Jacob Greenberg: Neo/Classic.


Pianist Jacob Greenberg curates recordings that possess deep insight into the repertoire, casting familiar works in a new context and presenting new works within a larger trajectory. His newest release draws a long arc connecting the music of Haydn and Mozart through Ravel and Stravinsky and all the way to Carter and Greenberg’s longtime colleague Phyllis Chen. Tying all these works together is, in Greenberg's words, "a rejection of opulence and indulgence in sound, and an orientation towards form, transparency, and concision."


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Time
Total Time 73:10
01Menuet sur le nom d'Haydn
Menuet sur le nom d'Haydn

Sonata in D major, Hob.XVI:42

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
02I. Andante con espressione
I. Andante con espressione
03II. Vivace assai
II. Vivace assai
05Fantasy and Fugue in C major, K. 394
Fantasy and Fugue in C major, K. 394

Sonata in b minor, Hob.XVI:32

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
06I. Allegro moderato
I. Allegro moderato
07II. Tempo di Menuetto
II. Tempo di Menuetto
08III. Presto
III. Presto

Serenade in A

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
09I. Hymne
I. Hymne
10II. Romanza
II. Romanza
11III. Rondoletto
III. Rondoletto
12IV. Cadenza Finale
IV. Cadenza Finale
14Ten Variations on "Unser dummer Pöbel meint," K. 455
Ten Variations on "Unser dummer Pöbel meint," K. 455

The Classic era of the late 1700s: an age of invention, changing social structures, and balance, simplicity, and order in the secular arts.

Neoclassic music: a rejection of opulence and indulgence in sound, and an orientation towards form, transparency, and concision. Its freshness often has a startling impact.

Maurice Ravel’s Menuet sur le nom d’Haydn is a gauzy valentine which uses the musical notes of the great composer’s name to make an antique, miniature tribute.

Haydn’s two-movement D-major sonata is about omissions: what’s implied in a silence and not stated, and a harmonic resolution which coyly delays to the very end of a movement.

Elliott Carter’s 90+ is a birthday tribute to the composer Goffredo Petrassi: ninety regular, accented pulses in a constantly changing context, with a few more notes to wish his friend more happy returns. Carter’s three-dimensional counterpoint of lines and shifting tempos shows an unusual concentration of character, and refinement of complex ideas.

A wildly contrasting two-scene drama, Mozart’s little-heard Fantasy and Fugue in C follows uninhibited extravagance with a dignified theme, thoughtfully examined.

Haydn’s three-movement b-minor sonata begins with austere pomp, followed by an amiable minuet (with some interrupting bluster), and finishes with a furious dervish.

A new contract with Brunswick Records was the occasion for Stravinsky’s Serenade in A, whose four movements each fit on one side of a 78 RPM record. Starting with a riff on Chopin, it explores a minuet and a perpetual motion before embracing sweet nostalgia.

Phyllis Chen’s grandfather, a Chinese calligrapher, reduced his art down to pure essentials. His Classicism was about expressive precision. The curving phrases in SumiTones, a commission heard in its premiere recording, use printed noteheads in shades of grey and black. The dreamy piece is a meditation on the dance between brush and paper.

An operatic comic aria by Gluck about common folk inspired variations by Mozart. They transform the original’s humor into something more florid, yet always down-to-earth. First improvised in concert by the composer with Gluck in attendance, they were later crafted into one of Mozart’s biggest and most charming sets of keyboard variations.

All works recorded at Oktaven Audio, Mount Vernon, NY, between October 2017 and August 2019, Steinway piano

Editions: Durand (Ravel), Wiener Urtext (Haydn D major), G. Henle Verlag (Haydn b minor and Mozart), Boosey and Hawkes (Carter, Stravinsky ed. Soulima Stravinsky), Memoirist Publishing (Chen)

Produced by Jacob Greenberg

Recording Engineer, Session Producer: Ryan Streber, oktavenaudio.com

Digital Editing, Mixing, Mastering: Ryan Streber

Assistant Editors: Edwin Huet, Charles Mueller

Design: Jessica Slaven, jessicaslaven.com

Special thanks to Hinda Greenberg, David Greenberg, and the New York Foundation for the Arts

This recording is for Judy Waterman

Jacob Greenberg

Pianist Jacob Greenberg's work as a soloist and chamber musician has received worldwide acclaim. A longtime member of the International Contemporary Ensemble, he has performed throughout the Americas and Europe. His solo concert series, Music at Close Range, shows his equal commitment to classics of the repertoire.

Recent highlights include a guest performance of works of György Kurtág at the International Summer Courses in Darmstadt, Germany, under the composer's guidance; concerts at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival; Boulez’s Sur Incises with the Seattle Symphony; and solo and concerto appearances with the International Contemporary Ensemble at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival. Live performances have been heard on WQXR New York, BBC Radio 3, WFMT Chicago and Radio Netherlands.

