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Edward MACDOWELL (1860-1908)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in a minor, Op. 15 (1882) [26:02]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in d minor, Op. 23 (1885) [27:44]
New England Idylls Nos. 8-17 (1901-2)
Donna Amato (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Paul Freeman (concertos)
rec. All Saint’s Tooting, London, 1985 (concertos); Kresge Recital Hall, Carnegie Mellon University, 11 July 2007 (Idylls)
ALTO ALC1012 [75:56]
Experience Classicsonline

Of the recordings of the MacDowell concertos out there on the market, this one has been the most consistently available. Originally recorded for Olympia in 1985, Amato has re-released the two piano concertos on the Alto label, along with as many of MacDowell’s later New England Idylls as will fit on disc, newly recorded for this release.
Throughout the concerto recordings it is evident why it is still available — Amato’s energetic playing is undeniable and the performances themselves are greatly compelling, especially the harrowing beginning solo of the A minor concerto’s closing movement. The pieces here have snap and sparkle in the virtuoso passages, but also great depth and fervour. Listen, for example, to the tenderly intense opening to the D minor concerto, the low brasses expertly dying away at the moment Amato attacks the first chord. Certainly the attack evinces more tenacity than in the opening of André Watts’s performance where he is clearly intent on a more lyrical, legato approach.
The New England Idylls are quite pleasing and pleasantly played, comparable in sound and recording aesthetic to the early 2000s series of MacDowell piano music recorded by James Barbagallo on Naxos. The overall tone of these pieces is much like Grieg as filtered through Medtner’s less-complicated pieces; a sense of reminiscence and, often, a sense of doubt. Again, Amato gives compelling and unsentimentalised performances, showing a wide span of interpretive ability from the flash of the concertos’ finales to the Idylls’ To a Wild Rose.
There are several recordings I am familiar with of the MacDowell concertos: Thomas Tirino’s performance on Centaur, Seta Tanyel’s with the BBC Scottish Symphony on Hyperion (see review), Watts’s 2nd with the Dallas Symphony on Telarc. Having spoken of the wonderful energy of the performances here, this re-release is the least sonically pleasing. Though the concertos appear to have both been recorded at the same sessions, the piano in the A minor sounds rather compressed and slightly jangly in comparison with the beefier, fuller tones of both the Tirino and the highly-recommended Tanyel recordings. The problem appears to have been solved for the most part in the recording of the D-minor concerto, with more sonic immediacy and fuller sound.
Overall, the performances here are very good, the price is good, and the sound quality is variable. With now upwards of seven options for hearing the D-minor concerto, the competition is getting a bit tougher. The price is certainly right, however, and the performances definitely stand up to those on higher-priced releases.
David Blomenberg


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