Silverman’s Mastery of Beethoven Continues

- Guest Post by Ori Mizrahi-Shalom -

A week after the first solo concert, Robert Silverman played the second evening of Beethoven sonatas. It was the same place, almost the same people, and I’m glad to say – the same pianist. Just better…

First, arriving at Le Petit Trianon, I had to circle the street several times to find a parking spot. I thought to myself “is this concert series becoming THAT popular?”

In short, no. There turned out to be some big screen and lots of kids on the next street, listening to some shallow speech with ads in the background. What a surreal concept. They could have been all enjoying a great evening of REAL music and outstanding entertainment just thirty seconds away. The sign of our time…

The selection that evening went from elementary to supremely hard. If you know the music, then you probably know what I mean. There was method to the madness, I think.

The first half of the evening was on the light side. Not overly demanding on technique, which requires special “flare” from the pianist to lift it up above the average. Silverman delivered this music with good phrasing and deep emotions. His interpretation of the music sounded to me very personal, the way that now I can identify with his style: thoughtful elegance, playing the fine line between the basic well-phrased theme and the explosive “show off” urge, that he sometimes still succumbs to…

I have no doubt in my mind that this back and forth stylistic contrast will be obvious on the final recordings and in fact I would be disappointed if it didn’t. That’s where the character of the musician shows and where the music takes a life of its own.

The second half of the evening included the more demanding sonata no 22 and the famous Appassionata. I know you’d expect me to rave about the latter and I indeed shall, but not for the obvious reasons.

As I mentioned in my first review, it’s easy to like Silverman with popular music, which the Appassionata surely is. The question is: can you LOVE Silverman playing popular music as such?

Sonata no 22 is quite demanding. Silverman usually plays from memory but for this one he had the sheet music. Tells you something… He ended up dropping a page on the floor and still finished it with striking brilliance. Tells you something… I remember that because at the end he threw a joke “I didn’t need it after all!”  This ability to go deep into the music and then “come down to earth” and connect with the audience is what made the event even more special. But then came the finale.

Appassionata is a demanding piece. Silverman did not need the sheet music for it. Perhaps it’s just impossible to read as you play at the intense levels that it demands. Perhaps it’s a testimony to the great familiarity with this music. Whatever it is, the musicianship was brilliant. Such an intense mix of music and outstanding polished technique is not something you witness every day.

I’m sure Silverman does not wish to feel that “spent” every time he plays the piece. You could tell it when he took a long pause after the first movement (and the long cheers) and took the time to wipe his forehead and take a deep breath. Perhaps Beethoven intended for it to be just like this and followed it by a much more relaxed second movement, which was also delivered in a magical way. The third and final movement is definitely another upward climb and was a perfect climax to a superb evening of piano music.

I don’t have to summarize that one because I already did that before writing the first line of this report a week after the event. The last paragraph was written first and it’s most appropriate! The evening of the concert, I sent a short email to Bob Walters:

You should have made it to the concert. I don’t think that I’ll ever in my lifetime hear piano playing at that level. The Appassionata must be Silverman’s favorite piece! What a night!

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010 Audiophile, Music, Ori Comments Off

Silverman Masterful in Audio High Concert Series

— Guest Post by Ori Mizrahi-Shalom —

Background.  Many of us know pianist Robert Silverman through the Stereophile CD projects. In those, Silverman always showed a great mastery of the instrument. His touch is firm and his delivery smooth and powerful.

Prelude: 2009. BAAS members had the opportunity to hear Silverman last year at the Sherman Clay Steinway Store in Santa Clara (also organized by Audio High’s Michael Silver). During that rehearsal gig, I felt that he excelled at the virtuoso pieces, where speed and brilliance coupled with decades of familiarity with the instrument definitely pay dividends. It’s easy to like Silverman with “popular” music! I was less drawn to his interpretation of the more intimate pieces, however, where a musician must connect with the music and the audience by creating the ‘right’ mood and atmosphere. In those, technical qualities take a second place to deep soul-searching. I came out of the session last year not quite satisfied: it left me wanting for something more.

Recital I: September 9th 2010. I know the Le Petit Trianon Theater in San Jose from other concerts. It is a jewel! This 340 seat theater offers superb (!) acoustics. It is small enough to enjoy the music from practically every seat in the house but it’s even better when you pick your own… I was disappointed to see so few BAAS members. The theater was far from being full and that is a real pity, especially considering the good cause of raising funds for Stanford Children’s Hospital “rooms of magic” project. Perhaps the Thursday evening timing proved a challenge.

[If you'd like to attend Recital II this Thursday (9/16), let me know.  - Bob]

This concert was the first of a planned eight recording sessions encompassing the complete Beethoven piano sonata cycle. There was no soundman on stage, no drama. Just a few microphones and some equipment behind the piano. And a cover on the piano bench to absorb the squeaks…

My Reaction. Silverman showed up more than ready for the challenge.

