These recordings are Berkofsky's personal response to this composer: "Liszt wrote for the universe ... great music inspires one to higher purpose because it itself is inspired from a higher purpose and vision." The results can on occasion be a little idiosyncratic, but to my ears none the worse for being an exploration of the spiritual. What this often equates with is an exploration of sonority, and a seeking of some of the extra meaning Liszt seeks to express in titles such as St. Francois d'Assise, La predication aux oiseaux. Liszt's interpretation of birdsong is more objective and pianistically stylised to, say, Messiaen, but Berkofsky's quietly reflective view of the work is indeed a meditation, and filled with a kind of natural peace and an aura of affection. The only piece where I at first felt a little less comfortable with this approach was the Hungarian Rhapsody No.12, where the teasing of tempi might arguably over distort the Czardas/dance character of the music. Berkofsky takes a spacious 13 minutes over the work, but I soon warmed to his sense of suspense and line, which makes the young Evgeny Kissin sound relatively crowded at around 10 minutes on YouTube. Berkofsky is still pretty extreme and dramatic in those racy passages of octaves for instance, which is what you would want. He lingers more in the spaces in between however, something which the mighty sustaining quality of the piano here allows him to do - this without losing too much playfulness in the lighter material, which nonetheless acquires a rather nostalgic, wistful quality.
The piano used here is a Borgato model L282, an Italian make less familiar than many, but on the showing here a firm capable of creating remarkably fine instruments. They are remarkable in making pianos with pedal-boards, which means having the equivalent of another piano on the floor under your concert grand, the notes worked with the feet like an organ. Berkofsky performs on a more conventional instrument, but the low notes on this audiophile recording are enough to shake up your glands good and proper. The acoustic is nicely resonant without disturbing clarity, and the SACD surround effect creates a satisfyingly 3D sonic effect, the position of the piano snapping into remarkable focus, and with plenty of air around the instrument helping with a fine sense of atmosphere and occasion.
Martin Berkofsky ends his recital with an awesome threesome. Sancta Dorothea is beautifully serene and reflective, almost minimal in Arvo Part Spiegel im Spiegel mode. This is followed by the eponymous 'Vision' Etude d'execution transcendante No.7, played with a keen sense of the poetic, and as much impact aurally as the visual equivalent in one of those biblical scenes painted by John Martin. The booklet notes tell us that Berkofsky plays Liszt's Pater Noster every day when he wakes up - 'a veritable prayer in music'.
I've found my fascination with Liszt growing gradually over the years, a process connected with education - learning more about the piano and its capabilities as an expressive instrument, but also in the sheer range of Liszt's output as a composer. This is one of those recordings which extends such a curve of lifelong-learning, with performances which are utterly personal and 'visionary' in character. In other words, this may not be a reference as such for the pieces in this programme, but only in the same way as no other recording of Liszt can ever be entirely definitive - another reason for not loading this review with heaps of comparisons. For its technical qualities both as a recording and a performance I know this is a disc I will want to have around for a long time, and without going all dewy-eyed I can also vouch for the 'spiritual' atmosphere the playing creates. If you seek a new, intelligent and mature view on Liszt, then this is a remarkable place to continue your journey."
Dominy Clements, MUSIC ON THE WEB
"Martin Berkofsky triumphed in this sonata with enormous elan, having as his foremost virtue complete mastery of the extremes of the dynamics. It is very likely that not since Lazar Berman have we heard fortes equalling those of orchestras, or pianos so breath-thin in their delicacy."
"Berkofsky does not belong to the category of the ordinary pianists: his artistry reaches the limits of the diabolic and his incredible physical power turns the piano into a full orchestra and renders a very personal interpretation to every composition. In the second part of his programme, the artist was in his own climate with three compositions of Liszt. In the Dante Sonata particularly, he gave a monumental performance bringing to life the diabolic flames of Hell with thunderous chains of sounds and flaming streams characterized by their chromatic antithesis. Responding to the enthusiastic applause, the artist performed a march which took on the proportions of a full orchestra. There was a second encore: Liszt's Rhapsody No. 12, the evening's best interpretation: his dynamism, the finesse of his playing, the crystal clear artistry and the refined expression of the Hungarian tune of passion became a continuous play of fire that left the audience in ecstasy."
"In the second half of the concert he played only Liszt. He exploded like a bomb. He interpreted Liszt with a very special understanding, approach, and power. The piano sounded as if it were an orchestra."
"There is no doubt about his musical ardor. He feels every moment to the hilt and he is not afraid to show it. His personal involvement is complete."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
"Such an expressive and nuanced performance that he held the audience spellbound to the end of the concert. We did not know at which to wonder first: the total concentration, the expressive performance, the mature individuality, the brilliant pianistic technique, or the intimate experience of the music for which, that evening, Berkofsky lived. It was a musical experience never to be forgotten."
THE WASHINGTON POST
"Fiery enthusiasm. Meisterpianist."
"It was not just the kaleidoscopic artistic personality in these works of deep pathos, but also a Liszt of high religiousness that he sought to extract from them; as Berkofsky had understood, he thus interpreted the spirit of these pieces. An adaptation from Palestrina and then two Etudes filled with drama and fury-a grand and beautiful evening."
"His extraordinary understanding of the spiritual depth of Liszt moved this reviewer to tears."
