The title is apt: “Romantic Piano Pieces” contains many standards
of the genre, including Liszt’s “Liebestraum,” one of the more
famous Chopin nocturnes, the notorious Rachmaninov prelude in C sharp minor,
Schumann’s “Traumerei”, and “Clair de lune.” The
pianist is new to me: Israela Margalit, an Israeli performer who married the
conductor Lorin Maazel in the 1970s - and divorced him some time later. The results
are perfectly fine: if you are looking for a compilation of romantic piano music
played as romantically as possible, perhaps for a candlelit evening meal, this
CD should fit the bill.
I could question the intelligence of the programming. Why the Rachmaninov C sharp
minor prelude? Granted, it is by a long-shot the most famous, the one a non-classical
listener buying this CD is most likely to recognize, but its torrent of volatile
chords does not fit in well with the surrounding pieces: nocturnes, songs of
moonlit nights and dreams. I would have preferred to hear the prelude in D major,
or perhaps in G, or even the titanic B minor. Why, too, does the disc end with
a half-hour suite of Grieg’s Lyric Pieces
? The selections are intelligent,
and the music very well-played, but I found the concluding scherzo an odd choice
to serve as the program’s finale.
On the other hand, some of Margalit’s choices are pleasantly surprising.
Imagine my joyful shock when the Brahms Lullaby was not the lullaby I was expecting!
It is, after all, much better to hear this little gem, which I had not heard
before, than to have to bear yet another performance of the more famous lullaby.
Margalit chooses from Tchaikovsky’s Seasons
not the famed “June” but “November”,
a moody nocturne. The Schubert St
is quite lovely.
And the Bach prelude in C, from the Well-Tempered Clavier
, is not “romantic” piano
music at all: but here Margalit plays it as if it is. You are unlikely to hear
a performance any less Bach-like than this which still manages, as this does,
not to be irritating.
Margalit plays very well, with an ear to the album’s title. Thus performances
tend to be on the slow side, and on the quiet side. The playing is either expressive
and poetic or superficially finicky, depending on one’s taste for this
sort of thing. For the most part I liked it, although other pianists will remain
my favorites in all the selections: for Rachmaninov, the composer himself; for
Schumann, Horowitz; for Debussy, Bavouzet; for Chopin, Boegner or Arrau. But
this CD is about the program and the idea of a romantic compilation. If you are
in the market, look over the album’s contents; if they appeal to you, do
not fear that these performances will leave you dissatisfied. Do, however, look
at the wide array of budget-priced compilations available; Decca has unaccountably
reissued these 1991 recordings at full price.