J S BACH – PARTITAS BWV 825-830, 2 CDs

Release date: 6 May 2022 on the Delos label

Eleonor Bindman, piano

‘Bach playing of the highest order – Andrew Eales/Pianodao.com

Bach’s six keyboard Partitas have long been regarded as one of the most important milestones of the Baroque keyboard repertoire and remain amongst Bach’s most popular works for pianists and listeners alike, with their wealth of invention, drama, intimacy, wit and emotion.

Praised for her musical sense and appreciation of the majesty in Bach’s music, Latvian-American pianist Eleonor Bindman follows her critically-acclaimed recordings of her own transcriptions of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos for piano-four-hands and the Cello Suites for solo piano, with her latest release of the complete keyboard Partitas.

Bach published the six keyboard Partitas himself in 1731 as his “Opus 1,” clearly indicating that he was satisfied with his work. The keyboard Partitas follow a similar template to his English and French Suites, with a succession of popular Baroque dance movements which also appear in all six Partitas. But unlike the French Suites, each begins with a form of Prelude with a different title for each of the six (for example, Sinfonia, Fantasia, Praeambulum and Toccata), demonstrating Bach’s flexibility and personality. With the inclusion of a diverse selection of dance movements, the Partitas are the most varied and cosmopolitan of Bach’s keyboard suites.

Eleonor Bindman’s experience of working with the complex counterpoint of the Brandenburg Concertos, which she transcribed for piano-four-hands, as well as with the expressive possibilities of a single melodic line of the Cello Suites (her most recent transcription for solo piano), results in some fresh interpretive insights in the Partitas – for example, in the choice of pace and tempi to allow listeners the opportunity to enjoy the emotional connotations of rhythm, harmony, counterpoint and ornamentation, and in the creative treatment of repeats.

Eleonor explains:

‘I find the variety of keys and the character (largely implied by the opening movements of course) of each suite gratifying. I also believe that the Partitas, as an oeuvre, include some of Bach’s most diverse, ingenious and intimate writing for the keyboard (aside from the Well-Tempered Clavier to an extent, of course). They deserve a lot more attention than the Goldbergs, in my humble opinion.  Rather than a series of exercises in canons, they are in fact a kaleidoscopic representation of Bach’s genius.  The incredible sincerity and communicative warmth of the Allemandes from Suites 4 and 6, the jazzy Courante from No. 6, the comical Aria and Burlesca from Partitas 4 and 3, respectively, the scintillating Praeambulum of Partita 5 and the challenging fugues or Capriccio of Partita 2 as endings – these are unique emanations of Bach’s personality. In the Partitas there isn’t a single even semi-boring page.  The aforementioned Allemandes are my favourite keyboard playing experiences.  Bach doesn’t even try to disguise them into dance form, save for the titles.  Playing the Allemande from Partita No. 4 in D major brings me into a state which I can only – inadequately and clumsily – describe as “participating in a revelation of truth.”’ 

Produced, engineered and edited by Sam Ward Recorded Dececember 20-21, 2020, and January 9-10, 2021 at President Street Studios, Brooklyn, NY

Instrument: Bösendorfer #48862

 


About Eleonor Bindman

Praised for her “lively, clear-textured and urbane” Bach performances and her ”impressive clarity of purpose and a full grasp of the music’s spirit,” New York-based pianist, chamber musician, arranger and teacher Eleonor Bindman was born in Riga, Latvia, and began studying the piano at the E. Darzins Special Music School at the age of five. After her family emigrated to the United States, she attended the High School of Performing Arts in New York City while studying piano as a full scholarship student at the Elaine Kaufman Cultural Center. She received a BA in music from New York University and completed her MA in piano pedagogy at the State University of New York, New Paltz, under the guidance of Vladimir Feltsman.

Ms. Bindman’s recital appearances have included Carnegie Hall, The 92nd Street Y, Merkin Hall and Alice Tully Hall; concerto appearances have included engagements with the National Music Week Orchestra, the Staten Island Symphony, the Hudson Valley Philharmonic, the New York Youth Symphony, and the Moscow Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra. Classical Archives declared: “Prepare to be surprised” when encountering Ms. Bindman’s vast range of activity.