FAUQUIER TIMES-DEMOCRAT, Virginia
"Un poete au piano"
LA PRESSE, Tunis
"The 100th year after the death of Franz Liszt, Martin Berkofsky honoured us with a wonderfully dynamic and dramatic performance. Under the fingers of Berkofsky, the piano sounded sometimes as an orchestra and sometimes as a harp. He realised the message of Liszt."
"Berkofsky plays with evident love and conviction, and these are persuasive performances, whether from 1972 (Khaldis, previously released on Poseidon,) or 1999 (Mount Katahdin.)"
"Mr. Berkofsky's story is an interesting one. He was crippled in a motorcycle accident and recovered his pianistic skill against all medical odds. He felt that the recovery of his abilities was a gift he was obligated to share and has since dedicated his career to benefit performances for charities. This is in the image of Liszt who generally performed half of his concerts for charity during the height of his popularity and thereafter came out of retirement regularly for no other reason than to help various worthy causes.
I am delighted to be able to tell you that Mr. Berkofsky is a fine Liszt pianist bringing to his music the same aggression and daring he likely used while riding his motorcycle.
A live Berkofsky recital must be one of the most exciting events of any concert year, and I wouldn't miss it for the world. And, the added benefit is that it's all for charity."
MUSIC ON THE WEB
"Dedicated Hovhaness champion, Berkofsky is a true virtuoso of the keyboard, dealing with a whole catalogue of technical challenges in commanding and effortless performances."
"This spring in the record shops of London and in the United Kingdom, music lovers noted the unique CD "Hovhaness-Concerto for Two Pianos; Three Pieces for Two Pianos." These fans of classical music will definitely take notice of this CD, from which all royalties will go into the fund to aid the victims of the Beslan school tragedy. This is yet one additional performance of one of the most brilliant pianists of our times, Martin Berkofsky; secondly, for the first time there is presented the unique, previously lost work of the great Armenian composer Alan Hovhaness, "Concerto No. 10 in Three Movements for Piano and Orchestra." In the recording of this work, the ascending star-Turkish pianist Atakan Sari also participates.
The disc can be considered unique and international, since Martin Berkofsky selected for the joint production the well-known Russian symphonic orchestra "Globalis." The music of this Armenian composer casts a spell by its beauty and unusualness.
After the release of the disc, we immediately succeeded in having a talk with the director of the orchestra "Globalis." "The major portion of the profits will go into the fund to aid the children of the Beslan school tragedy. On this, we and Martin agreed from the very beginning of our work. Berkofsky is one of those pianists with an international name, who transfers the profits from his concerts and recordings to charitable foundations. Personally I am familiar with Martin for more than three years, and have had the time to understand him as a generous, humble person. He has not a drop of snobism, pompousness, or any other negative features. Martin is obsessed by music, he lives by it, and it is easily understood that his music and his entire life belong to the people.""
Alan HOVHANESS (1911-2000) Concerto for two pianos and orchestra (1954) [20.51]* Three Pieces for two pianos +: Mihr (1945) [9.25]; Ko-ola-u (1962) [2.19]; Vijag (1946) [3.44] Lousadzak: Concerto for piano and orchestra (1944) [18.56]++ Martin Berkofsky (piano, on all pieces) with Atakan Sari (piano 2)* Globalis Symphony Orchestra/Konstantin Krimets Sergei Podobedov (piano 2)+ Nikolai Zherenkov (violin)++ Recorded at Mosfilm Studios, Moscow, March 2003 (Concerto for two pianos), House of Sound, Moscow, March and June 2004 (remainder) BLACK BOX BBM1103 [55.21]
"We have three works from Hovhaness for piano and various forces one of which will have escaped the attention of all but the most dedicated follower. This is the Concerto for two pianos and orchestra, written in 1954 but only premiered, by these forces, in Moscow in 2004. It is a work that characteristically abjures virtuosic strut and pyrotechnics and concentrates instead on sonority and intriguing conjunctions. The opening is in full Hovhaness Renaissance style; rich, full, especially the brass that puts one in mind of ermined and ruffed ceremonial. The pianos sound more elliptical, full of plinking suggestions, decorative filigree and a surging VW nobility (I thought of Dives and Lazarus). There are very occasional dissonant interjections and a big role for the percussion towards the end of the first movement. In the slow movement he evokes the kanun; as the notes explain this is a zither-like instrument, and this, allied to important roles for brass and wind, includes a raga section. With the finale we have the cyclical return of the Renaissance ceremonial as well as more Indian derived motifs that drive forward with passion though the former leads to reiteration of the bold brass and wind themes before they're taken up by the full orchestra; a gong crash lends a triumphant feel to the triumphant end.
The three pieces for two pianos comprise Mihr (1945), Vijag (1946) and Ko-ola-u (1962). They're all short and brilliantly inventive. Mihr was the Armenian fire god and once more Hovhaness has recourse to kanun imitation as he had in the concerto for two pianos rendering an Eastern cast to the music for its entire length. Ruminative, feasting on repetition, it also evokes a faster allegro type drive; what strikes the ear most forcibly however are the ebullient patterns that seem to prefigure in some way minimalism without ever sinking into its frequent banality and bathos. Vijag is associated with an Armenian feast of Ascension and it had me hypnotised with its four-minute drone. Ko-ola-u is the most recent, named after a Hawaiian mountain range; ceremonial counterpoint over a drone inform this one, as does lissom writing and rhythmic sophistication.
