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CD: AmazonUK AmazonUS

Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Nuages gris (1881) [3:45]
La lugubre gondola I (1882) [4:07]
Unstern (1880-1886) [5:35]
Vallée d’Obermann (1848-1854) [15:24]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata no. 30 in E major, Op. 109 (1820) [20:51]
Panyiotis DEMOPOULOS (b.1977)
Tetraktys for solo piano (2000) [7:18]
Panayiotis Demopoulos (piano)
rec. Whiteley Hall, Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester, UK, 18 April, 28 May 2003, Dunelm Records. DDD.


Experience Classicsonline

This CD is a reissue of Dunelm Records DRD0213, in which form it was reviewed by Patrick Gary, who was not very impressed (“It is harmless enough. Alas, that hardly seems enough for a solid recommendation.” – see review). The original issue received a rather more sympathetic review from Philip Scowcroft, who thought that Demopoulos’s own works made few concessions to the average listener – including, by implication, himself (?) – but nevertheless intended to keep an eye out for his future compositions and performances (see review).
A further Demopoulos recording on Dunelm DRD0251 received a positive recommendation from Ian Milnes – see review – and an almost equally positive review from Dominy Clements, albeit that the latter engendered a lengthy online debate about the quality of the recording and of the company’s use of CDR. (See review). I don’t intend to become embroiled in the argument about CDR, except to observe that I possess a large number of these recordings, burned on my computer and on a Yamaha CDR-HD1500, and have always found them to be no better and no worse than ‘conventional’ CDs; my Arcam Solo very occasionally refuses to recognise both types. As far as I am aware, the Divine Art reissue is on a conventional CD.
All four of the Liszt works which open the CD are of a dreamy, introverted or gloomy nature, so the somewhat imprecise, low-level sound picture is not at all inappropriate. The acoustic reverb certainly troubled me far less than Patrick Gary – these pieces were, after all, chosen, and their performance designed in order to illustrate the title theme of Nuages, or clouds, a theme further emphasised by the cloudscape, retained from the original release, on the front cover. I could have preferred greater variety, with some of the extrovert Liszt, too, but that would have been contrary to the theme.
The centrally-placed Beethoven work is one of his late sonatas and string quartets, which rank with Schubert’s late works among the glories of the musical repertoire. PG was much better pleased with this than with the Liszt and I’m happy to endorse both his comments – “ a notable job throughout” – and Philip Scowcroft’s “thoughtfully played”. It does, however, follow Vallée d’Obermann after only a few seconds, a break which seems to me insufficient to establish one’s new bearings. The finale is taken rather more slowly than usual, for example by Pollini (DG Originals). Brendel (Philips, ADD and DDD remake), Lewis (Harmonia Mundi) and Jandó (Naxos) to name just five recommendable recordings of the three late sonatas.
On his earlier recording, reissued on the Philips Duo label with the other late piano sonatas, Nos. 27-32, Op.90, 101, 106, 109, 110 and 111 (438 3742), Brendel takes 13:34 for the finale of Op.109. By the time of his later remake (Philips 446 7012, with Sonatas nos. 31 and 32), his timing had tightened to 12:10. Demopoulos takes 14:15, Jandó 13:04 and Pollini 12:30. Beethoven marks the movement Gesangvoll mit innigster Empfindung – andante molto cantabile ed espressivo, in effect asking twice, in German and Italian, for the same difficult combination of songfulness and soulfulness.
Inevitably performers will stress either the songfulness or the expressiveness and, for my money, Demopoulos errs a little in the latter direction, whereas Brendel seems to me to strike an even better balance in his digital remake than on the earlier Duo recording. Having downloaded this DDD Brendel recording - in good mp3 sound from - for comparison, I find myself preferring it to his earlier version and to Jandó. Indeed, this recording now becomes my benchmark for the last three sonatas, though the Duo remains a very good bargain.
I did consider re-acquainting myself with the Kempff recording, since it was from him that I first heard most of Beethoven’s piano concertos and sonatas, and his very fast timing of 11:08 for the finale seems to offer interesting possibilities, but I’m afraid that I baulked at purchasing or downloading the 8-CD set of all the Piano Sonatas, which seems to be the only way of obtaining his recording of Op.109 in the UK at the moment. The least expensive way to obtain this set seems to be to download it from the DG webshop for €23.99.
It’s unlikely that anyone will be looking for precisely this combination of the four Liszt works and the Beethoven sonata – though, if they are, they’re not likely to be disappointed. It’s even less likely that they will also be looking for the Demopoulos work, though I understand the reasoning behind combining new music with established classics in concert programmes and on CD, to encourage the unwilling to listen to them. Finding myself in the position of Philip Scowcroft’s ‘average listener’ for whom the work makes few concessions, I refer you back to the review by Patrick Gary who, of the three of us, seems to have understood and appreciated it the most and who gives a very readable account of the process.
The notes, by the composer/performer himself, help to explain the raison d’être of the programme and of his own music. His description of the Beethoven sonata does seem wordy by comparison with Beethoven’s own account, from which he quotes. Very occasionally his English is a little less than idiomatic and, like PG, I emerged from reading about Tetraktys little wiser than I began.
A mixed bag, then; likeable enough at its new price but not a CD that I’m likely to turn to very often. Overall I enjoyed the Liszt and Beethoven but still recommend hearing the Beethoven in the company of one of the good recordings of the Late Piano Sonatas which I have named, especially the DDD Brendel.
Brian Wilson


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