> The World of Piano Encores [CH]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Nocturne in B, op. 62/1
Vladimir Ashkenazy (London 1976)

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Bagatelle in a, WoO 59 – "Für Elise"
Ashkenazy (Vienna 1984)

Anton RUBINSTEN (1829-1894)

Melody in F, op. 3/1
Shura Cherkassky (London 1974)

Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

Prelude in c sharp, op. 3/2
Ashkenazy (London 1975)

Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)

Goyescas: The Maiden and the Nightingale
Alicia de Larrocha (London 1975)

Christian SINDING (1856-1941)

Rustle of Spring, op. 32/3
Joseph Cooper (London 1976)

Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)

Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, op. 65/6
J. Cooper (London 1974)


Suite no. 2, op. 17: Romance
Ashkenazy, André Previn (London 1974)

Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)

El Amor Brujo: Ritual Fire Dance
Larrocha (London 1973)

Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)

Dolly Suite: Berceuse
Katia & Marielle Labèque (London 1985)

Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908), arr. RACHMANINOV

The Flight of the Bumble-Bee
Ivan Davis (London 1969)

Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Suite Bergamasque: Clair de Lune
Pascal Rogé (London 1977)

Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)

Menuet sur le nom d’Haydn
Rogé (London 1974)

Paul de SCHLÖZER (1841-1898)

Etude, op. 1/2
Jorge Bolet (London 1985)

Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Liebestraum no. 3 in A flat
Bolet (London 1982)

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Waltz in B, op. 39/1
Julius Katchen (London 1962)

Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)

Country Gardens
J. Cooper (London 1977

George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)

Prelude no. 2
Peter Jablonski (London 1990)

Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

The Love of Three Oranges: March
Ashkenazy (Meggen 1993-4)

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)

Prelude in D flat op.34/15
Olli Mustonen (Blackheath 1990)

Francis POULENC (1899-1963)

L’Embarquement pour Cythère
Rogé, Jean-Philippe Collard (London 1992)

Morton GOULD (1913-1996)

Boogie Woogie Etude
Cherkassky (New York 1991)

Decca 473 145-2 [80’ 08"]


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The true piano encore may be a barnstorming showstopper, it may be a piece of dazzling, lightly-touched virtuosity to make us gasp (there are Etudes by Chopin that will do for both of these), or it may be some soothing farewell (this above all when it is the last of several encores). Whatever the piece, we expect the pianist to transmit the idea that it is a particular and personal pleasure of his to give us one thing more, something which has a special meaning for him. Playing a well-known piece as an encore, our pianist may not give us quite the same interpretation he would in the midst of the recital proper.

This disc is called "The World of Piano Encores" but apart from the live Cherkassky performance which concludes it all the items are culled from various recital discs by the pianists concerned. Are we at least convinced that these are pieces that these pianists would play as encores?

Well, there’s no knowing what we might willingly hear at the end of an Ashkenazy all-Chopin recital, but on principle a 7-minute Nocturne (which, according to the booklet, he often gives as an encore) played with much serious musicianship, but rising to real poetry only intermittently, runs the risk of losing the goodwill engendered. Similarly, the sheer understated musicality of Ashkenazy’s performance of the Rachmaninov Prelude will be more welcome as the opening salvo in a complete set of the Preludes (which is after all what he recorded it for) than as the close of an enthralling evening. A much more likely encore is "Für Elise", a piece that every young pianist has slaughtered, here played with a serene composure which suggests that Ashkenazy loves it and really feels a mission to let us hear it properly. The Prokofiev March, too, would be a likely Ashkenazy encore, but maybe unbending a little more?

Which raises the question: Ashkenazy, as a serious and high-minded musician, may play encores, but is he an "encore pianist"? Rubinstein and Horowitz, though lacking nothing in high-minded seriousness, could also be "encore pianists". The "encore pianist" par excellence was Shura Cherkassky, always ready to pull out his special bag of tricks at the end of the evening. The Morton Gould here is typical (surely no one would play a piece like this actually in a recital?), and so is the way he dusts down Anton Rubinstein’s hoary old tea-shop favourite and makes it shine again.

Another "encore pianist", even more so in his earlier days, was Jorge Bolet; the Paul de Schlözer Etude is again one of those pieces that are surely to be played after, not during, a recital, and he shows us that the well-worn Liszt "Liebestraum" can still engage us after all.

I don’t know what happened to Ivan Davis after a few dazzling Decca records in the late 1960s, but the Rachmaninov arrangement of Rimsky’s "Flight of the Bumble-Bee" is the stuff of encores, and so it is played.

An encore piece could well be the Grainger Country Gardens, but Joseph Cooper, amiable TV personality though he was, is somewhat heavy-handed and cannot convince us that his Grieg and Sinding items are more than drawing-room size.

So there we are. Some pianists are "encore pianists", others, with no disrespect to their many other qualities, are not. Alicia de Larrocha, I suggest, is not. I do not think in any case that she would expect her exquisitely turned account of "The Maiden and the Nightingale" to serve as an encore, but the Falla Dance would be a likely choice. It’s an enthralling performance, but is the sheer subtlety with which she seeks out the mystery, as well as the excitement, of Spain quite what we want to hear at this point in the evening?

"Clair de lune" (but not the Ravel "Menuet") would be a fair piece for an encore, but the sticky , almost drooling, performance we get from Pascal Rogé is something else again; not so much an encore performance as a night club performance, OK as an agreeable background with people chatting nineteen-to-the-dozen in a smoke-filled room. Peter Jablonski is the first pianist I have heard who has made a fully convincing job of playing Gershwin Second Prelude in a classical style – i.e. much slower than Gershwin’s own performance. But I don’t know if encore-time is the moment to appreciate it. I also doubt if Katchen would ever have chosen the brief first Brahms Waltz for an encore – or, if he had, he would have played it differently. You can hear that both he and the composer are settling down to give us the whole set. Mustonen sounds as if he might be a dab hand at encores.

Choice of encores for a 2-piano recital is another problem, but would Ashkenazy and Previn have given us the rather lengthy and not especially memorable Rachmaninov Romance? Rogé and Collard have the right idea with Poulenc, which is super, and so have the Labeque sisters with the Fauré Berceuse, though memory suggests that the old "Listen with Mother" performance, whoever played it, was more soothing still.

So, I’m sorry, Decca, there are plenty of goodies here but "The World of Piano Encores" it is not. The world of piano favourites, or piano miniatures, maybe. Better luck next time.

Christopher Howell

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