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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-97)
Three Intermezzi, op.117 (1892) [14:59]
Panayiotis DEMOPOULOS (b.1977)
Farewells for Piano (2004) [7:11]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) [30:50]
Panayiotis Demopoulos (piano)
rec. Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, Music Department of the University of York, 2005
DIVERSIONS DDV24166 [53:06]

This CD was originally released in 2005 on Dunelm DRD0251: there are several reviews of this release on MusicWeb International. The current reissue is by Diversions.

Brahms’ Three Intermezzi, op.117 need little introduction. They were amongst the last piano works that the composer penned. The first is a lovely cradle song inspired by the Scottish ballad, ‘Lady Anne Bothwell’s Lament’, translated into German by Johann Gottfried Herder:
Schlaf sanft, mein Kind, schlaf sanft und schon!
Mich dauert 's sehr, dich weinen sehn.
[Sleep soft my child, sleep soft and lovely!
I feel sadness when you weep.]

The magic of this ‘lullaby’ is created by the melody which is often hidden in the inner parts of the piece. The second number uses the simplest of motifs derived from a falling arpeggio figure that generates itself into a miniature sonata form. The final Intermezzo once again seems to derive its inspiration from a ballad, this time not stated. However, it may well originate from another ballad or love lament translated by Herder: ‘Oh woe! Oh woe! Deep in the valley…’. All three pieces reflect the composer’s personal sorrow or grief. Panayiotis Demopoulos brings considerable skill to these deeply-felt pieces.

The central work on this CD is Demopoulos’s own Farewells for piano. These were composed in 2004 and dedicated to his piano teachers, Margaret Murray McLeod and Murray McLachlan. This challenging work uses a variety of ‘extended’ pianistic devices including striking the woodwork and strumming the strings by hand. It is a memorable piece that requires no programme for appreciation.

Many listeners will know Ravel’s splendid orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition dating from 1922. People of a certain age will recall the masterly rock reimagining of the work by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, released on LP in 1971. There have been many more arrangements and versions produced over the years. Fortunately, the original piano suite is still popular, with more than 150 recordings currently available.

Pictures at an Exhibition was originally composed in 1874 and was inspired by an exhibition of paintings by Viktor Hartmann, a friend of Mussorgsky. The composer presented his homage to the artist by describing ten of his paintings in music, connected by an interlude – ‘Promenade.’ The resulting work is a master-class of ‘character portrayal’ in music. The composer has managed to create a worthy companion to the paintings, some of which are no longer extant. Whether it is the humour of ‘The Ballet of the Unhatched Chickens’, the deliberate clumsiness of the ‘Gnome’, the dreariness of the ‘Old Castle’ or the power of the ‘Great Gate of Kiev’, Mussorgsky has mirrored the artist’s intent. Despite the oft-remarked occasional lack of pianism in Pictures, Maurice Hinson, in his Guide to the Pianist’s Repertoire, insists that this unique suite is ‘the greatest piece of piano music to come from the nineteenth-century Russian national school.’ The present performance captures the excitement, the magic, the drama and the realism of the Russian artist’s achievement.

I have not heard the playing of the Greek pianist Panayiotis Demopoulos before reviewing this CD. He was born in Athens in 1977 and grew up in the town of Kozani in the north of the country. His formal musical education was with Margaret Murray McLeod at Napier University, Edinburgh in 1996. Five years later he gained an award allowing him to study piano with Murray McLachlan and composition with Tony Gilbert at the Royal Northern College of Music. Other important career highlights included a research scholarship at Cambridge University and the completion of his PhD in Composition at York University in 2007. Demopoulos has concertized in many European countries. At present he teaches at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. He has many interests including ‘historiographies of Western Art, critical theory, microtonal music and the sociology of music.’ Away from the musical world he coaches a local Kozani basketball club and is enthusiastic about European cinema and poetry.

The sound quality of the disc is excellent; however, the liner notes are a little verbose, with more philosophical speculation than musical analysis. They contain sufficient information for an understanding of each work.

This is a well-produced and conceived CD. The programme is well-considered and balanced, with two nineteenth-century masterpieces framing a thoughtful and interesting modern work by the pianist.

John France

Previous reviews (Dunelm): Ian Milnes ~ Dominy Clements ~ Kevin Sutton



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