Lousadzak, concerto for piano and orchestra was written in 1944. It opens in a withdrawn way but soon leads to an extensive cadenza, kanun imitation and evocative sonorities that evoke the Persian and Turkish lutes. Hovhaness writes a splendid passage for solo violin and plenty of treble flecked writing for the piano and directly summons up the sounds of bagpipes in a work that teems with colour as well as repetitive rhythmic gestures.
The performances, needless to say, are highly accomplished; to them we owe the premiere of the Concerto for two pianos and orchestra. The recorded sound is sympathetic and warm, the notes helpful and the first recording of the concerto makes this, I'd have thought, a mandatory purchase for Hovhaness admirers."
MUSIC WEB INTERNATIONAL
"Berkofsky is a well-known champion of the works of Alan Hovhaness. The solo concerts of Berkofsky in addition to his appearances over the years with distinguished conductors have enjoyed well-deserved popularity in many countries. In Yerevan, he showed himself again to be a musician of the most distinguished stature.
Possessing an extraordinary technique, the pianist subordinated it to his musical interpretation, moving the listeners by his sincerity of performance."
"Lifting the Spirits: A benefit concert for the Kitezh Children's Community:
Though Martin Berkofsky  has an impressive musical pedigree and has garnered glowing critical praise for performances of Bruch, Liszt, Rachmaninoff and Hovhaness, he is best known for his dedication to a variety of charitable causes.
In 1965, after advanced piano studies and early critical successes, Berkofsky bagged many awards. He lived in Paris for some time and then in Iceland. After Iceland, before settling in Virginia, USA, Berkofsky relocated to Izmir, Turkey, teaching at the Izmir State Conservatory.
Without warning however, destiny intervened. In 1982 he suffered a motorcycle accident so severe that doctors believed his injuries would prevent him from ever performing again.
During a four-month hospital stay -- and a resolute but unexpected recovery -- Berkofsky decided to recast his life and career, leaving the commercial and political music world to dedicate his restored abilities for the benefit of others. Consequently he established the Cristofori Foundation as a vehicle to aid and support charitable and cultural causes through music.
In 2003, during a 880 mile 'Celebrate Life Run' from Tulsa (OK) to Zion (IL) he raised US$ 80,690 for the Cancer Treatment Research Foundation.
Altruistic virtuoso Martin Berkofsky first heard of Kitezh while giving concerts in Moscow. His curiosity was immediately aroused. Now, through his Cristofori Foundation, this benefit CD finds Martin in the Beethoven Fantasy while his Icelandic colleague, clarinettist Einar Johannesson, performs works of Brahms and Schumann.
At the start of Beethoven's Choral Fantasy, Berkofsky launches into the powerful, extended, improvisatory introductory solo with fierce, steely resolve, after which conductor Krimets throttles back somewhat for the central theme, with its unmistakable pre-echoes of the Choral Symphony, completed sixteen years later. The ensuing variations and development are accomplished with brisk, satisfying clarity while the Globalis Orchestra and Moscow Conservatory Chorus tackle the denouement with a burst of highly charged energy...an exuberant Choral Fantasy -- ideal stuff for lifting the spirits."
MUSIC AND VISION
Bretan's SACRED SONGS is a beautiful recording! Just recently discovered the work of Nicolae Bretan...and the person! It's remarkable that any government of any stripe (in this case Romania under the communists) can declare a great genius artist like Bretan "a non-person." Great art! Beverly Sills called art the signature of civilization...with regard to the humanity of Nicolae Bretan...for a while Romania signed its name with an "X"... and I think the sacred songs are magnificent. Nicolae Bretan elevates God to a God who can take the truth. Like Job, Bretan maintains a faith in God; a faith that frees God from the realm of human superstitions and thereby makes God and God you can turn to completely. Beautiful accompaniments by Ferdinand Weiss and Martin Berkofsky on piano and by Ronald Stalford and Donald B. Sutherland on the organ. Phyllis Bryn-Julson, soprano, sings beautifully in the requiem; The problem is that there is not enough of her. So I'm keeping my eyes open for more recordings of hers. You should too! The star of the recording is baritone Ludovic Konya. He has a deep rich beautiful voice. God must have been in a particularly good mood the day he was born. What a gift to us all. I've never really heard anything sung in Romanian before, aside from maybe a folk song or something while clicking through the television so it is amazing to hear this beautiful language stunningly sung by Mr. Konya. I know what I'm giving my best friends for Christmas!!!!"
Martin Berkofsky's piano recital in Nordurljos, Harpa, 26. June 2012. Franz Liszt: Pater Noster; Il festi tranfigurationis nostri Jesu Christi; Legende: St. Francois d'Assise; La predication aux oiseaux; Miserere d'Apres Palestrina; Valhalla (aus der Ring des Nibelungen); Les Morts-Oraison; Legende: St. Francois de Paule marchant sur le flots; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12.
"It was an especially memorable experience to hear Martin Berkofsky for the first, and maybe the last, time in the Northern Lights hall of the Harpa Concert Centre last Saturday night. The atmosphere evoked a charismatic sense of meditation, further supported by seats arranged in a half-circle around the sound fount. The Steinway was placed on Persian carpets, and all around shone 27 candles (presumably a hallowed number among the ancient Pythagoreans).
