~ FRANKO RICHMOND(Duplicated CD)
Like many another contemporary musician, Franko Richmond's artistry is deeply rooted in the classics. He got this, literally, with his pablum; the first piano teacher was his mother, a great lover of classical music. Unfortunately, very few of Franko's legions of admirers have ever heard him in the kind of repertoire offered here. We know him as a supremely gifted all-around musician and composer, blessed with an immense technique and an endless supply of melodic invention in the modern pop, Latin and jazz idioms. Moreover, he has taken elements from all of them and forged a personal keyboard style which he likes to call 'world fusion', something distinctly and recognizably his own. But prepare yourselves for a treat. Thirty years ago Franko presented a formal, all classical recital at Penn State University. Shortly thereafter the entire program was privately recorded, and now you have before you, that recording. It has been re-mastered and the sound brought up to state-of-the-art standards for your listening pleasure, but not one note has been altered. The selections included here are standard fare, familiar to all concert-goers. What may not be so familiar is the playing. In an age when we expect, and largely get, a level of technical performance perfection undreamed of by earlier generations, musical conceptions and interpretations are apt to be cautious. To be sure, pianism came a long way in the twentieth century. Few of the great piano headlines of the past could sustain themselves technically before a sophisticated modern audience. Radio, television and recordings have sharpened our ears past the point where they can be fooled. But the old-timers did have something that new-timers often lack, and that's imagination and daring. They put everything they had into a performance. So does Franko. While nothing on this disc can be considered lightweight, the cornerstones of the recital, of course, are Beethoven and Schumann. The last five piano sonatas of Beethoven are so knotty, posing such a challenge to the performer, that even Artur Rubenstein never played them in public. For this listener, the definitive recorded performance of the Sonata No. 32 belongs to Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. While admittedly a choice not to everyone's taste, Michelangeli never the less brings a sweep and passion to this difficult music that is hard to withstand. Franko's version on this disc is an astonishing achievement, particularly by such a youthful interpreter, easily worthy to stand alongside that legendary performance. As for the Schumann, it is simply irresistible. Arguably one of the composers most popular concert works, it is a wonderful addition to any program and audiences love hearing it as much as pianists love to play it. There are those who insist that the music of Bach should not be played on the piano at all, but rather on the instrument which he himself knew, the harpsichord. Indeed, the music does gain a transparency and fluidity on the original instrument. It is also far easier to play on a harpsichord. Yet, who would quibble with the piano's majestic utterance of, say, the Goldberg Variations, as conceived by Glenn Gould? Indeed, all pianists after Gould have sounded different in Back. Here, Appropriately, Franko let's the composer do the talking and not the player. What can one say about Chopin that has not already been said? A mighty genius wrapped in silk, he turned the musical world of his time on it's head. Audiences to this day cannot get enough of him. This nocturne, one of the composer's most original, places unusual demands upon the performer. It is presented here in all it's glory, resplendent with it's cascade of octaves. That Franz Liszt was the greatest pianist of his time, and quite possibly all time, is generally agreed. As such the temptation to do battle with him in his own court is overpowering. Has the Mephisto Waltz ever been performed exactly as written? One doubts it. Pianists seem constitutionally unable to do so. There have always been embellishments, octaves, glissandi, and whatnot, not to mention that explosive finale. Franko is no exception. But all this is permissive in Liszt's music. He himself was forever tinkering with the music of others, and the Romantic performance practice demanded, or at least allowed much more originality on the part of the performer than we allow today. The idea of fidelity to the printed note is something relatively recent in the musical development. Franko's virtuoso rendering is perfectly in keeping with this music, done with dash and style. The old wizard of Weimar would have smiled. Noes by Carl Richards.
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