News

Bach, Goldberg Variations Live Recording Now Available

Lori Sims Goldbergamazon-buttonbuy-on-itunes

Recorded on the TwoPianists label and released November 6, 2015, this CD is a live recording that took place on January 4, 2015. Why a live recording? Sims says, “I’m an advocate of live performances. In front of an audience, it’s a high wire act without a net. So when I successfully make it across, there is a euphoria that just can’t be captured in a recording studio.”

“Even though Bach’s Goldberg Variations does not need to be recorded again by anyone, ever, it’s hard to resist Lori Sims’ vibrant and communicative live recording… In all, a masterful, heartfelt, and simply beautiful performance.” Jed Distler – Classics Today

“Lori Sims’s Goldberg Variations turned out to be the most spellbinding piano version of Bach’s keyboard masterpiece to come my way in quite some time. [It] is a must-hear for anyone who is passionate about this music.” Jerry Dubins – Fanfare Magazine

New York Concert Review

Pianist William Masselos (1920-1992) was honored in a most special way this past weekend, in a tribute piano recital by Lori Sims, presented by the organization Hausmusik. Widely recognized not only as a great pianist in diverse repertoire but as a particularly important champion of twentieth-century American piano music, Mr. Masselos is also fondly remembered by those of us who were at Juilliard during his tenure there as something of an unsung hero — despite his countless enviable achievements. One applauds Hausmusik for paying tribute and also for choosing Lori Sims, a pianist of prodigious abilities, to do so.

Each work on the program related in some way to William Masselos, at times in exact repertoire matches, notably Ben Weber’s Fantasia (Variations), and at other times through subtler connections, well-explained in the pianist’s thoughtful program notes. Rather than playing the “six degrees of separation” game, I prefer to focus on Ms. Sims, whose own personal connections to each work were evident from the first notes onward, and whose masterful readings obviated the need for any extraneous “raison d’etre.”

First off, Ms. Sims gave an extremely taut, precise, and intelligent performance of Copland’s Piano Variations. With an energy that suggested she was spring-loaded, she brought the work electricity and clarity. Nerves of steel are to be expected from a pianist who has won major competitions, including the Gina Bachauer 1998 Gold Medal, but hers are exceptional, unruffled even by the blaring of loud vocal music from some unknown source during her first entrance onstage. The intensity never let up, and Ben Weber’s Fantasia was another tour de force, this time exploiting the pianist’s gift for more romantic, lush sonorities.  What Ms. Sims likened to “Scriabin’s neurotic energy” seemed to abound, and one could only be astounded that after this Weber and the Copland, there were still three Griffes “Roman Sketches” and Barber’s monumental Piano Sonata yet to come (to complete an hour-long “first half”).

The Griffes pieces did provide some impressionistic relief from the musical tension, but only for the audience, as the pianistic demands simply shifted to a different kind of artistry. “The White Peacock” requires a special languid sensuality, and Ms. Sims brought it out to a tee. “The Fountain of Acqua Paola” needs streaming showers of delicacy, expertly colored, and it had just that. “Clouds” had no less mesmerizing an effect.

The Barber Sonata, showing not a trace of fatigue, was sure-fire. While it may not have been this listener’s all-time favorite performance of the work, it was an amazingly polished, assertive close to a first half of mammoth difficulty. Perhaps if one had to pinpoint a reservation about it, it would be that Ms. Sims has such a formidable technique that she made short work of some of its heroic climaxes. In the fourth movement Fugue especially, my favorite performances let loose with an almost ferocious abandon toward the close. Ms. Sims could perhaps be called “unostentatious” (as the honoree, Mr. Masselos, was described by Harold Schonberg), but one wanted to share in the sense of triumph and release that she had so richly earned.

The program’s second part was made up of Clara Schumann’s Romances, Op. 11, Nos. 1 and 3, and Robert Schumann’s Fantasy, Op. 17. These works showed great sensitivity, thoughtfulness, and fervor, and there were many moments of nearly transcendent beauty. Somehow, though, the truly indelible impression was made on this listener by the twentieth-century works. Ms. Sims showed that she has a rare gift for bringing audiences closer to these works, and it is a gift that should continue taking her to new musical heights.

-Rorianne Schrade for New York Concert Review; New York, NY

 

lori

Lori Sims 2014 Gilmore Performance

For the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival on Monday, Lori Sims presented a program of American classics, written between 1906 and 1945: music she loves, respects, and deeply understands.