I had as hinted never heard the Belarus-American play, despite his temporary living in this country in the early eighties, long before I started my reviewing for the Icelandic press. Even so, the news of his serious motorcycle accident back then, which initially was believed to end his pianistic career, was neither lost on me nor the general public. All the same Berkofsky recovered incredibly soon. Whether that was due to a successful operation, higher authorities or both, the pianist altered his priorities from this day forward to the benefit of the general good rather than his personal fortune, considering how his concert fees have been diverted to charitable needs-and no less so after having battled cancer twelve years ago; an ordeal which recently has returned.
This, among other things, was mentioned in the recital programme. But although the somber circumstances might have added a constrained mood to the event, it was nowhere perceptible in the playing, which offered in abundance both titanic energy and waiflike softness, covering the entire dynamic range from thunderous ragnarok to the frailest whisper. It was out of the ordinary to witness an individual distinctiveness that contested the widespread claim that most pianists today sound the same... a highly invigorating piano recital to standing ovation that will be remembered for years to come."
Rikardur O. Palsson, MORGUNBLADID, Reykjavik
"American piano virtuoso Martin Berkofsky treated us to a beautiful concert he graciously offered in support of the Icelandic Cancer Society. He played Franz Liszt in a setting where those of us lucky enough to be there sat in candlelit concentric circles around the piano and its master. Berkofsky is an old friend of Iceland. In addition to supporting cancer societies the world over, during his many visits to Iceland he advocated and supported efforts to build a national concert hall in Reykjavik which eventually became Harpa. During a brief encounter after the concert, Berkofsky displayed the sort of humility that is usually associated with great men. We were honored to meet him."
Ambassador Luis E. Arreaga, June 01, 2012
"Record collectors may have encountered Martin Berkofsky via his two 1970s recordings of Max Bruch's previously lost Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, although much of his recent activity has focused upon Alan Hovhaness' music and a considerable amount of charity work. The 67-year-old pianist also happens to be a colossal Liszt player, whose colorful sonority and formidable dynamic range are made for Arts Music's full-bodied surround-sound engineering. Berkofsky's innate affinity for Liszt's long-lined rhetoric and boundless tonal shadings allow him to sustain unusually broad tempos and rhapsodic yet judiciously proportioned rubatos to mesmerizing effect. Imagine the slow-motion intensity and elemental power of Ervin Nyiregyhazi's astonishing live 1973 St. Francis Legendes, but with all the right notes in modern sound, and you'll know what to expect from Berkofsky. He's even more spacious than Arrau in "Harmonies du Soir" and "Vision" from the Transcendental Etudes, and every bit as emotionally engaged. Similarly, the Twelfth Rhapsody coda gains in nobility and harmonic tension to compensate for its lack of surface panache. The two religious pieces also are projected to their fullest, most resonant potential, with bass lines and low-register chords that both fill up and light up your listening room. If you buy this disc, you'll be supporting a good cause: all of the proceeds from this recording will benefit Assistance in Health Care, in its mission to give financial aid to cancer patients and their families who face unexpected difficulties which arise with extended medical care."
Jed Distler, CLASSICS TODAY
"Berkofsky is a master of Liszt's dazzling techniques, but he finds profound meanings in the music that come to the surface in his playing and help unify the whole collection. The super audio recording is spacious and the piano's wide range of dynamics and timbres is faithfully captured in the DSD reproduction. "
Blair Sanderson, ALLMUSIC.COM
"Benefit for Kitezh: Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Fantasia for piano, chorus and orchestra in C minor, Op. 80 (1807) [18:03] Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) Clarinet sonata in F minor, Op. 120, No. 1 (1894) [21:51] Clarinet sonata in E flat major, Op. 120, No. 2 (1894) [20:57] Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856) Fantasiestucke, Op. 73 (1849) [11:08] Martin Berkofsky (piano); Chorus of the Music College of the Moscow Conservatory, Globalis Symphony Orchestra/Konstantin Krimets (Beethoven); Einar Johannesson (clarinet) (Brahms, Schumann) rec. Tchaikovsky Hall, Moscow, 26 March 2004 (Beethoven); Pavel Slobodkin Studios, Moscow, March 2005 (Brahms, Schumann) CRISTOFORI CF-887 [73:05]
Kitezh is a community about 300 kms from Moscow, built for Russian orphans. It is a village of log cabins with a school, a farm, a church, a guesthouse for visitors, and a village banya (the Russian equivalent of the Finnish sauna). Since 1992 more than 80 children have lived in Kitezh and the first of them are now university graduates. Working at Kitezh are doctors, teachers, farmers, cooks, writers, artists and psychologists, and there are volunteers from all over the world. The whole project has been a huge success and there is now a second village, Orion, some 50kms from Moscow, working along the same lines. The organisation has had substantial donations but they still need more support. That's where this disc fits in. Pianist Martin Berkofsky, who has dedicated his life to help those in need, visited Moscow to give a concert at the Tchaikovsky Hall and happened to hear about some impressive fund raising efforts being made. He later returned to Moscow to give a concert in aid of Kitezh at the British Embassy, a concert attended by many of the orphans, none of whom had ever been to a concert before. It was then that he got the idea to dedicate the Beethoven recording from the Tchaikovsky Hall concert to Kitezh. He then asked his long-time friend Einar Johannesson, to join him once again in Moscow and record the Brahms and Schumann works, also on this disc. This means that the profit of the sales of the disc goes directly to the Children's Community Kitezh.
