CD Review: David Greilsammer’s “Baroque Conversations”

At first, “conversations” seems like too hopeful of a moniker for this album. A bold juxtaposition of such disparate artists as Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, Morton Feldman, Roy Lichtenstein, Arthur Rimbaud, and Gabriel García Márquez, “collision” might be a more apt description.

But in the mind–and the hands–of Jerusalem-born pianist David Greilsammer, the worlds of Baroque and contemporary music, visual art, and literature all come together quite naturally. The 35-year-old Greilsammer certainly has some pianistic and intellectual pedigree. He started playing piano at age six, studied at the Rubin Academy in Jerusalem, then at Juilliard after his compulsory service in the Israeli military. Most recently, he spent time under the tutelage of one of the great thinkers of the keyboard, Richard Goode. Greilsammer’s early recordings of Mozart Piano Concertos reflect the spirit of Goode, but his more recent pairings of very new and very old music reveal a mature and already flourishing concept of the repertoire.

“The worlds of Baroque and contemporary music,” Greilsammer says in the program notes, “each living in its own modernity, are driven here to an unusual encounter, to a deep conversation, feverish and intimate. Thanks to the radicality of each of these worlds, a dialogue becomes possible, in spite of the initial distance separating them.”

On this album, Greilsammer creates mini-suites using two works from the Baroque era (and before) as the outer movements and a contemporary work as the middle movement. For example, the fourth suite on the album:

Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643): Toccata ottava di durezze e ligature
Helmut Lachenmann (b. 1935): Wiegenmusik
Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621): Mein junges Leben hat ein End’

Then, in the liner notes, there is an accompanying literary passage. In this case, it’s a moment from Doce cuentos peregrinos by Gabriel García Márquez.

The aforementioned Roy Lichtenstein comes into play in the second suite on the album, which features as its middle movement, Whaam!, by the 30-year-old Israeli pianist and composer Matan Porat. Naturally, the music is inspired by Lichtenstein’s diptych of the same name. The inside of the jewel case sports a reproduction of the work itself.

I have to say I love these Baroque Conversations. By listening to old music in the context of new I’m reminded of how daring Couperin, Rameau, and Frescobaldi were in their day. Similarly, by experiencing new music alongside the old it is possible (and revelatory even) to discover many different century-crossing musical bloodlines.

Greilsammer concludes, “Music allows the promise of a dialogue, as well as the power to bring together distant souls. Music allows us to accept the terrifying doubts we all shelter, and gives us the strength to discover the most distant feelings and ideas, whose existence we could never have imagined before.”

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