Tone Poem Tuesday: Farewell, Andre Watts

Pianist Andre Watts has died.

Watts was 77 years old when he died of prostate cancer last week. Born in 1946, Watts was best known for his expressive performances of piano music from the Romantic and early modern eras, which constitute the bulk of his recorded work. His music-making was always fiery and emotional, which I always appreciate; emotional distance and cool temperatures are never what I look for in music. Here is a selection of remembrances of Watts.

In this selection, Watts performs the Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, by Camille Saint-Saens. The performance is taken from a live broadcast of the New York Philharmonic, so you actually get to hear Watts discuss the music for a bit prior to the performance itself. Saint-Saens himself was a long-lived French master who was as much a child prodigy as Mozart, but whose work hasn’t quite endured as Mozart’s did; Saint-Saens is represented in the standard repertoire by a number of works, but others sit in relative obscurity due to his occasional lack of attentiveness and depth. The best of Saint-Saens is almost always pleasing music, if not particularly profound; the standard quip about this concerto is that “it starts with Bach but ends with Offenbach”. This concerto’s moods shift from solemnity to playful dance and then to pure minor-key speed, all of this steeped in late-19th century urbane Parisian sophistication. Of particular pleasure is the ending of the second movement, just before the storm of the last erupts; and I challenge anyone to claim to be unexcited by the blaze with which the entire concerto closes.

Here is Andre Watts performing the Second Piano Concerto by Camille Saint-Saens.



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