Thursday, 17 July 2014

Interview: Luiza Borac discusses her new recording "Chants nostalgiques"

Recently, I had the great pleasure of attending the Steinway Hall launch of Luiza Borac's latest recording for the Avie label, Chants nostalgiques. The evening showcased one of Constantin Silvestri's piano compositions, and his  compositional output remains scandalously unknown outside his native Romania. Hopefully Luiza's recording of one of them will urge others to investigate other more whimsical and jesting delights that remain to be discovered.

My short very favourable review of the CD will be available soon on the Classical Ear iPhone app (, but as a means of whetting your appetite, Luiza was kind enough to spend some time discussing the new recording, song transcriptions, the piano music of Constantin Silvestri and her discovery of the great Romanian tenor Ion Buzea with me. Enjoy!

ED: A recording consisting largely of song transcriptions for piano is an interesting idea - where did the concept for the programme start? What was the initial inspiration?

LB: The initial inspiration came through the music of Romanian conductor and composer Constantin Silvestri (1913 - 1969) and his wonderful Songs for piano Chants nostalgiques op. 27 No. 1 (1944).  Silvestri was much encouraged by the great George Enescu who awarded him the Composition Prize in 1935. Silvestri conducted often Enescu's compositions in concerts, and in 1958 the Romanian premiere of the opera Oedipe.

Among his piano compositions I found Chants nostalgiques op. 27 written for piano solo deeply moving. They seem 'easy' to play, but in fact are very complex in their profoundness and tragism. The music of Chants nostalgiques continues exploring George Enescu's main inspiration, the Romanian dor (which translates in nostalgia, longing, sadness). Silvestri's reflecting on dor is much darker and more desperate, as one can read in the original title Cantece de pustiu (Songs of desertness).


ED: You have some very diverse choices - Kreisler, Schumann, Schubert, Tarrega, etc - what were the challenges for you in shaping this selection in to a coherent whole?

LB: Inspired by the Chants nostalgiques I followed the spirit of nostalgia in exploring works by great pianist-composers of the past: Leopold Godowski's Old Vienna, Franz Liszt in his transcriptions of Lieder by Franz Schubert, Sergej Rachmaninov in his concert paraphrases of Fritz Kreisler's Liebesleid and Liebesfreud, also my own piano arrangement of Recuerdos de la Alhambra by Francisco Tárrega.

ED: Having lived with this selection of music, what are your thoughts on how various composers have approached the art of transcription? How have you approached it in your vision of Tarrega's music?

LB: No other composer preoccupied Liszt like Schubert did. Liszt's biographer Sitwell writes that: " the most furious detractors of Liszt, the most severe critics of all his future works, are agreed that if he accomplished nothing else his transcriptions of Schubert's songs are masterpieces in their delicacy and appositeness." Rachmaninov admired Kreisler greatly and accompanied him in concerts. His transcriptions of Liebesleid and Liebesfreud are preserving the wienerisch style, but adds elements of highest pianistical virtuosity.

Tárrega was equally skilled on both the guitar and the piano. Like Isaac Albeniz and Enrique Granados, Francisco Tárrega has influenced greatly the Spanish music through his guitar compositions among which Recuerdos de la Alhambra is probably the most beautiful. As many famous piano works by Albeniz were transcribed for the guitar, a similar attempt was made here, from guitar to the piano, in my wish to make the piano accomplishing the fascinating tremolo guitar technique.

ED: Then, as with so many of your previous recordings, you offer some discoveries in Romanian repertoire - both with the piano compositions of Constantin Silvestri and the singing of Ion Buzea. How did you discover both Silvestri's piano music and Buzea's singing?

LB: Silvestri's music is well-known inside Romania. I used to play many of his piano works like the Rhapsody or the Baccanal for exams and competitions in school. But as I progressed in my research on Enescu's piano music I came across less-known works like the Chants nostalgiques. Also during my research I discovered very rare recordings of the great Romanian tenor Ion Buzea, which were made during the George Enescu Festival and Competition in 1964, when he won the 1st Prize. John Barnes, the famous Glyndebourne producer was mesmerized by the singing and started to work on remastering. Alas, John left us before he could finish this work. Luckily in 2014 the remastering was finished and we also added my playing to the historical recordings. I am very grateful to Maestro Buzea who kindly gave us permission to use these recordings from his private collection, and also to AVIE for completing this project and bringing out the Lieder recordings of a singer who was famous for his operatic repertoire.

ED: Of course, Silvestri was better known as a conductor but how would you characterise him as a composer and pianist? What attracted you to these pieces? Is there much other piano music in existance by him?

LB: Silvestri was an improviser of genius, his music traverses different styles from neoclassicism of the Stravinski and Prokofiev style to atonal elements of Schoenberg, coupled with influences of the Romanian folk music. There is quite a lot more of his piano music, quite demanding and worth exploring. Hopefully I'll be playing more of it in the future.

ED: Recording the accompaniment to Buzea's old recordings must have been an interesting experience! Tell us about it.

LB: It was a truly magnificent experience. What we did was to leave the original parts where both voice and accompanists performed together as they were, and then add my playing in the solo parts. So during one song Ion Buzea is singing with more than one accompanist. It was thrilling for me to become part of the performance in this way, like a magical trip into the past. Simply unforgettable.
ED: Thank you, Luiza

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