> LATE FLOWERING OF THE PIANO SONATA Long [CSS]: Classical CD Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Alexander SCRIABIN Piano Sonata No. 5
Jean SIBELIUS Sonatinas 1-3 |Op. 67
Maurice RAVEL Sonatine
Arnold BAX Piano Sonata No. 1
Joseph Long (Piano)
No number supplied
Obtainable from: Joseph Long, 25 Nethermains Road, Muchalls, Aberdeen AB39 3RN
Price: £12

Those of us who have listened with delight to Joseph Long's two previous discs (The Young Maestros Series: Hurstwood Farm Music Studios: Balakirev CD 97005; Chopin CD 98009) will have looked forward to this present CD. With an impeccable technique his earlier recitals of Balakirev and Chopin - dispatching with truly musical aplomb such a frightening war-horse as 'Islamey' - showed him to be a thoughtful musician with an impressive range of expression, tending now and again to a youthful impetuosity. In this recital he opens with a restrained account of the 5th of Scriabin's exotic Sonatas (Eaglefield Hull did actually use the word 'impetuous' of this work.) - yet this is a romantic and clear account, unfussed by overpedalling, allowing air and light into the structure.

This same crisp technique, reminiscent of the playing of Perlemuter, suits well the Ravel Sonatine which in these hands sounds pristine. A serious note is sounded in the first and third of Sibelius's op. 67, the profundities couched in an almost Beethovenian idiom. A lighter vein is uncovered in the second of these three Sonatinas - 'Haydnesque' is the pianist's apt description in his scholarly sleeve notes. Though one is sometimes tempted to feel that Sibelius's piano writing stands in the same relation to his orchestral writing as does that of Elgar to his, these Sonatinas probe more deeply than mere salon music, and it is good to have them on record as they require listening to more closely.

The principal work on the disc is the first of Arnold Bax's four Sonatas - an expansive, dark-hued poem whose probable orchestral origins (at least in Bax's mind) are demonstrable. But it is here that the pianist's technique raises questions in my mind. There is no doubt that in a pianist as thoughtful as Joseph Long has shown himself to be his approach to Bax is considered and intentional. He observes Bax's score directions with scrupulous care (though I might quarrel a little with his interpretation of the 'passionato' second subject) yet the result doesn't sound like Bax. Balfour Gardiner once remarked 'Oh there’s old Arnold improvising away with the pedal down all the time.’ Bax gives no pedal indications in any of his four Sonatas, although his directions such as 'smorzando', 'brazen and glittering', 'thick and heavy' - and, in the third Sonata 'with as much pedal as possible' - must surely reserve 'leggiero' and 'staccato' for moments of grotesquerie (as In the Fourth Sonata?). If one remembers the twin events that gave rise to this music - the unrequited passion for the Russian girl, 'a golden Roussalka with ice-blue eyes', and his experience of the land of the Ukraine with its rich exotic colouring - this anguished passionate "music fierce as fire" surely demands orchestral treatment and the resonance that such scoring would involve? It is also perhaps possible to take too seriously Harriet's interpretation of the 'sotto voce and smorzando' development section as recalling 'the illimitable distances of the Russian plain' with the danger of losing the music's impetus.

Nevertheless this is a fresh and almost clinical interpretation, laying bare the bones of the music, emphasised by the clarity of the recorded sound, to which we ought to listen without preconceptions. One thing is certain, we shall hear much more of this young pianist.

Colin Scott-Sutherland


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