In a review of MSR’s
recording of Joshua Pierce in Brahms’s
Second Piano Concerto I noted the very
piano-dominating sound (see review).
It put me in mind of the titanically
over recorded piano-and-coaches efforts
of the 1950s. It now appears, as if
in confirmation, either that Pierce
insists on this kind of balance or that
MSR does – or between them they both
agree that that’s how they like it.
It’s not how I like it but perhaps that’s
a less pressing matter.
is that Pierce is a fine player. I found
his Brahms 2 less than convincing but
have heard his Brahms 1, which is much
better. He seems to record extensively
in Slovakia and in the Czech Republic
and it’s to Eastern Slovakia we trek
for this disc of concertante pieces.
The State Philharmonic is based in Košice,
a city with a beautiful centre and a
horrible railway station. The orchestra
and its conductor Bystrík
Režucha seem to have built up something
of a relationship with Pierce, who seems
to make frequent visits there to perform.
These performances were recorded between
2000 and 2003.
The Weber used to be
performed rather more often than is
now the case. Pierce plays it convincingly
enough but in comparison with a portraitist
of Robert Casadesus’s class (APR, live
with Barbirolli in New York in the 1930s)
he is apt to sound over-robust. The
Frenchman plays the limpid treble runs
with Mozartian grace whereas Pierce
employs self-conscious rubati and tends
to dispatch the runs with a certain
mechanical indifference. But it really
is no good going to the effort of recording
at all if the orchestra is so subservient
and only pokes up its head for tuttis.
in G minor is a most fascinating work.
It was written in 1848 and whilst the
notes point to the influence of Chopin
and Schumann there are other more interesting
things going on as well. Certainly much
of the piano figuration is Chopinesque
but there are definite intimations of
Brahms here and Lisztian decorativeness.
Rachmaninoff was an omnivorous virtuoso-executant
and I’m sure he must have known this
as well as Brahms – there are fascinating
moments when one hears his fingerprints.
Pierce plays with great rhythmic vitality
and energy but whilst his passagework
is crystal clear the orchestral detail
is once more subservient.
is now something of a Slovak national
icon. His Introduzione and Rondo
Brillant in A major was probably
written earlier than the putative date
of 1814. It ripples with filigree and
shameless panache. Decorative and elegant
it also has a bracing and beautiful
lyricism that invites the questing pianist.
Czerny’s opus is far more opulently
virtuosic than Hummel’s. There’s a ceaseless
exploration of pianistics here and for
fourteen minutes the soloist parades
his external credentials to a doubtless
adoring public. Finally the Mendelssohn
– which is perhaps the most familiar
of the quintet of works. The playing
as such is good but the recorded balance,
need I add, is not.
This is the reason why MSR should consider
its priorities in concerto and concertante
recording; Pierce as well.