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Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Rare Transcriptions and Paraphrases - Vol. 2: Music from the Ballets
Paul PABST (1854-1897)
Concert Paraphrase on The Sleeping Beauty [7:19]
Alexander SILOTI (1863-1945)
Transcription of Act III - The Sleeping Beauty [48:55]
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
Paraphrase on Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker [7:27]
Nikolai KASHKIN (1839-1920)
Transcription of Pas de Trois Act I - Swan Lake [12:14]
Anthony Goldstone (piano)
rec. St. John the Baptist Church, Alkborough, North Lincolnshire, England 2011
DIVINE ART DDA25106 [75:55]

Another excellent disc from the consistently superb Anthony Goldstone. This is the second and last volume in his survey of transcriptions and paraphrases of Tchaikovsky’s music - this time focusing on his ballet scores (see review of Volume 1). I am a great admirer of Goldstone’s art. Aside from the technical skill to perform these hugely demanding scores he displays real musical sympathy with the inherent style of this music and more importantly still an ability to communicate that sympathy both in the playing of the notes and the insight and interest of the programme notes he supplies.
 
As I have mentioned before, I have a great affection for the whole genre of the keyboard transcription - the more improbable and outrageously demanding the better. The two paraphrases offered here are excellent examples of this; familiar melodies adorned in pianistic writing of staggering complexity and virtuosic demand. Others I am sure will feel that this can strain a ‘simple’ melody to its breaking point but I hear a sheer delight and joy in the creation of such works - a kind of ornate baroque splendour - that dazzles as it delights. Certainly this is the case in both Paul Pabst’s Concert Paraphrase on The Sleeping Beauty and even more so in Percy Grainger’s (relatively well-known) Paraphrase on Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker. Both works have the great good sense not to outstay their welcome - more than seven minutes does tend to induce jaw-drop-syndrome in even the most enthusiastic of listeners. These were conceived by their composers as vehicles in the concert hall to display their own mighty talents. Suffice to say Goldstone merits being in the company of such technically renowned player/composers. Pabst was yet another pupil of Liszt and an important professor at the Moscow Conservatory laying the foundations of the Russian Piano School that continued on into the 20th century. His work as a composer is now all but forgotten. His paraphrase which opens the disc exhibits a real skill at compressing many of the motifs and melodies of the full ballet into a seven minute firework display. Aside from the obvious notes-per-minute virtuosity I admire Goldstone’s ability to lead the listener’s ear with careful inner voicing so that the main melodies do not drown in the sheer weight of the accompaniment. Likewise, and I mentioned this before in another review, Goldstone has the precious knack of choosing wholly appropriate tempi - throughout this disc the music feels ‘right’ - full of life for sure but not gabbled or hasty.
 
This quality is especially apparent in the complete Act III of Sleeping Beauty (the so-called Aurora’s Wedding) presented in the transcription - rather than arrangement - by Alexander Siloti. Siloti was a close and respected collaborator of Tchaikovsky. Goldstone in his ever-illuminating and informative liner quotes the composer; “apart from Taneyev and you I have no one I can trust.” Yet posterity has been less kind to Siloti; if he is remembered at all it is as the editor of the now discredited butchered version of Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto. However, with this edition of the complete Sleeping Beauty he did a very skilled job indeed. Important though to note that this - and the selection from Swan Lake that closes the disc - is a transcription rather than an arrangement let alone a virtuoso paraphrase. Although the liner does not say as much, the function of this edition is purely practical - a way of allowing Tchaikovsky’s music to be heard away from the theatre pit. One assumes that in the case of scores such as this, this is the version which ballet répétiteurs use in the rehearsal room to this day. That being the case it is no surprise that Siloti presents the score “as is” with little or no adornment or elaboration. The skill is the sense of how little of one of Tchaikovsky’s largest and most instrumentally complex scores is missing. Again Goldstone is superbly adept at subtly highlighting musical lines with a wonderfully varied tonal palette and carefully graduated voicings. He is able to find the expressive range from the grandly ceremonial passages of the closing Sarabande and Apotheosis through to the miniature delights of the Fairy-tale character dances. I have to say I vastly prefer Goldstone’s pacing in comparison to the recent complete score offered by Neeme Järvi on Chandos who is all bluster and bombast. The only problem is that it is hard not to crave the full orchestral sonority. Admirers of Goldstone or collectors of unusual piano repertoire can purchase with confidence; anyone seeking the music of the ballet really ought to hear the full score as originally conceived.
 
As mentioned previously, Percy Grainger’s paraphrase is another delight - the musical equivalent of eating a box of chocolates at a single sitting - a guilty pleasure. The thundering opening seems to encapsulate exactly the kind of musical gesture one expects of a keyboard titan. This work appeared on one of the very first CD’s I ever bought played by Geoffrey Saba titled “Great Piano transcriptions”. No surprise Michael Ponti - doyen of the virtuoso transcription - recorded it on a pair of discs “Operatic Piano” although in current company Ponti sounds laboured and disjointed. Saba is the wildest, most overtly dramatic of the three and I must admit to having a tremendous fondness for his heart-on-sleeve approach. Goldstone feels a touch staid in comparison but the trade-off is a greater sense of control and clarity of line. I suspect that Grainger might prefer the former while admiring the skill of the latter.
 
The Nikolai Kashkin transcription of Swan Lake fulfils exactly the same function as Siloti’s of Sleeping Beauty. Here we are given a twelve minute excerpt of the Act I Pas de trois. As before the skill of transcriber and performer are never in doubt - shorn of its orchestral garb one can but marvel all over again at the sheer richness of Tchaikovsky’s melodic inspiration. An excellent conclusion to this compellingly enjoyable disc.
 
The rest of the “package” - liner-notes, recording and general presentation are first class. The piano sound as recorded is bright and full, detailed but not oppressively so. The Lincolnshire Church is Goldstone’s preferred solo recording venue and as before in this series he retains the playright of the disc and no producer is named so one imagines this is very much a self-managed project.
 
A disc of real quality and one bound to give great pleasure to all - guilty or otherwise.
 
Nick Barnard  

 

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