Piano Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 15
Piano Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 22
Hexentanz (Witches Dance), Op. 17, No. 2
Romance for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 35
Stephen Prutsman (piano),
Aisling Drury Byrne (cello), National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland/Arthur
recorded 13-14/9/99, in the National Concert Hall, Dublin. DDD
This is another of those Naxos recordings proudly displaying the Stars and
Stripes, plus the logo "American Classics" emblazoned down the left hand
edge of the case. One would never know the country of origin of the works
from their sound. MacDowell was a turn of the century American composer who
spent his formative years in Europe (being educated in both France and Germany).
His works sound like it.
This disc couples together the two Piano Concerti of MacDowell. These are
perhaps his best known works (apart from one or two piano miniatures) and
it is wonderful to get such good performances of them recorded in such good
sound for under a fiver. The main competition is from Hyperion, (Seta Tanyel)
and Olympia (Donna Amato), if you can still get it. Both of these competitive
versions are at full price, and given the standard of recording and performance,
I would say that there is very little competition for the new Naxos recording.
If you have either of these other performances, then there is no need to
buy the Naxos disc, but if not don't hesitate. The couplings may also influence
you in your purchase. The Hyperion disc has the Second Modern Suite while
the Olympia has nothing. What we get on the Naxos disc is two World Premiere
recordings of two short pieces. So, you pays your money and you takes your
choice so to speak. Indeed, in addition to his works having a typical Germanic
feel to them, they have both an individuality and a tunefulness which I find
most attractive. They are not world shattering masterpieces, but neither
are many of the works issued nowadays. This disc is well worth purchasing.
The enthusiast is well served with these concerti, one at bargain price,
two at full price, and all three being of high quality, if not identical.
So where are the differences? The timings of the three performances are about
the same except for the Naxos issue which is usually faster in all but one
movement. The differences are not that much, but there is a somewhat different
character to the nature of the pieces.
To give an example, take the second movement of the second concerto. It is
marked "presto giocoso" and this is perhaps where the greatest difference
occurs. In the Olympia and Hyperion issues, the emphasis is on the giocoso
with both performances bouncing along in a very good natured way. In the
Naxos issue however, Steven Prutsman really takes the bit between his teeth
and stresses the presto element. Although the timings are not that different
Olympia 5'15", Hyperion 5'10" and Naxos 4'44", the half a minute in such
a short movement makes quite a difference to the pace. In all three, the
respective orchestras are more than capable of supporting their soloists,
and all three recordings are more than adequate.
The fillups are very interesting, with two World Premieres on display. MacDowell
was primarily a miniaturist rather than a full blown symphonic composer,
and here we have two short pieces, the first of which is called
Hexentanz (Witches Dance). It is written for solo piano and
orchestra, and it is very interesting hearing what MacDowell thinks of the
witch persona. This one seems to be not so much wicked as cheerful, as there
is little menace in the writing.
The second extra piece is the Romance for Cello and Orchestra and this is
very beautiful writing, superbly played by the first cello of the Orchestra,
Aisling Drury Byrne.
These short works remind me somewhat of Grieg and so if you are attracted
by the programme, go ahead, you are certain to enjoy this.
I can thoroughly recommend this issue to the collector, but do not be misled
- this is not American music as we know of it today. Well done Naxos - another
first class issue well played, performed and recorded by all concerned, with
exemplary notes included at a rock bottom price.