In the past few years, she has been focusing on the music of J.S. Bach. Her Brandenburg Duets, a new arrangement of the six Brandenburg Concertos for Piano-four-hands, with pianist Jenny Lin, was declared 7 “breathtaking in its sheer precision and vitality” by Pianist Magazine, while the Cello Suites for Piano, an accurate transcription of Bach’s iconic set, made its debut at #7 on the Billboard® Traditional Classical Charts. Both recordings were best-selling releases for Grand Piano Records in 2018 and 2020. A recording of Ms. Bindman’s arrangement of the Orchestral Suites, also for Piano-four-hands, is forthcoming.

eleonorbindman.com


For further press information, review copies and interviews, please contact Frances Wilson frances_wilson66@live.com

Guest post by William Howard


Two years ago I wrote some words on Howard Skempton’s piano music for this site, having just recorded a cycle of 24 Preludes and Fugues that he had written for me in 2019. Skempton was inspired to write these pieces after hearing (and reviewing) my recording of another cycle of 24 Preludes and Fugues, written for me by the Czech composer Pavel Zemek Novák between 1989 and 2006. Skempton’s 24 Preludes and Fugues were published by Oxford University Press within a year of their completion, but it is only now that Novák’s extraordinary cycle has become available, thanks to a new edition released this month by Music Haven.

Both cycles of Preludes and Fugues were composed to be performed in their entirety, but whereas Skempton’s are typically pared down and distilled, with very few notes on the page, Novák’s are written on an epic scale. His cycle, which lasts 75 minutes, is inspired by the Bible, the first twelve Preludes and Fugues based on the Old Testament and the second twelve on the New Testament. Composer David Matthews has described the work as ‘one of the finest piano works of our time, a worthy companion to Ligeti’s three books of Études’. This is a bold claim, given the fact that Novák’s music is comparatively little known, but it is one that I fully support myself. I am confident that other pianists around the world will now take up this powerful and dazzlingly original work.

I first came across Novák’s music in 1987, when composer David Matthews invited me to take part in a concert at the King’s Lynn Festival featuring works by Brno composers. I was sent a number of recordings to listen to in order to choose a programme and liked many of the works that I heard, but one that made the by far greatest impact on me was a tricky-sounding piece for oboe, cello and piano, which I had an immediate desire to play. I had been passionate about Janáček’s music for many years, and something about Pavel’s oboe trio made a similar kind of impact on me. Its strong, almost acerbic flavour seemed to me distinctly Moravian. Pavel made his first visit to the UK to hear the performance of this work, The Garden of Delights, in King’s Lynn, and for both David and myself a much-valued friendship was born.

William Howard and Pavel Novák

At the time Novák was hardly known outside his hometown of Brno. As a practising Christian working under a communist regime, and unwilling to be a party member, he could expect to be offered very few opportunities as a composer. Since that time his reputation has grown, both in the Czech Republic and abroad. For some years, he received more performances of his music in the UK than in his own country, composing several new works for the Schubert Ensemble and for myself, and receiving commissions from Chroma, the Composers’ Ensemble, the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, and Dartington International Summer School. In the last couple of decades his most important commissions have come from major institutions in the Czech Republic, including the Czech Philharmonic and Brno State Symphony Orchestras.

As a student, Novák was immersed in the Janáček tradition of building form through working with small motifs and fragments, but he went on to develop his own distinctive style and to explore a wide range of other kinds of music. Believing that dissonance had had its day and that everything that could be said with it had already been said, he arrived in the 1990s at a new means of expression through imaginative use of consonance and unison, with voices supporting each other rather than working in opposition. The integrity and purity of his musical voice has its roots in his deep Catholic faith, which is the ultimate source of inspiration for all his music.

If his music has not been more widely performed, the reason is at least in part because scores have been unavailable. Fortunately, this situation is now changing. Many pieces are now available through the Czech Music Information Centre’s database and a few chamber works have been published by Madrid-based Da_sh Music, including a superb piano quintet, Royal Funeral Procession to Iona, that he wrote for the Schubert Ensemble in 1995.

In the case of the 24 Preludes and Fugues, several music publishers took an interest in the work following the positive reaction to the London premiere of the work in 2007 and to the recording (released in 2011) but found the scale and the complexities of the hand-written manuscript too daunting to take on. The great news is that, with the help of a handful of sponsors, three years of heroic typesetting by the composer Cydonie Banting and many dozens of hours of proof-reading and editing by the composer and myself, the score is now finally available.

 Before and after typesetting/editing (Prelude 23)

The complete score is now available on the Music Haven website.


