Classical Music Guide Forums - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - Written by Donald Isler

David Dubal Program on Chopin and Schumann - IKIF

David Dubal used the 200th anniversary year of the births of Chopin and Schumann as the basis for his program this evening, which included live and recorded performances of works of those composers, and his comments about the composers, and many other matters that he thought important.

The pianist in New York who doesn't know who David Dubal is has much in common with the Tea Party member who is an Obama supporter; he/she probably doesn't exist. Mr. Dubal is extremely knowledgeable, as well as thoughtful, deep, and outrageous, perhaps in equal parts. As one who was several times fortunate to enter, as he called it, the "pantheon" of performers on his unique program "Reflections from the Keyboard" I was quite upset when it went off the air, with the reorganization of radio station WQXR. So I was delighted to learn it has been recreated with the new name The Piano Matters, and can now be heard at the same Wednesday evening time as before online.

Mr. Dubal spoke of the very contrasting lives and circumstances of Chopin and Schumann, and of the difficulties they faced, particularly Schumann, whose musical and pianistic background were weak. Mr. Dubal said Schumann "willed himself a great composer." And he described Chopin as the "great spiritualization" of the piano.

He also read poetry, and other thoughtful words from Tennyson and Goethe to Basho and Lao-Tze and railed, as he often does, against over-mechanization and materialism.

An interesting concept he spoke of, which is rather in contrast with what many people think nowadays, is the idea that the performer is just as important as, and an equal partner with the composer. He wants performers to be thought of as transformers, or "co-creators" rather than (mere) interpreters of the composer's wishes.

Four pianists performed during the program. Dongning Yang played two Chopin etudes, and Mirian Conti gave us two mazurkas. Joseph Smith played a Schumann fugue which may have been based on one of the
Chopin Nouvelle Etudes, and a quirky (Schumann) fughetta. Inna Faliks gave a particularly beautiful and expressive performance of the theme from the Symphonic Etudes, and several of the posthumous variations.

The recordings of pianists of the past included one artist whose playing I had never heard before, Clara Schumann's student, Fanny Davies, in a 1930 recording of one movement of the Davidsbündlertänze. We also heard another movement of it, plus an awesomely expressive version of one of the Chopin Nouvelles Etudes with Cortot. Mr. Dubal even made a convincing case that the brilliant Lhevinne recording of the Thirds Etude is not quite up to the level of the brilliant AND more poetic Friedman performance. The great "sleeper" of the evening was Sirota's wondrous playing of the F minor Etude from Op. 10. Why he isn't better known as a great Chopin interpreter is a mystery to me.

Mindful of the structure of his presentation, and with his eye on the clock, knowing that the building had to be vacated on time, Mr. Dubal concluded by asking if we thought the two composers ever met one another, and then read to us about the happy occasion in 1836 when that happened.

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