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Monday, May 27, 2013

As Kubálek Would Have It

From the Vault Dept.: A springtime concert report from 23 years ago, when Antonin Kubálek gave a solo recital in Troy. He made several recordings for the Dorian label, which was based in that city, and during a break from one of them told me that Glenn Gould had produced an earlier Kubálek recording of a Korngold sonata – the only time Gould produced for somebody else. “He asked me to play the piece through three times,” said Kubálek. “A few weeks later, he played back the result, which sounded to me like it could have been any one of the takes I did. ‘No, no,’ said Glenn. ‘I used all three. I made 187 edits.’”


THE ST. CECILIA ORCHESTRA side-stepped into the role of concert presenter Thursday evening with a solo recital by pianist Antonin Kubálek, an artist who (not too coincidentally) will be performing a concerto by Martinu with the orchestra next season.

Antonin Kubálek
Kubálek's recital, held in the Rensselaer County Council for the Arts gallery in Troy, was a concise program comprising three works.

And from the first chords of Brahms’s Sonata No. 3 in F Minor, he made it clear that the small size of the hall and the mushy tone of the piano would be no deterrents to a big interpretation.

It’s a big piece that enjoys having the daylights whumped out of it, and Kubálek is a two-fisted player. An imposing series of big chords starts it off, contrasting with a more sonorous middle section. Kubálek established contrasts among the various sections with more drama than is often given to the music, which was very much to the music’s benefit.

Most of the sonata’s five movements have markings that including an adjective. In each case, the pianist took the adjective to heart. Allegro maestoso is the opening, and the majesty Kubálek conveyed was an impressive complement to the decorative setting of the room (RCCA is housed in one of Troy’s lovely old buildings).

The second movement is marked Andante espressivo, inviting the soloist to find that expressiveness in a richly-textured weave of voices that Kubálek articulated with just enough dynamic exaggeration to establish personalities for each of the lines.

He interpreted the Allegro energico of the Scherzo in bigger terms than the implied jokiness of the title, but by the time Brahms got hold of the scherzo form he made a much more serious statement of it.

Some of the fast, waterfall-like passages in the finale could have used a crisper articulation – he seemed to be almost falling over himself in the crescendo of excitement that finished the piece – but the piece that followed, Chopin’s Ballade No. 3 in A-flat Major, showed Kubálek at his most lyrical, a loving statement of virtuosity that made the piece sing with unusual clarity.

It was contrasted with Prokofiev’s powerful Sonata No. 7 in B-flat Major, a disquieting three-movement work written during wartime (1939-42) that exploits the percussiveness of the instrument while popping in surprising streams of melody. The first two movements, an Allegro and an Andante, are tricky pieces of business for the soloist, navigated nicely by Kubálek; the finale is a tour de force that gained considerable power from the measured, rhythmically strict interpretation he placed upon it.

Although hall and instrument were hardly ideal, they nevertheless helped establish a casual, intimate feel to the concert. Which is good, because the St. Cecilia organization is planning more of them. A monthly series is projected, beginning in September, that will be presented with various combinations of performers (many from the orchestra itself) in some of the more notable halls and houses in the Capital Region. 

– Schenectady Daily Gazette, 20 May 1990

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