Tom Poster | Light and Shadows
TOM POSTER piano
Produced by Peter Newble
Executive producer Dave Stapleton
1 – 4. LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 15 in D major, Op. 28 “Pastoral”
III Scherzo: Allegro vivace
IV Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo
5 – 13. ROBERT SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Waldszenen • Forest Scenes, Op. 82
I Eintritt • Entrance
II Jäger auf der Lauer • Hunter on the Lookout
III Einsame Blumen • Solitary Flowers
IV Verrufene Stelle • Haunted Spot
V Freundliche Landschaft • Friendly Landscape
VI Herberge • Wayside Inn
VII Vogel als Prophet • The Prophet Bird
VIII Jagdlied • Hunting Song
IX Abschied • Farewell
14 – 17. FRÉDÉRIC CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35 “Funeral March”
I Grave – Doppio movimento
III Marche funèbre: Lento
IV Finale: Presto
18. LÉOS JANÁCEK (1854-1928)
Narodil se Kristus Pán • Christ the Lord is Born
Light and Shadows is the major new album by internationally acclaimed British pianist Tom Poster. Lauded for his outstanding artistry and versatility, lyrical tone and sensitivity, Tom Poster is recognised as one of the busiest pianists of his generation working with a wide-ranging and diverse group of artists in the UK’s classical scene. Described as ‘a marvel’ by The Herald, this remarkable new disc clearly provides evidence of his virtuosic mastery, control and musicianship, confirming his reputation as one of the UK’s leading and most exciting pianists.
Intent on achieving a balanced musical life, Poster manages a busy career as a soloist, chamber musician and self-described ‘occasional composer’, seeing him work with some of the UK’s most celebrated soloists, chamber groups and orchestras as well as featuring on soundtracks to some of Britain’s most popular films including the recent Oscar-winning The Theory of Everything. Having established a wealth of praise from recitals, radio broadcasts and concerto appearances, this new disc securely places him at the forefront of the classical music scene.
Light and Shadows is his first disc for Edition Classics. His previous disc, In Dance and Song, an eclectic programme of miniatures from Gluck to Gershwin (Champs Hill Records, 2013), was released to rapturous critical acclaim. For his new disc a clear contrast was needed, major works from the piano repertoire requiring greater interpretative depth while forming a cohesive and well-balanced programme. A single-composer disc didn’t seem the best reflection of a musician with such diverse passions. His choice of repertoire emerged from a love of three key composers: Beethoven, Schumann and Chopin. As Tom explains: “This disc was an opportunity for me to present a recital of works which speak very personally to me but also offer huge contrast. I chose to juxtapose one of Beethoven’s most relaxed and radiant sonatas, the ‘Pastoral’, with one of Chopin’s darkest and most intense works, his extraordinary ‘Funeral March’ Sonata. To complement these two iconic masterpieces, I added Schumann’s magical Waldszenen, a comparative rarity, a work of beauty and mystery, shadows and half-lights”.
With the release of Light and Shadows, a new home at Edition Classics and an ever busy concert schedule, there’s no doubt that we will all be seeing a lot more from this outstanding musician.
LINER NOTES by Tom Poster
This is a programme of contrasts, of light and darkness. One of Beethoven’s most relaxed and radiant sonatas is juxtaposed with one of Chopin’s darkest and most intense works. And in between, a comparative rarity, Schumann’s magical Waldszenen, music of shadows and half-lights.
Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Sonata (1801) was a particular favourite of its composer’s – according to his pupil Czerny, he could always be prevailed upon to play it. Its opening, surely one of the most beautiful in the repertoire, unfolds an idyllic theme over a drone bass, which – along with similar features in its lilting finale – led to the addition of the nickname ‘Pastoral’ by Beethoven’s publisher. The inner movements reveal worlds less pastoral, though – the second movement’s funereal tread, melancholic rather than tragic (in contrast to the famous Chopin Funeral March heard later on this disc), is counterbalanced by the humorous, quicksilver scherzo which follows. There’s a certain cruelty in the extreme virtuosity Beethoven requires of the pianist in the final twenty seconds of the last movement, to round off a work which is not otherwise one of his most technically demanding – perhaps to ward off amateur pianists.