Like all things in life, music requires a warm up and I found the first two movements to be in that category: decent but not entirely thrilling. But as the evening progressed, things got better and better.

The second sonata was the “highlight” of the evening and it suited Silverman’s style well. The “Waldstein” offers a virtuoso player anything he could wish for, and Silverman stepped beyond mere technical mastery. He added sensitive phrasing and smoothness that I haven’t heard from his previous recordings or the live session last year. It was the kind of music that I was hoping to hear but wasn’t sure I would.

I was delighted to hear music of great elegance, music which meshed delicate interpretation with a brilliant performance. I was for me a moment of musical heaven, and I’d like to believe that most of the audience had recognized the same joy. The cheers at the end of this second sonata left no mistake about that.

After the short intermission the audience was treated to more of the same. Silverman was “in the zone” and continued to deliver the goods. Suffice to say that the second half of the program was even better than the first!

I can sit at home and listen to great recordings on my system and I do enjoy that aspect of my love of music. On the other hand, any time I hear great music performed live by a master of the instrument, I recognize immediately how much the live music is superior to the recorded one. It’s the kind of experience that adds to my appreciation of music and musical arts.

If you got to this point in this article and did not doze off then you must be a music lover yourself. Take my advice and attend some of the follow up sessions. Beethoven sonatas seem to have just the right mix of soul and playfullness that matches Silverman to the tee and the result is pure musical joy. In a sense, Silverman faithfully followed the note for the first movement of sonata no. 28 by the Master himself: somewhat lively with the deepest feeling. Bravo!!!

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010 Events, Music, Ori Comments Off

Yet Another Stunning ‘Blue Coast Session’


Check out the recordings from this great session here. More on Jenna here, and Matt here.

text by Ori

pics by Bob Bergner

What’s always puzzling in a recording session is whether it will produce decent music or truly great music. Ordinary does not count.It takes two to tango and in this case what a great dance it was. Matt and Jenna have known each other in the past, but busy schedules and geographical barriers kept them away for five years or so.

There comes the third person to this party. Cookie Marenco needs no introduction in the BAAS circles and probably by now in the greater audiophile community as well. As it turned out, Cookie knows Matt and Jenna and convinced them to collaborate on this project. Cookie is to the artists what Matt is to Lyle and Ricky Lee-Jones. She plays the subtle role of an enabler, with her musical insight and magical artistry on the mixing console. These are not “filler words” to liven up the review and we will touch on her studio wizardry later.0027.jpg

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Wednesday, July 29th, 2009 Events, Music, Ori Comments Off

On Lyle Lovett and Matt Rollings…

I didn’t even imagine I’m a Lyle Lovett fan until I visited another audiophile friend and he played a few tracks from “Joshua Judges Ruth”. The one track that stood out was “North Dakota”. I was so much taken by it that Curt insisted I have the CD. I thank him for that ever since…lylelovett.jpg

What grabs your attention in this track is the superb orchestration, which creates a somewhat “misty” atmosphere, in a striking contrast to the pristine clarity of this exemplary  track. I loved the vocal harmony of the male-female duet and the melancholic mood throughout the piece. I never really paid much attention to the piano, but now that I think of it… I should have…

When I heard that Matt Rollings played with Lyle Lovett, I had to go back and check. After all, I was about to attend a live session featuring Matt!

Sure enough, he’s the guy on “the track.” I knew the piano plays a big role in setting the overall tempo and pace. The piano probably contributes more to the overall lasting impression of the song than any other instrument, including the fabulous vocals, yet after many years I play this song I clearly focus on the vocals and less on the piano. Which brings me to the moral of this prologue/story…

Some things are great not because they stand out in the front row and declare themselves “I’m here!!!” Some things are great because they hold back and just play the team role by letting the other instruments or vocalist do their share in complete harmony. For a musician, that’s the greatest sign of maturity as an artist.

by Ori

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009 Audiophile, Events, General, Music, Ori Comments Off

Ori’s Desert Island Disks

deep-pur-sof.jpgAnd now for something a bit different….

Below, Ori describes his Desert Island Disks via track descriptions of a proposed compilation CD:

I included the source information for each track. If you like a track, you’re likely to enjoy the whole CD.

Unlike most compilation CDs, I attempted to put together tracks that are musical rather than “audiophile-approved” ones. The result should be a very listenable collection of songs and tunes. There are good reasons why I chose the specific tracks, as discussed below. In the context of evaluating equipment, try to pay attention to the specific points I mention for each track. In the context of enjoying music on your system, the tunes need no explanations whatsoever!


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Tuesday, September 30th, 2008 Desert Island CDs, Ori Comments Off