Recital Review Print

Nonagenarian Frank Glazer: The Golden Age Pianism

March 30, 2007 - Winston-Salem, NC:

A rapt audience in Salem College's Shirley Recital Hall was transported to the sound world of the turn of the last century listening to pianist Frank Glazer. The 91 year old walked erect and firmly on stage, sat down at the ivories, and began to weave his magic with Sechs Kleine Klavierstücke, Op. 19, by his old counterpoint teacher, Arnold Schoenberg! His refined and carefully gauged control over dynamics was soon apparent. With his hands hovering close to the keys at all times, he conjured huge waves of forte or floated the merest whisper of sound. His tone was golden, and his palette of colors was kaleidoscopic. The only other pianist I can recall possessing such a wide dynamic range produced with such economy of means is Claude Frank who, like Glazer, was a student of Artur Schnabel.

According to Paolo Petazzi's program notes for Maurizio Pollini's recording of Schoenberg's piano music, "the extreme concentration of Op. 19 is unparalleled in the (composer's) work. This is music of brief glimmers and unexpected exclamations." The first piece "is almost one long, whispered pianissimo" while the second is based on "a stubborn, but irregular, repetition of a major third." The short third piece sets thick, loud chords in the right hand against a quiet but vague melody, played in octaves by the left hand. The fourth begins airily but ends with a brusque "hammered transposition of its opening motif." While the fifth is only slightly less harsh, the sixth "could hardly be more evanescent (with) motionless planes of sound set against one another..., a chill, insubstantial timbre which hovers at the edge of silence." Glazer played these masterfully and with more warmth than is usual in this repertoire.

Glazer's control of the overall architecture of a piece and his natural fluency in the Romantic style was on display in his interpretation of Schubert's great Sonata in A, D.959. Many commentators regard this sonata as the best proportioned and most varied in color of the composer's great last three sonatas. Glazer brought out all the magnificence and mystery of the first movement. He eschewed all traces of sentimentality in the Andantino, thereby bringing out its simple beauty. The opening of the scherzo suggests pizzicato. All the anticipations in this movement of Chopin's future style were played with a light touch. Glazer's phrasing of the last movement, with its pauses and the return of an earlier theme, was masterful.
After intermission, Glazer's treatment of Brahms' sixteen Waltzes, Op. 39, whetted the appetite to hear him do the later intermezzi in the future. Simple, straightforward phrasing of the well-known 15th waltz made it seem newly minted. Op. 39 began as a set of four-hand piano duets, first arranged by the composer for solo piano and then issued in a simplified solo version for the mass market for music-making in the home.

Three of Chopin's most popular works — Berceuse, Op. 57, Impromptu in G-flat, Op. 51, and Scherzo in C-sharp — ended the recital, and every strand of each piece was crystal-clear like an elaborately chiseled jewel. Rhythms were vital and arpeggios were gorgeous. Glazer carried these qualities over in his encore: Chopin's Nocturne in E-flat, Op. 27/2.

Glazer is featured in two sets of Vox CDs that are still in print: Satie's complete piano music (Vox Box 5011) and Brahms' three Piano Quartets (Vox Box 5052). Glazer told me the latter was an out-growth of his desire to present all three piano quartets in concert with fellow members of the Eastman School of Music faculty. He is proud of the popularity of his 2006 recording, "Music of a Bygone Era" (Bridge 9194), featuring long neglected salon music.