Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Piano pieces by women composers

Monica Pons (piano)
rec Lacoruña Conservatori, Superior de la Coruña (España) 1997
Ars Harmonica AH037
Ars Harmonica, Llorenc, Balsach Tel 93-725-70-52

This seemed an interesting disc but I found little of the music to be very inspiring. In fact a lot of it was very anaemic.

It begins with a Rondo by Elisabeth Jacquet de las Guerre. It’s alright but you would not miss it if you never heard it again. This is followed by a three movement Sonata in A by Marianna Martinez (1744-1812) played with great energy, excellent articulation and a few blemishes but it is music which has some charm if little else. The booklet talks about the music's ‘dynamic quality’ and I, and my colleagues haven’t a clue what is meant by that. The booklet talks of 'the virtuosity of the landscapes’. Again, what does that mean? The music cannot be called virtuosic for a start. Is playing scales and broken chords virtuosic? Pons plays it well though.

Fanny Mendelssohn is a good composer although far from being a great one. I was utterly confused by the booklet notes. Yes, it may be society music but these three Songs Without Words are well written but unplanned and unstructured and have no depth, however charming they may be. The final one, marked allegro molto quasi presto, isn’t and it is very laboured as if it were hard work! Slow virtuosity does not work!

The love story of Clara Wieck and Robert Schumann is one of the most touching in the history of music. It makes a great detective story. Did Clara’s father, knowing that mental illness was in Robert's family, hinder the marriage of his daughter to Robert for that reason? Had they married almost at once and with the father's blessing could Robert have been healed?

I used to love his music but having studied it in detail over the last few years I am not so impressed. The brief movements that make up Carnaval seem to me now to be the outbursts of a troubled mind and it is his piano music that shows his distress more than any other. I have been quite surprised at the number of prominent concert pianists who cannot stand this work! His short-lived adulation of Schubert produced some very poor, or introspective music from his pen. Yet he wrote some very fine works. The Piano Quintet, the Piano Concerto, Kreisleriana, the magnificent Second Symphony (do obtain Riccardo Muti’s performance) and the songs are the very best of the early part of the nineteen century along with those of Brahms.

Clara’s Variations in F sharp minor Op. 20 is based on a theme by her husband which is simple and somewhat banal as a consequence. It is uneventful, predominantly dreamy music and of no purport. But some people like this type of sickly, sweet music and cover its many weaknesses with words like charm. The music is so much like music of the time with tinkling figurations and leaps up and down the piano, a very immature showmanship. Pons has difficulty putting it together at times but that may be because the music is so very badly written making its flow and continuity nigh impossible. No wonder this music is seldom played! I was waiting for it to end.

An Impromptu by Louise Farrenc-Dumont (1804-75) follows. Again I cannot see that it has anything much to say. It is another superficial piece. Lili Boulanger’s D’un vieux jardin is nothing to write home about either. It is slight and a sort of self-indulgent impressionism. Listening to this piece reminds me how good a composer Debussy is and so, you see, listening to inferior music, makes the great composers greater!

The three pieces by Florence-Beatrice Price (1888-1953) are a welcome relief. Now we have something to cheer about. I don’t think Pons has the rhythmic vitality for the Cotton Dance or the lightness of the essential fingerwork but it is a good piece. Long time coming though. Tropical Noon needed a little more urgency but often sparkles. Again the fingerwork needed to be lighter and therefore clearer. And the last piece in the group is Nimble Feet which highlights my previous comments about fingerwork.

Madeleine Dring was a very gifted musician but must not be merely dismissed as a composer of educational music. Her Colour Suite is by far the best music on the disc. Pink Minor is gloriously infectious although a little more humour would have been welcome. Red Glory has a spiritual feel in the tradition of mellow Brahms. Yellow Hammers is percussive with a touch of ragtime. Blue Air is a slow movement and the work ends with Brown Study which is related to Bach’s Italian Concerto.

An interesting disc.

I am not going to get involved in the debate as to the quality of women composers other than to say that I dislike Beecham’s demeaning remarks about them.


David Wright

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