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Endless Song John METCALF (b. 1946) Endless Song (1999) [5.21] Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) Songs without words: Venetian Gondola Song, Op.30/6: Hunting Song, Op.19b/3 [5.30] Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Ave Maria, D839 transcr. Liszt [6.27] Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856) Widmung, Op.25/1 transcr. Liszt [4.18] Frederick CHOPIN (1810-1849) The maiden’s wish (c1829) transcr. Liszt [4.06] Josef SÚK (1874-1935) Love Song, Op.7/1 [6.43] Francis POULENC (1899-1963) Improvisation No 15 in C minor ‘Hommage à Edith Piaf’ (1959) [3.43] George GERSHWIN (1898-1937) George Gershwin’s Song Book (1932): The man I love; Oh, lady be good; That certain feeling; ’s wonderful; Do it again; Strike up the band [8.26] Isaac ALBÉNIZ (1860-1909) Chants d’Espagne, Op.232: Córdoba: Seguidillas [9.32] Carlos GUASTAVINO (1912-2000) El ceibo (1958) [3.14] Bailecito (1940) [3.39] Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Morceaux de Fantaisie, Op.3: Mélodie [5.07] Vocalise, Op.34/14 [6.34]
Margaret Fingerhut (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, 17-18 October 2013 CHANDOS CHAN 10826 [73.11]
Margaret Fingerhut deserves our most heartfelt admiration for her championship of the byways of the British twentieth century piano repertory, not least for her recordings of the Bax concertante works on Chandos some thirty years ago. Here she branches out into the field of the piano miniature, pieces which would doubtless be performed as encores in recitals and concerts. She still manages to produce a novelty from the British Isles in the shape of John Metcalf’s Endless Song which gives its title to this enterprising collection. There are also a number of rarely heard pieces along with the more expected items in what the pianist herself describes in the booklet as a “very personal CD”.
The Metcalf work well deserves its prominent billing, a very beautiful piece of almost nostalgic romanticism. Metcalf’s music is often, rather misleadingly, described as minimalist in style, but Endless Song has more in common with a Chopin nocturne: the same dreamy feel, gently bruising harmonies and a most attractive feeling for the style of the piano. There have been other recordings of the piece, but Fingerhut is superb in her sympathy for its semplice style. Incidentally I am delighted to learn that Metcalf’s superb operatic setting of Under Milk Wood, which I reviewed for the Seen and Heard section of this site earlier this year, is to be released on CD shortly. I hope to review it for this site when it becomes available.
Many of the pieces on this disc are much more familiar, and in this review I will restrict myself to descriptions of those which may lie rather further off the beaten track. The Súk Love Song is one of his very early piano pieces, showing, as might be expected, the influence of his father-in-law Dvořák, starting very simply but soon developing into an impassioned romantic outburst. The Poulenc Improvisation is a tender homage despite its tempo marking of “Très vite”. The two items by the Argentinean composer Carlos Guastavino are both hauntingly lyrical numbers which amply justify his nickname “the Schubert of the Pampas”. The Bailecito folk dance is particularly attractive with its subtle inflections of rhythm and delightfully offbeat conclusion.
Fingerhut is, it hardly needs to be said, fully on top of the technical difficulties in the Liszt transcriptions of Schubert, Schumann and Chopin. The recital makes an interesting point in juxtaposing the Schubert Ave Maria with Liszt’s reminiscence of the same melody at the end of the Schumann Widmung. She is thoroughly idiomatic in the selections from the Gershwin songbook, well contrasted examples of the composer’s own arrangements. She is also thoroughly convincing in the pieces by Albéniz and Rachmaninov; the gloriously delivered Vocalise makes a marvellous conclusion to the recital.
Fingerhut describes her selection of the pieces on this disc as “unashamedly indulgent”, and it is certainly that; but it is the sort of indulgence which draws the listener in. The recorded sound is excellent, and Jessica Duchen’s booklet notes provide plenty of detail about the individual items. Like many such CDs containing collections of short encore pieces, it is not a disc that really should be played right through at one sitting. The contrasts and balance between the various items makes that no hardship at all.