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MusicWeb Reviewer’s Log: April 2006

Reviewer: Patrick C Waller

After around five months, I have finished listening to Scott Ross’s complete Scarlatti harpsichord sonata recordings (link 1 ). This is a wonderful set and reviewing it was an experience I enjoyed very much. After you have been through it once, it is difficult to know what to do with such a large set (34 CDs in this case) - other than just to start again. I am reminded of two anecdotes – first by analogy with walking a long distance footpath. Over a period of about seven years I walked the South West Coast Path, an experience I can also recommend. Near the beginning I recall meeting someone coming the other way who had almost finished. We got talking and I asked him what he thought was the best part of the walk. His response was that there were so many good parts he couldn’t tell me or even remember all of them. So it is with Scarlatti’s sonatas. Whether or not anyone ever reads the notes I made going through the discs, they will be useful to me as reminders. The second tale which springs to mind comes from one of the last time I stood in the Proms queue - now I usually spoil myself with a seat - probably in about 1991 and in the cause of Simon Rattle’s Mahler 9. I got talking to a chap who like me had collected about 300 CDs, which seemed quite a lot at the time. The "how do you decide what to listen to" question came up and he said – I file mine in the order I bought them and I just keep listening to them strictly in that order. If he is still doing that 15 years later I’ll be impressed – what do you do when you have half an hour and it is Wagner’s Ring sitting there next in the queue? Keeping listening to Scarlatti in Kirkpatrick order is more realistic but I shall be allowing myself plenty of exceptions.

Is it a small step or a giant leap from the harpsichord to the piano? Schubert’s piano music is another love of mine and the release of Radu Lupu’s sonata recordings proved irresistible since the four discs were very cheap (Decca 475 7074). His version of the Impromptus is a long time favourite disc and the sonata recordings are in the same mould. This is truly beautiful playing that left me entranced. Lupu’s colouring and ability to convey just the right mood are striking. There are no idiosyncratic tempi and rubato is used sparingly. It is sad that Lupu’s self-criticism have restricted his recordings – like Uchida’s recently finished series this is far from complete. The most serious omission is No. 17 (D850) – the other late sonatas are there along with Nos. 13 and 14 and a couple of early works. Just about all of this is as good as it gets - and far preferable to Uchida in my view - but I will cite two movements that were particularly arresting. In the scherzo of No. 16 D845 – a grade 7 piece as my wife reminded me – there is grace beyond measure. It may only take grade 7 to play the notes but requires the highest artistry to play like this. Secondly in the slow movement of the great final sonata in B flat (D960) Lupu brings great pathos and a feeling that time is standing still. Normally it is the first movement of this work that transports me (and Lupu did that) – here that feeling continued.

Yet more piano music has come my way recently and Alexander Paley’s readings of Balakirev’s complete oeuvre in a 6CD Brilliant box (92617) is another amazing bargain from this label. Only the first piece on the first disc - Islamey – is well known but there are two sonatas, several nocturnes, mazurkas and waltzes (with undoubted debts to Chopin), a shedload of transcriptions and a final disc of miscellanea that I particularly enjoyed. Some of the transcriptions are surprises – for example the cavatina from Beethoven’s String Quartet Op.130. Alexander Paley is a reliable guide and, even though the early 1990s sound is a bit inconsistent and never out of the top-drawer, this is well worth seeking out. Whatever you do, don’t buy one of the still available single discs (on Ess.a.y) – the cost will be about as much as the whole set.

One of my discs of the year for 2005 was Leon McCawley’s survey of the piano music of Hans Gal (link 2). This made me keen to hear more of the composer and I therefore picked up a recent release on Meridian of two string quartets, numbers 1 and 4 (CDE 84530) played by the Edinburgh Quartet. These works were written over fifty years apart, the first dating from 1916. If fairly traditional in form, they both contain much imaginative music. The playing is excellent and there is an encore in the form of the Improvisation, Variations and Finale on a theme by Mozart (taken from Don Giovanni). All four of Gal’s quartets were first played in London as recently as 1987 and this is music waiting to be rediscovered. I hope that numbers 2 and 3 are on their way from the same source.

Whilst on the subject of string quartets, Naxos has recently issued two discs of Pleyel’s Op.2 quartets. I mentioned the first of these last month, and the second has since been reviewed appreciatively by Göran Forsling (link 3). I also enjoyed this disc and my review is waiting in the wings.

The Naxos release of Bo Linde’s concertos for violin and cello (link 4) was a February bargain of the month. I confess to not having heard of the composer before. He was a pupil of Lars-Erik Larsson and died young (aged 37), the concertos dating from 1958 and 1965. I was particularly taken with the powerfully expressive cello concerto, superbly rendered by Maria Kliegel. In three movements, this ends with a memorable and poignant Lento, ma tempo flessible. This disc is a must for lovers of Scandinavian music. Another positively reviewed disc on the same label which I have enjoyed hearing is In-Ju Bang’s recordings of Kabalevsky’s first two piano concertos (link 5). I continue to be amazed at the quantity of relatively obscure but worthwhile music that Naxos is recording, not to mention the usual high standards of performance and production. William Bolcom is a case in point and, of several recent releases of his music, the four violin sonatas have most impressed me. A review is on its way.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s guitar concertos are amongst the most important in the repertoire and it is surprising that Brilliant can claim they have issued the first complete collection. Perhaps to show that they can do more than make up big boxes of recordings licensed in, this seems to be their own new recording and it comes on a single disc at bargain price (7615). The soloist in the better known first concerto is Lorenzo Micheli whilst Massimo Felici takes over for the second and the two join forces for the double concerto. I enjoyed everything about this disc – highly recommended.

After spending much time last month listening to the Sibelius symphonies of Anthony Collins (link 6), I wanted to hear Kullervo again and the LSO Live release of Sir Colin Davis’s recent Barbican performance neatly filled a gap in my collection (LSO0074). Having been rather uncomplimentary about his Sibelius in my review, I am glad to say that there are no reservations here. In addition to fine contributions from orchestra and conductor there is also some excellent singing from the London Symphony Chorus and soloists Peter Mattei and Monica Groop. The recorded sound gives no cause for complaint and there is a real sense of occasion.

Finally, since I am writing this at midday on the first of April, I am now able to remind you of the MusicWeb tradition of April fools. Of course I am hoping that you got caught out by at least one but, if you missed them and fancy a chuckle, click on link 7 below.

Patrick C Waller











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