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Friedrich GULDA (1930-2000)
Variations on ‘Light My Fire’ (1970) [14:47]
Play Piano Play, '10 Pieces For Yuko' (1971) [30:44]
Prelude and Fugue (1965) [4:43]
Sonatine (1967) (17:56]
Für Rico (1974) [2:46]
Für Paul (1974) [3:08]
Martin David Jones (piano)
rec. 2015, Recital Hall, University of South Carolina
GRAND PIANO GP759 [74:17]

I became aware of Friedrich Gulda's name in the early 1970s. He was the pianist in Decca's cycle of the Beethoven piano concertos - Vienna Phil conducted by Horst Stein. Gulda seemed out of the ordinary rut. His predilection for popular music and his indulged inclination to trample along the boundary between classical and jazz disrupted stuffy conventionality. He was something of an early Kennedy among the grey-haired or grey-hair-praised musical establishment of the day. That image and reputation is confirmed by the generous selection of Arthaus DVDs reviewed on this site. Gulda's Cello Concerto - written for Heinrich Schiff - has been recorded by BIS and is well worth the effort and time. It's something of a sentimental pastiche-collage, moving between visceral rock-vehement and Mozartean Dresden-delicacy. The Swedish composer, Svante Henryson’s piece for cello and full orchestra, Songs from the Milky Way, is in a related and equally effective idiom.

So we turn, not for the first time, to Gulda as composer but this time for the piano, his own instrument. These six works were written between 1965 and 1974 and should reach out welcomingly to those who, for example, like Kapustin. The galloping jazzy, cool, sly and casual Variations on ‘Light My Fire’ is in a single track. This exultantly tousled and woolly disquisition around The Doors' song is easy to like even if you kick against the scene that gave rise to The Doors. Play Piano Play, '10 Pieces For Yuko' is a cavalcade of loose-hipped, street-suave, almost Joplinesque episodes. Some are lichen-strewn, impressionistic and plangent while others have that characteristic jazz stride and life-vigorous vibrancy. Yuko Wakiyama was Gulda's second wife.

The Prelude and Fugue comprises two short elements. The first is driven by the urgency of city life while the louche Fugue is more 'down' and dirty. The three-movement Sonatine is bejewelled and restlessly active. That said, the smoke hangs in the air in the central movement (tr. 15). There it's not static; rather its motion is languid and lazy. Rico and Paul are two of Gulda's sons. The Rico piece has Gulda making himself at home in the style of Bach. We are told that Gulda on occasion performed this on the harpsichord. The Paul score is a glycerine soft-focus sentimental piece. It's all very 1970s cinematic romance with a closing section at first steeped in the Detroit street-scene but returning to the yielding and swaying opening style.

The liner-note is in English and German and is by the pianist Martin David Jones. The sound captured by the Grand Piano engineers is atmospheric and clear and the performances are adroit and convincing.

One can fully understand the pianist when he says that he "gravitated to Gulda's music because it is electrifying, modern, and yet beautiful and accessible.”

Rob Barnett

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