6 years ago

Volume 9 Issue 6 - March 2004

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Alkan: Piano Works

Alkan: Piano Works Ronald Smith EMI Classics 5 85484 2 EMI's recent Gemini series of budget double discs includes among its offerings several welcome re-issues of repertoire from the periphery of the ·classical canon, originally issued twenty or more years ago. Exceptional among these is a sampling of the dazzling recordings by the English pianist Ronald Smith devoted to the fascinating music of the reclusive French pianist Charles-Valentin Alkan (1813-1888). Cruelly eclipsed by the Parisian fervour for the gaudy showmanship of Liszt and tender intimacies of Chopin, Alkan's mercurial temperament proved ill-suited to the concert stage, while the technical prowess demanded by his music placed it beyond reach of all but the super-virtuosi. Smith brought Alkan's visionary music back to the stage with these historic recordings and is the acknowledged authority on his life and works. Though Marc-Andre Hamelin's recent advocacy of Alkan's compositions on the Hyperion label has attracted great attention of late, this should not deter you from acquiring these excellently produced sessions from 1977 and 1985. The five symphonies of the Swiss born, Parisian-based composer Arthur Honegger (1892-1955) are rhythmically propulsive, often exhilarating, and occasionally abstruse contributions to the symphonic literature. Initially associated with the breezy gathering of composers known as Les Six, Honegger excelled in the forms of symphony, oratorio and chamber music, successfully balancing Gallic elegance with Teutonic rigour. The recording quality at~ forded the Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse is ruthlessly lucid and rather patchy with distinctly audible analogera splices. Plasson and his orchestra for the most part perform with great elan, despite some awkward moments negotiating Honegger's more challenging rhythms. Peculiarly, and without explanation in the meagre liner note, the obbligato trumpet part that crowns the closing bars of Honegger's most popular work, the Second Symphony for strings, is missing in this performance, replaced by a string trio. Honegger: Symphonies 1-5 Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse; Michel Plasson EMI Classics 5 85516 2 Szymanowski: Symphonies 2-4 Harnasie Radio Polish National Symphony Orchestra EMI Classics 5 85539 2 The album of the exotic and richly evocative orchestral works of the great Polish pianist and composer Karel Szymanowski (1882-1937) is superb, with definitive performances of his last three symphonies and other works, including the quite striking ballet score, Harnasie, and the bumptious, Richard Strauss-influenced Concert Overture Op. 12. Felicia Blumenthal offers a small sampling of Szymanowski 's keyboard repertoire to fill out the collection. Though the lack of translations for the extensive vocal writing in Symphony No.2 and Hamasie is unfortunate, this is an album well worth owning. The recording and editing of the vast orchestral and choral resources is excellent throughout. . Daniel Foley Editor's Note: Lest Mr. Foley's review lead you to think that EMI's Gemini line focuses strictly on music that is "off the beaten track", let me assure you that there are many standard repertoire titles on offer in this marvelous budget-line series. Welcome additions to my own collection include: Schubert - String Quintet/Quartets 13- 15, Hungarian Quartet (EMI 5 85526 2) and Beethoven-Piano Trios Vol. 1 & 2, Ashkenazy, Perlman & Harrell (EMI 5 85493/6 2). Shostakovich/Shchedrin: Piano Concertos Marc-Andre Hamelin BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Andrew Litton Hyperion SACDA67425 MARCH 1 - APRIL 7 2004

The central focus of this disc i~ neither the composers, who happen to be the most dominant masters of Soviet and Russian music, nor the pianist, a worldclass soloist who happens to be Canadian. The leading role is actually played by the piano concerto itself. Innovative and qriginal as ever, Marc-Andre Hamelin portrays the differing facets of this genre through the changing demands of the Soviet regime. ' Despite his training as a pianist, Shostakovich's piano concertos provide considerably lighter fare than the towering edifices of his symphonic and quartet cycles. The two concertos however each made an important impact on the history of Soviet piano music. The first, with its narrative tone and shifting sty !es closer to music for film or stage than the concert hall, 'was in fact the first significant piano concerto to emerge.from the Soviet Union. The second, however light and designed to fit Soviet demands for uplifting music, is according to David Fanning's excellent program note "the last piano concertO' to gain a place in the standard concert repertoire". Hamelin and Litton are well matched ·here and offer some new perspectives on the two concertos showing that these are far more than simple party pieces. The°third concerto of the disc seems mismatched however, exemplifying as it does the official acceptance of twelve-note technique in Soviet music. Here Shchedrin mixes styles running the gamut from Bartok and Prokofiev's colourful language, to shockingly light restaurant jazz in the final movement. Hamelin rises above the pastiche however and manages to reveal the music behind the channel surfing of the composer. Micheile Assay Eshghpour for his compositions and yet his music remains unmistakably Polish. Rooted in the Romantic tradition of Chopin, more Gorecki than Corgiliano, his Concerto Nicolo (for piano left hand) is a great example of this venerable genre, previously contributed to by composers as diverse as Ravel, Prokofiev, Britten, Strauss. and Korngold. More recent examples include Americans Ned Rorem and Richard Danielpour who, like Skrowaczewski, wrote their offerings for Gary Graffman. This is a Romantic concerto full of violent clashes between piano and orchestra, where the winds, brass and percussion are the main players. 'Except for several double-bass interventions, the strings are relegated to a supporting role, in spite ofla thematic reference to the 24th Caprice for solo violin by Pagarrlni, the "Nicolo" of the title. . So how does Skrowaczewski manage in all this to still sound' Polish? I don't know exactly, but as a Pole I can assure you, the mood is there. Firmly along the continuum that stretches from Lutoslawski to Penderecki to Gorecki, .we find Stanislaw Skrowaczewski's music. The second piece on the album, Concerto for Orchestra, is memorable for its extended second (and last) movement, Bruckners Himmelfahrt or "Bruckner's Ascension to Heaven". A tour-de-force for strings, this time front and centre, it is a jaw-dropping example of Romanticism, beautiful and 'disturbing in equal parts. A great find. Robert Tomas Corigliano & Rzewski: Ballads & Fantasies David Jalbert· · Endeavour END 1011 Skrowaczewski: Concerto Nicolo; Concerto for Orchesta Gary Graffman Minnesota Orchestra; Stanislaw Skrowaczewski Reference RR103 Stanislaw Skrowaczewski (b. 1923, Lw6w) studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, led the Minnesota Orchestra as its Artistic Director for 19 years, .received a Pulitzer Prize nomination David Jalbert announces himself here as a young French-Canadian pianist to note. He offers impressive technical command in the service of fear- M ARCH 1 - APRIL 7 2004

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