Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Schubert's last three piano sonatas

Which CD set?

That's the question. One must decide or be trapped within a spectrum of faltering discernment, leading eventually to soul-darkening monomania.

Alfred Brendel, Radu Lupu, or Paul Lewis?

Overall impressions:

Brendel -- magisterial, immersive, architectural   
Lupu -- sensitive, poetic, intensive
Lewis -- beautiful, holographic, powerful 

Recorded in 2002 and 2013, Lewis's set benefits from up-to-date engineering -- the clarity is marvelous to behold. Brendel's set was recorded in 1972 and 1975. Lupu's in 1971, 1982, and 1994. But although quality of recorded sound is important, my emphasis here is on interpretive artistry.

In the Sonata in C minor, D. 958, Brendel somehow knows -- spiritually as it were -- when not to pedal. Those rare and ineffable moments are decisive musical effects. In addition, the listener senses that he or she is in the presence of an ineluctable, masterful conception. His is the best version.

In the Sonata in A major, D. 959, Lupu brings this score to aesthetic life as an aural morphing of sunny Viennese moods into a darker rhapsody. Normality, melancholy, and ecstasy blend into an unsettling triplex of intuited Schubertian consciousness. Lupu understands. His is the best version.

In the Sonata in B flat, D. 960, Lewis barely edges out the Romanian. Brendel's version strikes me as more dutiful than profound. Lupu impressively conveys this as a slow-building danse macabre but misses a certain required pulse of deep metaphysical seriousness. Lewis projects this last great sonata as a waking dream, both tragic and cathartic. In the two previous compositions, his beauty, holography, and power are overwhelming. Here, he applies the perfect restraint, bringing those inherent stylistic qualities under control, to proper scale. Schubert's spiritual imagination and precluded time are uncovered and allowed to glow. His is the best version.

Each artist claims one of the sonatas, in my estimation. So what's a soul to do now? If you've got the money, spring for all three sets. Schubert's late piano music is that important. If you can only afford one, I recommend Paul Lewis's set. Why? Because he comes up short by the merest of degrees on D. 958 and D. 959. As mentioned, he's perhaps too beautiful, too holographic, too powerful in those two sonatas.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Coming in April....!

Slight Exaggeration: An Essay
Adam Zagajewski

poet Jules Supervielle

1884 - 1960

Regretting the Earth

One day, we shall say: ‘That was the time of sunlight,
Remember how it illumined the slightest twig,
The old woman as brightly as the astonished girl,
How it gave a colour to things as soon as it fell,
Kept pace with the galloping horse; halted with him.
It was the unforgettable time when we were on Earth,
Where sound resulted if something was dropped,
We looked about with the eyes of connoisseurs,
Our ears comprehended every nuance of air
And when a friend’s footsteps approached we knew,
We gathered a flower or picked up a polished pebble.
That time when we could never take hold of smoke,
Ah! That’s all our hands know how to take hold of now.’

trans. A.S. Kline © 2011

Saturday, February 4, 2017


He's 14 years old. He's a sweetheart. He's my cat, and I'm his human.


I came to this comic series because of the artist -- Paul Azaceta. He's one of my favorites, along with these luminaries: Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Buscema, Jim Steranko, Frank Brunner, P. Craig Russell, Mike Mignola.

I stayed because of both the artwork and the compelling, neat-o story by Robert Kirkman. Elizabeth Breitweiser's coloring is exceptional.

For the religiously disinclined, this series, ostensibly pointing to demonic possession, might very well be about something much cooler, something other-dimensional. I certainly hope so.

A well-made TV series has happened on Cinemax: IMDb

Friday, February 3, 2017

Violinist Alina Ibragimova

Heiftez, Milstein, Oistrakh -- the finest violinists of the twentieth century in my opinion. Of course, my opinion is based on certain aspects of my being. Other great violinists of the twentieth century don't find their aesthetic way into the peculiar structure of my consciousness.

Now there is a new grandmaster of the violin, the finest of the twenty-first century.

Born in Russia in 1985 and now living in England, Alina Ibragimova is a supreme musician. More than technical brilliance, she brings to the Beethoven sonatas below an elevated spiritual artistry. It's that rare kind of artistry coming to presence without being compromised by ego. (Heiftez played egotistically; Oistrakh exuded cultural egoism; Milstein was commendably self-effacing.)

Ibragimova's playing manifests as pure musical expression, as if the score were somehow magically playing itself. The violin here is so...Beethovian.

But speaking of technical brilliance, I've never heard this kind of perfection before in a violinist. Her beautiful tonal production captivates melodically and dazzles rhythmically (that unblemished punctuation of strong double-stops!). I've never heard such natural and confident playing.  

The accompanist C├ędric Tiberghien is no slouch either.

Her Prokofiev CD is also worthwhile.

Her home page --

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Olga Boznanska -- painter of tomorrows

Here's a link to an essay I wrote for the journal Spectral Lyre:

Olga Boznanska -- painter-of-tomorrows

        Portrait of Helena and Wladyslaw Chmielarczyk (1906) detail

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Georg Trakl

One of life's frustrations has to do with the fact that only a smidgen of the contents of consciousness is available for divulging into the social sphere. The vast quantity of one's impressions and desired expressions remain folded within the spirit-spaces between neurons, into the marvels of dreams, onto the murky films of memory.

These private impressions are subtle to the point of being ineffable. We still talk a lot, but what we speak isn't about that internal haunting -- those states of time-as-mood and space-as-presence.

So sometimes we turn to profound, high-quality poems to grant a sense that elusive thoughts and feelings are not beyond the possibility of at least an indirect saying.

Poems can't articulate the subtlest residue of strange years and vague moments, but they can convey a general shared semblance of a deep divulging. Certain poems seem to speak toward the significant eeriness of embodied soul and the unsettling art of being.

When dark written visions are also somehow imbued with beauty, you know you're getting close to something.

I've added two books to my humble library:


A third volume will be available in April: