Classical Music Review: New Releases

Daniel Abrams - Fantasie Variations on Tales of Love.  Fantasie Variations on Richard Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde”; Chaconne on Dido's Lament from Henry Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas”; Fantasia on Carl Maria von Weber's "Der Freischutz”.  Daniel Abrams, piano.  Tristan Music TM-100 (41'48).  Available from

Countless experts have filled reams of paper arguing that there is no such thing as a "singing tone" on the piano.  As a student of physics, I know their reasoning is sound; however, as a music lover and sometime pianist, I remain unconvinced.  Some players can make the instrument sing, others cannot.  Daniel Abrams, from the evidence of this CD, clearly has such a touch.

In creating these operatic "fantasies," Abrams is reaching back to a tradition at least as old as Franz Liszt.  Yet while Liszt attempted to reproduce the grandeur of opera, with clanging chords and breathtaking passages of high virtuosity, Abrams is aiming at something more intimate and, perhaps, more pianistic.  In form, the Tristan Fantasie is a Theme and Variations; however, the music attempts to paraphrase the opera, moving from the Prelude to the Liebestod and taking in additional material from intervening sections of the opera.  Thus Abrams, like Wagner, blends motifs to create new melodies as the piece moves through its variations.  Abrams does not try to turn the piano into an orchestra, but rather resets the music as a work for piano.  Hence textures are light and never reverberate into sonic mud.  This also allows him to maintain a single dynamic flow throughout.  When the "Tristan Chord" finally resolves, Abrams for the first time plays fortissimo, giving the moment a strong and appropriate dramatic impact.

The Chaconne is based on "Dido's Lament," the concluding aria from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas.  The work is stately and solemn, and the form, variations over a repeated bass, is apt.  While Abrams uses harmony appropriate to the period, as he does in all three pieces, he eschews Baroque-style ornament, keeping the work from becoming a pastiche.  Der Freischutz, a more robust work, is given a looser treatment.  Themes from the work are woven into a fourteen-minute distillation, somewhat like the overture to a musical comedy.  Its a lighter, more spirited piece than the previous works, with abrupt shifts of mood and a busier texture.

Daniel Abrams made his New York debut at Town Hall in 1957.  He subsequently performed in venues throughout the world but gave up flying after he survived a crash landing whilst on tour in South America.  He taught at Goucher College and at Johns Hopkins, and he now lives in Woodstock, New York.  He has a marvelous feel for the piano, a delicate but assured touch, and a freedom from virtuosic affectation.  He has recently completed a 45-minute paraphrase of Wagner's Ring cycle, which it is to be hoped will appear in a subsequent release.  The present disk is a splendid collection of affectionate responses to music of an earlier era and is highly recommended.

[Because of its limited distribution, if you are interested in purchasing the disk, it is recommended that you contact the website listed above.]

Tony Gualtieri

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