This could be the end of this "review", since charity projects like this shouldn't be subject to traditional assessment. Instead I could just conclude that this is a worthy cause and that a purchase of the disc will contribute to the survival of a deserving purpose. But it is more than that. The live recording of Beethoven's Choral Fantasy, with its pre-echoes of the finale of the ninth symphony, presents Martin Berkofsky as a brilliant pianist who negotiates the not inconsiderable technical difficulties with ease. In many ways it is a curious composition with the orchestra after quite some time creeping in gradually and then the chorus joins in during the last two minutes. The playing and singing is excellent, the sound a bit tinny but fully acceptable and there is a short spoken introduction in Russian.
Berkofsky also takes part in the chamber music items and they are real duo music, not a wind instrument with piano accompaniment. The Icelandic clarinettist Einar Johannesson, who is principal clarinettist of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, is a versatile musician, whom I have heard in a wide variety of music, not least newer Nordic compositions. Here in German high Romantic music his smooth tone and superb technique allows him to express all the beauty and contemplative mood of Brahms' sonatas, two of his very last compositions. But even though late Brahms to a great extent implies inwardness and melancholy, there is a lot of energy here, and this is not underplayed. In comparison with the only other recording of the sonatas I have available, Kalman Berkes and Jeno Jando on Naxos, Johannesson and Berkofsky are generally tauter and more eager. Timings all through both works, with one exception, also show this clearly. In the E flat major sonata, which is the lighter and more improvisational of the two, the second movement is really played Molto appassionato as indicated in the score and the allegro finale of the same work is vital and has a positive approach; a real happy end.
Robert Schumann's three Fantasiestucke were also created during a happy period in the composer's life, a life often darkened by depression. Closely related to his songs, considering the interplay between the melody instrument and the piano, the first piece shows some melancholy, but the other two are optimistic in tone and constitute a life-enhancing close to this disc, played on all hands with heart-warming devotion for an important cause.
It should be added that Cristofori, the "record company", is the name of Martin Berkofsky's non-profit foundation, started to facilitate his work for charitable causes. The booklet gives important background to Kitezh, some of which I have related above, performers' biographies and notes on the music by Berkofsky and Johannesson.
Warmly recommended for both musical and charitable reasons!"
MUSICWEB, Goran Forsling
"If you know the work of Alan Hovhaness, the great and unique American/Armenian/Scottish composer, this Concerto for Two Pianos may come as a surprise. It is unusual in his output. The orchestral parts fit his lifetime approach of Asian-influenced modal repetitive style. However, the wonderful and brilliant piano writing seems at first to be at odds with this sound world. There are cluster like chords, bimodality, polytonality involved in the soloists parts. This creates a very dynamic collage. I believe, for me, this may be Hovhaness's greatest work. Ironic and sad that it has never had an American premiere (as of this date!). I hope this is remedied soon. It is due to the untiring efforts of Martin Berkofsky that we have a recording of this work at all, which has gone unpublished since its composition in 1954. Berkofsky is an amazing musician and does a superlative job here with three solo pieces and the "concerto" Lousadzak...another masterwork of Hovhaness. Anyone who loves the music of the past 100 years should get this CD... its profit supports a great cause too: that of the Beslan School Tragedy Fund." -John S. Hilliard, Composer.
The American pianist of White-Russian descent, Martin Berkofsky, in his recital given at the Philharmonic Hall: his gigantic expressive strength contrasting with his modest appearance dissolved from one moment to the next in the softest and most delicate pianissimo. And, we noticed the very same in the Sonata in B minor of Liszt: boiling turmoil next to divine poetry."
"Berkofsky deserves unlimited praise as an interpreter of Liszt. He had not only the surety of technique and dexterity at his disposal, but also the mental powers to realize and sculpt the picturesque conceptions. His capacity for concentration like his unbelievable physical reserves excites admiration."
SCHWABISCHES TAGEBLATT, Tubingen
"With the performance of Martin Berkofsky, there suddenly appeared one of these virtuosos who with an absolute and unquestioned brilliance cast themselves in this romantic-virtuoso tradition. Berkofsky, whose forceful and flamboyant style can be mentioned in the same breath with Hungarian Gyorgy Cziffra, proved in the second half of his program-all works of Franz Liszt-to be a firebrand. I have never before heard such a performance of the Dante Sonata: untamed and fiery, but with genuine intelligent control over the entire dynamic range; a real diabolical flaming inferno with monumentally thundering chains of chords, cascading runs and captivating sensitively refined dynamics and tone-painting in the chorale and love songs. The three other works-a waltz, an etude, and the legend-Saint Francis' Sermon to the Birds, which preceded this richly colored panopticon of all possible travails of the soul, were treated to the same imaginative pianism."
"They were both real firework displays which Mr. Berkofsky tossed off with brilliance and massive effect. Though the master of a brilliant or thundering technique, Martin Berkofsky can also make the instrument sound ethereally beautiful in soft and lyrical music."
THE IRISH TIMES, Dublin
"The second half of the programme was dedicated to works of Liszt; the most remarkable aspect of his piano works being the orchestral character. Mr. Berkofsky found the means to produce three or four levels of distinct sound with only two hands. Under his fingers the keys multiplied themselves, stacked themselves up. He recreated for us all the impassioned ardor of the composer."
