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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

AVAILABILITY

Dunelm Records

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Three pieces – piano, Op.117 (1892)
No. 1: Intermezzo in E flat [4:37]
No. 2: Intermezzo in B flat minor [4:14]
No. 3: Intermezzo in C sharp minor [6:09]
Panayiotis DEMOPOULOS (b.1977)

Farewells for piano (2004)
I. Summer farewell [1:35]
II. Spring farewell [2:51]
III. Winter farewell [1:07]
IV. Autumn farewell [1:38]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)

Pictures at an exhibition (1874) (Original version edited by Paul Lamm) [30:55]
Panayiotis Demopoulos (piano)
rec. The Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, Music Dept., University of York, Heslington, York, 20-21 July 2005. DDD
DUNELM DRD0251 [53:06]

Late at night, cocooned within my Grado headphones, I was at first a little disturbed by the apparently muffled piano sound on this recording. Giving it a second chance played over loudspeakers the day after I found my ears adjusting to the sound. At softer dynamics, such as the opening of the Brahms Op.117 the sound still seems a little woolly – slightly over-upholstered in the mid range. This does no real favours to the stereo imaging either, but in the more lively Mussorgsky things do pick up a little. I found it sounded better played loud and from a distance – on which more later.

Demopoulos’s Brahms is sensitively and intelligently played. It compares favourably with Martin Jones’s (Nimbus) more fleeting version. I like the way Demopoulos balances a more pensive approach to the weightier themes, allowing daylight to shine through where the mood lightens. He isn’t entirely blemish free, but then, neither is Jones.

Demopoulos’s own pieces are interesting compositions. As the title and subtitles (each season of the year is represented) would suggest, these works conjure up an expressive and atmospheric sound-world on which to ponder. Having turned up the volume and wandered off to make some coffee, the explosive beginning of ‘Summer Farewell’ was impressive. These stabbing fortissimo passages had my daughter Darcie complaining that it ‘wasn’t allowed’, but she’s only three and has much to learn about contemporary music. Demopoulos says that "this music is empty of any clear meaning, but ... does not aim to be vague or complex either." Athletic pianism contrast with sparsely pointillist, widely spaced, almost atonal intervals. The high chords in ‘Spring Farewell’ reminded me a little of John Cage’s ‘Four Walls’, and a Morton Feldman-like minimalism tinges the whole, but these pieces cannot be dismissed as derivative or lightweight: interesting stuff.

Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ will be a major attraction for many, and Demopoulos’s performance is nothing if not exciting. Comparing some timings, Ashkenazy’s rather thinly recorded 1982 Decca performance has the opening Promenade and Gnomus at 4:06, Demopoulos comes in at 3:03. Like American tourists ‘doing’ the Louvre, he apparently doesn’t want to hang around. The high energy and muscular pianism continue in a richly coloured and powerfully layered Bydlo, which contrasts well with the more reflective and playful ‘Castle’ and ‘Tuileries’. ‘Ballet of the chicks in their shells’ - sounds like something from a central European menu – ‘Unhatched Chicks’ is another translators option - has some forward en pressant distortions of the tempo which I found lively and inventive. Limoges and its preceding Promenade are among the more dodgy movements, running away with themselves a little and pushing slightly beyond the technique of the pianist. The Hut on Hen’s Legs begins with a strongly accented drive, but the left hand melody is a little lumpy, and Demopoulos loses it more than a little towards the end.

Potential purchasers of this disc should know that Dunelm’s discs are not factory pressed, but copied onto CD-R stock. They promise a ‘no quibble’ guarantee, but collectors will want to keep these discs in a dark cupboard somewhere, which will hopefully help with longevity. I played my copy of this recording through my somewhat ‘hair-shirt’ Cambridge CD4 player without problems, but listeners with old CD players might want to check for compatibility.

Dunelm Records is one of those small companies whose initiative deserves success. I would love to recommend this recording wholeheartedly, but find myself struggling a little with Demopoulos’s slips and tangles in parts of the Mussorgsky. This is a shame, since, while this is musical ground which has of course been trodden by so many before Demopoulos has some original and inventive interpretative ideas. I do enjoy his Brahms, and the première recordings of his own pieces are deserving of attention. On balance then, a CD which, if the programme appeals, should not be ignored.

Dominy Clements

see also review by Ian Milnes

Dunelm Records: DRD0251: Piano recital by Panayiotis Demopoulos:
Response to technical comments by the reviewer, Dominy Clements (1)

Paragraph 1: "muffled piano sound"

As with all of Dunelm’s session recordings of the piano, four professional condenser microphones were used set up as follows: a stereo pair on the diagonal, one in the line of the keyboard and one in line with the bass strings at the "tail" at measured distances. The pan potentiometers on the mixer were set to give a stereo image based on these placements (2).

The performer was asked to play a passage from his programme with the loudest dynamics and the mixer inputs were set to avoid any clipping at this high level. From thereon, the dynamics and pedalling were as Mr. Demopoulos chose to express them. The fact that, for the master compilation of the Brahms’ Intermezzi, two "takes" from the first day and one from the second day were chosen, i.e., after playing the Mussorgsky, is evidence that both the recording, and Mr. Demopoulos’ interpretations of the pieces were consistent throughout!


Paragraph 5: "CD-R stock"
This is not the first time that a reviewer has written a caveat about Dunelm’s use of CD-R stock for its sound carriers and has expressed veiled doubts not only about their playability and universality but also their longevity. The impression given is that Dunelm is selling a product that is inferior to a "pressed" CD. It seems to escape the reviewer that the CD-R is a superior product to a "pressed" CD and, indeed, is the sound carrier from which the glass master used in the "pressing" process is made. If the "fears" expressed about CD-Rs by the reviewer were true, Dunelm Records would have gone out of business years ago!

In June 2004, as a result of remarks by another of MusicWeb-International’s reviewers about "crackling in the sound stage" on a Dunelm CD-R review copy sent to him, exhaustive tests were carried out – including on that reviewer’s CD-R that was returned for testing purposes. An independent audio technician (BBC trained), together with another of MusicWeb International’s reviewers, contributed to the testing procedure and the conclusion was reached that the problem was with the reviewer’s CD player which sometimes did, and sometimes did not, play a CD-R satisfactorily. These tests were reported exhaustively on this web site (3).

On October 18th, 2005, it was learned that the reviewer had replaced his "old" equipment with newer of a different make which (I quote) "affirms its compatibility with CD-R" and such products from his friend – as well as Dunelm’s CD-Rs – (I quote) "play excellently".
One of Dunelm’s earliest master CD-Rs – DRD0011 "Robert Simpson’s Symphonic Appetite" – made July 1993 – is still in regular use and many copies have been made from it over the 13 years since it was "burned". It is well known that lasers wear out and tracking systems lose their alignment, so it is reasonable to update your equipment every five years or so.

It is good practice to store any CD or CD-R with care, preferably in their jewel cases, and to treat them reasonably in use. This use includes in all your current players, including that in the car as well as your consumer-use players and computers. There is absolutely no necessity
(I quote) "to keep these discs in a dark cupboard somewhere". That advice is utter rubbish!

Of course, it is necessary to keep your player’s lens clean; otherwise you’ll have trouble on playback of either type of digital sound carrier!

References
(1)
http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/Feb06/Panayiotis_Demopoulos_DRD0251.htm


(2) Alkin, G., Sound Recording & Reproduction, Focal Press, Oxford, Third Edition (1996),
pp.94 & 95

(3)
http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2004/Jun04/Dunelm_investigation.htm

Jim Pattison, Dunelm Records. February 4th, 2006


 

 



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