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Edward MACDOWELL (1861-1908)
Suite in E minor Op.10 (1906) [29.44]
Fireside Tales Nos 4 and 5 Op.61 (1902) [7.19]
Sonata Eroica Op.50 (1895) [31.27]
Étude de Concert Op.36 (1889) [4.33]
Sandra Carlock (piano)
Recorded at St Philip’s, London, August 2004
SOMM CD 043 [74.03]

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I hope this is the start of a MacDowell series from Sandra Carlock because she’s clearly a first class interpreter of his music. She avoids the temptation either to play up the grandiose inflation or to sentimentalise the quasi-impressionist withdrawal enshrined in these very different works. And that’s all to the good.

With a warm sounding recording in St Philip’s in London we have a most attractive recital that takes in the bardic drama of the Arthurian Sonata Eroica as well as the more Francophile charms of the two pieces from the Fireside Tales – not to forget the academic sounding, but in fact thoroughly charming, Suite in E with its baroque sounding Praeludiums and Fugues. Fear not, they’re cut from a different cloth to the soon-to-burgeon neo-classicism.

That cloth is distinctly Lisztian, of course, and we hear it immediately in that Praeludium. MacDowell feints toward a Bachian Presto but his musical heart leads him away and his central movement, a long Andantino and Allegretto is warmly enfolding and indeed unfolding – generous lyricism. This is a characterful and enjoyable piece, not especially plangent but with a somewhat Russian cast to the Rhapsodie - I kept thinking of Mussorgsky and Rachmaninov - and a triumphant conclusion to keep the salon patrons happy. Of the Fireside Tales the Fourth has its share of impressionist fireflies, the fifth its hints of Rachmaninov once more.

I suppose the Sonata will be the best known work here, one that has garnered a reasonable crop of recordings over the years though many of them on smaller labels. Despite the big nobility of utterance she rightly cultivates there’s no undue forcing of tone in the opening movement; the dashing fugal section is negotiated with considerable control and when it’s interrupted by a fervent battle-cry there’s no incongruity at all. The elfish Listzian sprightliness of the as-good-as Scherzo is lightly done but the greatest weight of expectation surrounds the slow movement. Here Carlock terraces dynamics with acuity, the romantic trajectory is at all times keen and there’s plenty of space in her playing for the music to take its fullest, deepest measure. No less in the monumental finale with its heroism and death, where she proves a dynamic interpreter. As an envoi we are given the charmingly flowing morceaux that is the Étude de Concert – certainly a Lisztian show-off piece but played here with grace and elegance.

A thoroughly recommendable disc then in which everything sounds just right – recording, playing, ethos. Will the other sonatas follow?

Jonathan Woolf

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