This review is prompted by the confluence of two series. Naxos's budget priced
American Classics series has already yielded many treasures - some modest
- some eminent. The earlier Macdowell solo piano and song volumes (mostly
with the late James Barbagallo) are pleasant. The Hyperion Romantic Piano
Concerto series is of extremely high quality and is just as ambitious as
the Naxos. It parallels and excels the work done by Vox and Candide (still
available in seven, sadly unsung, Vox boxes). The Hyperion series has made
great use of the BBC Scottish SO with Martyn Brabbins. A charmed circle of
pianists has provided the glittering artistry and includes such names as
Stephen Hough, Marc André Hamelin and here, Seta Tanyel (herself no
stranger to the romantic era - witness her very fine Scharwenka and Moskowski
on Collins - especially the Scharwenka Piano Quintet and second and third
concertos). I thought I recalled Prutsman's name. When I checked I found
that he had been the pianist with, among others, cellist, Lowri Blake, on
a Pearl CD of the Frank Bridge Cello Sonata and the Second Piano Trio.
Over the years there have been several recordings of the Macdowell concertos.
These works have never grasped the sort of popularity that boosts the Grieg
Concerto with which both (the second more than the first) are soul-mates.
That said the two concertos need not stand ashamed in the company of the
Liszt concertos. They are in that bracket. Recordings have migrated in and
out of availability. Here is an overview based on leafing back through previous
reviews. Donna Amato recorded them on CD at first on Archduke Records (LARC1
and MARC1) in the late 1980s. She was gamely partnered by the LPO with Paul
Freeman. This coupling is still available from Olympia (different number).
Amato, who has also recorded Sorabji for Altarus is both dextrous and brilliant.
Long before that, in the age of the LP, there was Roberto Szidon's DG LP
of the second concerto on 2530 055. Van Cliburn's fiery account of the second,
highly thought of, was on RCA GD 60420 now long gone. It is worth noting
that Van Cliburn chose this concerto for his professional debut when he was
eighteen. Earl Wild's recording of No. 2 can still be had on Chesky. I have
not heard the Centaur recording of the two concertos with Thomas Tirino and
the Bulgarian Radio SO/Vassili Kazandjiev (Centaur CRC 2149) but despite
the non-American orchestra the performance was acceptable if not outstanding.
André Watts, known for his Brahms 2, recorded the Second with Telarc
at Dallas but this failed to grip. Eugene List recorded both concertos on
Millennium Classics MCD80086 but this too missed the mark.
Apart from the Olympia disc most of the above are out of the catalogue. So
when two discs arrive this is timely. Tanyel is reflective by comparison
with Prutsman's impetuous flow. Prutsman despatches No. 1 in 25.03 against
Tanyel's 27.15. No. 2 flies by at 25.55 against Tanyel's 26.38. Hyperion's
sound quality is lucid - clarity itself where the Naxos (recorded a year
earlier) is good but not outstanding. The Hyperion disc is very generously
timed and adds the second suite for solo piano - though Macdowell's use of
the word 'Modern' must not mislead you into thinking of anything terribly
challenging to the ear. Hyperion is full price and Naxos is at bargain price.
On top of this Hyperion, through the authorly offices of Jeremy Nicholas,
give us a nine page article. In it a considerable amount of care and thought
is on display. I would not want to let this sort of writing and specifically
Nicholas's moving description of Macdowell's mental degeneration pass without
favourable comment. The notes in the Naxos are simply adequate. Hyperion
bring out references to Dvorák, Scriabin (early) and Borodin and the
greater weight from the strings is to its advantage. Speaking of Scriabin
I was prompted to think of the Scriabin concerto on occasions although that
work is decidedly superior to the Macdowell concertos.
How to choose. Finally I must lean towards the Naxos. The playing is really
exciting with Prutsman relishing every grand moment and the quicker performance
does not means that Prutsman is insensitive. The two make-weights are marginally
more interesting that the Modern Suite.
Where will Hyperion go from here? I have my fingers crossed that they will
essay the complete Bortkiewicz concertos (numbers 2 and 3 are well worth
hearing), Richard Sacheverell's Coke's six piano concertos (Coke is spoken
of spoken of as writing under the influence of Rachmaninov), William Baines'
Poem for piano and orchestra, Sorabji's piano concertos, Edgar Bainton's
Concerto-Fantasia and Joseph Holbrooke's Second Piano Concerto 'The Orient'.
See previous review of the Naxos