HAUT ANJOU, Angers
"Berkofsky presented himself as a highly professional artist of unusually powerful temperament, with an outstanding affinity with extreme dynamics, as well as a stressed inclination towards a meaningful approach to a musical piece, all generated from a particular approach to music performing not frequently encountered in our concert halls. Liszt's "Vallee d'Obermann" from the "Years of Pilgrimage" cycle sounded romantically sumptuous, saturated with diverse emotional charges, experiencing incessant transformations under Berkofsky's hands and ranging from radiant serenity to euphoric shrieks before the splendors of nature. Liszt's "Fantasia quasi Sonata," situated on the other pole of the composer's interests and preoccupations as compared to "Vallee d'Obermann," was performed with the force of an eruption, impressive and stirring in its expression. Two effective encores (one of the numerous marches by the American composer Sousa in a brilliant transcription by Berkofsky, and Liszt's "Valse Oubliee," ) added a final touch to the performance of this pianist whose freshness and suggestive approach to music captured us, confirming once again that truth in art cannot be drawn under definitive rules and canons once and for all."
"Pianist Berkofsky is a great admirer of the reclusive and long-forgotten Hungarian-born Erwin Nyiregyhazi. Nyiregyhazi, in his late 70s, made a couple of Liszt recordings, and these astounding, welkinringing onsloughts fired the Berkofsky imagination. It was an all-Liszt program, full of fire-storming passion, melodic flights, dream-dwelling and limpid romantics, in the grand 19th century manner largely forgotten today. Pianist Berkofsky is a vivid colorist capable of huge resonances and steely articulation at double forte. He played with an acute response to the Lisztian theater, including its over-wrought melodrama, and carried it off with dramatic effect."
BUFFALO EVENING NEWS
"The American pianist Martin Berkofsky performed in the National Theatre. On the programme, works of Franz Liszt, including the Sonata in B minor. It was hardly a secret to anyone attending that this was a brilliant and memorable performance. The artist was not allowed to leave until he had given three encores; shouts of hurrah and joy followed him as he left the stage."
"The recital that Berkofsky gave at the Ismet Inonu Cultual Center can be considered perhaps the most exciting musical event in recent years. The limitless beauties which burst forth from the piano as a result of the artist's faultless technique and deep understanding of music carried the weary, whose anxieties have grown even more with the 21st Century, to the threshold of heaven and made him experience unmatched moments of joy. Berkofsky is among the great masters of contemporary piano technique. When required he plays in a whisper, but when needed he makes music with full tones that recall an orchestra. To reach a high-level interpretation he analyses with care the tissue (melody and harmony,) of the piece he plays and thus, by bringing forth unanticipated beauties, amazes the listener."
"Pianist Martin Berkofsky opened his Liszt recital Wednesday afternoon with a startlingly loud, rumbling, brassy "Star-Spangled Banner" that snapped the audience to its feet and assailed every sonority of the ornate 1905 Steinway at Andersdon House in downtown Washington...
Although no commemoration of September 11 can express the inexpressible, the reckless vitality of the flag-wavers and the sepulchral silence of the Liszt seemed to draw from the same source and to say something mysteriously important about a wound that has yet to diminish. Berkofsky played Liszt's "Un Sospiro" slowly and freely, with rapt attention to its breathy, serpentine aria. "Harmonies du Soir" investigates the tinged light and shade at twilight...the harmonic movement was unerring; the piece unfolded naturally and culminated dramatically without yielding elegance of expression. Liszt's "Legends"-St. Francois of Assisi preaching to the birds, and St. Francois de Paule walking on the waters-are marvels of liquid, impressionistic filigree. Berkofsky scaled them effectively, creating intricately picturesque fountains of sound."
THE WASHINGTON POST
(Commemoration of September 11; Anderson House, Washington, D.C.)
"Mane-shaking style, Martin Berkofsky plays Liszt:
The cover of this CD shows a painting of a grand piano floating way above an enchanting little Icelandic town, with a horizontal Berkofsky just flying into position for a Hungarian Rhapsody. Such acrobatics are reasonable comment on Berkofsky's recovery to virtuoso pianism after a motorcycle accident that smashed his right arm in eight places. I am almost tempted to fall off my bike and see what happens. How to characterise Berkofsky's playing? You can either manage a programme such as this, or you can't. Berkofsky emerges technically triumphant, able to thunder when Liszt demands it (frequently enough,) capable of the tenderest quietness also...Berkofsky's aim toward overwhelming effect is in the best tradition of Liszt's mane-shaking style...the result is a piece of profound introspection that elicits from Berkofsky playing often as sensitive as one is likely to hear."
MUSIC AND VISION
"Martin Berkofsky, a Hovhaness specialist, plays vividly and lyrically in both the 1972 and 1999 recordings. His ability to make the many repeated notes sound delicate and musical is particularly impressive."
AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE
COMPOSER ALAN HOVHANESS WRITES TO MARTIN BERKOFSKY
(quoted with permission)
3 FEBRUARY, 1973
Just a line to express how much I was impressed by your beautiful letter of Jan. 28, 1973. While I am very sorry that you were ill, at the same time I feel that you have had a genuine enlightenment or mystical experience. Don't let anyone discourage you on this point, as most people are thoroughly immersed in a world of thick, dense materialistic clouds of illusion, and in their present state are unfit to understand a true experience. They will say it is insane, but it is an experience of higher wisdom and comes in the form of vision. Also, often physical disability or sickness brings on this tremendous universal view. I remember a day in Seattle in 1967 when I was very ill and thought I could not travel with the orchestra, which I was supposed to do. Suddenly the heavens opened, also the dark walls of my hotel room opened. It seemed that I could see everything, including the mountain and the stars and other worlds beyond, all through the power of music, because at that moment, I heard inwardly for the first time the main theme of Fra Angelico which seemed to be played by the orchestra of the universe. After this experience, I seemed to be suddenly completely well, so I dressed as normally and went out to meet the orchestra. Later I copied the parts from memory without even making a score and conducted a brief rehearsal or runthrough of a wild cosmic sound leading to the full statement of this theme in its climax form, with brass and full strings. The members of the orchestra were quite shaken with the experience of the music and came up and told me so. I did not mention anything about how the music came to me, but I could see that it was a reality and not a dream or a spell of insanity. In fact, one learns many things by certain kinds of dreams, dreams which have the wind of truth blowing through them, dreams which are not dreams but a being lifted above the dense ocean of physical life. Because of this, I was much interested in your experience, which seems in every way normal and positive. These things are the most important things in life and any artist who has them has an important journey to make and something important to say to the world.
All best wishes in every way and much courage.
"Before leaving Armenia he gave a solo concert at the cold hall of the Composers Union. Our audience met with a talented, wonderful pianist.
Applause and flowers:
Berkofsky wished to give the flowers he had received to a woman who had just given birth that day. On that very day there was a woman who had given birth to triplets; two boys and a girl. In the waiting room of the hospital, the flowers were given for her. Such is the attitude of this pianist for the world. Perhaps after hearing the story of Hovhaness' father, he put a meaning in his beautiful deed: let the Armenian nation multiply, and their newborn feel life in their cries. Martin Berkofsky does not show his humanism in self-proclaiming speeches, though he could, but instead chooses to show it in different ways.
In the USA he has run nearly 1,000 miles to raise money-some $80,000.00, for charities helping cancer patients. He was faithful to that tradition also here in Yerevan. He donated the income from his Moscow recordings to the families of children who were the victims of the terrorism in Beslan. Alan Hovhaness also showed such civil and humane attitudes: "In the era of wars and murders when mankind is on the way to self-destruction, and science continues to invent yet more horrifying and fatal weapons, the time for the "love-song" has come. The wounds of the world must be cured."
The friendship of Alan Hovhaness and Martin Berkofsky is not accidental.
Berkofsky's understanding of motives is surprisingly complete and accurate. When creating the whole, truth and inspiration never become a burden. The realities of his life that are transformed into sounds on the stage, are lived totally with human simplicity and spiritual faith. He exactly feels the specific Armenian music and the type of the sound. This makes Berkofsky different from the number of soloists who come to Armenia and present Armenian music in common near-Eastern manner."
"SEVEN DAYS NEWSPAPER," Yerevan
"The cycle of Schumann miniatures which was played with an exquisite sense of style and high integrity of form aroused my genuine admiration. The artist revealed his ability to search and to reflect in the most profound manner. The Liszt compositions heard at the programme's conclusion completely overtook the public in their might and power. Such phenomenal virtuosity so skillfully controlled is the property of only such great pianists. A roused and emotionally charged audience compelled the artist to two encores."
FOUNDATION PRO MUSICA, Wroclaw
"The internationally renowned concert pianist Martin Berkofsky generously gave of his time and his talent in a breathtaking performance at a benefit concert for Kitezh. It was a joy and a rare honour to hear him play... mesmerized by both the man and the music."
ECOLOGIA NEWS; Benefit Concert for Kitezh Children's Community at the British Embassy, Moscow.
Hovhaness: Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra; Three pieces for Two Pianos; Lousadzak-Concerto for Piano and Strings. Black Box BBM 1103:
"The Concerto for two pianos-composed in 1954 but unperformed for fifty years - draws not only on the music of his ancestral Armenia, but also on Indian music and the Indonesian gamelan, as well as European chorales and the natural sounds of birdsong and thunder. The result is an attractive, persuasively shaped three-movement work.
The impressive American pianist Martin Berkofsky takes the lead in Lousadzak, after sharing the limelight with Atakan Sari in the Concerto and the more single-mindedly Armenian Mihr, and with Sergei Podobedov in two shorter duos. A must for Hovhaness fans."
BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE
"It is gratifying to announce that this disc is a real winner.
The hero of this CD and the force behind it is Martin Berkofsky, a veteran pianist who deserves far more attention than he has thus far been accorded. I happened to attend his New York debut recital some 40 years ago, at which he performed Hovhaness's elaborate Fantasy, op. 16, for piano, a recital that also included Liszt's B-Minor Sonata. I knew then that he was a major talent (although to this day I have never met him), and he has been championing Hovhaness's music ever since. Well acquainted with the composer personally, he displays a deep insight into the music, and performs it with great sensitivity, and a real understanding of its sources of inspiration.
