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alternatively Rubedo Canis Musica



Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Carnaval op. 9 [26:09]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Funérailles (“Harmonies poétiques et religieuses” no.7) [11:43]
Fantasie in C op. 17 [28:49]
Mephisto Waltz No. 1 [11:21]
Daniel Pollack (piano)
rec. 28-30 June 2006, Alfred Newman Hall, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California

The name of Daniel Pollack was new to me but I was reassured by the full, rounded tone he brings to the beginning of “Carnaval”. He leaps into the “Piů moto” with plenty of vitality though over the page he slows down more than many pianists find necessary. This has the effect of revealing some wistful Schumannesque poetry which most artists reserve for later on. Some will welcome this, some will regret the sudden drop in verve.

“Pierrot” is a hard piece to bring off. Pollack tries some odd voicings, bringing out the lower octave rather than the higher one in the right hand in the first repeat. It didn’t do much for me. And so he goes on, achieving some poetry in “Chopin” and “Aveu”, plenty of drive in the “Marche des Davidsbündler”, but also bulldozing through “Lettres dansantes” at a heavy-fisted forte – Schumann’s marking is “piano, leggerissimo” – that had me shaking with anger. And Pollack must belong to some sort of Society for the Suppression of Repeats in Classical Music. Not since the days of 78s, I venture to suggest, has a “Carnival” been set down with so many omitted repeats.

Not a recommendable version, but piano fanciers with big collections might find some good ideas in it among the bad ones.

Liszt might seem safer terrain for this sort of style and “Funérailles”, if not the most blistering ever, has considerable grandeur. A few opportunities for “piano” are missed, at least according to the Hungarian edition I used.

The first movement of the Fantasie is effective when it’s loud. One or two rhythmic placings disturb. But when the meltingly beautiful and tender F major music comes at the end of the exposition, Pollack pitches in with a steady mezzo forte. I could hardly believe my ears that anybody could be so insensitive. Sheer duty compelled me listen to the end of a disc which couldn’t possibly be recommended.

The second movement is spirited but Pollack sometimes – though not invariably – allows the dotted rhythm to slacken into lazy triplets, blunting the character of the music. At the beginning of the famous coda he hardly increases speed at all, though he does at a few points later on. The fact is that certain parts of this notorious coda are harder than others and by carefully varying the pace and applying a few delayed beats, Pollack ensures that the harder bits go slower, the easier bits go faster.

The last movement is fairly swift but with little sense of gradually building fires. The fruity tone of the melody in the middle voice at the beginning gives away far too much far too soon. Particularly objectionable is the magical (in most other performances) harmony change with its drop to pianissimo arpeggios, interpreted here as a full-throated forte. Ghastly things like this set at nought anything that’s good in the performance.

There’s plenty of barnstorming virtuosity in the Mephisto Waltz, in a rather bull-at-the-gate sort of way. Again, opportunities for contrast are missed and the central musings, so poetic in the best performances, are merely hum-drum.

Pollack, I learn, got into the finals of the 1958 Moscow Tchaikovsky Competition that was won by van Cliburn. He was immediately asked to stay on for a concert tour and returned in 1961, becoming the first American pianist to record for Melodiya. Back in America his career never really blossomed. He tells us in the booklet that “These works are particularly close to me for they evoke profound emotions among their myriad colors. This is what music is about for me – not technical prowess, not stylistic exactness, not traditional interpretations as in ‘this is how it has always been played through the generations’ – but how it reaches the listener, what chord it touches in the heart”. The notes by Peter Rutenberg refer to “the rare talent and genius of American pianist DANIEL POLLACK”. Did they slip the wrong disc in the jewel-case?

Pollack’s Melodiya recordings have been reissued on Cambria and are reviewed on this site by Don Satz. He found a good deal more to enjoy than I did here, but he was discussing performances set down almost half a century earlier. The implication would seem to be that Pollack has not built on his earlier achievement.

Christopher Howell 




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