Niklas Sivelöv - on his third release on the Caprice label - was bestowed the honor of inaugurating this very promising new series with piano improvisations, and after listening to the content of the CD and also having heard Sivelöv play live, new, fresh improvisations – three in all – at the record company’s press presentation of the CD and the series, I am mighty impressed and quite happy at this new state of affairs: a record company – Caprice – digging deep into innovation and lustful curiosity, whereas most major companies nowadays pull back and only dare the most obvious and safe.
The sheer beauty and brilliance – and humor – of Niklas Sivelöv’s performance at Nybrokajen 11 at the presentation was enough to raise even the heaviest and most stern eyebrows, and applause roared through the hall; a rather unusual event in itself when only hard-line music critics are present!
I could see that the head of the record company looked quite happy and at ease at this reaction from the gathered critics, and justly so. I can only hope that he will look further and venture farther as time goes by, because there is such a wealth of music of prime interest out there. The chief executive touched upon this too, letting on how many demos he gets, and which he would like to take into serious account, if he had the time and the funds. Someone has to make distinctions, someone has to choose. I have nothing against this Improvisational venture, though, which truly is worth the effort and the price, even though I have some ideas that I believe are just as important and interesting.
Like I explained on the introduction page, Sivelöv was presented his material – a book with Fredman’s Epistles & Songs by Carl Michael Bellman (1740 – 1795); a Swedish icon if ever there was one – just prior to the recording, which then flowed gallantly through the nocturnal hours of three consecutive nights in the main auditorium at Nybrokajen 11, downtown Stockholm. Asked about the conditions at the recording sessions, it was explained that not many retakes were made, in most cases three, tops.
I asked Niklas Sivelöv if he normally does improvise at home, but he says he doesn’t improvise very much, because he wants to avoid retorting to cheap solutions and manners, which is a risk in all improvisations; to duck back into secure gestures. I also had a short talk with Dragan Buvac, producer of the series and head of the company, asking him if he believed they had been able to avoid clichés in the improvisations, and he said, rather cryptic, that with Niklas Sivelöv, they had avoided those unwanted deteriorations.
I might add that it is risky to dare improvise on a holy figure like Bellman, because all people of Sweden, young and old, know these melodies very well. That also amplifies my surprise at the excellent result. I’m not going to dive into each Epistle for analysis. It’s enough to say that Sivelöv takes these iconic melodies with their very different textual contents and moods, and swings them through his classical grand piano realm, where they’re rendered a seldom experienced glow and brilliant artistic luster, in fact granting them a significance they never had before, or rather, that always has been inherent inside Bellman’s compositions, but hardly ever brought out like this in such a breathtaking way.
Also – and this is a great relief – Niklas Sivelöv now brings back an old and all but forgotten – or abandoned – classical pianist tradition; that of improvisation at the virtuoso level. This is hardly known these days, but it used to be just par for the course. Just think of pianists like Emil von Sauer, Moriz Rosenthal, Ignaz Friedman or Josef Hofmann; some of the greatest pianists of an earlier age. They improvised all the time, in addition to playing correctly bar by bar of the music entrusted to a score… and, to go back further into myth and legend: think about Beethoven and Chopin and Liszt, the towering giants of pianism! Of course they arrived at much of their heroic oeuvre by means of barnstorming or contemplative and introvert improvisation, later jotted down to become masterworks of an era and cultural and spiritual gems out of the annals of humanity! That is why Sivelöv’s tremendous ingenuity of the fleeting moment, substantiated in these recordings on Caprice, from inward graveness to hilarious outbreaks of wit and mischief, bring such joy and inspiration.
PDF download, Shipped (printed)
Use spaces to separate tags. Use single quotes (') for phrases.