Liberace on the Blue Danube

Kurt Gänzl
Kurt of Gerolstein Blog
24 April, 2014

I don’t think I have been to a solo piano concert since I was at school. Julius Katchen. Lili Kraus. But, since I seem to be doing all sorts of things this season that I haven’t done for a long time: why not! Johannes and Luisa were going, Paulie said the pianist was grand, the programme was deliciously NOT Bach, Beethoven and Buononcini … and the concert was at the Piano Salon Christophoroi, where I had such a grand time last year. Go for it!

It was perhaps not the ideal evening to choose: straight after my introduction to Lily and her knuckles (see previous article) … but after a spinach and chickpeas supper, and a walk (another one) to the Pankufer … I was ready.

The first act was made up of pieces by Rameau, Bizet, Granados and Schultz-Evler, two composers whom I know only from their operas and Schultz-WHO? Arabesques on Strauss’s ‘Blue Danube’? Are they serious?

Well, serious was the last thing this selection was. Mr Kotaro Fukuma had chosen the perfect programme for me. The Rameau was an utter surprise. Nothing like his gloomy monumental operas. Crisp and tinkly, quite lovely. Then Bizet. Well, I’m no German linguist, but these six pieces were born as ‘Chants du Rhin’ which I don’t think is the same as ‘Bilder von Rhein’, and songs – without words – were exactly what they were, with their solo voice careering along above the twiddles. I have to admit that I was irresistibly reminded of ‘The Dream of Olwen’ and ‘The Glass Mountain’ of my childhood piano days! And jolly good fun too.

A little bit of Goyescas was predictably enjoyable, and then came Herr Schultz-Evler. Well!

I don’t think I’ve had such pianistic fun in years! It was pure Thalberg: little bits of the stated theme drowned in gallons of trills, twiddles, arpeggios, scales, flourishes, the more extravagant the better, all concocted simply to show off the pianist’s technique. And Mr Fukuma kept a straight face throughout. The audience loved it and so did I. I laughed right out loud.

At the interval, things changed. First, the star came back with a change of costume. Secondly, the funnies were gone and we were into the more serious stuff. Ravel, Debussy and Liszt. The trouble was … well, the costume replaced the modest black, with .. with .. well, the most Liberace outfit you can imagine. White scarf and shawl attached at the elbows … it looked totally impracticable and unsuitable for playing anything but Schultz-Evler. But play he did. The lovely sounds of Ravel and Debussy swept indiscriminately around the room (well, they can sound rather similar), and we finished on two Liszt ‘legends’.

I suppose Liszt worked on the same principle as Thalberg and co. Terribly technical stuff to show of the composer’s ability for getting as many notes into a second as possible. But where the ‘Blue Danube’ drew great fun from the idea, Liszt … well, I don’t think I care deeply for his music.

I know Mr Fukuma is a widely-known and successful artist, and I guess it would be a bit lese-majestical to expect him to play music like that of part one to the exclusion of more substantial pieces, but … I did so enjoy the first half … I was a little sorry when it turned into Liszt.

But all in all, another first-class night out at the Piano Salon. I must get there again before they close their season …
PS: I find that Mr S-E’s ‘Blue Danube’ piece has remained popular with pianists for more than a century. Well, it was new to all of us …!