Classical Music Guide - Saturday, July 28, 2018 - Written by Donald Isler

Reed Tetzloff

Reed Tetzloff - IKIF

20th International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Hunter College
July 27th, 2018

Debussy: La Cathédral Engloutie from Preludes, Book I
Franck: Prélude, Choral, et Fugue, FWV 21
Ives: Piano Sonata No. 2, "Concord, Mass., 1840-1860"
1) "Emerson" (after Ralph Waldo Emerson)
2) "Hawthorne" (after Nathaniel Hawthorne)
3) "The Alcotts" (after Bronson Alcott and Louisa May Alcott)
4) "Thoreau" (after Henry David Thoreau)

Reed Tetzloff is a 26 year old pianist from Minnesota who has already played all over this country, plus in numerous European countries, and in China. He has also won quite a few prizes in competitions. From the way he played this challenging recital one could tell why. He is not only an excellent pianist, but also a wonderful musician. Everything he does comes across as natural, organic to the music, and unforced, especially his sense of pacing, and his tone, which is always round and beautiful.

He began with the Sunken Cathedral Prelude of Debussy, played at a slow, but effective speed. After the glorious moment in C Major, when the cathedral has fully emerged from the deep, there was a finely measured diminuendo before the (quasi) C-Sharp Minor section, and a beautifully pedaled murmuring of the main theme near the end. One also noticed here how well Tetzloff controls the instrument when playing softly.

The Franck Prelude, Chorale and Fugue is one of the composer's major piano works. The Prelude seems to be based on at least three motives: the opening theme, one that seems like an outburst of emotion, and a pleading theme. Here, and in the very chromatic Chorale, Tetzloff was always expressively going somewhere, and doing something. He never rushed his way through this dense material, and some of it sounded very deeply felt by the pianist. The poco allegro introduction to the fugue was played with great care, after which he solemnly intoned the first statement of the fugue. There was a wide dynamic range in the fugue, and all buildups of sound followed a fine musical logic. Later, he floated the first theme from the Prelude against the theme of the Fugue, and this led into the frenzied conclusion of the work.

Before performing Ives' "Concord" Sonata, Tetzloff gave a short lecture about the composer and the music. Ives, whom he called "the father of modernism in American culture," was not in sync with the artistic ways of his contemporaries. He was not a "bohemian" nor was he interested in what the Wagnerites in Europe were doing. Also, quite atypical of most composers, he was a very good baseball player (while at Yale), and he ultimately became very successful in the insurance business.

Yet, perhaps like other "thinkers," his music was influenced by a concern for the eternal questions of existence. That is symbolized in this work, above all, by numerous repetitions of the first theme of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (G-G-G-E Flat). Another point of interest in the Sonata is that it has few barlines. Apparently the composer considered the score just a "jumping off point." He felt that every performance of it should be radically different. Tetzloff compared that to sounds one hears in the morning which may seem quite different if heard again in the evening.

The Sonata is based on Ives' reflections on five famous authors, all of whom lived in Concord, Massachusetts.

The first movement, Tetzloff told us, is about asking these important questions. One hears the Beethoven motive repeatedly, and there are spontaneous sounding meanderings which are interrupted by loud explosions. The movement ends very softly with the Beethoven theme in the left hand.

The second movement is based on the idea that “life is a dream and a joke," according to the pianist. The music is alternately wild and fantastic, then quiet. A wooden block was used to play tone clusters with the right hand. Later there is a hymn fragment, which alternates with a whirlwind, and still later comes a march.

The third movement is the slow movement. Here, again, are reiterations of the Beethoven theme, this time all over the place, even hanging down from one tonality into another, plus patriotic hymns, Scottish songs, etc.

The last movement is a meditation on Thoreau, who said that he didn't have to go to Boston to hear concerts; he could simply walk in the woods and enjoy the sounds of nature instead. Much of this movement is quiet, subdued, and spiritual, with beautiful shadings. At one point it seemed to be softly marching away into the distance. At the end, one hears the Beethoven theme again in the right hand, but with the same note repeated four times, instead of dropping a minor third for the last note, a soft left hand accompaniment underneath. Did Ives finally find the answer(s) to his question(s)?!

I don't know. But in answer to the question "What kind of pianist is Reed Tetzloff?" the answer would certainly be "One whom I'd like to hear again!"

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