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Sophie Cashell – Début
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810 – 1849)
Scherzo No.3 in C# Minor, op.39 (1839) [7:52]
Nocturne in C# minor, op.posth (1830) [4:13]
Franz LISZT (1811 – 1886)
Ballade No.2 in B minor (1853) [15:09]
Liebestraum No.1 in Ab (1850) [6:06]
Liebestraum No.2 in Eb (1850) [4:21]
Liebestraum No.3 in Ab (1850) [4:28]
Ballade No.1 in Db, Le chant du croisé (1845/1848) [7:44]
Maurice RAVEL (1875 – 1937)
Pavane pour une infante défunte (1899) [6:19]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862 – 1918)
L’isle joyeuse (1904) [6:23]
La cathédral engloutie (Douze Préludes: Livre 1, No.10) (1910) [6:18]
Minstrels (Douze Préludes: Livre 1, No.12) (1910) [2:14]
Philip MARTIN (b 1947)
Two Variations on Irish Airs (1980/1991) [5:43]
Nikolai KAPUSTIN (b 1937)
Motive Force, op.45 (1985) 
Sophie Cashell (piano)
rec. date unknown, Theatre St Bonnet, Bourges, France


Experience Classicsonline

Sophie Cashell won a talent competition on BBC2 called Classical Star, beating a bassoonist and guitarist to the title. As I seldom watch TV, and when I do I go for cop shows, Neighbours and SF (nerdy or what?), I had never heard of this competition and when I was informed of it, upon receiving this disk for review, I must admit to shuddering at the thought of a classical music talent show. However, listening to this disk, I was most pleasantly surprised, not by the programming, which is conservative to say the least, there’s far too much Liszt to be really balanced, but by the playing.

Cashell is an Irish lass who’s been playing the piano from the age of five and she certainly knows her way round the keyboard and has quite a technique. The Chopin and Liszt pieces show us that she understands the flowery, sometimes almost hot-house, musings of the romantics. Chopin’s Scherzo gets things off to a rousing start – you’d never start a recital with this would you? – and the turbulent opening is well handled. The ensuing chordal idea, coloured with fioriture, is given sufficient weight for it to register its full impact. The closing section has pyrotechnics a–plenty. In the Nocturne Cashell’s trills aren’t quite smooth enough – I can hear the beats – and this detracts somewhat from the general loveliness of her sound. The fearsome difficulties of Liszt’s Ballade No.2 hold no terrors for Cashell and she throws herself at the music and gives a performance, by turns, of stormy power and introspective quietude. We hear really big romantic performances of the three Liebesträume but the passionate climax of No.3 is spoiled by the clangy tone of the piano, and after several hearings I am convinced that this is not Cashell’s fault. I am less convinced by her performance of Le chant du croisé which seems too self-conscious, especially in the horsey moments – where the knight is riding – and some of the filigree work is unclear.

L’isle joyeuse is far too reticent. Where is the wonder and excitement at the prospect of going to Cythère? Where’s the magic? This is a phenomenally difficult piece requiring not only high virtuosity but an insight into the music concerning what it’s about. I feel that Cashell does not understand the meaning of the music here; she can play the notes but she can’t make them hang together as a complete whole. I miss the ecstasy of the climax, the wonderful wild ride. La cathédral engloutie begins quite beautifully, with some gorgeously delicate playing. Here is restraint, understatement and it is perfect, but the build-up to the climax, and the climax itself, are too heavy and stiff. Where is the insight of the opening? This should have been more sustained and less banged out for the sake of volume. But the quiet music following this is quite exquisite. Ms Cashell needs to think her way through a composition instead of seeing it as parts of a whole; that way we’d have had a cathédral engloutie of some grandeur and excellence. Minstrels is too fleet-footed to register its humour and the fast passages are scrambled in an effort to keep the tempo. 

Philip Martin’s Two Variations on Irish Airs are pleasant enough but reveal nothing new to the musical world. The bonus track – which follows a full 73 seconds later – is a rather nothing piece of supposed jazz which is the kind of thing the Labèque sisters can bring off with aplomb at the end of their recitals but needs more care and attention than it gets here. 

The trouble with issuing a disk of such music is that you’re up against some very stiff competition – Michelangeli in the Debussy Préludes, Roy Howat in L’isle joyeuse, John Chen in Ravel’s Pavane, Argerich in the Chopin Scherzo, Leslie Howard in Liszt. In general, Cashell lacks the insight necessary to perform this music. She has the technique – make no mistake, she can play the piano – but she needs to work more on interpretation to really make this music come alive in performance. She isn’t helped by a rather tinny and noisy recorded sound which, at times, especially in the louder music, makes the piano sound very unpleasant.

I really wish I could be more positive but I can only write about what I hear and what I hear is a pianist finding her musical feet, and not being ready for this opportunity. It’s simply come too early in her career. However, I do look forward to hearing Ms Cashell in four or five years time.

Bob Briggs


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