As an orchestral player, Mr. Greenberg has appeared with the New York Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic, and Australian Chamber Orchestra. He performs often with the Chicago Symphony’s MusicNOW. A leading pianist of modern song, he has toured extensively with soprano Tony Arnold; their 2013 recording of Olivier Messiaen's Harawi has been singled out by critics. Mr. Greenberg is also recognized as a coach for contemporary opera.

In addition to his solo albums for New Focus Recordings, which feature works from the Baroque to many new commissions, he has recorded for the Nonesuch, Sony, Bridge, Naxos, Mode, Kairos, Centaur, Tzadik, and New Amsterdam labels. Mr. Greenberg is an award-winning record producer, and has completed discs for major domestic and international labels. He is the director of the International Contemporary Ensemble's in-house TUNDRA imprint. As a composer, he makes recorded pieces with spoken and sung texts. His podcast, Intégrales, explores meaningful intersections of music and daily city life.

Mr. Greenberg is on the faculty of the Tanglewood Music Center, and has taught at Hunter College, City University of New York, The Juilliard School, and the State University of New York at Buffalo. He is a graduate of Oberlin College, where he earned degrees in music and religion, and he completed his master's and doctoral degrees at Northwestern University, where he studied with Ursula Oppens. Please visit jacobgreenberg.net.

26 Mar, 2020

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On Hanging Gardens, the wonderful double-CD set issued by Jacob Greenberg in 2018, the pianist combined works by the Second Viennese School (Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg) and Debussy to striking effect, the release's impact bolstered by the presence of soprano Tony Arnold on Schoenberg's Das Buch der Hängenden Gärten (The Book of the Hanging Gardens). In like manner, Greenberg's single-disc followup exploits temporal and stylistic contrasts by coupling Haydn and Mozart pieces with works from later centuries by Stravinsky, Ravel, Elliott Carter, and Phyllis Chen. If the new release is slightly less audacious conceptually than its predecessor, it nonetheless impresses for the calibre of its musicianship. Simply put, Greenberg's the kind of pianist whose playing's gripping no matter the material performed.

By way of introduction, Greenberg, who produced the recording and recorded it at Oktaven Audio in Mount Vernon, New York, identifies some of the characteristics associated with the classic and neoclassic eras, balance, simplicity, and order principles tied to the former and form, transparency, and concision the latter, conscious rejection of opulence and indulgence also key to the neoclassic sensibility. Of course, overlaps between them clearly exist, a point not merely implied but acknowledged explicitly in the very title of Ravel's Menuet sur le nom d'Haydn. Greenberg captures the eloquence and charm of Ravel's music in this graceful miniature, which, true to its title, uses musical notes of his forebear's name by way of tribute.

The pianist's consummate command of tempo and phrasing is shown in his expressive rendering of Haydn's two-part Sonata in D major, Hob.XVI:42, the andante movement suitably bright and resonant and the second dazzling in its briskness. The composer's also represented by the three-movement Sonata in B minor, Hob.XVI:32, which advances from an exuberant, methodically considered intro on through an engaging minuet and a “Presto” taken at an at times furious clip. Mozart's Fantasy and Fugue in C major, K. 394 follows its opening declamation of a dignified theme with characteristically imaginative examinations, some passages delivered at a torrential pace but all of it rich in counterpoint. His Ten Variations on “Unser dummer Pöbel meint,” K. 455 caps the release with folk-inspired variations on an operatic comic aria by Gluck that were originally improvised in concert by the composer with Gluck present and were eventually refined into the charming single-movement set-piece presented here.

Written as a birthday tribute to the composer Goffredo Petrassi, Carter's engrossing 90+ is by comparison a complex, spidery affair comprised of ninety regular, accented pulses that no one could possibly mistake for a piece by those earlier figures. A commission treated to its premiere recording, Chen's meditative SumiTones draws for inspiration from the calligraphic art of her grandfather in a work that accentuates precision, expressive gesture, delicacy, and the omission of the nonessential. Stravinsky's four-part Serenade in A, which is an all the more welcome inclusion for being one of his less familiar works, begins with a stately theme immediately recognizable as one by the composer (even if it's purportedly a riff on Chopin), after which follows a sprightly minuet, a rollicking “Rondoletto,” and wryly nostalgic finale.

