Orion Weiss with the Salzburg Marionettes: Schumann, Debussy

Not sure why this has been sitting around as a draft, but I'm belatedly posting it now; good music is always relevant:

Really glad I finally decided to go see and hear the Salzburg Marionette Theatre with pianist Orion Weiss play Los Alamos on Nov. 1 (2014), because Weiss' Schumann was a revelation, and his Debussy superb as well.  With relatively spare sets and costuming, the Marionettes accompanied Weiss in Schumann's Papillons, Opus 2, a succession of short dance movements bookended  by an introduction and finale.  The Marionettes' storyline seemed to involve a love, or at least flirtation, triangle.  Relatively lighthearted, as was the music (at least for Schumann).  The music was my main focus and it held my attention.  Superb music, superbly played.  Perhaps even better were the two longer pieces, played without Marionette action, the Blumenstück in Db, Op. 19, and the Novelette no. 8 in F# minor.  I'm no expert on Schumann's piano music, but I have the impression that many of Schumann's longer works in general can be difficult to interpret effectively---it is easy for them to appear unstructured, longwinded, and/or even a bit repetitive.  No such problem here.  Long developmental passages had a definite trajectory, and both on the level of phrases and the overall structure, Weiss penetrated to the musical meaning of the piece instead of just letting the notes unspool.   When I spoke with Orion after the concert he mentioned that it can be challenging to make the main theme in these pieces still meaningful, and bring something new to it, each time it recurs; he definitely succeeded.  I've sometimes felt like the Los Alamos Concert Association's Steinway D can sound not quite brilliant enough, and perhaps like the action is a bit heavy, slowing things down a bit.  Not so much recently, though.  I enjoy hearing how different that piano can sound each time a different artist plays it, and Weiss got a great tone out of it, balanced between brilliance and purity and warmth and complexity, and played with great facility though not in a technically showy manner.  (I suspect that just to sound at ease in these pieces is quite a technical challenge!).

Unfortunately although Weiss has quite a few CDs out, for example Scarlatti sonatas, and Rhapsody in Blue (on different CDs!) on Naxos, his Schumann is not available on disc.  If he ever puts out a disc of Schumann, I'll snap it up; in the meanwhile I'm going to investigate the piano music in more depth.

After intermission, we were treated to Debussy's relatively rarely performed La Boîte a Joujoux (The Toy Box).  This was explicitly composed as music for a marionette ballet, and the sets were much more elaborate and beautifully done, the music and action perfectly integrated.  The music, appropriately, is a tad less adventurous than the great piano-only works like the Preludes, with perhaps more standard sounding pentatonic and whole tone material, and a bit less complex and coloristic harmony, a bit more emphatic and regular rhythm at times (and explicit punctuation of the action), but still, very rewarding, and perfectly played.  Atogether a wonderful, transporting evening of music and stagecraft.

Addendum:  I found this Nov. 2 post by the piano technician for LACA--- if it refers to the previous night's concert, as the photo of the artist also suggests, then I join Orion in thanking him for a great job getting the piano ready.