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Martin Stadtfeld

  • Pianist


Martin Stadtfeld press reviews

“brilliantly played” (Hr2 Klassikzeit)

“a good hour of pleasurable listening” (Hr2 Klassikzeit)

“Stadtfeld brings his trenchant and clearly structured approach to both the Baroque and the Romantic works. His music-making is playfully light in touch, without lapsing into frivolity, while the range of expression extends from dance-like elegance to arioso intimacy, but always with the necessary drive and, where need be, with a forward-thrusting impetus.” (Frankfurter Neue Presse)

Students of the piano occasionally struggle through Bach’s preludes in strict sequence, their only solution being to discover some personal element in them by romantically transfiguring them. But it is clear from Martin Stadtfeld that the freedom and vitality of this music are to be found precisely in the strict observance of lucid form. With his responsiveness to detail, the pianist uses structure as a means of providing the listener with a sense of orientation. Ornaments and changes of rhythm seem all the more surprising and full of life. In his unorthodox way Stadtfeld unobtrusively yet unmistakably throws open the score so that every listener can follow it and sees what lies inside it. Bach’s architectural form and delight in mathematical proportions become a fascinating background, and the individual details stand out like a diagram that one contemplates, its precise details becoming increasingly fascinating, the longer one looks. What a difference in character when we turn to Schumann! We hear what Romanticism in music really means, mellifluous without being saccharine. We stop, almost afraid to breathe, so delicate is the touch. Whether fast or resolute, whether serenade or scherzo, Schumann’s Bunte Blätter are turned into character studies, into brief yet delightful sketches. (Rondo, February 2006)


Hot Young Pianist Knocks Critic’s Socks Off
by Paul Moor

BERLIN. - Martin Stadtfeld, born 1980 in Koblenz, has had a comet-like career since winning first prize in Leipzig's International Bach Competition four years ago, but he remains sufficiently new on even the German scene for the Berliner Morgenpost to misspell his surname as “Stadtfeldt”
after his most recent Berlin appearance Jan. 27. His blazing talent would almost certainly have prevailed sooner or later, but what launched him into international orbit reinforced the fact that a bit of “chutzpa” rarely does any harm in such situations.

Entirely on his own, but supported by his veterinarian father, he not only went into a professional studio and recorded J. S. Bach's daunting "Goldberg" Variations but also mailed the results in to the Berlin branch of Sony, undeterred by the fact that that major label already had two formidable "Goldberg" recordings in its catalog, by Murray Perahia and the legendary Canadian Glenn Gould. Improbably, almost incredibly, Sony bought it, rushed it out, and immediately nailed him down with an exclusive contract. Wolfgang Fuhrmann's recent review in the Berliner Zeitung opens thus: "As young as he is, a legend has already entwined itself around" Stadtfeld. On my own experience, I would not hesitate to say he manifests the potential to restore the international reputation of German pianism to the glory days of such titans as Wilhelm Backhaus and Walter Gieseking.

In this 250th anniversary year of Mozart's birth, we in this part of the world have his music almost coming out of our ears as well as besieging them, and on this occasion Stadtfeld departed from his Baroque specialty to give us a pristine realization of Mozart's C-minor concerto K. 491 - in its own patrician way as impressive as his Bach, which he takes coltish delight in gingering up with such thoroughly legitimate fireworks as zipping into the left-hand part a startling flight of lightning-like octaves. At all points his Mozart remained Classically pure, just short of severe (with noticeably spare and discrete use of the sustaining pedal), except for the first movement's cadenza where an invigorating infusion of Stadtfeld even included a fleeting tip of his hat to thoroughly American jazz. His audience reacted with such explosive enthusiasm that he had no recourse but to play not one but two encores - something that almost never happens in a Berlin symphony concert, but which on this occasion became an inevitable necessity, to which he responded with almost apologetic body-language.

Sebastian Weigle appeared as guest conductor. He set the scene with the overture to Mozart's opera "La clemenza di Tito," but he came into his own in the second half, when he had a vastly enlarged orchestra at his disposal for the early Arnold Schoenberg tone poem (opus 5) that paid tribute to the same drama that had inspired Claude Debussy's masterpiece, the Belgian mystic Maurice Maeterlinck's "Pelléas and Mélisande." The Komische Oper has a pit orchestra to match almost any of Berlin's seven other symphony orchestras, and at no point did it sound less than impressive, but not even that excellence could camouflage the fact that at least for my musical sensibilities this sprawling work, which contains some ravishingly lush Romantic music, would have profited from considerable pruning before its composer turned loose of it.

