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Jonathan Woolf
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alternatively Crotchet

For Children
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Für Elise (1808) [3:33]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Kinderszenen Op.15 (1838) [18:08]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Children’s Corner (1908) [15:42]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
For Children – extracts; Book 1 Nos.1, 3, 5, 16, 35 Book II Nos 18, 34 (1908) [6:20]
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
O polichinelo – Prole do Bébé No.1 [0:49]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The Nutcracker Suite (1892) arranged for piano, two hands, by Dag Achatz [22:29]
Dag Achatz (piano)
rec. Nacka Aula, Nacka, April and May 1980; Studio BIS, Djursholm, May 1983 (Tchaikovsky)
BIS CD158 [68:12]

BIS ensured a typically warm recording for Dag Achatz back in 1980 and 1983 when these performances were taped. The rubric indicates a sequence “for children” and though Für Elise is not that and Achatz’s own two-handed arrangement of The Nutcracker Suite sits oddly here we should be prepared to let the rather flawed concept pass without too much objection.
Achatz is a most musicianly player but there are things about his playing I fail to appreciate. Some of his rubati in the Beethoven strike me as mannered, an impression that becomes more solid when one listens to his Schumann. Tonally he’s a warm, sensitive player but some of his tempi and phrasing are open to question. I wasn’t convinced by the over capricious and over-nuanced Hasche-Mann and found Wichtige Begebenheit rather heavy-handed. Traumerei is thankfully unsentimentalised though he does progressively draw it out, whilst the bass lines certainly ring out in Ritter vom Steckenpferd. The final two movements are rather cool and matter of fact. I have to admit I went back to the old Carl Friedberg recording (now on Marston) for nourishment.
When we turn to the Debussy we find there’s more of a test piece bravura to, say, Daniel Ericourt’s (Ivory Classics) 1961 traversal of Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum. Elsewhere there’s much to enjoy even though a specialist such as George Copeland phrased The Little Shepherd with more incisive and rhythm and infused it with a sense of logic and drive. There’s a splendid if outsize Golliwogg’s Cake-walk from Achatz though.
The little Bartók pieces are over in a flash and so is the Villa-Lobos – I’d have preferred some more time with the Clown, who’s rather harried here and lacking in subtlety. Achatz is something of a serial arranger – Bernstein and Stravinsky amongst others – and his Tchaikovsky is actually a most attractive piece of work. There’s vigour and sentiment here in his performance and he brings a sense of sweep and intimacy that makes for enjoyable and rewarding listening.
So rather an up-and-down affair all told. Rather difficult to delineate a target audience as well.
Jonathan Woolf


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