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Martin Jones -75th Birthday Tribute
rec. 1973-2014 NIMBUS NI1718 [4 CDs: 310:42]
Few if any pianists have thrown their net so widely and in so many directions as Martin Jones; this over a period of 45 years as recording artist for Nimbus; and this has not been a labour of duty.
As Adrian Farmer points out in his appreciation in the booklet, after his first three complete editions of music by established composers – Mendelssohn, Debussy and Brahms – he turned to fishing-waters rarely visited by others in the trade. All the composers he selected were of his own choice. He had – and has – an appetite for the little known and very often has gathered in rather exotic species that at closer scrutiny turned out to be just as tasty as the homely fare. Being served with the right ingredients these have provided unexpected culinary experiences. The ingredients have been: curiosity, thorough preparation, deep understanding of the individuality of each species and tasteful presentation.
Now that he has turned 75 (4 February 2015) Nimbus have attentively issued this brimful 4-CD-box with more than five hours of excerpts from his recorded legacy. It encompasses music by thirty composers and recordings made between 1973 and 2014.
It is a fascinating voyage to follow this pianist all the way from Beethoven’s pupil and friend Carl Czerny (1791–1857), the oldest composer here to Alun Hoddinott (1929–2008). Czerny was a big name during his lifetime but since then his music has fallen more or less into oblivion. The sonata movement presented here is ample proof that the oblivion is undeserved. It was written in 1827 and his next composition was a funeral march, Marcia funèbre sulla morta di Luigi van Beethoven.
So we make a marvellous start and there are gems a-plenty in the rest of the programme. The MendelssohnCaprice bubbles with energy while the first of his Lieder ohne Worte makes for a nice meeting with an old friend. The Brahms study after Weber’s C major sonata is youthfully brilliant – he was just nineteen when he wrote it. The transparent A-flat Intermezzo is almost impressionistic and the Hungarian dance is a timely reminder of his love of his “Gypsy children”.
These are practically the only “standard works” and still they are far from standard. Being today more or less a footnote in the history books, Lyadov was early associated with “The Mighty Handful”. He became a skilled orchestrator and this can also be heard in the colourful and atmospheric Barcarolle. Colourful also describes Albeniz’s Iberia, one of the really great Spanish contributions to the international piano repertoire. Rondeña, heard here, is named after the Spanish town Ronda.
Debussy’s evocative Etudes, were his last piano works, written in 1915 during an unusually creative period, just two years before his demise. The playing here is, as in the rest of the music in the box, utterly sensitive. The Italian Giuseppe Ferrata (1865–1928) emigrated in the early 1890s to the US. His oeuvre includes a couple of orchestral works, two masses, some songs and quite a lot of piano music. His study on Chopin’s "Minute Waltz" is rather mysterious. It should be mentioned that “minute” here has nothing to do with the piece being played in one minute. “Minute” means “small” and the inspiration came from seeing a little dog chasing his tail. The composition has tempted a lot of musicians to make their own interpretations, Barbra Streisand even sang it. Ferrata’s version has its own charm. Charm, on the other hand, is hardly the first word that comes to mind when hearing the name Busoni, the German-Italian who championed a lot of new music but his Frohsinn (Gaiety) shows that no artist is perfectly predictable – it's certainly charming, though.
Polish-born Leopold Godowsky (1870–1938) was primarily a performing pianist and teacher but known also for his many transcriptions of other composers’ works, several Johann Strauss waltzes for instance. His elaborations on the other Strauss’s – Richard’s – Ständchen are rather showy but atmospheric.
Rachmaninov’s Corelli-variations is in fact a misnomer, since they are variations on La folia, which Corelli had also used. They are certainly varied but Rach himself had problems holding the attention of audiences during a tour in the US in 1931, the same year they were composed. Guided by the coughing from the listeners he left out the following variations. In one place he only played 10 out of 20.
