It seems that German pianists – some of them at least – are getting
to grips with British piano music. No sooner had I listened to
the complete Cyril Scott sonatas played by Michael Schäfer on
Genuin GEN 85049 than the complete Bax sonatas turn up on Oehms
Classics (see review).
plays Bax with a real sense of direction and control. Unlike
Schäfer’s Scott there are no moments when this elides into
brittleness or gabbled phrasing. One senses that Endres has
not only the notes but also the idiom securely under his fingers.
In the First Sonata
he makes a powerful alternative to Eric Parkin’s more leisurely
Chandos reading. Endres really does start with the prescribed
“very decisive rhythm” and is commanding and purposeful. Parkin
by contrast is more grand seigniorial in approach and indeed
sonority and somewhat more measured. The recapitulation of
that highly lyric Ukrainian theme is pure limpidity in Parkin’s
hands – but somewhat more forcefully expressive in Endres’s.
He’s also excellent in pointing out shifting left hand melody
lines. In fact Endres’s is probably the quickest No.1 on record
– certainly quicker than Parkin, Iris Loveridge (Lyrita LP,
long deleted), Ashley Wass’s new Naxos recording and the old
Frank Merrick LP. Baxians must hope that Loveridge’s cycle
will one day reappear and is it too much to hope that someone
could revivify the Merrick Edition, uneven and sloppy though
the playing sometimes became?
The Second Sonata
takes a most acceptable tempo, on a par with Parkin – actually
fractionally slower overall – but a similarly engaging sense
of momentum, rhythmic incision and architectural surety. Parkin
opens with perhaps more inexorable drama and foreboding, a
feeling enhanced by the spaciously brooding Chandos acoustic.
By comparison the Oehms sound world is harder and colder,
less accommodating, a not unattractive aural solution to some
of the writing in fact. Where Parkin does score is in his
resounding chording, both triumphant and elastic. Endres,
a really commanding musician, prefers a harder glint, a more
tensile hard-bitten approach. I think his solutions are always
cogent and convincing and his playing is as commanding as
any on disc.
It’s clear by
now that Endres’s cycle is from the top-drawer. Those who
find Bax in the old critical way discursive and sectionalised
will find Endres bracing. He’s also a most sensitive and astute
player, and sees Bax from a cooler place than one is perhaps
used to these days. Comparisons with Iris Loveridge are not
entirely superfluous in this respect, or indeed in matters
of phrase building. Thus one may prefer Parkin’s more evocative
phrasing in Sonata No.3 to Endes’s more dispassionate sounding
playing but this degree of objectification brings its own
reward. The Rachmaninovian profile of Parkin’s slow movement
contrasts with the tarter urgency of the German’s playing.
Similarly Endres’s indulges bigger dynamic gradients in the
finale and is choppier and more assertively phrased. Parkin’s
rolling waves are superb; maybe however Endres’s more disruptive
playing gives Bax a more disruptively modernistic profile.
He is also, I think it must be admitted, the better technician.
That drier Oehms
studio acoustic gives the Fourth Sonata a more tensile quality.
It means that the central movement has a tension between the
slight lullaby feel imparted and the less sensuous tone cultivated
by Endres. Certainly Parkin for one brings more overt colour
to bear and is more outwardly romantic. Endres remains the
more troubling. Endres is the more quixotic and puckish in
the finale – chording is lighter, the phrasing a touch more
mobile - while Parkin ends in a blaze.
To the four sonatas
we can add the Sonata in E flat major, which Harriet Cohen
and Arthur Alexander suggested would function better as a
symphonic statement. It subsequently became the First Symphony.
In the booklet Endres refers to this as the most “untamed”
of the sonatas and also possibly the most original. It’s rare
on disc, which makes this recording of it, set in the context
of the four numbered sonatas, so valuable. Endres certainly
plays it with the utmost concentration and conviction and
once more his acuity is sure in matters of the bigger paragraph,
the longer span. This is playing of a thoroughly impressive
pedigree, aware of the subsequent orchestral reworking doubtless
but treating the sonata in strictly pianistic terms, allowing
the more orchestral moments to emerge organically and without
any kind of benign hindsight.
is committed to the music of, amongst others, Dyson, Bantock
and Moeran. Let’s hope this gifted, assured and wholly accomplished
artist can pursue his enthusiasms on disc. This set offers
great, rewarding and challenging playing and you will be stimulated
by its insights.