We got a delicious taste of Stadtfeld in his primary element with his second encore, Ferruccio Busoni's showy transcription of J. S. Bach's chorale prelude "Nun freut euch liebe Christen G'mein," although he did tend to let the fleet right-hand rippling overshadow the original Bach melody sounded primarily by the pianist's left thumb.

Already at 14 Martin Stadtfeld had become exposed to the Russian school of pianism when Lev Natochenny accepted him as a pupil at Frankfurt's Musikhochschule. At 17 he won first prize in Paris's International Nikolai Rubinstein Competition; four years later he made it into the finals of Bolzano's especially demanding Busoni Competition. Before his 2002 Leipzig victory, the Bach Competition there had for 14 years awarded no first prize. Especially since the widespread central European whoop-te-do over his "Goldberg" coup, his career has taken off on a global scale.

The immediate future has him busy in important cities in Germany, Austria and The Netherlands, and shows him spreading his musical wings. On Feb. 15 in Leipzig's historic Gewandhaus he will venture afield with the early Alban Berg Sonata, and later this month he will offer Dalmenhorst and Bremen a
major departure, Rachmaninoff's Sonata No. 2; in May he will give Coburg concert-goers the Liszt Sonata. Next month: Tokyo and Vienna; August will bring a pinnacle Salzburg Festival gig: a recital in the hallowed Mozarteum.

If you haven't yet had the opportunity to hear this thrillingly gifted young atist, I feel confident in predicting that you soon will.
(Musical, February 8th, 2006)

“My editor in chief knows that not many concerti are able to satisfy my enthusiasm. But the “Goldberg Variations” played by 23 year old Martin Stadtfeld on a concert piano are completely overwhelming. […] The way in which this young pianist handles those momuments of Bach’s genius, has something miraculous about it.”
(Il Venerdi/ La Repubblica, Feb. 15th, 2006)

The 25 year-old has become well known in Germany for his interpretation of Bach. At the international Johann Sebastian Bach Music Competition in Leipzig in 2001 he not only came away with the first prize, which had not been awarded since 1988 – he was also the youngest finalist in the history of the competition.

Stadtfeld studied at the Music Academy in Frankfurt, where he still lives. He has performed all over the world including concerts in Brazil, New York, London, Paris, St. Petersburg and Geneva. He has also recorded three albums on Sony Classical – two CDs of music by Bach and a recent disc of Mozart concertos with the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra.


