MAGIF OF SOUND
Ralf Taal, klaver
“Dedicated with love to my wife Kai.”
|1−24||Preludes, Op 28||39:05|
|25||Ballade No 4 in F minor, Op 52||11:20|
|26||Etude in A minor, Op 10 No 2||1:37|
|27||Etude in C-sharp minor, Op 10 No 4||2:10|
|28||Etude in G-flat major, Op 10 No 5||1:47|
|29||Polonaise in A-flat major, Op 53||6:28|
|30||Scherzo No 2 in B-flat minor, Op 31||10:38|
#15, Prelude, Op 28 No 15 in D-flat major Raindrop, fragm, 3 min 2 sec, mp3, 320 Kbps
#29, Polonaise in A-flat major, Op 53, fragm, 2 min 52 sec, mp3, 320 Kbps
#30, Scherzo No 2 in B-flat minor, Op 31, fragm, 3 min 1 sec, mp3, 320 Kbps
Recorded in May 2012 in Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre
Piano − Steinway & Sons D-274
Engineered and mastered by Maido Maadik (Estonian Public Broadcasting)
Liner notes by Kristel Pappel
English translations by Tiina Jokinen
Booklet edited by Inna Kivi
Photos by Viljo Pettinen
Design by Mart Kivisild
Producer Peeter Vähi
Booklet (20 pages) in Estonian and English
Special thanks: Kai Taal, Singing Scarves, Ann Meri, Enn Meri, Gunnar Bergvald, Helve Kuuskmann, Imbi Tarum, Inessa Volkova, Jaak Ennuste, Karin Pütsep, Kristina Kriit, Linda Martinson Zuccato, Mariann Volkonski, Marius Peterson, Marti Schmidt, Rolf Roosalu, Viktoria Jagomägi, Viljo Pettinen
© 2014 Estonian Record Productions
Upon listening to the piano music by Fryderyk Chopin (1810−1849) the audience gets enchanted by the magic of its sound. The poetical and endlessly varying colourful piano sound emanating from the keyboard under Chopin’s fingers has been widely admired and described by his contemporaries as that of the most beautiful quality with l’art du toucher. Although Chopin did not compose operas and the vocal genre did not occupy a significant part in his work, he is still considered one of the greatest “vocal composers” on the piano in the 19th century: his contemporary Italian opera with Rossini and Bellini in the lead set an important example for him during his youth in Warsaw. Chopin transferred the bel canto melodious and virtuosic ornamentation into the piano music where the cantabile legato and the phrase of his style were reputed to be unprecedented. However, also operatic recitative, dramatic gestures as well massive orchestral sound can be encountered in his works.
The current recording is a double portrait: the portrait of pianist Ralf Taal portraying Fryderyk Chopin − trying to display the model from as many angles as possible, bringing out the full range of means and feelings. The first touches to the portrait-CD are given by a colourful bouquet of preludes (1838−1839), followed by the narrative, elegiac piano sound in the fourth ballade (1842) and thereafter the earliest works on the recording − three etudes op 10 (1829−1832) − where Chopin, for the first time in the genre’s history, unites brilliant technique with poetic-romantic figures. The splendid Polonaise op 53 (1842) is homage to the composer’s homeland Poland which he left in 1830, never to return. And finally, one more brush stroke on the canvas − the restless and sarcastic features of the Second scherzo (1835−1837) that are not smoothed even by its lyrical moments.
When the 20-year-old Chopin left Warsaw for Vienna in the autumn of 1830, he had in his baggage the first experience of the typical virtuoso pianist of his time who was expected to display brilliant technique, fantasy and improvisation. Hence the typical virtuoso genres prevailing in his early composition: rondos and variations. At this time, his greatest idols among composers were Bach, Mozart and Schubert. Vienna and furthermore Paris, where he arrived at the end of the year 1831, and which he made his home for the rest of his life, with their versatile musical life (concerts, operas, press) cast light on new angles of the past and present musical legacy (Beethoven and post-classical music, Romantics like Berlioz, Liszt et al). The following works by Chopin are thus characterized, on the one hand, by traditions, clear form and genre, on the other hand, quite the contrary, by amazingly radical handling of harmony, timbre and texture as well as expanding and innovating the genre, a good example of that being Preludes op 28. There was nothing extraordinary in publishing collections of Preludes − this was done to aid amateurs and pianists who were not particularly skilful in improvisation. Mostly, a performance of a virtuoso began with a short prelude in order to get the feeling of the piano and find the right tune before the first real piece, at the same time this could also serve as an introduction to an important or complicated musical work. Chopin’s preludes are thus traditional and with an established function, while even the shortest of them possess the value of a full and complete work. The preludes can also be performed as a cycle which the composer has arranged in an orderly sequence based on the circle of fifths, from the C major Prelude reminiscent of Bach to F major and its parallel key, D minor. Chopin probably started writing the preludes in Paris, 1835, and completed them in Valdemossa, Majorica (1838−1839) where he had taken along a copy of Das Wohltemperierte Klavier by Bach. According to the memoirs of the writer George Sand, the composer’s life-companion at the time, the constant rain had proved to be a source of inspiration for the preludes. The subtitle Raindrop, however, was given to Prelude No 15 in D-flat major only after the composer’s death, by a renowned pianist of the second half of the 19th century Hans von Bülow.
