Romantic Piano Pieces
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
No. 3 in A flat [5:45]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Op. 9 No. 2 in E flat [4:52]
Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The Seasons: November
Sergey RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
in C sharp minor Op. 3 No. 2 [3:56]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
in A flat [2:08]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Clair de lune
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
ändchen [6:24]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Op. 30 No. 6 in F sharp minor [4:27]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Prelude in C from the Well-Tempered Clavier [3:04]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Lyric Pieces: She Dances (Op. 57 No. 5), Sylphe (Op. 62 No. 1), Homeward (Op. 62 No. 6), At Your Feet (Op. 68, No. 3), Puck (Op. 71 No. 3), Norwegian Dance (Op. 71 No. 5), Berceuse (Op. 38 No. 1), Norwegian Dance (Op. 38 No. 4), Albumleaf (Op. 47 No. 2), Scherzo (Op. 54 No. 5) [31:10]
Israela Margalit (piano)
rec. 1991, unknown location
DECCA 476 3486 [69:06]

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 Ständchen 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.

Brian Reinhart