Liaisons Vol. 3
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Sonata in D minor, Wq 69 (H53) [18:06]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
5 Waltzes, Op. 3 (1925, rev, 1969) [10:10]
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH

Fantasia in D major, Wq 117/14 (1762) Allegro [1:45]
La Böhmer (Murky), Wq 117/26 (1754) Prestissimo [2:58]
Benjamin BRITTEN
Holiday Diary, Op. 5 (1934) [17:22]
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH
Sonata in E flat major, Wq 65/42 (H189) (1765) [11:27]
Benjamin BRITTEN
Night-Piece (1963) Lento tranquillo [6:05]
Dejan Lazic (piano)
rec. September 2008, Muziekgebouw Frits Philips, Eindhoven, The Netherlands

New releases from this Dutch-based label are always worth waiting for. Most recently one of harpist Lavinia Meijer’s discs made my list of picks for 2010 – review – and since then I’ve been won over by Channel’s reissue of the Dvorák Slavonic Dances, from Iván Fischer and his Budapest Festival band (review). The driving force behind these recordings is Jared Sacks, who seems to have a knack for combining the right repertoire with the right performers. The highly regarded Fischer project is evidence of that and, I suspect, this Liasions series with Croatian pianist Dejan Lazic will do equally well.
That said, a large part of Channel’s reputation rests on the substantial crossbeam of superior sonics, their Super Audio discs among the most sought after in the catalogue. The three Meijer recordings certainly belong in that category, a fine complement to good programming and first-rate artistry. Lazic is new to me, but I’m aware the earlier discs in this series – pairing Scarlatti/Bartók and Brahms/Schumann – have had good notices. And in line with the overarching theme, Lazic now seeks to ‘connect’ the music of C.P.E. Bach and Benjamin Britten; an intriguing prospect.
The Bach D minor sonata trips off the keyboard with disarming ease, combining poise and precision. Indeed, articulation is the hallmark of this collection, and there’s no doubting Lazic’s technical prowess; every phrase is beautifully fashioned, each voice granted a hearing. The Andante is especially elegant, the trills tastefully done, but for all its charm there are moments when Lazic’ is self-conscious, dynamic contrasts too deliberate and, in the Allegretto, a giddying surge and retreat that’s not to my tastes. Just listen to Danny Driver in this repertoire (Hyperion CDA67786) and one hears the same clarity, but without the expressive excess.
The D major Fantasia is similarly afflicted, Lazic cultivating a bold, rather Romantic sound that’s undoubtedly arresting, if not entirely apt. Sonically, this SACD is well up to the standards of the house; the RBCD layer is very revealing too, especially in the mercurial La Böhmer. Listening to the latter it seems almost churlish to criticise, for this is a pianist of formidable talent, but then his E flat major sonata brings out those attention-seeking qualities once more. A pity, as in the mIdst of all these distractions there’s playing of rare concentration and finesse, notably in the sustained loveliness of the Adagio assai.
The Britten works, from the early Waltzes to the later Night-Piece, are much more successful, the restive, roaming energy of the latter in marked contrast to the contained form and brilliance of the E flat major sonata that precedes it. Initially I was a bit puzzled at the alternation of composers here, but it soon becomes clear that the juxtaposition is deliberate. Indeed, Britten’s precocious little waltzes (revised in 1969) sit very comfortably alongside the Bach D minor sonata, the second waltz – ‘Quick, with wit’ – a miracle of touch and temperament. Add to that the delicious, harp-like swirls of ‘Dramatic’ and this really is pianism of a high order, beautifully caught by Sacks and his team.
Speaking of precocity, the bright angularity of Britten’s Holiday Diary is incredibly assured for an Op. 5. Lazic brings splendid breadth and attack to the shiversome notes of ‘Early Morning Bathe’, the piano’s lower, resonating registers caught with fidelity and strength. ‘Sailing’ is a lovely little Andante, exquisitely formed and executed, ‘Fun-Fair’ a heady mix of sea-side sights and sounds. Lazic has a commanding style here that’s most impressive, giving the impression that he’s much more at ease in this multi-layered music than he is in the Bach; just sample his rendition of Britten’s nocturnal coda, rendered so tactile in the manner of Hopkins’ ‘fell of night’.
The Bach/Britten pairing is a useful one, and it does throw up some interesting similarities and contrasts, but the real pleasure resides in Lazic’s magical readings of the Britten pieces. Indeed, as so often with this composer, one is left quietly astounded by his originality and range. So, despite misgivings about the Bach and the booklet’s overweening promotion of Mr Lazic – complete with tricksy, light-filled visuals and typographical cleverness – I’m sorely tempted to seek out his other discs.
An intriguing get-together, made worthwhile by some fine Britten.
Dan Morgan

An intriguing get-together, made worthwhile by some fine Britten.