Berkofsky plays this work in a way that reveals his familiarity with the sources that inspired Hovhaness in the first place. The strings provide a largely accompanimental backdrop like a small folk orchestra, in simple, almost improvisatory modal polyphony. The effect is truly unforgettable. The result is a highly exotic work suggesting an ancient pagan rite of unearthly, primitivistic fire and passion, as well as, at times, tender tranquility. One of Hovhaness's greatest works, Lousadzak has been recorded several times before, most notably during the mid 1950s by Maro Ajemian, a pianist closely associated with the composer, with an orchestra conducted by Carlos Surinach, a performance that might be regarded as authoritative; and, more recently, in a smoothly virtuosic reading by Keith Jarrett, with the American Composers Orchestra under Dennis Russell Davies. But, as fine as both these performances are, neither matches the exquisite sensitivity and total commitment of Berkofsky's reading.
This release earns a place alongside the five or so Hovhaness CDs that are truly indispensable."
"Alan Hovhaness died in 2000, at the age of 89, leaving behind a legacy of more than 500 works. Pianist Martin Berkofsky is a most effective protagonist for this music, and for his new Black Box release has selected some of Hovhaness's most unequivocal masterpieces, which he performs, sometimes enlisting the additional participation of other pianists, with a deep understanding of the aesthetic premises underlying these works. This is an indispensable release for all admirers of the composer."
Lousadzak,Op. 48. Concerto for 2 Pianos and Orchestra. Vijag,Op 37. Ko-Ola-U,Op 136. Mihr,Op 60/1. Martin Berkofsky , Atakan Sari , Sergei Podobedov pfs
Globalis Symphony Orchestra/Konstantin Krimets
Black Box (Pinnacle) New CD BBM1103 (56 minutes : DDD)
"Exotically tinged works that belie the composer's conservative reputation
Alan Hovhaness bucked most of the late 20th century's modernist trends, which may explain why his music doesn't sound all that dated. The Concerto for Two Pianos (1954) could have been written yesterday, in fact; with its intermingling of raga and fugue, it's the kind of east-meets-west venture that still seems to be the rage. Yet it's also thornier music than those familiar with, say, the composer's Mysterious Mountain Symphony (his best known work) might expect, and I could imagine it surprising those who think of him as bland.
There's quite a bit of stark dissonance, particularly in the second movement, in which the pianists climb volatile symphonic terrain in jagged, quasi-atonal arpeggios. The solo parts are the opposite of flashy, though, and often seem to blend into the orchestra's percussion section. When they do get a chance to step forward, however, pianists Martin Berkofsky and Atakan Sari make an impressive showing; the gamelan-like passagework in the finale, for example, chimes exquisitely.
Berkofsky gets more of a chance to flex his muscles in the Lousadzak Concerto (1944). Hovhaness, who is so often thought of as a musical conservative, actually anticipated many soon-to-be-hip aleatory techniques. Note the nervous, chattering pizzicato that accompanies the piano's stark cadenza: it's actually "improvised" by the strings. Less dramatically incisive than the Double Concerto, the music has a spare sensuality that's equally, if not more, delectable.
In both concertos the Globalis Symphony Orchestra play expertly under Konstantin Krimets. Three exotically tinged pieces for two pianos fill out the disc and they, too, are sensitively rendered. An important and attractive addition to Hovhaness's discography."
Andrew Farach-Colton, GRAMOPHONE
"The Concerto for Two Pianos is a great undiscovered treasure. I searched out this CD because it features one of the great little-known works of the romantic era, Bruch's Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra. There's an interesting story behind how the concerto was written, lost, then rediscovered (it's all in the liner notes). This recording, which dates from 1977, was the premiere recording of the concerto, done by pianists Martin Berkofsky and David Hagan with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra conducted by Lutz Herbig. (Vox had issued it on a cassette tape, with middling sound quality, so I was glad to see it had been reissued on CD, which has greatly enhanced the sound.) While the concerto has been recorded a couple of times since, none approaches this performance. The chorales on Capri themes that Bruch used for it lend it a majesterial air, and the performers proceed at a fair pace, giving the work a sense of excitement that is missing from some of the more anemic, dawdling performances that followed. The other pieces on the CD are icing on the cake: This is the first recording of Bruch's Swedish Dances for piano. His Fantasy for Two Pianos, which shows the influence of his study of Bach's works for organ, may come as a pleasant surprise to those who don't think of Bruch as a muscular composer. The famous Violin Concerto in G gets a heartfelt performance from Ruggiero Ricci, though I wish they'd have substituted more piano works instead."
"Agache, well known from the major opera houses as well as from numerous recordings, has been a leading interpreter of the central Verdian baritone roles for many years. The opening song, The Forest with its thundering piano accompaniment, is sung with all the power and dramatic involvement of a Macbeth or Count di Luna. But he is just as apt at conveying the beauty and the lyricism of many of these songs: inward and restrained in September with roses (tr. 2) or the soft singing in Silence (tr. 4). The fact is that when I had played the disc straight through I felt I wanted to replay it at once, which I think is the best assessment I could give it. Maybe it was that last song, the wonderful 'Tis gone the life of Venice' that triggered me for a new round.
I know I am repeating myself but it is always a special treat to hear singers performing in their mother-tongue. Since few non-Romanians master the language we have to be grateful that there are so many good singers from Romania around. We can only hope that more of them will champion Bretan's songs.
...Once hooked by the songs I am sure many will get Agache... He is well accompanied by the versatile Martin Berkofsky and the recording is excellent. This is another worthy collection of Nicolae Bretan's songs."
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