New Focus Recordings expands its representation of iconic works from the solo piano repertoire with this recital release of works by Carter, Stravinsky, and Schumann, performed with grace and precision by pianist Eric Huebner.
Kreisleriana, Op. 16 (1838) first editionRobert Schumann (1810-1856)
|02||Sehr innig und nicht zu rasch|
Sehr innig und nicht zu rasch
|08||Schnell und spielend|
Schnell und spielend
Trois mouvements de PétroushkaIgor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
|12||La semaine grasse|
La semaine grasse
The three works on this disc were chosen in part to represent different aspects of my career as a pianist. Schumann’s music has been a near constant for me since I first started playing the piano. Carter and Stravinsky have come into my repertoire more recently as my professional career has featured me most often in the music of 20th and 21st century composers. Finally, Stravinsky’s Trois mouvements de Pétroushka carries a special significance. I’ve played the piano part of the orchestral ballet score countless times with the New York Philharmonic over the years and can’t help but hear the sounds of the orchestra when I perform his 1921 arrangement for solo piano.
Elliott Carter wrote that he found inspiration for his work Night Fantasies in the early, large-scale piano works by Schumann. In particular, he sought to emulate the mercurial quality of Schumann’s music – the rapid shifts of character and mood. In this respect, Carter’s Night Fantasies is the linchpin for the disc as we travel from the intensely personal and volatile world of Schumann, through the dense forest of the Carter, to emerge in the folktale setting of Stravinsky’s ballet.
I hope listeners will enjoy the journey!
I would like to thank the University at Buffalo College of Arts & Sciences for generously providing the funding for this disc. It would not have been possible without their support and the support of my many colleagues and mentors.
This disc is dedicated to my lovely wife Carrie and our two sons, Henry and Atticus.
Recorded May 15-17, 2012 in Lippes Concert Hall on the campus of the University at Buffalo (SUNY)
New York Steinway, Model D
Production: Adam Abeshouse and Eric Huebner
Mastering: Adam Abeshouse
Sound Engineer: Christopher Jacobs
Piano Technician: Gary Shipe
Headshot photo: Lisa Marie-Mazzucco
Cover photo (Isla Elide, Baja, California): David Huebner
Design: Marc Wolf
Eric Huebner is a versatile pianist known for his performances of 20th and 21st century music. Appointed pianist of the New York Philharmonic in 2012, he appears in over 60 orchestral and chamber music concerts annually with the orchestra. As a recitalist, he has performed throughout North America, the U.K., Germany, Japan and Brazil. From 2001 to 2012 he was a member of Antares, a mixed instrument quartet awarded first prize at the 2002 Concert Artists Guild International Competition. The quartet toured North America extensively and commissioned, recorded and performed many new and recent works for its combination. Huebner’s work with living composers is documented in recordings on Col Legno, Centaur, Bridge, Albany, Tzadik, Innova, and Mode Records labels. A critically acclaimed 2020 New Focus recording features Ligeti’s Piano Études (Books I & II) and Horn Trio. His debut 2015 New Focus solo release, features works by Schumann, Carter and Stravinsky. Huebner is currently Professor of Music at State University of New York at Buffalo, where he has served on the faculty since 2009, and is an adjunct collaborative piano faculty member of The Juilliard School.
Many young musicians of strong general talent seem to have a special gift for bringing life to what is broadly considered the modern repertory: not just contemporary music but everything backward, to Mahler, Debussy, and Stravinsky, to the era when the ship of sound loosed its ties to the dock of tradition—which even Wagner stretched but did not break—and sailed to uncharted waters. Alan Gilbert, the music director of the New York Philharmonic, is one of them; so is the outstanding pianist of the Philharmonic, Eric Huebner. Prior to his Philharmonic appointment, Huebner was best known as one of Gotham’s go-to pianists for new music, a group that also includes such artists as Steven Beck, Stephen Gosling, Molly Morkoski, and Blair McMillen. (For me, Lisa Moore, closely linked to the music of her husband, Martin Bresnick, and other Yale-connected composers, serves as éminence grise.) Now Huebner has the chance to show his stuff, with a recently released CD on the New Focus label.
The album begins with Schumann’s “Kreisleriana,” a fantastical example of nineteenth-century Romanticism, and Huebner’s straitlaced approach will not tempt anyone to throw away their Martha Argerich recording (Deutsche Grammophon). (A comparison between each performer’s interpretation of the finale, with its oddly insinuating expressive marking “the bass [voice] quite easily and freely,” tells all.) We naturally associate the composer of the next work, Elliott Carter, with uncompromising modernist dissonance and complexity, but in “Night Fantasies” (1980) he paid tribute to the “poetic moodiness” found in “Kreisleriana” and other early piano pieces by Schumann. Not that he gave up the complexity, of course. (The work’s fiery, lyrical spirit inhabits another work from around that time, the Robert Lowell song cycle “In Sleep, in Thunder.”)
