Boem! Paukenslag! That’s what Paul Van Ostaijen wrote in his famous poetry collection Bezette Stad in 1921. The poem Boem paukeslag is like a painting, with letters of all sizes dancing on the pages. It is jazz, but with words. It was one of the most powerful Flemish expressions of modernism which made the Interbellum such a fascinating period. I hear that timpani stroke in his writing. Boom! Powerful, without aggression. Only the timpani can do that, can ask for attention without arrogance, can be self-conscious. Because the story that follows is worthwhile.
It was like that for Paul Van Ostaijen and it’s like that for the music on this album. This music is from across the Atlantic, from the United States—a self-conscious nation that would soon take the lead and whose culture pulled itself free from Europe, the continent that formed it. George Gershwin had doubts at the beginning of his career: he wanted to become a ‘serious’ composer and was looking at Europe for the lead. Legendary people like Igor Stravinsky, Francis Poulenc, Darius Milhaud, and Maurice Ravel roamed there. However, they encouraged Gershwin to find his own path. And that path was formed and influenced by something that had hit American music life like a bomb: jazz and the Broadway musical.
Gershwin’s music pays tribute to classical music, but also detaches itself from it and leads the way into a new era, one in which violins no longer rule and new, modern sounds take their place. His Rhapsody in Blue (1924) is very well known, from the long clarinet glissando at the beginning to the big finale with the mighty timpani. Less known is that Gershwin also wrote a classical, three-movement piano concerto (1925). But, already from the beginning, jazz rhythms and sounds were taking over! Boem! Paukenslag!
Gershwin was the first American who successfully intertwined the European music tradition with the atmosphere in the streets of his country. The second name on this album took this even further, becoming both an iconic ambassador of classical music in the United States and a composer of music who brought many different styles together. Leonard Bernstein was a genius, a magnificent conductor, a brilliant pedagogue (generations of people warmed up to classical music because of him), and a composer of several evergreen projects. His musical West Side Story tells the story of Romeo & Juliet, but with a Puerto Rican family that immigrated to New York: a story that is relevant in today’s current events.
Boem! Paukenslag! Both Gershwin and Bernstein liked percussion. It brightened things up, and fit the swirling atmosphere of their time and the fresh view of their young nation. The arrangements on this album provide the percussion with a prominent place, causing those swinging rhythms to be highlighted even more. This album has hit the nail right on the head. Each pianist knows they represent an entire orchestra and Eliane and Nina brilliantly succeed in producing all those different colors. Carlo and Koen hold the reins tightly and beat the drums to their heart’s content. Sparks of joy are flying all around!
As I write this text, it has been a year since Eliane Rodrigues, like an angel, helped me make my dream come true: I had come up with a TV program that centered on me trying to learn Grieg’s piano concerto in one year and then performing that concerto with a big orchestra for all of Flanders to see. I don’t play the piano very well, but Eliane managed to find a way for me to be able to pull it off.
During my lessons with her I’ve had the privilege of witnessing her undeniable genius from up close. For Eliane, music is her mother tongue. When she plays she is almighty, grand, sensitive, warm, human,... I could keep going forever. But genetics might have something to do with it too. Eliane’s mother was prima ballerina in Brazil. Her daughter Nina is an apple who hasn’t fallen far from the tree: she is an effortless pianist. Could there be two musicians who could achieve a synergy equal to this mother and daughter?
Perhaps Carlo Willems and Koen Wilmaers. After all, they’ve been on all the great stages in Europe and Japan. They are true virtuosos when it comes to the timpani, but also when it comes to the triangle, cymbals, xylophone, gong,... you name it. If it’s percussion, they can play it, and spectacularly.
After previous albums from Eliane with Navona, this collaboration is a new step in the search for how classical music can reach people today and how artists can be the bridge that connects the two. In collaboration with deSingel, this recording was done in two days in the fall of 2018. Korneel Bernolet recorded everything.
The result is a surprising, new version of a couple of the most striking compositions of the 20th Century, brought to you by virtuosos who, so to speak, succeed in melting together. Flexibility, liveliness, swinging rhythms, pureness, and intense emotions permeate the album. Listening pleasure guaranteed! — Thomas Vanderveken
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Navona Records offers listeners a fresh taste of today's leading innovators in orchestral, chamber, instrumental, and experimental music as well as prime pieces of classic repertoire. Our music is meticulously performed by the finest musicians and handpicked to ensure the most rewarding listening experience.
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