World Star from the Westerwald

The young pianist Martin Stadtfeld became the new German piano ace overnight. His debut CD with the Goldberg Variations of Bach is a magnificent outrage.
What an odd duck he was. He walked up to CBS Studios on 30th Street in New York on a hot, humid summer day, wearing an incredibly thick pullover, on top of that a tweed jacket and over that a winter coat, with a woollen scarf wrapped round his neck. He had a cap pulled down over his head and thick gloves on his hands. Enter Glenn Gould, 22.
Back then, in June 1955, the Canadian pianist dipped his hands in boiling hot water to warm up for his recording debut, nibbled arrowroot cookies which he had supposedly dunked in skim milk, finally took his place on an extremely low folding stool and in this position, like a beanpole-sized gnome, made his first studio recording.
Gould’s first effort was a hit right off the bat and has remained, for more than a half century now, a first-class evergreen: the Goldberg Variations of Johann Sebastian Bach, 38 minutes and 30 seconds of piano artistry.
How the pictures resemble each other: At the beginning of October 2003, once again a 22-year-old pianist went into the studio and made his first recording, he too played Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and he too, at the time known only to the initiated few, achieved an instant coup: his recording shot to second place on the latest German classical charts. There Martin Stadtfeld was, directly behind the Russian diva, soprano Anna Netrebko, still ahead of Bartoli, Mutter and Muti.
Measured against the oddball Gould, Martin Stadtfeld comes across as plain and normal; Distinctive marks: none. Instead of a wool pullover and tweed waistcoat, an elegant shirt under a dark jacket; instead of wildly dishevelled hair, an artistically tousled cut, carefully styled and spiffily gelled; instead of arrowroot cookies in skim milk, filtered Gauloises.
But again, this doublet is strange: Just as CBS would rather have recorded big hits by Liszt or Chopin with Gould (1932-1982) than the ”Aria With 30 Variations” written by the cantor of St. Thomas’ Church Leipzig, Sony was not exactly enthusiastic when Stadtfeld suggested a recording of the Goldberg Variations.. After all, the company already had the Baroque masterpiece of ”listening pleasure” in its catalogue several times over, three different versions by Glenn Gould alone, among them even his legendary debut LP from 1955. By Godfather Bach, ´was the company now supposed to do one with Stadtfeld?
But he wasn’t to be so easily shaken off. He went into the studio on his own and then sent the edited track to the people at Sony. He was sure that would make them prick up their ears.
”Naturally I’ve known Gould’s recordings for a long time”, Stadtfeld says today. ”Of course, no one opened my senses to the Goldberg Variations in as educational and impressive a way as he did.”
But with all due respect, and with all the self-assurance of a contemporary youth: ”Nonetheless, I believe I still have essential things of my own to say with the piece.”
No sooner was the disc in circulation than the feature pages began calling Stadtfeld the new boy Gould of the Bach factory. He was, according to the F.A.Z., an ”exceptional talent” who ”blows away all listening expectations” and who ”in stylistic manner” has much in common with Gould.
Stadtfeld, pronounced Zeit, ”has proven himself as a talent in a special class”, with Gould as his ”surreptitious tutor.” Here, trumpeted Die Welt with a patriotic tremolo, ”Germany has its Bach superstar”, even one with ”a real chance at an international career”.
Careful. That much crowing is a bit dubious. There’s a great danger, meanwhile, that in the ailing recording industry every above-average minstrel will be praised to the skies as a musical artist. Moreover, the craving seems altogether too tingling with the desire finally to grant the pianistic genius from Toronto a worthy successor: the Gould of the 21st century.
It is clear that Stadtfeld doesn’t feel particularly good about being the Canadian’s clone. Whatever the virtuoso from the Westerwald and his colleague from Toronto might have in common, Stadtfeld’s digital Goldberg cycle is, all in all, cheekier, more suspenseful and more adventurous then Gould’s legendary monaural shocker. It is a disturbance of the finest.
In the end, their craftsmanship makes the two players equal: the decorative passages are played with brilliantly purring elegance and the chord work is simply first class. Swing and intoxication and ecstasy are in play here, well thought out and cleverly apportioned, and even the trickiest trill hits home; there is no bumbling in the building of this colossal keyboard work.
And no hypocritical meditation where Bach asks for silence. Both of them, Gould as well as Stadtfeld, immerse themselves deep in magical fervour in the more otherworldly of the Goldberg numbers, both disseminate the magic of stillness and the comfort of silence with pianistic authority.
But then Stadtfeld dares to do the unheard-of. He desecrates Bach. He manipulates the notes.. Simply put, he fiddles around with the well-tempered construct of the Goldberg Variations, setting individual notes up or down an octave, doubling sequences of notes; he shifts whole melodies and hits every purist over the head with his own Bach, con fuoco. However: he thinks through his heinous deeds, he sins with style.
Suddenly one of Stadtfeld’s hands plays its part a full octave higher than scored.. There! For a few measures a phrase lies a whole octave lower than Bach intended.. There! What actually belongs in the descant, the highest register of the piano, all at once sounds all the way down in the bass. In exchange, that which is in that bass springs high up into the descant at the next opportunity.
There the hands are shifted, crossed and really unwieldy, badly tangled up in each other. Is this Stadtfeld in his right mind?
You bet. Because the Goldberg Variations were not written for the modern piano, let alone a Steinway concert grand, Martin Stadtfeld can, in his music-dramaturgical undertaking, refer with confidence to the playing and register characteristics of the two-manual clavichord used by Johann Sebastian Bach. He plays harpsichord on the concert piano, as it were, and it is to this circumstance that he owes the freedom to carry out his fantastic impudence.
From Bach’s music, states the pianist, he feels that the composer was a sensory experimenter with sound, and this knowledge gives him the right as an interpreter ”to uncover new structures through varied registration”. Thus he savours the ”sensory enjoyment of experiencing sounds anew”..
And the listener can enjoy it too, because no harm is ever done to the revered cantor of St. Thomas‘. Stadtfeld plays the aria which opens and closes the Goldberg Variations, as well as all 30 variations in between, once through absolutely to the letter.. There he obeys Bach’s every word, exactly like Gould: faithful to the original.
But in the repetitions - and in all 32 sections of the work the played da capos are stipulated - time and again Stadtfeld allows himself a few personal notes, in which he illuminates Bach’s sound in an unusually bold and newly measured way, through strengthened contrasts, tonal broadenings and doublings. In doing so, he also doubles the fun: he plays Bach and plays with Bach. The result is pure class.
And from this point? Is Stadtfeld now stamped: oh yes, the guy with the Goldbergs; ah, that youngster who’s Bach-mad, the new Gould from the Gackenbach in the Westerwald? ”God forbid”, says the appalled young virtuoso. ”At 23 I can’t yet be forced into any kind of box.”
What is there that he hasn’t planned in order to escape that fate? Fine - other Bach, more Bach, that much is clear. But also ”very soon”, the last Beethoven sonatas, ”maybe the first, too”, or the ”Hammerklavier” sonata, that colossus which can barely be grasped. The only thing not present is false modesty.
Then Shostakovich, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Liszt, Chopin, even Rachmaninov, the Man in Minor - the whole western world of music, to be exact - how it opens itself before this damned gifted daredevil.
All he needs, so he believes, to help himself. No, he doesn’t have to practice ”terribly much” in order to progress and stay in form. So ”two, three hours” a day suffice, very laid-back, ”upstairs in the attic at Grandma’s house”, in the Rhenish city of Boppard, ”where no one can hear me and I can’t disturb anyone.”
No matter what he does, no matter how it goes, one thing Stadtfeld has sworn to himself: If he pursues this career, he would publish only concert excerpts on CD: ”It has to be live. The studio is so sterile, as cold as an institute for anatomy.. There the music has no life. Music has to breathe.
A famous comrade-in-arms of Stadtfeld’s was of an entirely different opinion. At 32, he pulled himself out of the live music business entirely and for the rest of his life occupied himself strictly with working in the studio - his colleague Gould.
(DER SPIEGEL, 09.06.2005)


