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Josef SUK (1874-1935)
O Matince, Op.28 [19:57]
Ernest CAHUSSON (1855-1899)
Four Dances, Op.26 (1896) [13:48]
Max REGER (1873-1916)
Aus Meinem Tagebuch, Op.82 No.3 (1910-11) [26:36]
Paul Orgel (piano)
rec. August 2014, Futura Productions, Roslindale, Massachusetts
MSR CLASSICS MS1533 [60:33]

Paul Orgel's rationale for this unlikely looking triptych is a certain stylistic consonance. Each of the three composers enshrines elements of late Romanticism but looks beyond it to, variously, impressionism, or anticipations of neo-classicism, or - in Reger's case - to an even greater freedom of expression. A further binding component, he notes, is provided by the shared moods of the three cycles. Whether one fully buys the first rationale is another matter, but the good news is that one can listen to the three works unencumbered by the need for explanation. In any case, these cycles, all written between 1896 and 1911, are not so common on disc.

Suk's O Matince (About Mother) is a five-movement cycle composed in 1907. Strangely the English translation here of the first of the five is incomplete; it should be When Mother was still a little girl, not When Mother was a little girl. This isn't quite as pedantic as it sounds, as the sense of reflective limpidity that this movement generates - there's even a ghostly memory of Suk's Piseň lásky - is made the more so through tactful rubati and simplicity of phrasing. There is something a touch objectified and cool about Orgel's playing. He is exceptionally fast in the central panel of the cycle - How Mother sang at night to her sick child - and because of the recording level, which is similarly rather hard, one can hear the pedal action. Risto Lauriala recorded this cycle on an all-Suk disc for Naxos (8.553762) and proves to have a warmer, more rounded tone and a more sympathetic approach. Best of all is Ivan Moravec (Supraphon SU 3509-2 111) whose rhythmic subtlety and command of the idiom, not least phrasally, operates on another level entirely.

Chausson's Four Dances, Op.26 (1896) are couched in the language of old dance forms such as the Forlane and Sarabande and their more straightforward qualities offer Orgel opportunities for expert characterisation. Certainly he seems to me more idiomatic than in Suk, which is strange as he has recorded Czech music before. Tempi are unexceptionable - unlike in the Suk - and he responds well to the more arrestingly extrovert charms of the increasingly dramatic Forlane in particular. Jean Doyen proves the tonally more variegated performer of this repertoire, though again Orgel isn't helped by that cool recording quality. Reger's Aus meinem Tagebuch (From My Diary) is made up of 35 pieces published in four volumes. The third volume was finished in 1911 and contains six character pieces largely modelled on Brahms' late piano cycles. I think the opening Lied could be more sostenuto than Orgel is prepared to give, and the Gavotte drags slightly - though this is not necessarily Orgel's fault. Some of the best playing in the disc comes in this cycle, though that hard sound can make full appreciation difficult and I'm curious as to whether this is Orgel's own preference.

Jonathan Woolf


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