Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Winterreise – Gute Nacht (arr. Godowsky) [6’45]; Der Lindenbaum (arr. Liszt, S561 No. 7, 1839); Der stürmische Morgen (arr. Liszt, S561 No. 11, 1839), Im Dorfe [5’59] (arr. Liszt, S561 No. 11, 1839) [5’59]. Waltzes (arr. Prokofiev, 1920) [8’59]. Die schöne Müllerin – Morgengruss (arr. Godowsky) [4’23]. Erlkönig (arr. Liszt, S557a, c1837) [4’38]. Overture in D (arr. Busoni) [19’30].
Leopold GODOWSKY (1870-1938)

Passacaglia (based on the first eight bars of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony) (1928) [19’30]).
Antti Siirala (piano).
Rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, on October 4th-5th, 2001. DDD
Laureate Series
NAXOS 8.555997 [62’56]


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Antti Siirala won the World Piano Competition, London in April 2000. He replaced a finalist who pulled out at the last moment (Martin Cousin), making his victory all the more headline-grabbing. Although I reported on the initial rounds, I did not write at the time about the finals (Seen & Heard’s report). I would have loved to, however. Italian Luca Rasca gave a very involving Brahms First. Siirala, only twenty at the time, was uninvolving and cold. Although recorded in October 2001, this disc, part of his winning package, has had to wait until now to see the light of day.

This is an intelligently presented disc, which sensibly saves the longest piece until last, Godowsky’s 20-minute Passacaglia. Siirala provides an eminently listenable experience. His playing is always carefully prepared; he is careful not to over-pedal, using the pedal instead to shade passages; and his tempi are always convincing. He is aided by a fine recording (Potton Hall is a very highly regarded venue for piano recordings) and by the strong team of Producer, Andrew Wallton and Engineer, Mike Clements.

It is nice to hear Siirala play in style for whichever arranger is ‘in charge’ at the time. This is most obvious in the Prokofiev Waltzes, which Siirala plays with a consciously harder edge, but also in the Busoni arrangement of the D major Overture.

Erlkönig is a very famous arrangement. Any transcription of this song immediately runs into problems, of course, as vocally it is much easier to delineate the various voices (boy, father, Erlking) than it is on the keyboard. Siirala does well, heightening the drama throughout the course of the song, only stumbling at the final hurdle, where Liszt piles difficulty upon difficulty. The song’s dénouement, however, with its whispered octaves, emerges as a powerful stroke.

It would be nice to be able to summon up more enthusiasm for the Overture in D, arranged by Busoni. This is not top-flight Schubert, and very obviously sounds like a piano reduction of an orchestral original. It also threatens to run out of steam on more than one occasion. The Godowsky Passacaglia is another matter, though. If ever a theme lent itself to passacaglia treatment, it was this one (although would you immediately think of this while listening to the orchestral original?!). That Siirala is commendably aware of the grand architecture becomes aurally obvious as we listen. His concentration is at its highest here, and Godowsky provides plenty of scope for tonal variety. A pity the triumphal statements (around 17’30) do not really emerge with the requisite grandeur.

A stimulating release, of that there is no doubt. And yes, I would be interested to hear more of this young gentleman. If at the end of the day sometimes he can sound like a wet-behind-the-ears competition winner (with all the ‘i’s of his technique dotted, and all the ‘t’s crossed), there are times when more character and intelligence come across than I would have given him credit for all that time ago in 2000.

Colin Clarke

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