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Manuel de Falla (1876–1946)
Noches en los jardines de Espana
Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959)
Piano Concerto No 5 “Fantasia Concertante”
Alexander Tcherepnin (1899-1977)
Ten Bagatelles, Op 5 for piano and orchestra
Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)
Konzertstück in F minor, Op 79
Margrit Weber (piano)
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Rafael Kubelik (Falla, Martinů)
Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Ferenc Fricsay (Tcherepnin; Weber)
rec. 1960-65 Munich, Berlin
Presto CD

This four-work compilation stirs memories of haunting record shops in Bristol in the 1970s. My nose was metaphorically pressed against the shop window as I drooled over LPs I could not afford. That was about ten years after they were first issued. Some were broadcast, so I could at least get to know the music a little and have a chance for it to lodge in my memory.

The Swiss pianist Margrit Weber is barely mentioned these days. Born in 1924, she was active in concert work 1955–1973 and died in 2001. Her repertoire was broad but she was much associated with works by Martinů, Stravinsky, Honegger, Tcherepnin, de Falla and Strauss. Her concerts at first took place in Europe but later extended to the USA where Martinů dedicated his last Piano Concerto (No 5) to her and a couple of years later, Stravinsky in New York, dedicated his “Mouvements pour piano et orchestre” to her.  Earlier on, she had been accompanist to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in the songs of Weber’s countryman, one of the supreme lyric composers, Othmar Schoeck. She also premiered works by Fortner and Genzmer.

I always loved the de Falla work, which, I recall, was taken up by pianist and name-dropping autobiographer, Harriet Cohen. As far as I know Cohen never recorded the work but she certainly mentioned it in her book “A Bundle of Time”. My way into the de Falla was via a much later LP (CFP 40295 never reissued on CD) which derived from a Melodiya recording with Alexander Iokheles (1912-1978). The sound of that LP added a most unwelcome, intemperate, steely edge to the strings - probably the reason it never emerged on CD. Weber’s and Kubelik’s full-on recording is not perfect (hard-edged and unforgiving strings) but it is good. De Falla collectors will want to add this to their shelves for the reading is emotional and the dynamics are superbly tiered and transparent. The playing is honeyed and the orchestra is sensitive and sensitively controlled throughout. There is zest by the armful and this all contributes to the occasional echoes of the same composer’s Diaghilev ballet the Three Cornered Hat (review; review).

The Martinů, is in three separately banded movements and Kubelik - always a practised hand in the works of this composer - reminds us that this concerto was a product of the composer’s American exile. It has some lovely echoes of the bubblingly superb Fourth Symphony; do try the Turnovsky version of the symphony after hearing this concerto.

For Tcherepnin, Weber took up the Ten Bagatelles but there was also his sixth and last piano concerto which was indeed a Weber commission. As to the Bagatelles, they run in total to about twelve and a half minutes and are there on this CD in a single track. Each is slyly coloured and together the ten follow a winged and cheekily flighty trajectory. This is not a work that courts tedium. They first emerged in 1913-18 but the composer spun an orchestral backdrop web at Margrit Weber’s behest.

Carl Maria von Weber’s Konzertstück is rather out on a chronological limb in the company of these three other works. It breathes the air of wistful nineteenth century romance and is presented pellucidly. In pianist Weber’s hands, the emphasis is on vulnerable romance rather than fixing on the lightning pearlescent trills and eddies. There’s defiant display aplenty but the pianist and the conductor keep that in check and major on Mozartean melancholy. Admirers of Mendelssohn will also find this piece speaking to them. Even the ‘chocolate soldier’ march from about 10:00 has a nice Mozart-like skirl about it. The final pages do kowtow to the fireworks and crowd-pleasing conventions of the times but there is much here that otherwise keeps this piece fresh.

The liner essay (English, German, French, Italian and Spanish) is by Klaus Doge.

This disc presents a programme both spiced and sugared.

Rob Barnett

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