The Talent

Stimulation instead of Valium--one thinks about that yet again upon hearing Martin Stadtfeld’s extremely agile fingers making their way through these Goldberg Variations. The 23-year-old goes about it coolly, as if the intimidating recordings of Glenn Gould and the astounding later derivatives of Murray Perahia and András Schiff had never existed. Stadtfeld’s talent is in a special class, and this talent makes itself known in the freedom with which it evades the limitations of following previous models. Nevertheless, Gould remains his private master.

What does Martin Stadtfeld do in the Goldberg Variations that others don’t? He confounds the listener. He innocently plays the original--and then in the repeat a daring variation. Here and there he shifts the hands an octave outward, changing registers so that the treble moves downward and the bass upward.

Stadtfeld’s Bach can crackle, roar, sparkle, he can jovially play the brilliant artist. But he can also be so still that it’s frightening. Naturally he fears being tied down to Bach. It’s true that the composer is the Alpha and the Omega of his thoughts, but in no way is he the entire alphabet. The young German is capable of far more still.
(DIE ZEIT, 11.3.2004)


The Designer at the Back Door Replaces the Sewing Machine

More than [Till] Fellner, Martin Stadtfeld, currently studying with Lev Natochenny at the Frankfurt Musikhochschule and winner of prominent worldwide competitions, doesn’t only play Bach, but plays with him. The Goldberg Variations become an area of experimentation: he sets the bass an octave lower, the descant goes upward, and in the exchange of voices it winds up below the bass. In this way the repeats of the variations are always new and unpredictable, because the voices are not moved around mechanically, but instead in a well-thought-out way, sometimes for only two measures, sometimes for an entire section. In addition, the decision of whether to play the repeats or leave them out happens according to a plan. In the return of the aria at the end Stadtfeld omits the repeat (and with it the changing of registers) and the piece, after all the adventure that went before, has a truly innocent effect.