I’m not sure why but this disc has been gathering dust
on the Marco Polo shelves for eight years. Whatever the reason there
is some arcanely intriguing repertoire here with master pianists Cortot
and Bauer contributing their arrangements of Franck to a disc whose
only original inspiration is the 1884 Prelude, Chorale and Fugue.
Maybe the problem was the sound, shallowly unattractive,
or a piano less than ideally opulent in impress. Alexander Paley himself,
as well, makes a variable impression. It’s perhaps unfair to judge him
by the standard of one of the pianists, Cortot, whose arrangements he
plays but in that Prelude, Chorale and Fugue he does emerge somewhat
bruised by the encounter. He is very literal minded after Cortot, lacking
flexibility, subtleties of rubato and gradations of colour in the Prelude.
In the Chorale Paley’s phrasing can’t help but seem relatively pedestrian
after Cortot, whose exhilarating ascents form moments of lyrical ecstasy
unknown to Paley. Regrettably Paley’s ponderous plod is too rhythmically
regular and it would be expecting too much to hope that he might follow
Cortot’s extraordinary replication of organ sonority.
Bauer’s arrangement of the Op 18 Prelude, Fugue and
Variation, perhaps because less well known goes rather better. This
idiomatic piece receives a superficially convincing performance; the
touching immediacy of the Prelude, the initially declamatory but ultimately
tiny Lento (42 seconds), and the relative harmonic complexity of an
animated Fuge and Variational finale. If it’s still somewhat under inflected
and pallid there are compensations in thematic interest. The short Pastorale
- another Bauer arrangement - features delicate pealing of bells in
the Andantino and in the Quasi Allegretto second movement some active
and rhythmically playful material before the return to the initial mood
of somewhat sombre reflection. The final piece is Cortot’s transcription
of the Violin Sonata. Paley is too slow in the opening movement for
the thematic good of the transcribed material and there is lumpiness
in his working out of the Allegro’s phrasing. He could have been more
reflective and less stiff in the Allegretto – albeit that there are
some highly impressive moments from him here – but there is muddiness
and too much deliberation in the finale, which is reached via a rather
careful and over circumspect route.
In view of the repertoire then a very cautious welcome
for this disc, mostly instructive for the way in which two great pianists
went about their particular tasks of transcription and the solutions
– or quasi-solutions in the case of the Franck Sonata – which they reached.