Martin Jones has a special affinity for the Spanish and CD 2 is entirely devoted to Spanish works. Granados’ possibly best known work is Goyescas, a piano suite from 1911 inspired by the paintings of Goya. It was later used as the basis for an opera of the same name. The virtuoso Allegro de concierto heard here was written earlier, in 1903, and is a tour de force for a really skilled pianist, a quality that Martin Jones amply demonstrates. Óscar Esplá (1886 or 1889–1976) is lesser known. He has written some very attractive songs, recorded by Victoria de los Angeles, and his piano writing is just as attractive. The six-movement Lírica Española I from the 1930s has a lot of atmosphere, depicting the landscapes of Alicante. Canción de cuna in particular is a piece to fall in love with.
Ernesto Halffter (1905–1989) was born in Madrid but his father was German, hence his name. He studied in Paris and back in Spain joined the “Grupo de los Ocho” alongside cultural personalities like Lorca, Buñuel and Dalí. By the time the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936 he had moved to Portugal where he remained until 1954. The two compositions heard here date from his last years. The Sonata is laid out as a Scarlatti sonata in two parts and in the coda there is even a reference to the famous “Cat’s Fugue” by Scarlatti. The Nocturno otoñal “remembering Chopin” was composed in 1987 for the centenary of possibly the greatest Chopin pianist Artur Rubinstein.
Joaquín Nin was born in Havana but is still regarded as a Spanish composer. He was a famous Bach interpreter but also an advocate of the music of his Spanish contemporaries. Cadena de valses is a chain of waltzes with nods at both Ravel and Chopin but there are also references to Spanish folk music.
Federico Mompou’s highly personal piano oeuvre, mostly inward and mystical, was slow to reach a wider audience, at least partly due to his shy personality. These pieces grow on you; they just need time and patience from the listener to open up.
While several of his contemporaries were mainly miniaturists, Turina was perhaps most successful in larger forms. Sinfonia sevillana from 1920 is regarded as possibly his most important work but he also wrote a lot of piano music. Immediately after the sinfonia he composed the “sonata pintoresca” Sanlucar de Barrameda, from which we hear the first movement. Here big gestures are contrasted with more intimate emotions.
Argentinean Carlos Guastavino had an international career as a pianist and composed extensively. Although born in 1912 he was stylistically rooted in the late-romantic idiom. His Sonatina from 1945 is beautiful and melodious and it comes as no surprise to learn that he was able to earn his living on the royalties from his compositions.
The Spanish folk music influences in de Falla’s music are very much in the foreground in his Fantasia Baetica, written in 1919 for Artur Rubinstein. It requires a great amount of virtuosity.
Jean Roger-Ducasse (1873–1954) is among the least known composers in this compilation. One senses his teacher Fauré in the background, but his friendship with Debussy and Ravel also influenced him. Technically the interpreter is often seriously challenged. The recording of his Barcarolle No. 2 was made as recently as September 2014 and it is just as accomplished as the Rachmaninov variations set down 41 years earlier.
Although there have been many fine Polish composers after Chopin, none of them became household names internationally until Szymanowski entered the stage. Not even he reached the popularity of his predecessor among music-lovers in general. The two Masques are not easily digested at first hearing but they are fascinating tone-poems and they have now entered my shortlist of favourite piano pieces.
Stravinsky’s Sérénade from 1925 was originally written for himself as material for a recording, each of the four movements designed to fit on a 10-inch 78 rpm disc. Alas it was never recorded at the time – not until almost a decade later for another record company. Stravinsky in the 1920s was in his neo-classicist period and this is an entertaining work with a melodious Romanza and a Rondoletto that could be an illustration of a child's spinning top – inspired maybe by Carl Nielsen.
Austrian Hans Gál wrote his 24 Preludes during a convalescence “so as not to get out of practice”. The five we hear in this collection are entertaining, charming and youthful – he was seventy when he wrote them. The Andante grazioso e scherzando is delightful.
Entertaining are also the Vier kleine fröhliche Waltzer (Four happy little waltzes) that Korngold wrote when he was 14. By then he already had his first two piano sonatas behind him. These charming waltzes, homages to four of the precocious boy’s girlfriends, were not published until 1997, the centenary of his birth. His strict father forbade publication when they were new – possibly for moral reasons.
Gershwin’s songs became evergreens from the very beginning and have remained so. The remarkable Earl Wild wrote études on some of them, not least as vehicles for his own dexterity. That Martin Jones possesses the same fluency is clear from the two examples here, Somebody Loves Me and in particular the mercurial I Got Rhythm. Alun Hoddinott (1928–2008) wrote his third Piano Sonata in 1965 – a powerful, dramatic creation.
