PIANO ENCORES AND ENCORE PIANISTS
The true piano encore may be a barnstorming showstopper,
it may be a piece of dazzling, lightly-touched virtuosity to make us
gasp (there are Etudes by Chopin that will do for both of these), or
it may be some soothing farewell (this above all when it is the last
of several encores). Whatever the piece, we expect the pianist to transmit
the idea that it is a particular and personal pleasure of his to give
us one thing more, something which has a special meaning for him. Playing
a well-known piece as an encore, our pianist may not give us quite the
same interpretation he would in the midst of the recital proper.
This disc is called "The World of Piano Encores"
but apart from the live Cherkassky performance which concludes it all
the items are culled from various recital discs by the pianists concerned.
Are we at least convinced that these are pieces that these pianists
would play as encores?
Well, there’s no knowing what we might willingly hear
at the end of an Ashkenazy all-Chopin recital, but on principle a 7-minute
Nocturne (which, according to the booklet, he often gives as an encore)
played with much serious musicianship, but rising to real poetry only
intermittently, runs the risk of losing the goodwill engendered. Similarly,
the sheer understated musicality of Ashkenazy’s performance of the
Rachmaninov Prelude will be more welcome as the opening salvo in a complete
set of the Preludes (which is after all what he recorded it for) than
as the close of an enthralling evening. A much more likely encore is
"Für Elise", a piece that every young pianist has slaughtered,
here played with a serene composure which suggests that Ashkenazy loves
it and really feels a mission to let us hear it properly. The Prokofiev
March, too, would be a likely Ashkenazy encore, but maybe unbending
a little more?
Which raises the question: Ashkenazy, as a serious
and high-minded musician, may play encores, but is he an "encore
pianist"? Rubinstein and Horowitz, though lacking nothing in high-minded
seriousness, could also be "encore pianists". The "encore
pianist" par excellence was Shura Cherkassky, always ready
to pull out his special bag of tricks at the end of the evening. The
Morton Gould here is typical (surely no one would play a piece like
this actually in a recital?), and so is the way he dusts down
Anton Rubinstein’s hoary old tea-shop favourite and makes it shine again.
Another "encore pianist", even more so in
his earlier days, was Jorge Bolet; the Paul de Schlözer Etude is
again one of those pieces that are surely to be played after, not during,
a recital, and he shows us that the well-worn Liszt "Liebestraum"
can still engage us after all.
I don’t know what happened to Ivan Davis after a few
dazzling Decca records in the late 1960s, but the Rachmaninov arrangement
of Rimsky’s "Flight of the Bumble-Bee" is the stuff of encores,
and so it is played.
An encore piece could well be the Grainger Country
Gardens, but Joseph Cooper, amiable TV personality though he was, is
somewhat heavy-handed and cannot convince us that his Grieg and Sinding
items are more than drawing-room size.
So there we are. Some pianists are "encore pianists",
others, with no disrespect to their many other qualities, are not. Alicia
de Larrocha, I suggest, is not. I do not think in any case that she
would expect her exquisitely turned account of "The Maiden and
the Nightingale" to serve as an encore, but the Falla Dance would
be a likely choice. It’s an enthralling performance, but is the sheer
subtlety with which she seeks out the mystery, as well as the excitement,
of Spain quite what we want to hear at this point in the evening?
"Clair de lune" (but not the Ravel "Menuet")
would be a fair piece for an encore, but the sticky , almost drooling,
performance we get from Pascal Rogé is something else again;
not so much an encore performance as a night club performance, OK as
an agreeable background with people chatting nineteen-to-the-dozen in
a smoke-filled room. Peter Jablonski is the first pianist I have heard
who has made a fully convincing job of playing Gershwin Second Prelude
in a classical style – i.e. much slower than Gershwin’s own performance.
But I don’t know if encore-time is the moment to appreciate it. I also
doubt if Katchen would ever have chosen the brief first Brahms Waltz
for an encore – or, if he had, he would have played it differently.
You can hear that both he and the composer are settling down to give
us the whole set. Mustonen sounds as if he might be a dab hand at encores.
Choice of encores for a 2-piano recital is another
problem, but would Ashkenazy and Previn have given us the rather lengthy
and not especially memorable Rachmaninov Romance? Rogé and Collard
have the right idea with Poulenc, which is super, and so have the Labeque
sisters with the Fauré Berceuse, though memory suggests that
the old "Listen with Mother" performance, whoever played it,
was more soothing still.
So, I’m sorry, Decca, there are plenty of goodies here
but "The World of Piano Encores" it is not. The world of piano
favourites, or piano miniatures, maybe. Better luck next time.