A lovely idea. The piano and the orchestral
versions of Pictures, separated
by some aural balm, a couple of short
Chopin pieces, expertly dispatched.
Wonderful, also, to experience again
the art of Byron Janis. A Horowitz pupil,
he was a major pianist for a while,
as his Rachmaninov in this same series
reminded us (welcomed by myself last
begin hewn out of granite. The piano
sound is up-front and best described
as 'pingy' - it can even be harsh at
times. There is a slight dryness too
to the recording that mirrors Janis's
own playing; try especially 'Tuileries'
and its neighbour, 'Bydlo'. His pedalling
is sparse, leaving one to gasp at his
finger strength and his accuracy. Yet
he can create velvet sonorities when
he wants ('Gnomus') and contrasting
delicacy (the 'middle' Promenade; track
8 here). Sparks fly off his accents
in the Limoges market-place; interestingly,
the chattering of the old women here
seems to have a somewhat malicious intent.
One can hear the metallic 'clang' of
the piano's lower strings in 'Goldberg
and Schmuyle' – the latter seem to lead
to the grinding dissonances of 'The
hut on Fowl's Legs'. Unfortunately,
despite lovely, round, balanced chording
at the beginning of 'The Great Gate',
this concluding picture does not act
as a culmination of what preceded it.
For that - and for an edge-of-the-seat
ride all round - one needs to go to
Richter's 1958 Sofia performance on
Philips 50 464 734-2. The Janis is a
performance of niceties, of acutely
judged nuances set against occasional
showers of sparks.
The two Chopin items
act as a wonderful resting point and
contain some of Janis's best playing,
particularly the wonderfully suave Waltz;
what gorgeous shading of line there
The orchestral Pictures
is sonically fascinating. If the opening
trumpet is rather tinny, just listen
to the depth and luxuriance of the strings!
'Up-front' is again the term that comes
to mind with the recording, but here
it seems to work better – one can hear
how much the lower strings dig in to
their fast figures that launch 'Gnomus'.
Woodwind chase each other infectiously
in the 'Tuileries', and everyone is
on fantastic form for the 'Ballet of
the Chicks'. But if it is hi-fi demonstration
you are after, that Hut on Fowl's Legs
is keen to oblige, as is the - here
positively climactic - Great Gate.
A very interesting