When confronted with the challenge of writing a review about the work of pianist Byron Janis, the old saw about bringing coals to Newcastle popped into my mind, and an inner voice quietly whispered: “How can you possibly bring any fresh insight, any yet unheard or unread accolade to the table of one of the greatest pianists of our time? Get real!”
But I forged ahead not out of hubris but eager to share with my music-loving reader-friends the news of the release of BYRON JANIS LIVE ON TOUR, a two-vinyl LP edition, autographed by the artist, also available in CD form from http://byronjanis.com.
First and in the spirit of full disclosure: I am basing my enthusiastic response on my listening today to this giant for the first time in my life live. Alright, an LP is not a live concert but this LP is all tracks of live appearances.
I should qualify that above. I did listen many times to Byron Janis playing his unique and beloved Chopin on the radio (thanks to WQXR in NYC and WGUC in Cincinnati) and always admired his art, but again never live.
When I grew up in Cuba listening to some great classical artists, Byron Janis was just beginning his career. When he played in Havana in 1999 I had already moved to the United States. I missed him live then.
Then living in various cities and pursuing my own career I kept missing his live appearances in recital and in concert. All that is just to say that sitting down to listen to this revelatory collection of excerpts from Byron Janis concerts in Paris, New York, Madrid, Brussels and various other cities is a great first time visit with this artist, live or not.
Let me cut to the chase by informing our readers of what he plays here: three movements from three different Haydn sonatas: his playing quintessentially classical; three waltzes, a Mazurka, a nocturne, and the Largo from the B Minor Sonata – all six by Chopin, all exquisite.
That’s the first of two LP’s.
In the second LP, Janis takes on the 104th Pace non trovo from the Petrarch Sonnets and the Rigoletto paraphrase, both by Liszt without breaking a sweat. He then lightens up and coolly riffs with the great Cy Coleman in By and Cy and then wins our hearts with three nifty label-less songs of his (which I will not call Pop but they are not Art Songs either): You Are More; David’s Star – A Son for Israel; and Like Any Man.
The album is a family undertaking, beautifully self-produced, insightfully annotated by Janis himself, with striking cover art by wife Maria Janis, and movingly dedicated to son Stefan Janis, who died tragically just months ago.
The remastering by Bill Lacey and the editing by Arthur Fierro are top notch.
But most movingly, this is not a last but one more hurrah by a restless, inquisitive, intellectually keen, musically gifted giant artist and human being who refuses to stop doing the many things he loves to do and we love for him to do. This from a man in his mid-80’s who has waged a long battle with a pernicious and debilitating form of Arthritis and has triumphed over tragedy.
I guess I have brought some coals to Newcastle but I hope the Maestro doesn’t mind.
Rafael de Acha