Certainly one of the project's takeaways has to do with downplaying the divide presumed to exist between music composed centuries apart. As stylistically different as the pieces by Mozart and Stravinsky are, Greenberg's interpretations also hint at connections between them. Still, the organizing principle behind Neo/Classic. is ultimately of less import than the performances themselves, the recording more constituting a powerful argument on behalf of Greenberg's artistry than anything concept-related. The release hardly suffers for being broached on such terms, and one might perhaps best think of it as a well-curated concert-styled programme distilled into recorded form. It also provides an excellent opportunity to hear the pianist, who can otherwise be heard performing as a member of ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble), playing solo.

— Ron Schepper, 1.25.2020



Ravel’s two-minute tidbit on the notes B, A, D, D, G is not really Ravel nor Haydn. Greenberg’s program notes make much of Haydn’s D-Major Sonata being “about omissions: what’s implied in a rest and not stated….” His Haydn playing is beyond cavil, except I think he makes a bit too much of the rests. He does play all repeats. Greenberg’s playing of Haydn’s B-Minor Sonata is also exemplary, although I prefer a touch more Sturm und Drang in the opening Allegro moderato, which his notes cite as “austere pomp.”

Elliott Carter’s 90 + is not about his own age; it was composed for his friend Goffredo Petrassi’s 90th birthday (between the two of them, they logged well over 200 years). It’s based on 90 “regular pulses” which constantly threaten to become tonal but never quite make it. The pianist sounds perfectly comfortable with its shattered, irregular lines.

Greenberg sails brilliantly through Mozart’s Fantasy, yet his playing doesn’t quite match the “uninhibited extravagance” his notes ascribe to it. In the Fugue, he notes “a dignified theme, thoughtfully examined,” which perfectly describes his performance. His stabbing bass notes capture Mozart’s tongue-in-cheek statement of Gluck’s pompous comic aria, and his fleet, airy playing follows Mozart to a higher plane while keeping the humor bubbling. He plays Stravinsky’s Serenade with greater elegance than either the composer or Charles Rosen, pointing up the Chopin that Stravinsky was riffing in the opening “Hymne.” But Rosen’s gravitas finds more Stravinsky in this un-Stravinskian piece than either Greenberg or the composer.

Phyllis Chen, a young New York composer/performer known for her attachment to the toy piano, is courting high company on this disc. Her Sumi’Tones scatters a few notes in the night air, then gradually gains momentum and coherence before fading back again. Greenberg convinces us that this is lovely music.

This is not repertoire by which we normally judge pianists (say: Chopin, Beethoven, Schumann), but Jacob Greenberg acquits himself nobly, by both technique and sensibility, in these 18th- and 20th-century compositions. The avoidance of dynamic extremes, to which a somewhat cautious recording may contribute, can be considered an asset or a debit, depending on one’s tastes.

— James North, 5.02.2020


American Record Guide

This curious melange of a program was produced by Jacob Greenberg on his own label, with no booklet, biography, or photographs. One has to visit the Internet to learn more. The order of the program is Ravel, Haydn 42, Carter, Mozart (K394), Haydn 32, Stravinsky, Chen, Mozart (K455). Apart from Ravel’s homage to Haydn, there is no obvious relation among the pieces, but according to Greenberg they have in common a rejection of opulence and indulgence in sound, and an orientation towards form, transparency, and concision. The selection is certainly not hackneyed. The Haydn sonatas are not the most popular ones, the Mozart works are rarely played (the Fantasy and Fugue is a somewhat academic exercise), and that is even truer for the rest of the program. As Greenberg points out, the Ravel piece makes use of the notes B-A-D-D-G, but he should have mentioned that B is H in German, or else someone might wonder why Haydn’s music seemed B-A-D to Ravel. The Stravinsky suite is a rather unattractive work from early in his neoclassical period. Carter’s music, “90 regular accented pulses in a constantly changing context”; makes no sense to me at all. Phyllis Chen is a young and evidently highly creative Chinese-American composer and pianist, a founding member of the International Contemporary Ensemble, to which Greenberg also belongs. He commissioned her piece, SumiTones, said to be a meditation on the dance between brush and paper in Chinese calligraphy. Sumi is a kind of Japanese ink used in this art. Chen creates a dreamy mood by juxtaposing a slow bass line with high-pitched curlicues. (This term occurred to me before reading that the piece has anything to do with calligraphy.) The middle register makes a brief appearance in the middle, and the birds (a possible alternative to curlicues) get excited briefly before the piece ends quietly. I quite enjoyed it. Greenberg, who is also on the faculty of Hunter College, has made many previous recordings, some of which have been praised highly in these pages (Busoni; Schumann, N/D 2011; Debussy, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, N/D 2018). Perhaps he races a bit too quickly through Mozart’s Fantasy here, but generally his playing is excellent. The recorded sound seems more resonant and lush in the Chen piece than in the others, contrary to the rejection of opulence and indulgence in sound; mentioned above. Anyway, this is worth exploring.

— Bruno Repp, 5.22.2020

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