Her playing is extraordinary: authoritative, insightful, and endlessly interesting. Her thoughtful phrasing makes complete sense of the music, and her technical command of the instrument gives her artistry full expression. Robust basses, sparkling trebles, velvety legatos, crisp staccatos, and vast array of tonal shadings reveal the artistry she brings to every aspect of her music-making.

Take, for example, the “Three-Page Sonata” of Charles Ives. The work captures a Fourth of July celebration in Ives’ childhood home, Danbury, Conn., in the early years of the last century. In the fast outer sections, ragtime and a circus band peeked through. The middle slow section took us into another world, its serene reverie perfectly captured.

Ives said the sonata was intended to “knock the mollycoddles out of their boxes and kick out the softy ears” and kick and knock them it does.

Sims’ intelligent, passionate playing illuminated the wildly complicated score, which is full of 10-note chords, insistent dissonances, and polyrhythms. Despite the sonata’s complexity, lyricism prevailed.

Ben Weber’s “Fantasia” (Variations), Op. 25, demonstrates that a 12-tone work does not have to be relentlessly atonal, but can rub shoulders with Scriabin and Ravel. Even in the densest passages, Sims let in light and air. Her clear architectural conception illuminated the score.

Barber’s “Excursions,” Op. 20, brought in American folk idioms — the cowboy tune, boogie woogie, the blues– “spectacular nuggets of our history,” Sims observed. Throughout the work she reminded us of what a supreme melodist Barber was.

A stunning performance of Charles Tomlinson Griffes’s rarely heard but brilliant one-movement sonata ended the program.

It’s hard to imagine a more convincing performance of these American classics.

– By Zaide Pixley, Special to the Kalamazoo Gazette

 

14881481-large

Recent reviews for “American Classics”

Recent Reviews for “American Classics:”

“The superb musicianship and flexible virtuosity Lori Sims reveals both in recital and in her off-the-cuff masterclass keyboard demonstrations manifest themselves throughout this release. She captures the Copland Variations’ stark and stern idiom with wide dynamic contrasts and strong rhythmic focus. By contrast, Sims positively devours the Barber Sonata, yet is smart enough to remember to chew well and savour the music when appropriate, such as in her straightforward and well-sustained Adagio mesto. Her perky, characterfully accented Fugue and delightfully leggiero Scherzo count among the best on disc, while the Allegro energico’s opening pages have rarely conveyed such a combination of ferocity and longing.”

Jed Distler, Gramophone, June 2013
[PDF Download, Page 1]
[PDF Download, Page 2]
[PDF Download, Page 3]

“American pianist Lori Sims was Gold Medalist at the 1998 Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition, and has since performed with distinction in the U.S. and abroad. She brings all her expertise to bear on the present program of “American Classics.” That includes her feeling for the style, rhythm, and contour of the music she plays, and especially the utter precision with which she sounds each note cleanly and with the utmost clarity. That last-named quality is important because three of the four composers heard on this program – Aaron Copland, Ben Weber, and Samuel Barber – are revealed here as exponents of serialism (12-tone or otherwise). “What difference does that make to me?” the average listener may ask. “How would I know if the pianist dropped an occasional note here or there?” Believe me, pal, you’d know! This type of music is so tightly structured that it is highly unforgiving of error by the executant. Copland’s Piano Variations (1930) uses the tone row E, C, D-sharp, C-sharp as the basis from which the entire composition derives. Since it may also be interpreted tonally as a statement in C-sharp minor, there is an ambiguity here, which Copland explores through the length of a very intense 11-minute work. Sims is highly cognizant of its generally somber mood, as well as the way in which individual variations flow into one another without clearly demarcated lines between them. Weber, like Copland, shows both American and European influences in his music. In his 1946 Fantasia, Op. 25, he uses serialism for expressive purposes. As annotator Barry Ross explains it, “Weber employed as far as possible the language of Romanticism, dispensing with the angular melodic motion of European serial music.” [Aside: I’m always amused at the way annotators will go out of their way to assure the nervous listener that “After all, it isn’t as bad as Schoenberg.”] Bringing out the unique character of Weber’s music isn’t easy, but Lori Sims does it with economy and style. Samuel Barber’s Piano Sonata in E-flat minor (Op. 26, 1949) is one of the most difficult works in the modern American canon to perform. Serial melodic fragments are expressed within the context of traditional sonata form. Shifting rhythmic patterns and highly dissonant chord progressions, contrapuntal technique that is not just restricted to the final movement (which is a fugue in four voices, and a strongly accented one at that) combine with the overall dark, serious mood of the work to demand the utmost concentration from Sims and the application of every aspect of her technical skill. Contrasted to the rigors of the other works heard on this program, we have Roman Sketches by the short-lived Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1884-1920). Griffes remains the principal (almost the only) American proponent of Impressionism. Consisting of four pieces in the style of tone poems (several have, in fact, been successfully orchestrated and performed as such), the Sketches have a breadth that extends beyond the keyboard, as their titles indicate: The White Peacock, Nightfall, The Fountain of the Acqua Paola, and Clouds. Sims takes pains to express the character of each of these pieces: the languid movement of the peacock and its distinctive chain of notes, the clouds slowly drifting to a point of disappearance in the gradually deepening blue of the sky at dusk. As opposed to the high energy of most of the music on this CD, the Griffes pieces are slow, unhurried, and listeners are given plenty of white space between tracks to meditate on the beauties they’ve just heard.

