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William Grant STILL (1895-1978)
Seven Traceries Suite (1939) [22:02]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Suite L’Arlésienne; Menuetto [4:38]: Farandole (1872) [3:42]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Piano Sonata Op.5 (1881) [31:11]
Alexander SPENDIARIAN (1871-1928)
Etudes of Erevan: Caucasian Sketches - Khaitarma [4:13]; Hidjas [4:20]
Seta Karakashian (piano)
rec. no dates or locations specified
ROMÉO RECORDS 7298 [70:36]

There’s not a lot of help here for the foundering critic confronted by a disc such as this. We know that pianist Seta Karakashian recorded an LP called Rarely Performed Piano Works, which was re-released by Roméo on CD [7227]. I’m not sure if this was followed by a second LP volume or whether this release, identified as Volume 2, is a new beginning, on CD. There are no recording dates, and no recording locations, though there is a mastering engineer noted. What’s also noted in the skimpy booklet is the fact that she performed William Grant Still’s Seven Traceries at a festival devoted to the composer in 2008. Make of that what you will, because Roméo is not going to help.
 
This is frustrating but shouldn’t be an insuperable problem. In fact it shouldn’t be a bar at all. Unfortunately what is an insuperable problem is the recorded sound - which is too close, harsh, splintery and unsympathetic. It robs the Grant Still of much of its atmospherics. The pedal action noise also doesn’t help, especially when Grant Still gets most Debussian. These seven character pieces are not all equally distinctive but they have their moments. The third is a ripe scherzo-like affair - very brief - and Out of the Silence fuses the most impressionistic moments with rich late-Romantic ones too. The only solution I could begin to find with the problematic recording was to reverse the normal practice when playing 78s - thus I turned up the bass and cut the treble right back, though it’s hardly ideal. In any case I would recommend the more extensive and far better recorded performances by Denver Oldham on Koch [37084-2].
 
Strauss’s early Op.5 Piano Sonata is hardly commonplace on disc, though it was famously advocated by that arch Straussian, Glenn Gould. Unfortunately Karakashian’s performance lacks youthful brio and drama. Its contours are reasonable, but the detail is missing and the recording is once more against her. The slow movement sounds very brittle, and is no match for the chordally suggestive romanticism cultivated by Gould. Gould was not unimpeachable here, however, so if you want a more central recommendation go for Stefan Vladar, again on Koch. The two Bizet pieces - arranged by whom? Is the Menuetto the Rachmaninov arrangement? - are augmented by two Caucasian Sketches by Alexander Spendiarian (1871-1928), redolent of Tartar folklore, quite enticing, and once more subject to recording problems including studio noise, and strange acoustic popping, in the second.
 
For all that there’s some interesting repertoire here, I’m afraid that this is a non-starter.
 
Jonathan Woolf  


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