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Rzewski live on DVD and film

Hard on the release of a notable CD of The People United Will Never Be Defeated by the young virtuoso Ralph van Raat (below) the composer/pianist himself has released on VAI an unmissable performance of The People United Will Never Be Defeated, filmed live at the Miami International Piano Festival March 2007 [VAI DVD4440].

Unpretentious in manner, as we remember him at the 2006 Rzewski Festival at Trinity College of Music, London, he settles down with his music on separate sheets on the stand (no turner-over) and plays the 36 variations on Ortega's 36 bar little revolutionary tune El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido with easy command, virtuosic but with none of the gestural excesses common to some of today's chart topping pianists...

Tony Adzinikolov's direction is unobtrusive and I am comfortable with the fading between camera angles which are not changed too often.

In the inset notes, VAI includes an illuminating apology from the pianist to the composer, putting this account of one of his most important works in perspective and discussing the cult of perfection which he abhors:

The pianist offers his humble apologies to the composer for the various embarrassing bloopers (especially in the first part). But after several viewings he decided that the redeeming features of the performance outweigh its defects; and anyway, it's a part of the esthetic (and the composer concurs in this) that the mistakes are to be left in. Sometimes it's interesting to see how the pianist handles a slipup; and it's also interesting to see how a ritardando or pause is actually due to the trouble the pianist is having turning a page, rather than for a more serious musical reason. But this unpleasant necessity of having to deal with unexpected problems is also part of what music is about. Much of what we admire in great performers - Rubinstein, for instance, or Schnabel - is not their superhuman note-perfect technique (boringly common nowadays), but their human weakness, and their skill in recovering gracefully from a fumble. My partner, watching the DVD with me, said the camera should not be on the hands when there's an obvious mistake. On the contrary, that's exactly what's fascinating (for a piano-player, at least): How is this guy going to get out of this one?

Frederic Rzweski

I endorse Amazon's recommendation to buy together this DVD and the earlier boxed set on CDs of Rzewski playing his own piano music (c.p. my review for Classical Net).

I am pleased to quote purchaser reviews from both sides of the Atlantic:

I have heard Rzewski play this magnum opus of his on a number of occasions - - This performance is cooler than previous ones I have heard - - the playing in more relaxed, less 'barnstorming' than when I heard him at the Almeida Festival, back in 1983 - - Despite the fact that for this performance he has the score laid out in front of him, it sounds, if anything, more improvisational than ever. It is a delight to watch him at work, too.

- - an extraordinary recital of a monumental piano work, pure mastery and amazing pianism - - with endless levels of colour and expression, this one has to be seen to be believed, my highest possible recommendation - - state of the art in audio and image with perfectly chosen camera angles all the time - -

RZEWSKI: The People United Will Never Be Defeated and Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues
Ralph van Raat, piano
Naxos 8559360

Also on Naxos American Classics, Ralpth von Raat has recorded Frederic Rzewski's gigantic set of 36 multi-stylistics variations The People United Will Never Be Defeated! composed for Ursula Oppens , based on a trite little tune (c.f. Beethoven's Diabeli tune) which became an impassioned international symbol against any form of dictatorship.

van Raat, musicologist as well as now a top pianist, studied the work with the composer and has written for Naxos a thorough analysis of this work in a 'huge array of compositional styles' which has towards the end an 'improvisational cadenza' in which the pianist introduces unusual sound effects.

This work sounded relentless heard live in the Purcell Room some years ago, but Robert von Raat varies the density and textures with immaculate voicing, so that the 62 minutes hold listener concentration easily.

The fill-up is the oft played and recorded Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues, the most popular of Rzewski's 1979 North American Blues.

This work, demanding for player and listener, should be thought of alongside the Diabelli Variations and such pianistic marathons as Stevenson's Passacaglia on DSCH.