Audio Video Club of Atlanta, May 2013

“This is a special recording in many ways. First, it includes works from the summit of American piano compositions. Aaron Copland’s 1930 Piano Variations is modernist and yet has found a secure place in the pianist’s repertoire. The Fantasia (Variations) of Ben Weber, written in 1946 and dedicated to pianist William Masselos, has points of reference with the Copland in that it is quasi-serialist as well. Sims, so to speak, hits it out of the park. This is a very special, wide-ranging performance that emphasizes both the work’s mysticism and lyricism.

The much earlier American impressionist, Charles Tomlinson Griffes, is represented with the four pieces of his Roman Sketches (1915). Best known are The White Peacock and the Fountain of the Acqua Paola, lusciously played here. The other two pieces are the darkly evocative Nightfall and the ethereal Clouds. Sims is truly in her element here. Her delicate touch, nuanced phrasing and expert pedaling make these memorable.

Finally, there is Samuel Barber’s magisterial Piano Sonata (1949), which was premiered and recorded by Vladimir Horowitz. Sims’s performance faces stiff competition, recordings by Horowitz, Cliburn, Hamelin and Browning among others. But she holds her own. The whirling fugal finale is a little more gentle than some recordings but it shines a new light on the movement.

I’m giving this recording four stars, but really wish I could give it four-and-a-half. I’ve downgraded it from a five-star rating because I don’t particularly care for the Copland, but don’t let that stand in your way of hearing it.

One side note: I found a review of a recital Sims gave in New York two years ago that contained precisely this program and the reviewer raved about how good the Copland was. So, at the very least there is some difference of opinion about her performance of it.”

Scott Morrison, Amazon.com, Feb 15, 2013

CD release concert

This article appeared on October 10, 2012  in the WMU News

Pianist and School of Music professor presents CD release concert

by Cara Barnes

IMG_9880KALAMAZOO—Pianist and Western Michigan University faculty member Lori Sims will perform a CD release concert at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17, in the Dalton Center Recital Hall.

Sims’ performance will be preceded by a 7 p.m. discussion hosted by Dr. Dan Jacobson, WMU professor of music. Tickets are $12 general admission, $10 for seniors and $5 for students, and are available from Miller Auditorium at millerauditorium.com/som or by calling (269) 387-2300 or (800) 228-9858.

Sims, the John T. Bernhard Professor of Music at WMU, teaches piano and keyboard literature. She received the first prize gold medal at the 1998 Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition. She was also a first place co-winner of the 1994 Felix Bartholdy-Mendelssohn Competition in Berlin and took first prize at the 1993 American Pianists’ Association Competition with outstanding distinction from the jury.

Her new CD, to be released on Naxos, includes Romantic favorites and pieces that represent various landmarks in her career. Sims will be selling and signing CDs after the concert in the Dalton Center lobby.

The program will include 15 Variations and Fugue in E-Flat Major, Opus 35 (Eroica Variations), by Ludwig van Beethoven; “The White Peacock” from Roman Sketches, Opus 7, by Charles Tomlinson Griffes; “Romance in E-Flat Major” from Trois romances, Opus 11, by Clara Schumann; Prelude in C Minor, Opus 23, Number 7, by Sergei Rachmaninoff; and several works by Frederic Chopin.

The Dalton Wed@7:30pm: Live and Interactive! concert series is presented by the WMU School of Music under the auspices of the Bullock Music Performance Institute. Established in the fall of 1985 and renamed in 1988 in honor of its founder, the institute has presented events ranging from formal evening concerts to daytime educational outreach events for local audiences and students of all ages.

For more information about the Wednesday evening concert series, call (269) 387-4704 or (269) 387-4678, or visit wmich.edu/music.