Thursday, November 11, 2021

Pianist Imri Talgam performs works of Conlon Nancarrow, Morton Feldman and Frescobaldi at the Teiva, Jaffa, Israel

Imri Talgam (©Jean-Baptiste Millot)


The draw to attend pianist Imri Talgam's recital at the intimate venue of the Teiva in Jaffa, Israel, on November 6th 2021 was the opportunity to hear works of Conlon Nancarrow played live and to revisit the unique music of Morton Feldman. But Talgan's programming had a surprise in store - a work of Frescobaldi.


Conlon Nancarrow (1912-1997) was an American-born composer who lived and worked in Mexico for most of his life. Much of his oeuvre was intended for the player piano, a parlour instrument found in many homes in the early 20th century. However, by the time Nancarrow made the decision to write for- and produce the rolls for these instruments in the late 1930s,  pianolas had become almost obsolete. But it was this first mass-produced instrument for the playback of recorded music that enabled the composer to achieve the precise performance of the convolutedness of his rhythmic ideas and the relationships between them. Talgam is one of today's pianists who are undaunted by the ingenious complexity of Nancarrow's writing. The recital opened with three of the composer's few pieces written for live piano. In "Two Canons for Ursula" (1989), dedicated to Ursula Oppens (an American pianist with whom Talgam has studied), described by the artist as canons of tempi and ratios, Talgam gave articulate and pleasing expression to the mathematical beauty and elegance of Nancarrow's style, to its mix of both tonal chords and clusters and its many playful moments, as he met the style's stringent technical demands with mastery. Following nearly 40 years of composing for the mechanical piano, Nancarrow was drawn into Yvar Mijhashoff's international tango project, one involving composers from all over the world. The title of "Tango?" bears a question mark because the piece has nothing to do with a tango. Indeed, it is a set of variations, combining two to three tempi functioning concurrently. In contrast to some muscular, soulless readings of the short piece heard, Talgam dips into his palette of dynamics, sensitively colouring the various sections in different hues, alternating forthright, jaunty playing with poetic, delicate, indeed sotto voce sections, to wind the piece up with playing displaying a hearty sense of well-being.


If Nancarrow was known to have said "I don’t even remember what a tango sounds like.", Girolamo Frescobaldi's "Cento partite sopra Passacagli" (100 Variations on the Passacaglia) does need some clarification. Frescobaldi (1583-1643), also dealing in questions of tempi and multi-dimensional textures, was certainly familiar with the passacaglia form and also with the chaconne, making use of both here, but the title of "100 Variations" may just have been a metaphor for "many variations", these based on a brief ostinato. Talgam refers to the work as "one of the composer's strangest", commenting on the fact that the bass figure never occurs twice in the same way. What is interesting about the piece is that the composer, in his typically free, declamatory style and sheer fertility of invention, weaves other forms, such as the courante, into its extensive fabric. Talgam's playing of the separated, clearly contrasting sections, each with its own specific ambience, made for intelligible and riveting listening. Usually heard played on the harpsichord, Talgam's performance of the "Cento partite sopra Passacagli" on the modern piano, his tasteful, clean use of the sustaining pedal never blurring his eloquent fingerwork, was subtle and articulate in voicing, as he called attention to the composer's occasional unpredictable harmonies. 


The recital concluded with American composer Morton Feldman's final work for piano "Palais de Mari" (1986), an introspective composition inspired by a painting of the ruins of the ancient Babylonian Palace of Mari the composer had seen at the Louvre in Paris. Feldman (1926-1987) was attracted to it for its quality of imperfect symmetry. In keeping with the composer's idiosyncratic style, the work consists of small individual motifs strung together in the manner of "sounds that breathe" (Feldman). Talgam's fine-spun playing of the mostly consonant pastel-shaded, shimmering sonorities, refined by the use of the damper pedal, invited the listener to follow what would, at first, appear as static, identical repetitions, but whose course becomes varied by gradual, slight changes of rhythm, pitch, and temporal placement. Not the kind of work accessible to the rapid-fire mindsets of many people today, but for those in the audience willing to relax and give themselves to the style and its pace, Talgam's performance presented an introspective and aesthetically beautiful and bewitching listening experience.  


Imri Talgam grew up in Tel Aviv. Following graduation from Tel Aviv University under Emanuel Krasovsky, then studying with Matti Raekallio (Hochschule für Musik und Theater, Hannover), he took master's studies with Raekallio and Robert McDonald (Juilliard School of Music, NY). He completed his doctoral degree at CUNY’s Graduate Center with Ursula Oppens, with research on the perception and performance of rhythmic complexity. He has studied electronic- and computer music at the Brooklyn College Computer Music Center with Red Wierenga and Douglas Geers. Talgam’s repertoire ranges from Frescobaldi’s toccatas to contemporary music, including many premieres of works by living composers



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