a Ursula Oppens performance at Tanglewood. I liked their performances, but Aimard's interpretation is very pristine and sharp. He and Cathy Fuller discussed the final staccato note in the piece, which not only finishes the work with certainty, but also exhibits a degree of the composer's wit and humor.

I tuned back into WCRB Saturday night to hear the BSO live-broadcast. Carter's Dialogues (2003) led the concert. I caught this work out at Tanglewood at the Carter Festival, but now it seems more mainstream when presented on a program by a major orchestra along with traditional works. Dialogues reminds me a lot of another recent work by Carter, Interventions. Interventions was performed by the BSO in December of 2008, and reviewed by yours truly...

Pierre-Laurent Aimard is clearly a pianist to follow. He can make new music sound convincing and user-friendly to the larger public. That can only be a good thing.