donderdag 13 november 2014
Music November 2014
We all remember André Previn conducting the Grieg Piano Concerto with Eric ‘not too heavy on the banjos’ Morecambe as his soloist. But there’s a rather different performance of the Grieg which Previn filmed in London in 1975 with the 88-year-old Artur Rubinstein. It’s a late-gathered vintage, for sure, but the wine has lost none of its old pungency and structure.
Rubinstein’s look of absorbed wonderment as he listens to the slow movement’s orchestral introduction is itself worth the price of the Deutsche Grammophon DVD. Here is music he must have heard a thousand times but which still beguiles. He called it the ‘song within’ to which any great artist must attend.
Some artists are born hearing it. The other day a valued musician friend told me of a pair of young Dutch pianists Lucas and Arthur Jussen he had happened upon whilst searching YouTube for a Schubert Impromptu. He attached a link to a 2010 televised performance from the Amsterdam Concertgebouw in which Frans Brüggen (who sadly died this summer) directs a performance of Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto with the 13-year-old Arthur Jussen. It was indeed remarkable: playing marked by that fineness of touch and agility of mind without which this music can never fully leave the page.
More astonishing was the encore. Chopin’s Nocturne Op.32 no.1 is a piece in which innocent dreaming gives way to the bleakest tragedy, a journey it takes rare powers of empathy for a 13-year-old to realise. Then there is footage of him playing Brahms’s late Intermezzo Op.118 no.2, a meditation one generally looks to an established master quietly to distil. ‘When will you start to make music?’ Rubinstein used to ask ten-a-penny keyboard typists who, then as now, thronged the musical scene. He wouldn’t be asking it of this boy.
So who are Lucas (b.1993) and Arthur (b.1996) Jussen? In Holland they are celebrities who play Schubert on late-night chat shows, travel with the royal family on state visits and return home to musician parents who would rather their sons were good people than famous musicians. If this is not a fine advert for Dutch culture and civilisation, I don’t know what is.
‘It is like driving a pair of BMWs’ remarked the conductor Michael Schønwandt after directing the brothers in Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos. But technique isn’t everything. ‘In China we are easily outplayed’ Arthur cheerily admits, though whether his elder brother – Florestan to Arthur’s Eusebius – would agree is another matter.
Their teachers are all revered elders, the distinguished Dutch pedagogue Jan Wijn, the mercurial Menahem Pressler and the great Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires who first taught them when Lucas was 13 and Arthur 9. For Pires musical interpretation is ‘a civilised conversation where composer and performer lend each other their ears’. You hear that in everything the Jussens do.
Since 2010 they have had a contract with Deutsche Grammophon aimed mainly at the Dutch market. Their first record was of Beethoven sonatas, two apiece. Their second was of Schubert’s late Impromptus, a bold choice since Pires’s own 1997 Deutsche Grammophon recording is widely regarded as the finest of the modern era. Pianists rarely record both sets. With Jussen mi taking D899 and Jussen ma the longer and less favoured D935, we have an inspired division of labour, and a CD of unusual character and charm.
Recently they recorded Jeux, a disc of music by Fauré, Ravel and Poulenc. The elder Jussen gives a fine account of Ravel’s Sonatine and his brother enchants with Poulenc’s ‘Mélancolie’ and the once popular ‘Trois mouvements perpétuels’ (a great favourite of Rubinstein). ‘Your fountains are sad ones’ Ravel told the 17-year-old Henriette Faure after she’d played Jeux d’eau. Arthur Jussen’s fountains glimmer and glow; Ravel’s river god is duly tickled.
The CD presentation borders on the risqué – snazzy designer clothes and, in one shot, no trousers – even though the programme itself is a farewell to innocence. It begins with Fauré’s Dolly Suite (memories of the BBC’s ‘Listen with Mother’) and ends with Ravel’s Mother Goose, his ‘tender farewell to the green paradise of childhood loves’.
The Jussens could have a ready-made future as the new Labèque sisters but I suspect that other worlds beckon. It won’t be easy on this side of that green paradise but this is classic talent nurtured in the old ways of doing things.
Incidentally, Pires herself was 70 in July. To mark the occasion Onyx has released a new recording of those two most elusive of Beethoven piano concertos, the Third and the Fourth. It is predictably fine.
Rossini (Master Musicians 1985, revised second edition Oxford University Press 2007) | Conversations with Karajan (Oxford University Press 1989) | Herbert von Karajan: A Life in Music (Chatto & Windus 1998/R2008) | Till I End my Song (Cygnet Press, 2002) | Garsington Opera, a Celebration (Unicorn Press, 2011) | The Music and Musicians of Eton (March 2012) | The Grange, Hampshire (May, 2012) | Gramophone | The Oldie | BBC Radio 3