As for Australian born Percy Grainger his name is forever associated with Country Gardens but his complete oeuvre is enormous. Children’s March was originally written for military band but here is played in the version for two pianos: Richard McMahon plays the second piano. It is a dazzling performance where we hear the children appearing far away, getting closer and then disappearing.
The fourth CD opens with another Grainger piece, Ramble on the last act love duet from Der Rosenkavalier – there are cascades of notes but it is tastefully done, no bombast and he never loses sight of the beautiful melody. Much of it is played up in the descant – an equivalent to Strauss’s high violins and soprano voices. I would be interested to know what Richard Strauss thought about this – if he ever heard it.
Franz Reizenstein was one of the many musicians and artists who had to leave Germany when Hitler came to power. Reizenstein came to London and remained in Britain for the rest of his life. His Twelve Preludes and Fugues, of which we hear nos. VIII and IX, were dedicated to Hindemith – another master of counterpoint. They are clearly structured and in spite of the polytonality are quite accessible. The Variations on “The Lambeth Walk” – from the musical Me and My Girl – are truly entertaining. Not only is each variation in the style of a classical composer but he also weaves in quotations from their own works.
Jean Françaix was in entertaining mood – although sophisticated – when he wrote Eloge de la danse (In praise of dancing). This is in six short movements based on poems by Paul Valéry describing a single woman. All of the movements are in triple time. 15 portraits d’enfants d’Auguste Renoir was composed for orchestra in 1972 but were transcribed for piano four hands the same year. They were intended for young piano pupils, some of them being very simple. On this disc the last six are included, where the technical level is a bit more advanced. Adrian Farmer joins Martin Jones here.
This attractive box is rounded off with two works for piano with orchestra. Gerald Finzi’s Eclogue for piano and string orchestra was written in the late 1920s, intended as a movement of a piano concerto that was never completed. He reworked it in the 1940s and early 1950s but it was premiered only after his death. It is a lyrical, inward piece that grows to a dramatic climax but then the inwardness is resumed. It is one of the most atmospheric pieces of its kind that I know. I have long admired Peter Katin’s Lyrita recording from the 1970s. There is little to choose between the two recordings and I am happy to have both.
Shostakovich’s second Piano Concerto from 1957 is typical of his mix of irony, humour and lyricism. Not as cheeky as the first concerto it is still a healthy antidote to his more serious output, symphonies and string quartets, and the slow movement is lovely.
As I hope is obvious, I have derived an enormous amount of pleasure from this box. The playing is superb, the recordings are first class and the choice of repertoire stunning.
Maurice Ravel, who met the very young Françaix, wrote to his father: “Among the child’s gifts I observe above all the most fruitful an artist can possess, that of curiosity.” This observation also fits Martin Jones perfectly, and some of the fruits of his curiosity are collected in this box. I hope that curiosity is also a quality that is shared by many of our readers and this is definitely a box for them.
Always when lesser-known composers and works are being issued, some information should be provided. This set is also a model in that respect with a 40-page booklet, bristling with facts, some of which I have also made use of in this review. In other words: this is a collection that all concerned should be proud of.
Somewhat belatedly: Happy Birthday, Martin. May you be richly rewarded for all the generosity with which you have served the music-loving public for so many years.