Huebner has squatter’s rights to “Night Fantasies,” since one of the four stellar pianists for whom Carter wrote the work was none other than Paul Jacobs, who was the Philharmonic’s pianist until his death in 1983. Recordings by two of the other commissioners, Ursula Oppens and Charles Rosen, provide stiff competition: Oppens’s take (her second, on the Cedille label) is dazzlingly, almost giddily Schumannesque, while Rosen’s dangerously seductive reading (Etcetera), grounds the piece in the music of his and Carter’s youth, the Second Viennese School and postwar jazz. But Heubner holds his own, bringing an unexpectedly plaintive, almost Brahmsian lyricism to the piece, emphasizing the contrasts between its granitic, chorale-like sections and its brilliant passagework.
Another DG colossus, Maurizio Pollini, engraved the benchmark interpretation of the final work on Huebner’s disk, Stravinsky’s Three Movements from “Pétrouchka.” Hardly anyone could match the gleaming, rocket-like runs that Pollini executes in the “Danse Russe,” or the weird, icy tenderness that he brings to “Chez Pétrouchka.” But Huebner, who has played the original ballet’s extensive piano part with the Philharmonic many times (the solo Three Movements were made as a set of showpieces for Arthur Rubinstein), offers a refreshing alternative. With Pollini, in the relentless, locomotive energy he brings to so much repertory, the piece roars past as brilliant abstract music; Huebner, loosening the rhythms and giving some brassy boost to the big climaxes, conjures up an invisible ballet, returning the Movements to their heritage on the stage. - Russell Platt, The New Yorker, 6.27.2015
Huebner’s approach is more dry and straightforward than many I’ve heard. It lends well to the clarity of the counterpoint in the eighth movement of Kreisleriana, as well as the more recent works here. Carter’s insomniac ‘Night Fantasies’ is an exercise in changing moods and sharp contrasts, like the mind racing during a sleepless night. Huebner’s sharp rhythms and attention to detail help convey the largescale development of the work. The same precision is deployed in a restrained, yet rich Petroushka.
-- Sang Woo Kang, © 2015 American Record Guide
Eric Huebner specializes in modern repertoire, and his dry, straight forward approach undergirds this crips recording. Elliott Carter's Night Fantasies is a highlight of the disc, its sharp contrasts suggesting a nocturnal spell of wakefulness. The constantly changing moods, complex polyrhythms, and streams of pulsations make the composition challenging. Huebner's intepretation attends to the work's large-scale harmonic and rhythmic development, while mainting its sensitive and expressive nature. In Kreisleriana, minimal pedaling draws attention to Schumann's use of counterpoint. Although Petrouschka is controlled to the point of restraint, it still has a rich orchestral sound. Huebner mentions in the liner notes that he has "played the piano part of the orchestra ballet score countless times with the New York Philharmonic," and thus "can't help but hear the sounds of the orchestra" when playing Stravinsky's piano arrangement. This is an excellent recording, with the Carter and Stravinsky particularly fine. - Clavier Companion, January 2016
Eric Huebner is a versatile musician with eight recordings to his credit. Many of them are ensemble performances of contemporary music, so it’s a thrill to hear what he does on this new solo CD Eric Huebner Plays Schumann, Carter and Stravinsky (New Focus Recordings FCR159). Huebner’s performance of the Schumann Kreisleriana Op.16 is competent and direct with memorable tenderness flowing through the Sehr langsam movement. It is, however, his playing of three movements from Stravinsky’s Petrouchka that really tempts one to reach for superlatives. While many pianists begin the Danse Russe at full throttle, Huebner holds back throughout this section and saves his energy for the maniacal marathon of playing required for La semaine grasse. His clarity and endurance are truly impressive. Better still is the intervening movement, Chez Petrouchka, which I have never heard played with such impish energy and mysticism. He uses the silence between notes to powerful effect and adds unexpected hesitations to rests. It’s a brilliant performance. The recording also includes the rather dense Night Fantasies by Elliott Carter. Huebner is very much at home with this material. It’s unstructured and leaves the performer to create an episodic map that makes interpretive sense for the listener. Its length requires intellectual discipline to sustain interest and Huebner has no difficulty doing this, effectively conveying Carter’s world of half wakefulness in the middle of the night. -- Alex Baran, The Whole Note, 3.2016