Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Works by Albéniz, Bach, Balakirev, Bartók, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Debussy, Gershwin, Gottschalk, Granados, Grieg and Handel.

Martha Argerich, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Daniel Barenboim, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Shura Cherkassky, Ivan Davis, Andor Foldes, Andrei Gavrilov, Emil Gilels, Werner Haas, Julius Katchen, Wilhelm Kempff, Zoltán Kocsis, Alicia de Larrocha, John Lill, Jean-Marc Luisada, Roberto Szidon, Rosalyn Tureck and Alexis Weissenberg.
Panorama 469 232-2 [AAD, ADD, DDD] [two discs] [156'41] Recorded 1955-92.
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A title like 'Passion for Piano' promises all the worst from the World of the compilation album. This set (which could perhaps be more accurately titled the 'A-H of Passion for the Piano': composers range from Albéniz to Handel), on paper a semi-random hotch-potch, in fact throws up some interesting pianistic comparisons. Thus Larrocha's extract from Albéniz's Iberia, full of virtuoso panache wedded with tenderness when necessary, puts Cherkassky's account of the same composer's Tango Op. 165 No. 2 (arranged by Godowsky) fully into the shade.

Tureck and Kempff in Bach are more evenly matched, the contrast here being one of approach. Tureck's Aria from the Goldberg Variations is beautifully restful, while Kempff's brisk C major Prelude and Fugue from Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier comes from an earlier world. Kempff appears again in Brahms (the E flat Intermezzo, Op. 117 No. 1), and here it is he who eclipses John Lill pounding his way through the B minor Capriccio, Op. 76 No. 2.

Debussy's music has elicited a multitude of responses from its interpreters. Here it is instructional to compare and contrast Weissenberg's readings with those of Michelangeli. Weissenberg is arguably the more atmospheric of the two, Michelangeli the more perfect and sculptured, the perfectly weighted opening chords of his Cathédrale engloutie beginning an account that effectively silences criticism.

Chopin, appropriately, is honoured with a five-fold response: Ashkenazy, Szidon, Luisada, Barenboim and Argerich. Perhaps to begin with a selection of Ashkenazy's mid-seventies studies was a mistake, the hard, percussive touch and recorded sound working hand in hand against Chopin's intentions. The 'Revolutionary' certainly needs more full-blooded treatment. Szidon's Fantaisie-Impromptu is from another world, one in which the interpreter is infinitely more attuned to Chopin's output. Szidon plays with a Bolet-like sound and lovely filigree when required. Barenboim's Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2 is on the clangy side, so it is left to Argerich and Luisada to reintroduce the Chopin we know and love. Argerich's thunderous, full-blooded approach needs little introduction (her A flat Polonaise, Op. 53 is awe-inspiring). The Tunisian Jean-Marc Luisada, however, provides a pleasant surprise with three characterful Waltzes.

There are surprises elsewhere in the collection. Larrocha and Handel (Harmonious Blacksmith Variations) seem unlikely bedfellows, but the strength of Larrocha's convictions carries her through. Kempff has the strength of personality to bring off Beethoven's G major Rondo, Op. 51 No. 1. But the highlight of the set is Julius Katchen's awe-inspiring Islamey. He makes light of the difficulties, his masterly use of pedal and in particular his sparkling arpeggios providing an object lesson in interpretation and technique.

In amongst all these pianists, there is space also for the unremarkable: Werner Haas' account of Gershwin's Three Preludes might make reliable library recordings, but hardly enter Gershwin's world. The most adventurous music here is probably Bartók's Romanian Folk Dances, Sz56, persuasively presented by Kocsis.

Destined by its very nature to be a mixed bag, this two-disc set ended up being more stimulating than one might have originally thought. And that's no bad thing.


Colin Clarke

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