CD 1 [77.34] Carl Czerny
Sonata in B minor, op.145, Allegro con brio [8.50]
Romance, Op.755 no.13 [2.45] Felix Mendelssohn
Three Caprices, op.33 no.1 [7.20]
Songs Without Words, Book 1, op.19 No.1 in E major Andante con moto [2.48] Johannes Brahms
Study no.2 [4.30]
Intermezzo, op.76 no.3. Grazioso [2.51]
Hungarian Dance, no.10, Presto [2.09] Anatoly Konstantinovich Lyadov
Barcarolle in F-sharp [4.09] Isaac Albéniz
Iberia Book 2: I Rondeña [6.54] Claude Debussy
Etudes 2e Livre
VII pour les Degrés chromatiques [2.11]
VIII pour les Agréments [5.20]
IX pour les Notes répétées [3.24] Giuseppe Ferrata
Study II on Chopin’s Valse, op.64 no.1 [2.12] Ferruccio Busoni
Frohsinn (Gaiety) [2.57] Leopold Godowsky
Richard Strauss – Ständchen (Serenade) [2.38] Serge Rachmaninoff
Variations on a theme of Corelli, op.42 [16.34]
CD 2 [77.05] Enrique Granados
Allegro de concierto [7.23] Óscar Esplá
Lírica Española I Bocetos Levantinos
I Evocatión costeña [1.51]
II Danza del Valle [2.25]
III Canción de cuna [2.01]
IV Paso de baile serrano [1.26]
V Canto de la Umbria [2.43]
VI Ritmos de la huerta [2.08] Ernesto Halffter
Sonata, Homenaje a Domenico Scarlatti [5.39]
Nocturno otoñal, Recordando a Chopin [3.45] Joaquín Nin
Cadena de valses - Evocation romantique [9.43] Federico Mompou
Cants Mágics [10.30]
I Energic [1.34]
II Obscur [1.56]
III Profond – lent [2.46]
IV Misteriós [2.15]
V Calma [2.00] Joaquin Turina
Sanlucar de Barrameda, Sonata pintoresca, op.24
I En la torre del Castillo [6.39] Carlos Guastavino
I Allegretto [2.55]
II Lento muy expresivo [2.51]
III Presto [2.16] Manuel de Falla
Fantasia Bætica [12.48]
CD 3 [79.16] Jean Roger-Ducasse
Barcarolle no.2 [8.55] Karol Szymanowski
Masques, op. 4
I Scheherazade [8.39]
II Tantris le Bouffon [6.35] Igor Stravinsky
Sérénade en La [12.20]
I Hymne [3.44]
II Romanza [3.18]
III Rondoletto [2.42]
IV Cadenza Finale [2.35] Hans Gál
24 Preludes, op.83
VIII Allegro pesante [1.46]
IX Vivace [1.33]
X Grave [3.03]
XI Andante grazioso e scherzando [1.43]
XII Con moto [2.10] Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Vier kleine fröhliche Waltzer [12.10]
Gretl, Grazioso [3.04]
Margit, Espressivo [3.31]
Mitzi [2.41] George Gershwin/Earl Wild
Seven études on song melodies
‘Somebody Loves Me’ [3.03]
‘I Got Rhythm’ [2.17] Alun Hoddinott
Piano Sonata no.3, op.40 [7.50] Percy Grainger
Children’s March [7.11]
(with Richard McMahon- 2 pianos)
CD 4 [76.47] Percy Grainger/Richard Strauss
Ramble on the last love duet [8.18] Franz Reizenstein
Twelve Preludes & Fugues, op.32
VIII in D Prelude Allegro moderato [2.41]
Fugue a 3 voci L’istesso tempo
IX in B-flat Prelude Andante maestoso [6.09]
Fugue a 4 voci Moderato Franz Reizenstein
Variations on ‘The Lambeth Walk’ [13.35] Jean Françaix
Eloge de la danse
Six épigraphes de Paul Valéry [11.22]
I ... Elle semble d’abord … [2.07]
II ... Elle était l’amour … [1.31]
III ... Elle trace des roses … [1.26]
IV ... Elle a fait tout son corps … [1.12]
V Elle célébrait tous les mystères … [1.35]
VI Voici la choeur ailé des illustres … [3.33] Jean Françaix
Portraits d’enfants d’Auguste Renoir
X La petite pêcheuse [0.29]
XI Mademoiselle Grimprel au ruban bleu [0.57]
XII Au piano [0.31]
XIII Filette au chapeau a plume rose [1.29]
XIV Les enfants de Madame Charpentier [1.22]
XV Le petit collegian [0.56]
with Adrian Farmer (piano duet) Gerald Finzi
Eclogue for piano and string orchestra [9.56]
English Symphony Orchestra/William Boughton Dmitri Shostakovich Piano Concerto no.2, op.102 [18.53]
I Allegro [7.41]
II Andante [5.09]
III Allegro [6.09]
English Symphony Orchestra/William Boughton