Richard Farrell (1926-58) was a New Zealander who, like a number
of pianistic confrères - Lipatti, Kapell, Mewton-Wood
being just three - died tragically young. As with another casualty,
Dennis Brain, Farrell died in a car crash on an English road.
He was only in his early thirties. There’s a good biography
of him on this site.
did however leave behind a corpus of recordings of which this
is the first volume. Fittingly it’s published by Atoll
which has long been active in promoting New Zealand’s musical
There are two concertos, the Liszt E flat and the Grieg. Both
these appeared on a rather short lived re-release on EMI Phoenixa
CDM 7637782 back in 1990. The two concertos were there coupled
with the Lyric Pieces. Comparing the two transfers reveals very
little difference. If you have that Phoenixa - it wasn’t
a Phoenix for very long unfortunately - then you needn’t
investigate this release with one important proviso; we also
have some of Farrell’s Brahms recordings, as well as some
of Grieg’s Popular Norwegian Melodies and the G minor Ballade.
This should tip the scales especially as the booklet is so attractive
and the repertoire broad.
The Grieg concerto has clarity and an intelligent unmannered
approach to rubato. Weldon was always a fine musician, often
more, and he accompanies well. Sometimes ensemble is not perfect,
it’s true, but the playing itself is malleable and committed.
Weldon avoids stodgy string pointing in the slow movement. Altogether
there’s a patrician air to proceedings which wears well.
The Liszt has a fine admixture of bravura and brains, as well
as considerable poetic expression. Again the rapport with Weldon
is a good one.
The Op.10 Brahms Ballades are here. It’s noticeable how
much lighter and more reserved he is than, say, Backhaus whose
famous old recordings, made pre war of some of these works, evince
a titanic and gaunter profile. The waltzes Op.39 are a genial
example of Farrell’s playing - he plays them perhaps with
just a hint of the puckish and is nowhere near as visceral as
old Backhaus. The Lyric Pieces were rather drily recorded and
show Farrell’s manly, somewhat no-nonsense approach to
this repertoire. Neither he nor the recording quite colour the
music to its optimum advantage but once again it’s a valuable
souvenir of his way with the repertoire. The Ballade has had
few really satisfactory recordings over the years; the last one
I heard was that by Andsnes. This one is highly proficient though
it perhaps misses the reflective core of the music a little.
These minor stylistic or interpretative quibbles aside, this
is a fine reclamation. The recordings were not really front rank
even at the time but they sound perfectly decent. LP covers and
booklet notes have been reprinted and there are photographs and
a small biography of Farrell in the fine looking booklet. The
two discs fit into a single CD jewel case, one on top of the
other. The second volume should be worth waiting for and let’s
hope some broadcasts may turn up as well.