Here it is a few months before what would have been Richard Wagner's 200th birthday. Last night I happened to watch When Harry Met Sally on TV. And I sit here listening to some notable renditions of solo piano music by Romantics Wagner, Liszt, Rossini, more specifically pianist Silke Avenhaus's Salon chromatique et harmonique (Avi-music 8553262). And as I write these lines, I wonder about this after-modern world we live in and human feelings.
The Romantics had a musical concept of romantic love, perhaps especially Wagner, that seems a kind of museum piece today. Perhaps we have lost all innocence, after the horrors of 9-11, the depraved insanity of what happened in Connecticut, the mass shootings, the video games of violence. Our era is hardly conducive to an unchecked romanticism in either the artistic-aesthetic or the human-engagement sense. And yet perhaps paradoxically, the Romantics in their chromatique aspect opened up music in ways that modern/postmodern composers have expanded and developed. So nothing is so simple.
Still, in the future will there be a place for romantic love in the mating rituals of our species? Will "When Harry Met Sally" be a curiosity little understood, or only by specialists of the period? Will we still listen to Tristan and gush along? I have no idea. All I do know is that music will stay with us and somebody will still listen to Wagner, even if they may wonder at certain heightened feelings in the music that may have become foreign to them.
And the way that the Romantic repertoire is performed may change. Surely the faux Schlockmaninov of a Liberace will not attract mass listeners. But perhaps the artistic integrity and emotional honesty of a Silke Avenhaus will continue to prevail.
All this a prelude to the music I am hearing. It's a disk of Wagner's "Piano Sonata" along with some gems by Liszt and Rossini. Ms. Avenhaus plays them all with a great poetic sensitivity. She does not overplay them. They do not sound like 19th-century throwbacks. They do sound quite appealing.
Exceptional artistry, it seems to me, is all-the-more necessary these days for this period's piano style to come through to us, to speak musical truth to our ears and hearts. Silke Avenhaus has that artistry in abundance.
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