Gilbert Kalish, piano: Haydn Sonata No. 62 in Eb, Hob. 52; Beethoven Bagatelles, op. 119; Schubert Sonata in Bb, D. 960. (Bridge Records, 9428)
By Michael Ullman
There were Haydn piano recordings before Gilbert Kalish recorded a half dozen of the sonatas in the mid-70s for Nonesuch. In 1958, Glenn Gould recorded an electrifying rendition of the Sonata No. 49. In the same era, Sviatoslav Richter regularly played three or four Haydn sonatas. Still, it was Kalish’s zestful recordings that brought the sonatas into the mainstream. He seemed to get everything right: the Haydn wit and drama, his sprightly rhythms, and even his special brand of lyricism. Here, Haydn wasn’t being treated as a less songful Mozart or a less intense Beethoven. The recordings were revelations.
Born in 1935, Kalish has hardly been idle since. He has performed widely. He has led the performance department at Stony Brook. For more than a decade, he also headed the faculty at Tanglewood. Bostonians will remember his 30 years as the pianist for the Boston Symphony Chamber Players. He currently plays with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. A supporter of contemporary music, he has recorded a wide, even daring, repertoire, including a celebrated recording with soprano Jan DeGaetani of Ives songs and George Crumb’s Apparitions.
It is nonetheless a particular pleasure to hear Kalish play Haydn again on this new recording, made in a single afternoon at Tufts University in Medford, MA. His recital is as distinguished and appealing as one would expect.
His Haydn still has all the qualities one has come to expect from him: the pianist’s opening attack comes on as a kind of proclamation. The sensitive music that follows makes the opening’s near pomposity feel amusing, in retrospect. Kalish’s Haydn dances; his every inflection seems right. The 11 short Beethoven pieces, some of them standard repertoire for amateur pianists, are among the composer’s most Haydnesque pieces. Kalish takes them very seriously indeed, from the robust Risoluto to the sensitive Allegretto. With the Schubert composition he enters a different territory. The pianist plays the famous Sonata in B flat gently, even underplaying some of the more dramatic passages in the first movement, which he seems to hear as interruptions of its rippling surface. Kalish’s performance of the slow movement is almost inexpressibly moving. This is a meditative interpretation of Schubert that is both original and totally convincing.