|by Marvin J. Ward
Ashburnham, MA, 11 October 2009. Minneapolis, MN-based pianist Gail Olszewski made her 3rd appearance in a Frederick Collection Historical Piano Concerts series this afternoon, playing a program of favorites on the Tröndlin piano made in Leipzig in 1830. She offered Schubert’s Four Impromptus, Op. 90, D. 899, from 1827, split in 2 pairs to open each half of the program. The 1st half featured Beethoven’s Sonata in E, Op. 109, from 1820, and the 2nd half, Schumann’s Sonata No. 2 in g, Op. 22, from 1838, whose tempo markings, such as “So rasch wie möglich – Schneller – Noch schneller” (As fast as possible – faster – still faster), and “Presto – Prestissimo – Schneller und schneller,” must scare many away from attempting it.
Tröndlin was 1 of Clara Schumann’s preferred makes of pianos, along with Grotrian-Steinwegs (See my review of Perri Knize’s Grand Obsession elsewhere in these pages). A Tröndlin was featured on the face of the 100 DM banknote, with a portrait of Clara Schumann on the reverse, an enlarged color reproduction of which was available for viewing in the lobby. Johann Nepomuk Tröndlin (1790-1862), who learned pianoforte manufacturing in Southern Germany, moved to Vienna to escape military service, working for a number of builders there. When he returned to Germany, he moved to Leipzig, where he ran the piano building arm of Bretikopf und Härtel for several years before starting his own firm, which he sold in 1855. He used the Viennese action in his instruments, thus making it “a Viennese piano made in Leipzig,” as Mike Frederick likes to say.
Jos van Immerseel plays a Tröndlin from ca. 1835 on 2 Sony recordings of Schubert: the Trios in Bb, D. 898, and in Eb, D. 929 (SK62695), and the Quintet in A, D. 667, “Trout,” with the Sonata for Arpeggione, D. 821 and the Adagio D. 897, “Notturno” (SK 63361), that is in the Vleeshuis Museum in Antwerp. The Leipzig University Musical Instrument Museum owns one that looks very similar to the Fredericks’; you can view it here. This particular one has a gorgeous palette of colors allowing great expressivity, and also has amazing power for an instrument of its time. The lower register has a deep resonance, the middle one, a melodic warmth, and the upper, a tinkling bell-like ring. All have crystal clarity with a good sustain.
Although she played with scores throughout, Olszewski clearly displayed complete mastery of the music and exploited the instrument’s potential fully. The instrument is perfectly suited to this music, which makes use of the full 80-note keyboard, and revealed nuances of color not possible on a modern one without sacrificing any of the power required that the latter might offer more of. The Schubert, among my favorite works, (I have recordings on an 1821 Graf, a 1981 Christopher Clarke replica of an 1816 Johann Fritz, and Nos. 3 & 4 on a 1995 replica by David Winston of an 1823 Joseph Brodmann, and have heard them many times live on modern Steinways.) sounded divine. I heard Olszewski on her 2nd visit, and look forward to hearing her on her 4th, wondering which piano and music she will choose then.
|Gail Olszewski Takes Listeners Back to 1830s Paris
|by Marvin J. Ward
Ashburnham, MA, 2 September 2007. For her return engagement to open the Frederick Collection’s 23rd Fall Season of Historical Piano Concerts in the 1843 Community Church here this afternoon, Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN area pianist Gail Olszewski chose to perform her program on the 1839 Paris-made Erard. With two exceptions, all the works presented were from the same decade as the instrument.
Olszewski is a proponent of, among other music, the works of women composers; her program reflected this by pairing, often in alternation, works of two women and two men. She opened with Robert Schumann’s 1838 Arabeske in C, Op. 18, following it with Clara Schumann’s (then still Wieck) ca. 1835-36 Romance from her Quatre pièces caractéristiques, Op. 5/3.
