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Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, op. 23 (1836) [8:53]
Robert KEELEY (b.1960)
Ballade (2001)[7:58]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Kreisleriana (Eight Fantasies), Op. 16 (1838 [29:57]
Martin Roscoe (piano)
rec. Whiteley Hall, Chetham's School of Music, Manchester, 23 August, 2005
DUNELM DRD0247 [47:18]

Though there is little audience noise, and none that disturbs or distracts, there is a real sense of the 'live' about this CD; it has that indefinable sense of music happening the once and once only.

Roscoe is a well-established pianist of wide and well-deserved reputation. Those who have enjoyed such recordings as his Szymanowski Naxos series, works by Dohnanyi on ASV and Hyperion or the concertos by Fuchs and Kiel (also on Hyperion) will surely approach this recital with confidence, knowing that they will encounter musicianship of a high order. Roscoe is not, for good or ill, an international star of the jet-setting kind, who sells tickets by his or her personality as much as for the sake of the music being played; he is an intelligent, clear-headed and accurate-fingered performer who can be relied upon to put himself unostentatiously at the service of the music he plays. He does so here, to good and enjoyable effect.

Chopin's Ballade No. 1 gets a sound and perceptive performance; without exaggeration, Roscoe brings out and clarifies the patterns of contrast which structure the work. He finds a good deal of appropriate sentiment in the gentler passages and can handle the louder and faster passages with accuracy and a certain fire. The overall shape of the Ballade is never subordinated to its detail, something which can easily happen. Not perhaps one of the all-time great or memorable performances of this much played and much recorded piece, but very well worth the hearing and making a firm foundation for the recital.

We most often think of each Chopin Ballade in the context of that composer's other similarly-titled works. Here it exists in a rather different context, since it is followed by a performance of the Ballade by the British composer Robert Keeley, for which the Chopin exists as a point of reference. The booklet notes quote from Roscoe's spoken introduction at the time of the recital: "it is about the same length as Chopin's first Ballade, but it does not have the same intensity, which was never the intention. It shares the same common-time lilt for the most part and certainly has the same contrasts with moods. It finally arrives at a very intense climax". Again there are clear patterns of contrast and there is at times a knowing allusiveness which incorporates distinctively Chopinesque effects. But Keeley's piece is far from being mere pastiche; it has a characteristic voice of its own, with some attractive lyrical writing that works in ways distinctly unlike Chopin. Roscoe puts the case for this piece - which I don't otherwise know - persuasively.

The recital ends with Schumann. There is compelling playing here and the bottom end of the piano comes across particularly well in the recorded sound. But Roscoe can, of course, also play with winning delicacy. The effects in Schumann's eight fantasies can sometimes sound like effects without real causes; they don't here. The sequence coheres as a study in personality, the detail only part of a purposeful whole.

It may sound like a kind of damning with faint praise to say that Martin Roscoe is a reliable, unflashy pianist. It isn't meant to. What one can rely on with Roscoe is that he will not seek to impose a quirky or excessively individual reading on the music. The unflashiness means that he doesn't seek to draw attention to his own technical triumphs, simply (though of course it may often be far from simple to do so) to play, intelligently and accurately, without gesturing to us to say "isn't this difficult music and aren't I playing it well?". These are real and substantial virtues and they can be heard and enjoyed on this disc.

Incidentally, I wonder if any thought was given to including Roscoe's spoken introductions on the CD? There would certainly have been space, they would surely have been of interest and could readily be programmed out by the listener who didn't want to hear them on each playing of the CD. As it is the playing time is relatively meagre, but that need not be a reason to give this CD anything other than a warm welcome.

Glyn Pursglove

See also reviews by Ian Milnes ( http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2005/Dec05/Roscoe_DRD0247.htm)
and William Kreindler ( http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/Jan06/Roscoe_DRD0247.htm)

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