Piano Concerto n°3
Rhapsody in BlueLydia Jardon, piano
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Jean-Paul Penin, conductor
Piano Concerto nr 3, Op. 30 in D minor
Rhapsody in Blue
Recorded live at Slovak Radio, Bratislava, April 1997
AR RE-SE 2001-3
A repertoire is not the result of a systematic research. Circumstances, opportunities and encounters have led me to Rachmaninoff and Gershwin nearly at the same time. They seem very different at first sight. Nevertheless, I progressively realized that some form of dialogue was deriving from their respective works. Beyond music itself, it seemed that both of them had a lot to share. But I could not rely open my sole impressions of interpret to justify such a connections and even less to justify a recording. I needed additional evidence.
Furthermore, beyond music lies the spirit of music which the artist must comply with. Both composers recorded their works and the authenticity of a recording, even if it is dependent upon the technical conditions of the time, will always prevail on the most subtle musicology. In such a case, the artistic rule is not to follow a tradition, it is to live with an heritage.
The possible connection became clearer when I discovered the existence of Walter Dainrosch. He was a conductor, among those brilliant ones who, at the beginning of our century, imported and popularized the European repertoire in America. He is the one with whom Rachmaninoff played his Third Concerto for the first time, in November 1909 in New York. But he is also the one with whom Gershwin created his Concerto in F in 1925 and An American in Paris in 1928. I thought I had found my messenger in this conductor of German origin, standing in the middle of the old European tradition and the early ages of the American musical life. It was then just half a surprise to discover that Rachmaninoff had attended the Premiere of Rhapsody in Blue, in February 1924, in New York. The conductor was not Dainrosch, it was Paul Whiteman, but Dainrosch was also there, together with Kreisler, Heifetz, Godowsky and Stravinsky. No doubt that Rachmaninoff and Gershwin had met and talked on that evening. I could not any longer resist the temptation to recreate this dialogue, if not in words at least in notes, and, beyond this memorable evening itself, to try to understand why such an encounter was written in their respective musical destinies. I saw three keys in this dialogue: language, ideas and culture.
The most immediate perception with our composers is the similarity of their technical resources: this is language. Both of them have impressive pianistic skills. As is often the case when composers are interprets, their art is primarily virtuosity. Hofmann, to whom the Third Concerto was dedicated, declined the invitation to create it, and the first performances of the Rhapsody by others than Gershwin did not leave great memories.
This virtuosity is also the one of outstanding improvisers. Through their familiarity with the stage Rachmaninoff and Gershwin firstly compose for their audiences. It is beyond doubt that they listen to their public. Rachmaninoff very seldom played the whole of his 24 Preludes, he used to choose according t reactions he was perceiving from the theatre. Hence, very likely, a certain feeling of easiness. Both composers write music with their fingers and both works have not required more than a few months' work Improvisation, fingertip pleasure, seduction, stage euphoria, these are common features to both of them But, on the other hand, it is clear that these are also features of the culture of the XXth century. It is no a surprise if these works have survived to critics, including those of their peers: Stravinsky though Rachmaninoff's music was good enough for movies. This was music for public and public has cherished I since then.
Let us now consider the ideas. We have a concerto and a rhapsody. Structural differences are conspicuous However, we feel some kind of unity among both works, beyond movements and themes. It firstly lies in the writing itself: it is a terse and quick one, quick even in slow parts, which actually are net that slow. 'Mere I little test here and these works are demanding for both the audience and the artist. We have a succession of short scenes, and behind, a relatively stable musical scenery, made of an orchestral phrase wit Rachmaninoff and the more than famous theme with Gershwin. But, in front of this musical background the ear starts jumping from a phrase to another Both works are made of sudden moves they impose to listeners. Paradoxically, Stravinsky is right. This is cinema and we can find its grammar here: long and close shots, still shots and travellings, cuts and sequences. Behind the wide construction, this is a succession o short sequences. It is net a real surprise, Rachmaninoff was fond of short forms, as illustrated by his Prelude or Songs. His musical ideal lied in concise pieces. It is even clearer with Gershwin who was a song writer some of his most famous songs were composed in less than one hour. But such forms are demanding concision can not stand mediocrity. This is certainly why some pieces are not that good but there is little time to drag on when art is mere movement.
This construction derives from the spirit of the time. Both works are American. This is obvious for Gershwin For Rachmaninoff, it is net less: the Concerto was composed for the American audience and was play for them for the first time. This America is still adolescent: everything is ephemeral and is done and undone in a white. But the trend is clear. America knows where it is going and is conscious of its ambitions. While Rachmaninoff had a premonition of this, Gershwin was surrounded by this move which had definitely found its musical way, even more in 1925 than in 1909. A Concerto of the New World and a Rhapsody of the New Word.
How might such works be possible without a culture to share? So far, all my impressions had turned to America. However, I began to realize their culture is the one of the old Europe. In 1909, Rachmaninoff is still typically Russian. Despite his various travels and his cosmopolitanism, nothing can let him foresee that, eight years later, the War and the Revolution will send him to America for the rest of his life, the move of Russia towards liberalization, despite real progress is still very slow. Rachmaninoff is a liberal and the reasons for which be rejects the Tsar's totalitarism are the same ones which, later on, will make him reject the Revolution of October. What is and will remain Russian with him is the cultural heritage which is the source of his compositions. But his life is elsewhere: as long as Russia remains reasonably open to the test of the world, be will stay there. When be understands his country is going to cut itself from the test of the world, and to cut him from his audience, then be all choose his audience and, as some form of price for liberty, will become an interpret.
Gershwin is already beyond this point. The choice of America is net his, it is the one of his parents who emigrated in 1891 But be is Russian and even a Jewish Russian . His family has followed the flow of emigrants of the late XIXth century. At this time, between Ireland, earlier, and Italy, rater, Central and Eastern Europe provides the largest contingents. It is striking to discover the familiar world of Gershwin. Germans, Russians, Jewish or net, all communities recreate themselves. It is no more than an example but let us think for a while of the famous AI Jolson who, under his make-up of black Minstrel, gave eternity to Swanee, one of Gershwin's most popular songs, and the first song of cinema in 1927. Jolson was a Jewish Russian, son in Saint-Petersburg, son of a rabbin and, at some stage, a synagogue cantor. Strange destiny.
Europe is fascination to Gershwin. He deeply feels his "serious" work is there. He will pay calls to Ravel and Berg, and will be very close to Schoenberg at the end of his life. His passion for leaning made these composers smile when they realized the outstanding musical capabilities of the young American composer. His dream, and his end, will be an opera, undoubtedly American by inspiration, but is there any more European musical form than opera? This dialogue between both worlds lies in the depth of Gershwin's culture, net only in music but also in painting. Gershwin was a good painter and had excellent taste with European painting of the early century. Why is his Rhapsody bloc? One might think it is just blues but it is more likely that this was a reminiscence of the colour symbolism of some European composers, mainly Debussy (who talked of the blue flats of Pelléas and Melisande). There is a Symphony in Pink and Grey and it is by.... Claude Monet.
The centre of these crossed influences is New York. Gershwin, like most of the artists and even non-artists of the City, is just a generation from Europe. It is the place of all influences and the musical whirl is net a coincidence. Literature remains Anglo-Saxon but, despite its vitality, is a too formal language and cannot yet be a factor of unity among so different communities. Music, on the contrary, is the immediate language of immigrated Europe. Musical life strikes by its abundance and diversity. The same musicians import die most serious European music (Damrosch did for Wagner) but also promote popular music and give a symphony touch to jazz. Carnegie Hall receives Verdi and Gershwin. Would one imagine Lehar in Palais Garnier at that time, and even today? Contemporary music perhaps, with a touch of scandal, sometimes, but not popular music. The miracle is here: American musical life is not the place of science and tradition, it is the one of innovation, mixture and dialogue. It is not a surprise that Rachmaninoff also found there a ground of expression, provisional in 1909 and definitive afterwards.
This dialogue between America and Europe is the one of our century and it began with music. Maybe tomorrow there will be a dialogue of America and Europe, already largely united, with Asia: everybody can feel that this dialogue follows the same musical routes, and to a large extent the route of European music. Songs and movies have been the preferred tools of such a dialogue. No doubt Rachmaninoff and Gershwin were among precursors. They talked together and still talk to us.Lydia Jardon
The Press covers it !
« Rachmaninoff’s Third is not a feminine concerto. This point needs to be highlighted because Lydia Jardon’s rendering seems particularly sensitive and intelligent to me. »
specialized in classical record critics,
Reviewed by Jacques Bonnaure, November 1997
« This public recording of April 97 in Bratislava demonstrates Lydia Jardon’s daring in musical works whicn require important ressources. In this range, she compares with the best (Horowitz, Argerich, Rësel, Janis, Wild, Gilels...). »
Monthly magazine of classical music,
published in France by the daily Le Monde,
Reviewed by Michel Le Naour.January 1998
« The soloist Lydia Jardon came out brilliantly. Even better: Lydia Jardon manages to play music, that is to say to forget the acrobatics and the pitfalls of such an explosive score to let loose her temper, her verve and her generosity. Bravo. »
Weekly cultural magazine,
published in France,
circulation: 1 200 000 copies.
Reviewed by Xavier Lacavalerie, February 98.