My general feelings about Francois-Frederic Guy have been ambivalent.
I was particularly disappointed with his Brahms
Second Concerto, and was largely unmoved by his second recording
of the Hammerklavier.
For the disc under discussion here, Guy presents an intriguing
coupling, a coupling that in itself might introduce some listeners
to Beethoven’s wonderful piano and wind quintet.
The Fourth Concerto
opens with a poetically, ruminatively-phrased soliloquy from
Guy. The orchestra’s response is more tied to an objectivist,
almost authenticist approach, which creates an interesting friction.
They are agreed on one thing – there will not be many hints
of Beethoven the titan here. There is an expert hand guiding
the cadenza which builds to a fine climax. All is perfectly
controlled, reminding us that Guy is indeed a fine pianist.
second movement features a rather restrained orchestra - just
exactly who is this Orpheus taming? Guy’s finger dexterity,
much in evidence during the first movement, is most suited to
the finale. If only there was more fire there. Orchestral clarity
is noteworthy, though, especially the lower string semiquavers
just prior to the conclusion. The timpani, curiously, seem rather
muffled, as if the player has chosen the most woolly sticks
he can find – a curious decision given the otherwise admirable
credentials of the orchestral contribution, so one has to assume
the recording is at fault here.
are so many fine alternatives in this piece, from Pollini through
Brendel to Gieseking, that Guy’s recording almost becomes otiose.
The saving grace might be the coupling.
Piano and Wind Quintet, by contrast, is a success. Here chamber
music intimacy is married with open-air grandeur: the dotted
rhythms of the opening. Yet there is sunshine aplenty in the
Allegro ma non troppo (perfectly paced) and a real sense of
communication between the players. All four of the wind soloists
- for present purposes we will consider the horn a wind instrument
- are excellent. Antoine Dreyfuss’ nimble horn playing is particularly
noteworthy in the first movement, while the expressive solos
for all of the soloists in the central Andante cantabile are
simply beautiful. Guy’s limpid tone, his excellent control of
cantabile and his ability to act as a true chamber musician
shows him at his very best here; a best to which I had not previously
been exposed. The players bring some drama into the finale,
providing just the right amount of contrast to the gemütlich
main rondo theme. A comparative version of much historical interest
is that with Benjamin Britten on the piano and Dennis Brain
on horn. This is from 1957 and can be found on BBC Legends BBCL4164-2.
mixed release, then, with the coupling outshining the main offering.