12 Études for Piano
ARTIST: Pianist Stefano Greco
LABEL: Naxos - 8.559922
Work on my Twelve Études for Piano began in the fall of 2011 and finished in early 2012. The c. 40-minute work was commissioned by Vanderbilt University for a performance that was given in 2013 by three pianists who, at the time, were on the faculty of the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt – Mark Wait, Craig Nies and Amy Dorfman. Each of the études are dedicated to a pianist who I have known as a colleague, collaborator, or friend. The aforementioned three pianists who gave the world premiere of the work in December 2013 are the dedicatees of three of the études. Two of the études are dedicated to pianists who are recently deceased (Étude No. 3 is dedicated to Joseph Kalichstein who passed away just before the writing of these notes, and Étude No. 9 is dedicated to Leon Fleisher who passed away in 2020.)
Each of these études was written with the idea of a particular pianistic skill that any first-class artist would be expected to master. But at no time was I thinking that any of these études would simply be exercises; each of them had to be a piece of music with its own self-contained narrative, capable of being received purely as concert piece, but with a particular and clearly apparent technical demand.
In late 2020, the Italian pianist Stefano Greco had expressed his desire to perform my twelve études. He asked me if a recording existed and I mentioned to him that there was not, nor had there been a public performance of the entire set by one pianist. Stefano Greco’s artistry was extraordinary; his early recording of J.S. Bach’s The Art of Fugue showed him to be a master of Bach’s music, but I was not only surprised and delighted to know that he not only wanted to play these pieces, but thrilled when I finally had a chance to hear him play some of my études through a connection on Zoom.
The recording of the work took place in late September 2021, while I was in Rome from 29 August to 10 October. I will always be grateful to Stefano for the hours of time that he invested in studying my work. By the time of the recording, he knew these études from the inside out, as if he had composed them himself.
My Piano Fantasy (“Wenn ich einmal soll scheiden”) was composed on a commission from the Gilmore Foundation in 2008 for pianist Adam Golka. This work, of approximately 18 minutes in length, is based on the final chorale that appears in Bach’s St Matthew Passion. The work is actually a free set of continuous variations, with the theme coming at the end of the work rather than at the beginning, as is commonly found in a set of variations. This idea creates a kind of revelation of a “hidden song,” which is only unveiled at the end of the piece. Years after composing this work, I have come to understand this work itself as a search for grace, that which is not earned in life but given as a gift. The revelation of that chorale of grace comes at the end of a fugue, which is the final variation of the fantasy. This fugue, which starts out tonally (the subject itself is derived from the Bach chorale tune), becomes more and more dissonant, and in essence “corrupted,” until at its darkest moment, the chorale quietly emerges note for note as it was originally written by Bach. The work ends quietly and peacefully, echoing fragments of the chorale tune in the harmonic language that exists throughout the rest of the work.
The two short pieces that complete this album, Lullaby and Song Without Words, are piano transcriptions that exist as instrumental interludes in the second act of my opera The Grand Hotel Tartarus. These two works, which are the equivalent of bonus tracks on this album, were included largely because of Stefano Greco’s desire to play them after having heard me perform them for him during my stay in Rome in the fall of 2021.
A versatile and visionary artist, Stefano Greco takes piano interpretation to a new frontier. He starts from a philological reading of the musical scores and expresses creative freedom by interpreting the non-coded elements. In order to produce a spirited music, as alive as if it was conceived in the same moment of the performance, Greco transforms himself into the composer. “For Stefano Greco’s sensibility allows him to calibrate sound in a stupefying manner, as if he had invented it within the very moment of execution.” (M. Abbado)
This way only one can witness something truly involving and a new listening experience.
Stefano Greco, pianist
Stefano Greco brings to his interpretations the dedication of a scholar; the curiosity of an explorer concerning the culture from which the music he plays has sprung; and the technical excellence that gives him the freedom to realize his interpretive concepts. “He approaches music like a scientist, realizing on the keyboard a deep interpretative and aesthetic reasoning. […] about the essence of sound, the balancing of perfect geometries, the interlacing of voices, produced with a maturity that comes after the consciousness of so many fugues, preludes, inventions. […]” (La Nuova Sardegna, Daniela Sari)
Greco has just recorded for Naxos a new album, dedicated to the Grammy winner composer Richard Danielpour, which includes the first recording of his Piano Fantasy, his 12 Etudes for piano and two transcriptions from a new Opera that the composer is still writing. This album will be released in September and will be distributed internationally.
Specialist in Bach’s music, he has been invited to perform his music in the most prestigious concert halls and in historic events: the Festival of Castleton, created by Lorin Maazel, after Maestro’s death, started the new season with a concert in his memory and honor, in which Greco performed J.S. Bach Goldberg Variations. Ms. Turban Maazel commented: “[…] In the tradition of the grand interpreters such as Glenn Gould, Wilhelm Kempff and Murray Perahia, Stefano Greco has created his own very personal concept while remaining a deeply respectful and true Bach scholar. I am enthusiastic about presenting this extraordinary pianist in Castleton […]”