William Howard has recorded Pavel Novák’s 24 Preludes and Fugues on the Champs Hill Records label

Listen to the album via Spotify

 


William Howard is established as one of Britain’s leading pianists, enjoying a career that has taken him to over 40 different countries. His performing life consists of solo recitals, concerto performances, guest appearances with chamber ensembles and instrumentalists. In 1983 he founded the Schubert Ensemble, with which he performed for the full 35 years of the Ensemble’s existence (it gave its final concert in June 2018). Winner of the 1998 Royal Philharmonic Society Award for Best Chamber Ensemble, the Schubert Ensemble earned a worldwide reputation as one of the finest piano and string ensembles, as well as setting up several ground-breaking educational projects and commissioning 50 concert works.

His solo career has taken him to many of Britain’s most important festivals, including Bath, Brighton and Cheltenham, and he has been artist in residence at several others. He has performed many times in the Wigmore Hall and the South Bank in London and has broadcast regularly for BBC Radio 3. For many years he has been invited to perform and teach at the Dartington International Summer School.

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At the beginning of this year, my son (24) passed his driving test, his achievement made more remarkable by the fact that, due to the covid restrictions, his test was postponed 6 times over the course of 18 months. He displayed a dogged pragmatism towards the disappointment of the cancelled tests (he was ready to take his test in July 2020) and simply carried on practicing his driving whenever he could – in my car, his own car, and with his driving instructor.

While my son was having his lessons, I was reminded of my own driving lessons, some 30-odd years ago, and how my instructor stressed the importance of “time at the wheel” – that any driving practice was useful. My son certainly appreciated this and we enjoyed lots of excursions in the car which relieved the monotony of lockdown while also giving him useful driving experience.

While we were out and about, I pointed out to my son that one of the most important aspects of having lessons is so that one learns how to pass the test. A good instructor knows what needs to be covered to ensure the candidate is well-prepared. I remember my instructor made me practice manoeuvres like parallel parking and three-point turns over and over again so that the all the processes, physical and mental, became fixed in my procedural (muscle) memory, were almost intuitive, and ensured that I was not nervous on the day of the driving test. The same was true for my son – his parking abilities impress me no end (especially as I can no longer parallel park successfully!)

What does this have to do with the piano and music practice? Well, playing an instrument, like driving, is a series of movements and processes, which utilise and train the procedural memory. Most of us know well the old adage “practice makes perfect”, but, more importantly, practice also makes permanent, so that movements, processes and gestures become intuitive – we do them without (apparently) thinking.

This permanence comes, of course, from practicing – not mechanical note-bashing, (or mindlessly driving around Tesco’s carpark) but from thoughtful, careful practicing to ensure we are well-prepared.

The great Russian pianist Vladimir Horowitz apparently had a little phrase which he repeated ahead of a performance – “I know my pieces” – meaning he knew he had done his preparation. It’s a helpful mantra, and one which I have used in my own preparation for performance.

It is this preparation which gives us perhaps the most useful skill of all – confidence – which enables us to perform to the best of our abilities in an exam or concert situation, can help allay nerves, and ensures that the odd error or slip will not derail the overall performance.


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Tuesday 3 May at 7.00pm at St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh

The Violin Consort 
Zbigniew Pilch, violin I
Radoslaw Kamieniarz, violin II
Piotor Chrupek, viola
Bartosz Kokosza, cello

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This special concert for Polish Constitution Day marks the beginning of a programme of events in 2022 celebrating the Polish-Lithuanian violinist and composer Felix Yaniewicz for his role in founding the first Edinburgh music festival in 1815.  The events will culminate in an exhibition on his life and musical legacy opening at the Georgian House in June, and three concerts by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in December.

The programme includes rarely-performed works – excerpts from Yaniewicz’s Violin Concertos Nos 3 and 5 transcribed for string quartet, two Divertimenti, and his string Trio in e minor, performed by The Violin Consort, an ensemble founded by four friends who are also the best Polish musicians specializing in historical music. The name of the ensemble refers to the 16th-century practice of creating families of homogeneous instruments called consortas.

Zbigniew Pilch, first violinist with The Violin Consort, is the foremost living interpreter of Yaniewicz’s music, and has recorded two of his violin concertos with the Warsaw Baroque Orchestra.  In this concert he brings his string quartet to Edinburgh, to perform a selection of Yaniewicz’s string trios, divertimenti, and chamber arrangements of movements from two of the violin concertos, for which Yaniewicz was most famous in his day.  Yaniewicz’s sparkling compositions are evocative of his cosmopolitan career, combining a recognizably Mozartian style from his Viennese period with the joyful exuberance of Polish folk dances from his homeland.

This concert is generously supported by the Polish Consulate, and will be used to raise funds for Ukraine.  Poland stands with Ukraine at this time of crisis in Europe.  We come together in solidarity, in an evening of music which bears witness to the lasting historical impact of migration on European culture.

The Yaniewicz project celebrates the vital role of migration in Scottish cultural heritage, through the story of a migrant musician who arrived on these shores as a refugee from the French Revolution, against a background of political upheaval in his native land in the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth.

Find out more

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Guest post by Daniel Tong


The second edition of the Birmingham International Piano Chamber Music Competition will take place as part of the Conservatoire’s November Festival celebrating the role of the piano in chamber music. Six young ensembles, chosen at preliminary audition, will be invited to join the festival, give a recital, take part in masterclasses and compete for prizes that include a Wigmore Hall debut, commercial recording with Resonus Classics, mentorship and further concert engagements.

But why another competition? The arguments against are often-repeated: music is an art, not a sport; competitions encourage perfect technical performances of lowest-common-denominator artistic merit; it’s all a fix anyway, and the jury merely choose their own students. There has been some truth in all of these arguments, but none of them are essential to the idea of a music competition. The arguments in favour are made less often, and perhaps less clearly; it is down to the competitions themselves to take a lead.

In Birmingham I have created a competition that, I believe, does all within its power to make the experience positive for everyone involved. Of course there will be a winning ensemble, and those who are not chosen will be disappointed, but there is something on offer for everyone in a collegiate atmosphere of musical celebration. The competition takes place within a festival, where leading professional artists will perform alongside Royal Birmingham Conservatoire students and the six competing ensembles. These six young chamber groups will all be given the opportunity to take part in masterclasses, and their performances will be publicised as part of the Festival and livestreamed. The grand final livestream will be shared by Classic FM. All of the jury members will also play in concerts, dismantling some of the barriers between them and us. They will take their seats in the audience to listen to the young artists, rather than behind a desk with bottles of mineral water.

A competition gives anyone a chance. We have undertaken to hear all applicants at preliminary audition, either in person or by unedited video. Jury members will not be given references or biographies of the musicians that they hear. In a way, this is a fairer process than one in which an agent takes on an artist who is recommended to them by a friend, or who is already successful. To me, the argument that personal networking is a fairer process than a structured competition doesn’t make sense, and it can be guaranteed that all of our competitors will have plenty of chance to hone their networking skills in life before and after the event. Our competition also endeavours to make sure that there are no barriers to application, and that the open and accessible nature of video and livestream performance, which blossomed during the pandemic, are not lost in the rush to return to ‘normal’.

I have created a mark scheme for the competition that encourages artistic understanding and flair. So, although a performance that is a mess technically is unlikely to succeed, there are far more scoring categories that address artistic considerations than technical perfection. Of course ‘technique’ and ‘artistry’ are intertwined, the former being the means of producing the latter, but we have all been deeply moved by performances that couldn’t necessarily have been put out into the sanitised world of CD recording. Our mark scheme recognises this; music will inevitably be beautifully subjective, but this will be the case when our young artists gain reviews and are received by audiences in concert. And this is the nub: I would far rather that we rewarded artistry, communication, beauty, feeling and all of the attributes of music that elevate it above so much else in life, than focussed on the rather more mundane and measurable, even if highly-skilled, qualities. This is, I think, another important idea for our competition to own: we are looking for the ensemble who win on the night. The music that touches us and somehow steals the show. We are not trying to conjecture as to who are the ‘best’.

Oh, and the jury aren’t allowed to score or advocate for any ensembles with which they have a prior connection.

So, I hope that many young ensembles will throw their hat into the ring, and I look forward to welcoming six of them to Birmingham in November, when we will celebrate piano chamber music in all of its many guises.


Birmingham International Piano Chamber Music Competition takes place between 14th and 16th November 2022. Applications are welcomed from duos, trios and quartets with an average age of 28 or under, as long as the ensemble includes a single piano.

Find out more / apply


Daniel Tong

 

 

 

Daniel Tong’s website

British pianist James Lisney is looking forward to his spring and early summer concerts with excitement.

The Cross-Eyed Pianist caught up with James to talk about how he and the music industry in general has fared during the past two years of the pandemic, the challenges and unexpected benefits of the enforced isolation, and the expectation of returning to live concert-giving once again.

The last two years have been extremely challenging for our industry. Have you seen any benefit from the enforced isolation of lockdowns and lack of live music?