In many ways, the ‘Pastoral’ – the fifteenth of Beethoven’s thirty-two sonatas – is less revolutionary than the sonatas which immediately precede and follow it, and it was not long after its completion that Beethoven made the announcement, “From today on I shall forge a new path.” But it has a lyrical perfection and contentment which I think make it one of the most exquisite of his creations. Perhaps above all, the whole sonata seems to resonate with the composer’s deep love of nature, in which – in a life often plagued by troubles – he found so much solace.
Nature and landscapes also pervade Schumann’s Waldszenen (1848-49). I remember playing Vogel als Prophet (The Prophet Bird), the seventh and most famous of its nine miniatures, as a child, and finding myself powerfully drawn into its mystical, timeless world. This is one of Schumann’s last piano works, and its inherent poignancy seems heightened by our knowledge of the tragedy which was to afflict his final years, ending with his incarceration in an asylum.
In Waldszenen, Schumann adheres to the German Romantic view of the forest, with its rich combination of beauty, mystery and a near-religious dimension, but adds a deeply personal voice, a voice that often seems to be meditating on humankind’s communion with nature. There is a notable symmetry to the cycle, whose opening Eintritt (Entrance) and closing Abschied (Farewell) frame two hunting portraits; these in turn enclose two of the most intimate pieces in the cycle, Einsame Blumen (Solitary Flowers) and Vogel als Prophet, while the three central movements explore different locales. Strangest of all is the bleak Verrufene Stelle (Haunted Spot), whose score is prefaced by the following gruesome verses by Friedrich Hebbel:
The flowers, so high they grow,
Are pale here, like death;
Only one in the middle
Stands there in dark red.
Its colour is not from the sun:
Nor from its heat;
It is from the earth,
And drank of human blood.
I’m not sure why Waldszenen isn’t heard more often. Schumann himself referred to the piece as one “I have greatly cherished for a long time”, though Clara, his beloved wife and muse, is said to have found some of the individual scenes too personal and upsetting to play. It’s a piece which draws us into an enchanted world, and there is something in the innocence and lyrical tenderness of the final Abschied, in which we bid farewell to the forest, which I find utterly heartbreaking.
Back in 1831, Schumann – also an influential critic – had introduced Chopin to the musical public with the words, “Hats off, gentlemen: a genius!” Yet Schumann found himself bewildered by Chopin’s Second Sonata (1837-39), disparagingly suggesting that Chopin had “brought together four of his wildest offspring in order to smuggle them under this name into a place where they otherwise might not fit.”
It’s true that much about this sonata subverts our normal expectations of the form – this is music of extremes, which seems to spill outwards from its funeral march, written two years before the other three movements – but its compelling, devastating energy marks it out as music of a true visionary, and its unstoppable emotional sweep somehow creates its own unity, however unconventionally achieved.
From the first dramatic gesture, we immediately encounter a side of Chopin sometimes overlooked by listeners chiefly familiar with his miniatures: there’s a rawness here, a fiery heroism, a defiance. This is not to say that the sonata lacks in the limpid, ethereal beauty for which Chopin is so celebrated – we find it in the central song of the second movement, and most transcendently of all at the heart of the Funeral March. The strange, elusive last movement, in scale little more than a brief epilogue, was described by Chopin himself as “the left and right hands chattering after the march” and more morbidly by a contemporary commentator as “wind whistling over the graves.”
Finally, out of the darkness, a ghostly echo in the form of Janácek’s luminous, fragmentary setting of a Bohemian Christmas carol, Narodil se Kristus Pán (Christ the Lord is Born).