Little “preluding” can also be noticed in the first bars of the Fourth Ballade (1842) − as if seeking the right tone to tell a story − followed by a melancholic waltz-like work, the drama and power of which reveal themselves only towards the end. Chopin is the founder of piano ballade as a genre, refraining from closer programmatic titles.
The first work by Chopin that attracted wider attraction in Paris at the beginning of the 1830s was Etudes op 10. A completely innovative approach to etude as a poetic piece of work, technical versatility and combination of different manners greatly impressed pianists at the time, including Chopin’s contemporary Ferenc Liszt who premiered the cycle. Chopin adapted quickly to the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the musical capital of the time, Paris, while the Polish nostalgy became part of his compositions, expressing itself with special clarity in mazurkas and polonaises which on the current CD are represented by the festive and heroic Polonaise in A-flat major (1842). Chopin could have returned to his homeland, but for several reasons it would have been unsound, especially bearing in mind the suppression policy of the Russian Empire in Poland.
The true centrepoint of Parisian cultural life was salon and this was also Chopin’s favorite performing venue. Already by 1833, he had achieved such a position in the Parisian musical circles that he could afford aristocratic life style by giving private tuition and composing music. He gave a single annual concert to the wider audience, usually at the piano factory owner Camille Pleyel’s Hall with the capacity of 300 seats. That made Chopin the first 19th century virtuoso whose activities’ centrepoint was shifted from concert tours, improvisations and virtuoso repertoire to composition. The breaking point in his attitude was witnessed by the middle of the 1830s, when he composed his first ballades and scherzos. In Chopin’s time scherzo was regarded as a characteristic piece or cyclic work. Chopin developed it into a large-scale one movement work expanding its range of expression. The musical development is carried by a conflict between different characters, which can also be observed at the beginning of the Second Scherzo (1835−1837) where the muted (sotto voce) triplet is opposing a powerful chordic material. One of Chopin’s students recalls that the composer had called this contrast a question and answer. Likewise, Chopin’s own character is revealed here − his ultimate fragility and immense inner power.
From his very first public performances pianist Ralf Taal (b 1974) has charmed the audience with the colourful and refined sound. Taal’s sound fantasies range from powerful drama and booming depth to gossamery utopia worlds. Together with Mati Mikalai and Marko Martin, they form the new generation of Estonian pianists that made a powerful entrance in the 1990s and quickly gained the leading position: in 1992, Taal gave his first recital, in 1993, he won the All-Estonian competition dedicated to Grieg’s 150th anniversary, in 1994, the Estonian pianists’ and young musicians’ competition Con brio; in 1995, he was awarded Special Prize for the youngest finalist at the Schubert International Competition in Dortmund.
Taal has graduated from the class of Maigi Pakri and Prof Bruno Lukk at the Tallinn Music High School in 1992. His studies continued at the Estonian Academy of Music with Lauri Väinmaa and Prof Peep Lassmann (graduated 1997), the latter being also the supervisor of his post-graduate studies. Taal has attended master classes by renowned pianists like Kalle Randalu, Arbo Valdmaa, Boris Berman et al.
In the 1990s, Taal began his active and versatile concert activities. He has been performing both as soloist and in ensemble at home and abroad. He has co-operated with several acclaimed conductors like Paavo Järvi, Olari Elts, Eri Klas et al and his repertoire includes more than 20 piano concertos. Vocalists and instrumentalists alike appreciate him as an ensemble partner. In 2011, he was awarded the Annual Prize of the Estonian Culture Endowment. Taal is a long-time pianist-répétiteur in the Estonian National Opera as well as a teacher at the Estonian Academy of Music and Tallinn Georg Ots Music School.
Download: liner notes in Estonian
Physical CD, Digital copy