JWR Articles: CD - Ballads and Fantasies (Featured performer: David Jalbert) - November 15, 2004

Ballads and Fantasies

4 4

A welcome addition

David Jalbert’s first solo CD, recorded scarcely three weeks after his Brock University recital (cross-reference below) will be a welcome addition to any music-lover’s collection. It’s an impressive array of artistry and repertoire that deserves a wide audience.

Recorded at the Glenn Gould Studio, the sound is generally fine, although some of the Etudes come across a tad muddy and the exceptional depth and clarity routinely produced by, say, Philips’ engineers is more the exception than the rule.

John Corigliano’s Etude Fantasy is an especially well-crafted set that gives Jalbert the opportunity to display his amazing versatility and special affinity with twentieth century work.

In the first, his left hand pulled tautly controlled commentaries and fashioned menacing pedal clouds from his instrument, lurching convincingly before the nervous repeated tones finally settled down to calm the whole. “Legato” had an eerie and confidently disquieting air, sagely peppered with Bartók’s dissonant seasonings, which—so many years later—evoke compelling naïveté rather than musical pain.

A marvellously fleeting flow began the “Fifths to Thirds” before Jalbert’s boundless energy took stage and hurled the music forward: barlines banished, no matter what the dynamic indication.

Then a true Nachtmusik (“Ornaments”—the best of this fascinating quintet) was given a deeply felt reading that dared to linger and wait between phrases, resulting in a palpable increase of tension. The climax, spilling over with a heady mixture of rage, anger and drive—having broken the leash of the long succession of well-executed trills—became a tribal outcry.

Finally, “Melody,” with its dreamy landscape and bluesy turns brought a host of “scenes” to mind (Corigliano being a composer with talent for visual as well as aural imagery, cross-reference below). Jalbert excelled with a thoughtful, beautifully rendered “hesitato” declamation but never lost his sense of direction, even as the final measures wound down, filled with fond memories of all that came before.

The album concludes with another Corigliano work: Fantasia on an Ostinato. From its two opening chords, the experienced ear spontaneously conjures up Beethoven’s “Allegretto” from the Seventh Symphony. But the extended quote doesn’t appear until near the end. In the early going the famous theme must struggle to arrive, haunting in its nearness but virtual absence. Jalbert gets closer to the master than he’s yet been able to achieve consistently in full-length sonatas and concerti from the standard repertoire. Steadfastly, he delves into Corigliano’s soundscape and draws a mesmerizing tableau—dreamlike with hints of genius lurking in the weeds.

The double-time utterances threaten to erupt into Mahler, but are, knowingly, left at bay. Soon, the understated harmonic relationships rise to the surface where—despite their usual orchestral colour—they ooze with honesty of spirit and deftly shaded inner angst.

Such an emotional scope would be remarkable fodder for a ballet. Twyla Tharp, are you there? (cross-reference below)

Oddly, when the original material finally emerges, it overwhelms the abstract—best left to memory to fill in the blanks. But Jalbert shapes all of this exquisitely before letting the timeless notes bid a careful adieu.

Currently reading Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Rzewski’s North American Ballads—my second, complete hearing of Jalbert’s insights into this music—struck a deep personal chord. It’s a magnificent performance. Whether teasing at the jazz or delivering the pyrotechnics of the cotton mill’s machinery, here is a fine example of an artist who is well on the way to becoming an essential advocate for the important composers of our time. JWR

Your comments are always welcome at JWR.

Click here to have your say (please mention the headline for the article):Feedback to JWR.

Featured performer - David Jalbert
Etude Fantasy: Etude No. 1 - For the Left Hand Alone; Etude No. 2 - Legato; Etude No. 3 - Fifths to Thirds; Etude No. 4 - Ornaments; Etude No. 5 - Melody - John Corigliano
North American Ballads: Dreadful Memories; Which Side Are You On?; Down by the Riverside; Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues - Frederic Rzewski
Fantasia on an Ostinato - John Corigliano
Cross-reference(s): Please click on the image link(s) below
for related work: