David Jalbert – Corigliano & Rzewski CD - A Review
Corigliano & Rzewski: Ballads & Fantasies
David Jalbert, Piano - Endeavour Classics
A review by Rosemary Phillips 2004
Corigliano & Rzewski: Ballads & Fantasies
Mastery and virtuosity. Those are the two words that come to mind
when I listen to pianist David Jalbert and his recent CD, Corigliano
& Rzewski: Ballads and Fantasies, recorded at the Glenn Gould
Studio in Toronto, and released under the Endeavour Classics label.
Why I say mastery is because I’m hearing so much technical
skill, required for this kind of music. It’s new music that
reaches sounds and images with technical perfection, from the trilling
air of a flighty fantasy to pounding machinery in cotton mills.
A new era in musicianship
Jalbert represents a new era in musicianship – dynamic, complex,
precise, diverse, willing to take risks, and daring enough to work
with new and under-performed music. Still only in his mid-twenties,
Jalbert is an accomplished musician who not only plays Bach, Mozart
and Chopin, but with agile dexterity gets his fingers and hands
around John Corigliano’s “Etude Fantasy” and “Fantasia
on an Ostinato”.
“Etude Fantasy” is described as a set of five studies
combined into the episodic form and character of a fantasy. Here’s
where the fingers and hands really get put to the test. The CD opens
with “Etude No. 1 – For the Left Hand Alone”.
Now how does Jalbert do that? Surely the right hand sneaks in there
somewhere? It doesn’t seem possible that he’s only using
his left! The right does make an entry at the end, so the CD jacket
notes indicate, playing a slow chromatic descent into “Etude
No. 2”. It’s the “Etude No. 3” which really
baffles me – a study on a two-note figure, a simple pattern
of a fifth (fingers one and five) contracting to a third (fingers
two and four) and a lot of crossing of hands during the process.
Jalbert pulls it off magnificently. Now after hearing it on CD I’ve
got to see him in action to truly believe it.
Delicacy and passionate intensity
Another thing that puzzles me with this new music is that in Corigliano’s
notes there’s no mention of imagery, or feeling, except with
regards to the finale where “here the atmosphere is desolate
and non-climactic”. The jacket notes are purely technical.
It’s Jalbert himself who gives feeling through his performance,
his interpretation, as is evident in each intricate phrase, in the
delicacy or passionate intensity of his touch and fingering which
resonates through the piano keys to the strings.
Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues
This is a genre of music I have a bit of a hard time relating to.
But, not to say that I won’t give it a try. Still, I’m
sitting here almost hypnotised – by the rhythms, the colours,
the phrases of Frederic Rzewski’s “North American Ballads”,
four melodies based on folk songs which bear some relation to the
American Labour movement. I am particularly mesmerised by “Winnsboro
Cotton Mill Blues”. It’s a wonder how Jalbert keeps
up the pace, the repetitious pounding of cotton milling machines
while holding melody. In my mind I’m seeing a factory, the
workers - the air of intense labour. And as I see this I feel the
intensity of Jalbert’s focus and musicianship. In fact, I
saw Jalbert perform this piece as a showcase at Pacific Contact
in Vancouver last April (2003). I thought I recognized it. I was
thoroughly impressed with the sounds he created on the piano. They
were amazing. And the feeling – powerful, intense!
Fantasia on an Ostinato
That intensity of Jalbert’s focus is felt throughout the
recording, particularly in Corigliano’s “Fantasia on
an Ostinato” which is based on a repetitive passage in Ludwig
van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, the same phrase repeated throughout
the movie Immortal Beloved. This piece is really moving in on me,
just like Beethoven’s passage weaves in and out, subtly. It
starts out very quietly, repetitively, then builds, only to fade
at the end, gently, serenely, softly, on a single repeated note.
It’s at times like this that I wish I could just play the
note on the computer keyboard here for you instead of trying to
use words to describe it. Isn’t that what music is? Going
where words cannot? Didn’t Beethoven himself say, “We
will speak with music”?
Mastery of the music and piano
Jalbert amazes me. I am in awe. This recording is quite an accomplishment,
and even though I am not well versed in 20th Century classical music,
I recognize the mastery that has gone into the production, into
the playing. I don’t have any fancy academic words to explain
and describe the CD and music. What I can suggest is that you give
it a listen. It’s certainly growing on me every time I press
the start button. It took me a while to get into it but now that
I’m there, I’m enjoying it immensely, in fact my fingers
on the keyboard want to play along. If you enjoy Mozart and Beethoven,
then surely this will also give pleasure. It’s different,
unique, and dramatic. Bravo David!
For more information on his music and latest recordings visit
David Jalbert's web site.
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