Cellist Denis Brott is recognized on the international stage as one of Canada’s finest and most distinguished performing artists. His discography lists 20 chamber music recordings, including the complete [...]
They spoke about it
The last word I was to hear from Piatigorsky’s lips as I apprehensively departed Los Angeles to accept my first teaching job in 1976 were: “Denis, there are two kinds of people on this earth: the people who pick you up and those who want to pull you down. Stay close to the former and far away from the latter and you will be Ok.”
I look back on my five years with Gregor Piatigorsky as the most important time in my musical and personal development. I had a unique opportunity to develop a close relationship with this great master and through him experience a direct and invaluable link to great composers and artists of a bygone era. This recording is a personal tribute to “Grisha,” a means beyond words for me to honour my teacher and mentor. Those of us who knew Gregor Piatigorsky personally were touched and inspired for a lifetime.
Denis Brott, Toronto, Canada, August, 1990.
Piatigorsky Variations on a Paganini Theme
Based upon one of the most recognizable theme in music, these 15 variations are musical vignettes that serve as descriptive caricatures of each of the artists they portray, their names reading like a who’s who in the performing arts of the 20th century. In order of variations we visit Casals, Hindemith, Garbousova, Morini, Salmond, Szigeti, Menuhin, Milstein, Kreisler, a self-portrait, Cassado, Elman, Bolognini, Heifetz and Horowitz. Premiered by Piatigorsky on NBC’s famous Bell Telephone Hour, this work was originally written for cello and orchestra and later transcribed by Piatigorsky for cello and piano.
Syrinx (for cello solo)
A man with impeccable taste, replete with an eye for quality and disregard for vogue, Piatigorsky loved and acquired impressionist art before it became fashionable. The paintings of Soutine, Monet, and others adorn many of the wall in his house to this day and are the subject of countless hours of contemplative inspiration to everyone who enters the private domain. He championed the Debussy Sonata, premiering it in many places throughout the world, breathing life into it as no other interpreter could, revealing its secrets in a touchingly personal way.
The title is self-explanatory and suggests to me that this was Piatigorsky’s way of thanking Claude Debussy for his magnificent Sonata. Promenade (for cello solo) This homage to Prokofiev was a personal souvenir for Piatigorsky—a description of the many promenades he took arm in arm with the composer. It is a lively and wry work that only Prokofiev could have written… or an equally lively imposter!
Menotti Suite for two cellos and piano
As we were both teaching at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia at the time, we often crossed each other in the common room or on the main stairway as we hurried to our different classrooms. (We were both always late!) “My dear Gian Carlo” he would cry at these brief encounters, “when will you write a cello piece for me?” I never took the invitation seriously, treating it more as the sort of polite, friendly greeting that interpreters think befit composers. “One day soon, I promise” was my equally polite, non-commital answer.
However, one day, as we met at noon, he grabbed me by the arm and insisted that we should lunch together. “You don’t take me seriously,” he scoulded me at the dinner table, “but I always mean what I say. I want you to write a great concerto for me. But not the usual stuff. It has to be something different. Most composers think that to write a good cello concerto one must keep the orchestration thin and light so as not to cover the solo instrument. Not for me! I want to use a huge orchestra and make as loud a sound as you please. I can always be heard and no orchestration can cover the sound of my cello. I’ll show what a powerful instrument the cello can be in my hands. We shall amaze the world.” I listened politely as he became more and more excited about the opulent orchestration of my future concerto.
A few weeks went by and again we met for lunch, “How’s my concerto coming along?” “Well, I’m thinking about it” I smiled evasively. “Ah, but I haven’t told you the kind of concerto that I want you to write. It has to be something different, something new. You see, most composers think of the cello as a slow gloomy pachyderm, a sentimental slob. I want you to write a very light, happy piece, witty, mercurial, like a Scarlatti Sonata, using a small chamber-like transparent orchestration… ” “Good idea. I’ll think about it” I said, glad that the huge orchestra of the previous lunch had vanished into thin air.
A few more weeks went by. This time we met at the end of the day, so it had to be dinner. “Have you started on my concerto yet?” “Not quite.” “Good. I have an idea. I hate conductors and symphony orchestras. It’s all so commercial. Why not a lovely chamber music piece? What about two cellos and piano? I’m not a prima donna you know. I love to share the evening with a colleague or even pupil… ” He was irresistible. If he liked you it was impossible to escape his torrential, inexhaustible charm. I succumbed, and I owe him if I finally wrote my first serious chamber piece.
Later, together with Leslie Parnas, he rewarded me with a brilliant, unforgettable performance. Thank you, dear Grisha! (Notes by Gian Carlo Menotti)
Beglarian Of Fables, Foibles and Fancies
1. The Tree: A BBC News item about villagers of the Solomon Islands waking up at dawn to kill trees by screaming at them.
2. The Waitress: Harry Golden, who explains the awesome wonders of the universe, assuring peace of mind by telling us that, compared to celestial complexities, man’s domestic digestive concern (choosing limas over beans) is indeed humourous.
3. Poisonous Root: An African folk tale about a man from Tanganyika, one of whose two wives attempts to kill the other with poison, discovering that the poisonous root she chose to kill her actually brings her rival great strength and energy.
4. The Tower: This Persian folk tale sees a macabre conclusion by way of a solution based upon the reasonable rationale that a tower is a well upside down. Humourous and delightfully simple, this movement leaves the listener scratching his head in wonder! The opening and each subsequent movement of this work is introduced by way of a leitmotiv that carries us by the “tail” from tale to tale.
Haydn Divertimento (trans. Piatigorsky)
As court musician to Prince Esterhazy, Haydn was always looking for ways to please his patron. He often worked by the famous golden rule: The man with the gold makes the rule! Esterhazy played the baryton, a long forgotten instrument with a range similar to that of the cello and a bevy of sympathetic and sometimes not so sympathetic strings, prompting Haydn to write over 100 trios for this instrument. Since the baryton is no longer in use, much of this wonderful music remains silent. “Divertimento” is the exception. In transcribing this charming work for cello and piano, Piatigorsky brings us back in time to the charm and elegance of the 18th century, much to the pleasure of performer and public alike.
All notes, unless otherwise
indicated, 1990, Denis Brott