The life of a self employed pianist has, in many cases, not been too adversely affected by the pandemic. Study, recordings, writing and online teaching have filled the gaps – but I am aware that there are many musicians who have had their careers decimated by the collapse of orchestral choral concerts in particular. Their phones and emails went ‘dead’ almost as soon as Covid was flagged up and, even when concerts started again, the full forces have not been employed on a regular basis. This economic hardship has not been specific to the young musicians, but there are scary statistics about how many musicians of all ages have either decided to retire or change profession. Apart from the lack of income, the expenses of their vocation continue: large insurance payments, membership of industry bodies, diary service subscription, instrument maintenance etc.

The matter of concert cancellations has been frustrating but it has also allowed unexpected time to rest and to study. For me this has enabled me to learn two monumental piano challenges by Beethoven: the Sonata in B flat (‘Hammerklavier’); and the ‘Diabelli’ Variations’ which I’m programming throughout the group of concerts that I am giving this spring and early summer. The lack of time pressure has allowed for deep and relaxed study – processes that have refreshed my love of music and the piano.

With time suddenly becoming a plentiful commodity, I have had time to explore Scriabin (for the first time), work at the music of Jan Vriend (always a slow process for me!), Chopin’s Études and Liszt’s Feux Follets – and I’ve even studied technical exercises that I’ve been intending to ‘get around to’ for about forty years!

The concerts I’m giving this spring and early summer are a gift to myself (programmed around my sixtieth birthday) and feature works that are the fruits of the pandemic (including Beethoven’s ‘Diabelli’ Variations and Scriabin Vers la flamme, for example); and music that I have performed for over four decades (such as Chopin’s Sonate funèbre and Ronald Stevenson’s ‘Peter Grimes Fantasy’).

During the pandemic you gave a concert at St George’s Bristol to an empty hall. How do you feel venues have adapted to the “new normal” and supported musicians during the past two years?

St George’s Bristol have been a fantastic support for me and many other musicians during Covid. They have adapted finances and concert formats, organised industry-leading livestream events, and kept in touch with their community, both local and nationwide. I performed the final sonatas Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert in autumn 2020 to an empty hall, but arrived home to email messages from audience members in the USA, the Czech Republic and New Zealand!

I am very much looking forward to returning to St George’s with Chopin on 21 May.

Talking of Chopin, he is a composer who remains very close to your heart. What is the attraction of this repertoire, for both player and audiences?

Chopin has been central to my programmes since I was eighteen. Audiences love this music and it is a constant fascination to attempt to play it – but it is also a constant inspiration in my work as a teacher. Chopin gets to the heart of our physical relationship with the instrument – and to the beauty and meaning of the score. He exemplifies exactitude and classical values with the skills of poetic recreation and improvisation. When one considers, in addition, the premises of his teaching philosophy, it is difficult to find an area of his influence that is not essential to the study of music from almost all of the eras of keyboard music.

The Sonatas and Fantaisie [Opus 49] have been in my repertoire since my teenage years and continue to fascinate and evolve for me – each return to study revealing a more essential layer of understanding. The pandemic has been a chance to work on the Mazurkas – music as dense in implication and as demanding intellectually as late Beethoven. The trio of Mazurkas, opus 56, for example, cover a huge intellectual range and can hardly be considered as “miniatures”.

The music salon at the 1901 Arts Club

Pre-pandemic you launched your …petits concerts series at the 1901 Arts Club. Tell us more about this series.

I am looking forward to returning to the large recital halls such as St Georges, the Bradshaw Hall in Birmingham and the beautiful Stoller Hall in Manchester – but I have a special place for the resumption of the …petits concerts series held at the bijoux concert venue and salon that is the 1901 Arts Club in Waterloo, London. This project was thriving in the seasons before Covid and enabled a spontaneous and simple organisation for concerts, contact with a relaxed and intimate audience (both during and after the performances) and the chance to raise money for a variety of purposes. The latest instalments in this series will be fundraisers for The Amber Trust (which supports the musical expression of partially sighted and blind children), of which I am proud to be a patron, and Help Musicians, a charity which has done so much to help musicians during the pandemic.


James Lisney will give concerts in Norwich, London, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Cheltenham and Tunbridge Wells between April and June. For full details and booking, please visit his website

Readers can enjoy generously discounted tickets for the first …petite concerts recital on 25 April at the 1901 Arts Club. Use code LUDWIG when booking.