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David Jalbert Corigliano & Rzewski CD - A Review

Corigliano & Rzewski: Ballads & Fantasies

David Jalbert, Piano - Endeavour Classics
A review by Rosemary Phillips 2004

David Jalbert - Corigliano & Rzewski: Ballads & Fantasies
David Jalbert
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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