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Rondo Brillante – Early Romantic Works for Piano and Orchestra
Carl REINECKE (1824-1910)

Concertstück in G minor Op.33 91848) [15:15]
Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)

Introduzione and Rondo Brillant in A major Op.56 (c.1814) [13:53]
Carl CZERNY (1791-1857)

Introduction and Rondo Brillante in B flat minor Op.255 [14:30]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)

Concertstück in F minor Op.79 (1821) [15:06]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

Rondo Brillante in E flat minor Op.29 (1834) [10:28]
Joshua Pierce (piano)
Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra/Bystrík Režucha
rec. Dom Umennia, Košice, Slovakia, November 2000 (Hummel). March 2002 (Reinecke), December 2002 (Czerny and Mendelssohn), September 2003 (Weber)
MSR CLASSICS MS 1196 [61:11]


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.

The disappointment 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.

Reinecke’s Concertstück 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.

Hummel, Bratislava-born, 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.

Jonathan Woolf



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