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David Stanhope (Piano): A Virtuoso Recital
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Toccata Op.7 (1829-32) [
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Ballade Op. 19 (1880) [
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
13 Preludes Op. 32
(1910) [38:05]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) arr. Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Wedding March and Elves’ Dance from music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1843) [9:16]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957) arr. David STANHOPE (b.1952)
The Tryst (1899) [3:07]
David Stanhope, piano
rec. The Studio at Sydney Opera House, 21-22 July 2004.
TALL POPPIES TP184 [69:40]



David Stanhope - composer, conductor, arranger, trombonist, pianist - has been known to collectors best as a conductor, frequently on Australian Broadcasting Company anthology recordings. He is best known in his native Australia as the former conductor of the Australian National Opera and as a frequent guest with the Sydney Alpha Ensemble. But he also conducts for new films and has made a number of recordings of new music for the Tall Poppies label. He started in Melbourne as a pianist, later switching to brass instruments, but periodically returns to the keyboard, as in this new release from Tall Poppies containing several works he has long wanted to record, when he could get away from conducting and composing.

From the description above we might expect this to be a disc of modern Australian piano music, but the pianist is the only Australian here and the most recent composer is Sibelius. Though the great Finn is the last composer on the disc we can begin with him because the work is a transcription of the well-known song The Tryst; the transcription by David Stanhope. Stanhope demonstrates yet another aspect of his talent - the song is arranged so well that one almost forgets that it wasn’t created in this form. Stanhope plays The Tryst as idiomatically as he arranged it, though once or twice it traveled south-eastward to Rachmaninov territory.

To go back to the beginning of the disc, we have another of Stanhope’s favorites: Schumann’s Toccata. Here my reaction was very different. I felt Stanhope saw the piece as an exercise in the original meaning of the term toccare and not as a thought-out piece of music. When I found in the accompanying notes (by David Stanhope) that the Toccata is the piece he regularly warms up with before recitals, I was not surprised. Fauré, the next composer on the disc seemed much more to Stanhope’s taste with the ever-present Ballade Op. 19. I believe that this is the fourth version of this piece that I have listened to this month, but this did not stop me from finding this the best performance on the CD. The phrasing is very good and the overall structure of the performance is admirably thought out, with one section developing effortlessly from the one before; not a characteristic of all of the other three performances I’ve recently heard. The Mendelssohn/Liszt extracts from A Midsummer Night’s Dream are well played, but the performance drags and is almost two minutes longer than another version I reviewed a couple of months ago.

Since Rachmaninov’s Op. 32 Preludes occupy more than half of this CD it is most likely for their performance that one would purchase this disc. The Preludes as a complete entity have been recorded a number of times, going back to Moura Lympany. In the more recent past we’ve had sets from Peter Katin, Howard Shelley, Vladimir Askenazy, Alexis Weissenberg, Dmitri Alexeev, Idil Biret, to name only a few. Stanhope’s approach here is less athletic than the other items on this disc would suggest, but also avoids what the Russians call doska (pervasive gloom and world weariness) which some performers regard as essential for Rachmaninov. He gets off to a slow start but responds well to the folksiness of No. 3 and demonstrates great control of dynamics in No. 4. Numbers 5 to 8 show that he can bend his pianist style to meet the needs of the composer, unlike in the Schumann, evincing a fresh response to the familiar Rachmaninov idiom. No. 9 is less exciting, but Stanhope’s playing is very evocative in No. 10, which Rachmaninov told Benno Moisewitch was inspired by the painting The Return Home. Stanhope brings out the tolling bells inherent in the score. Number 11 is handled playfully, but No. 12 could be more exciting. Number 13 (in Db) completes the tonal scheme of the set (No. 1 is in C#) and Stanhope brings this out very strongly, as well as reminding us that the Preludes were written a short time after the Concerto No. 3, whose third movement theme is lightly heard in the last Prelude. Thus ends Stanhope’s fine traversal of the Op. 32 Preludes, one in which takes a middle road between virtuosity and emotional depiction.

William Kreindler

see also Review by Robert Hugill






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