Portland, ME-based baritone Aaron Engebreth joined Olszewski for the balance of the first half to present 13 of Robert Schumann’s 26 Myrthen-Lieder, Op. 25, composed in secret in 1840 for his new wife Clara, the first of the many works of thisanno mirabilis of compositional outpouring that this joyous union occasioned, and the 1st of the program not in the piano’s decade, but not out of it by much. The performance of the songs (whose order was determined by the singer, not the composer), many of them, like “Widmung,” familiar, almost too-often-sung, others much less frequently performed, was one of consummate artistry. Engebreth’s broad-ranged, varied and modulated voice, expression and judicious dramatic gestures were paired with Olszewski’s equally expressive and judicious accompaniment to produce an historically authentic performance that verily transported the listeners back to the period of composition as well as giving them great pleasure.
After the pause, Olszewski returned to offer mostly French works by Frédéric Chopin and Louise Farrenc (Like Poulenc, it rhymes with ‘bank,’ and the accent is likewise properly on the second syllable.), the latter now being rediscovered after more than a century of neglect. She was for over 40 years a professor at the Paris Conservatoire as well as a highly regarded performer, and, unlike Clara Schumann’s, her music (except for the orchestral works) was published under her name and widely performed, both inside and outside of France, during her lifetime. Her death in 1875, shortly after the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War, and subsequent changing musical tastes, caused both her and her music to be quickly forgotten, however.
Farrenc’s lovely Nocturne, Op. 49, composed in 1859-63, 3rd in the set, was the only non-period-conforming work of the afternoon. The other charming Farrenc pieces, the ca. 1835-36 Air russe varié, Op. 17, which Schumann reviewed favorably in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik in 1836, and the 1833 Rondo brillant pour le Piano-forte sur un thème (ou chœur) du «Pirate» de Bellini, Op. 9 were interspersed with well-known Chopin chestnuts, the 1835 Fantaisie-Impromptu in c#, Op. 66, the 1836-37 Nocturne in B, Op. 32/1, and the 1830-31 Nocturne in b-flat, Op. 9/1, The Farrenc Air russe varié was followed by an 1835-36 Nocturne by Clara Schumann from her Soirées musicales, Op. 6/3. Olszewski avowed having selected some of her favorite pieces, and she played them to perfection.
The instrument is as much the center of attention in these concerts as are the artists. This one seemed perfect for these works, giving them colors and nuances that brilliant modern Steinways cannot, qualities that seem more appropriate to this listener’s ears, authenticity aside. Most of them were composed for the salon rather than the concert hall (though they were played there, too, of course), and this piano, like most Erards, is more a concert hall than a salon piano (Indeed, it is for this reason that Chopin preferred more intimate sized and sounding Pleyels, although he did play Erards.), but because of the bright acoustic and large, high-ceilinged dimensions of the venue, it served them well. Curiously, the only work that did not seem enhanced by this piano was the opener. Were my ears not yet adequately tuned to its tones? Or are they so accustomed to hearing the piece on modern instruments, both live and on the air waves, that its contemporary one seemed wrong? The filigree of notes seemed muddied to them. I’ve concluded that, because the other pieces, including the frequently heard Chopin works, were all so exquisite on this instrument, I’ll need to reserve judgment until I’ve heard the Arabeske on it again.
A REVIEW OF MY RECORDING, NORTHERN LIGHTS: FINNISH FAVORITES, FROM THE SUMMER 2020 EDITION OF PIANO MAGAZINE
This album features music by six significant Finnish composers, including Hannikainen, Madetoja, Melartin, Merikanto, Palmgren, and Sibelius. Nordic piano music is not often very idiomatic, but Olszewski ably handles these beautiful character pieces, and plays with great sensitivity. The recording – made on an 1877 Blüthner – includes many lovely miniatures, most notably Merikanto’s Valse lente, Palmgren’s Berceuse, and Melartin’s L’heure bleue from Splinters II, Op. 9. All of the works presented fit well for both the teaching studio and concert stage. Palmgren’s Finnish Rhythms are the Finnish answer to Bartók’s Mikrokosmos, for example. Some of these charming works are tuneful, while others are atmospheric and focus more on tone color. Furthermore, Olszewski’s understanding of, and respect for, the importance of silence contained in these works is appreciated, and she represents the Finnish wit, intimacy, and reserved yet genuine nature well. Kristin Jónina Taylor