Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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EDWARD MACDOWELL (1860-1908) Fireside Tales (6) Woodland Sketches (10) New England Idylls (10). Gerard van der Laan (piano) LUCTOR-002 [71.00] available from Mr van der Laan at phone - Nedlerlands 0598 468468


This is a special disc, clearly born of long study of these home-spun but effective mood-sketches. There is a special artistry in writing and interpreting these staples of the domestic piano stool. Gerard van der Laan in sympathetic domestic style evidently has a special love for these unassuming pieces of mood music.

The first set are the Fireside Tales. In From a German Forest there is some impressively light-fingered filigree caprice work (1:48). The Haunted House has some Baxian warbling in the lefthand part.

There is more vigour in the Woodland Sketches, telling of New World forests, trailing creepers, enchanted pools, abandoned farm houses overrun by nature, bright moments in the sun and darker mysteries threatening as in From an Indian Lodge. To A Wild Rose (the famous track) is haunted by the tune - Cherry Ripe. The mood is returned to in A Water Lily. In the more fanciful Will O' the Wisp the voices of Granados, Chopin and Mendelssohn's fairy music are heard in music which has more movement than the other pieces. In Autumn is bright and breezy as also is From Uncle Remus. The tale - Told At Sunset which concludes the set seems a pretty resolute tale with an unusual quota of conflict although tame by comparison with Medtner or Rachmaninov.

The final New England Idylls include much that is a return to Macdowell's accustomed mood of dreamy rhapsody. An Old Garden and Sweet Lavender are good examples. Midsummer seems to envision a scene in the shadow of the trees. Midwinter is a strong piece with lovely upwards runs seeming to point to gusts of wind and eddies of snow. In The Deep Woods is another strong track with a strong vein of heroic nobility and a few hints of raindrops falling from the forest ceiling. To An Old White Pine is rather Baxian and this should not surprise us. I recall that Colin Scott Sutherland's fine 1970s book on Bax drew parallels with Macdowell and even then stirred my interest in the American composer's four named piano sonatas. The sequence closes with the Glazunovian eagerness of The Joy Of Autumn.

Macdowell's are innocent not lascivious pleasures and van der Laan faithfully conveys this with better than serviceable technique where speed is concerned but without intrusive virtuoso brilliance. You get the impression that you are sitting in a drawing room listening to a fine domestic player saying 'listen isn't this good …. Just listen to this!' and he is talking about the music not about how wonderful he is.

The disc comes with a 16 page booklet in Dutch only. The whole production is presented professionally with attention to fine details. The booklet contains poems; one for each of the 26 pieces and these are the handiwork of Judith Jonkman. It is my loss that I am not familiar with Dutch so I cannot comment. Just to reassure you; the poems are not read over the music. they are simply reproduced in the booklet.

It would be easy to overdose on these idylls, sketches and tales. Despite the similarity in titles with works by Medtner these are very different: more homespun but with immediately accessible charm. Gerard van der Laan seems closely in tune with this element and with the rarer darker moods as in From an Indian Lodge.

I would now like to hear Mr Van Der Laan in the four Macdowell piano sonatas. Meantime followers of Macdowell would do well to add these sincerely conceived and reflective performances to their collections.

The only real down-side is the recording. I am not sure whether it is the acoustic or the piano but the sound seems quite constrained; a little boxy. This rather robs the performances of a little of their telling effect.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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