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
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.