David Jalbert already has five recordings in the ATMA catalogue. His newest is Stravinski – Prokofiev Pétrouchka, L’oiseau de feu, Roméo et Juliette – Transcriptions pour piano (ATMA Classique ACD2 2684). It shows why he’s considered one of the younger generation’s finest pianists. His performance of Danse russe from Pétrouchka explodes into being with astonishing speed and alacrity. Jalbert possesses a sweeping technique that exudes ease and persuasive conviction.
The three extracts from L’Oiseau de feu require, and Jalbert obviously has it, complete command of the keyboard for the Danse that begins the set. Equally demanding is the introspection necessary for the following Berceuse. The Finale builds to a colossal orchestral finish that loses nothing in this transcription for piano.
According to the disc’s informative liner notes, the ten pieces from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet Op.75 are from Prokofiev’s original piano score, and owing to the composer’s facility with the instrument, are highly idiomatic. One of the set’s most engaging pieces is The Montagues and the Capulets, driven rhythmically by its relentless bassline. Jalbert has a complete understanding of these three stage works and the contemporary language their composers used to tell their stories.
Alain Lefèvre has recorded an intriguing work with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra under Joann Falletta: André Mathieu – Concerto No.3 (Analekta AN 2 9299). Written at age 13 while marooned with his family in North America by the outbreak of WWII, unable to return to France where he had been studying on a scholarship from the Quebec government, the work was intended to launch Mathieu’s career with the influential decision makers of the New York music scene. Unfortunately, not much came of it until 1946, when a newly created Quebec production company approached Mathieu for the rights to use his Concerto No.3 in a film (La Forteresse/Whispering City) to be shot entirely in Quebec. As things turned out, only major portions of the second movement were used in the film score. Until recently, this had been the only record of the work. Mathieu himself recorded it in 1947, and this same version, revised by Marc Bélanger, was recorded by Philippe Entremont in 1977 and made famous by Alain Lefèvre in 2003. Eventually renamed the Concerto de Québec, the recording by Jean-Philippe Sylvestre with the Orchestre Métropolitain and conductor Alain Trudel was reviewed here in October.
In 2008 the original autograph score for two pianos was discovered in Ottawa. Since then, composer and conductor Jacques Marchand has prepared a critical edition that is faithful to the original manuscript. This is its first full recording. It has all the sweeping gestures of its period and a devilishly difficult piano part. Lefèvre’s performance at the keyboard is masterful. He and the BPO perform the work with astonishing authenticity, restoring a fascinating chapter to Canadian music history of that period.
American pianist David Glen Hatch exploits his pianistic link to Brahms in Brahms & Rubinstein (Centaur CRC 3565/3566). Brahms’ student Carl Friedberg taught at Juilliard in the late 1940s; Hatch’s own teacher Joanne Baker won an audition to study there with Friedberg. Hatch recalls numerous instructions from Baker, handed down by Friedberg from Brahms, about his intentions for various passages in the Piano Concerto No.1 in D Minor Op.15. It’s fascinating to consider the extent to which Hatch’s performance is connected to the composer in this way. Hatch’s approach overall is quite deliberate in his slightly slower tempi. The second movement in particular reveals numerous opportunities to dwell on phrases and Brahms’ characteristic harmonic shifts.
As substantial as the Brahms concerto is, the Rubinstein Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No.4 in D Minor Op.70 seems an even grander conception. It may have to do with Rubenstein’s orchestrations, but somehow Hatch seems truly in his element with the composer’s great pianistic gestures. The concertos are an excellent pairing for this two-disc recording.
Robert and Linda Ang Stoodley style themselves as Piano à Deux. Their new disc, France Revisited – Music by Onslow, Debussy and Poulenc (Divine Art dda 25132) is an example of piano four hands performance at its very best. One of the disc’s many treats is the appearance of music by George Onslow. Because his oeuvre is largely for chamber strings, his very few piano works tend to be overlooked. The unique voice of this 19th-century composer is deeply intriguing as heard in the Sonata for Piano Four Hands No.1 in E Minor Op.7. It’s surprisingly forward looking despite its early catalogue entry.
Petite Suite delivers all the rich impressionistic orchestrations with which we associate Claude Debussy, and Piano à Deux are consistently excellent in how they portray the composer’s lightly programmatic intent.
The duo has also transcribed the Poulenc Chansons de l’amour et de la guerre, and done so with a gifted ear that preserves the wistful nostalgia that Poulenc infused into each song.
José Menor is an extraordinary pianist with a fearsome technique and unrivalled fluidity of touch. His new recording Goyescas – Enrique Granados (IBS Classical IBS-82017) demonstrates how he brings these gifts to his exploration of this major composition of Spanish piano music. Menor goes to considerable effort in his liner notes to explain how this music captured his imagination and compelled him to study it from a composer’s perspective rather than just a pianist’s. His study of the original manuscripts recommended by the Granados family helped him profoundly in discerning the composer’s intent in writing the suite, which deals with the course of love and death.
Menor admits being attracted by the work’s many, deep contrasts and its expressive intensity. This is most powerfully evident in El amor y la muerte. It’s astonishing to imagine that this century-old work contains such modern tone clusters and rhythmic freedom. Under the hands of Menor it becomes a revealing expression, ahead of its time, and potently magical. The suite is slightly abridged for lack of recording space but the disc does include a rare performance of a single short manuscript, Crepúsculo, that may have been Granados’ first draft of some of the suite.
Harpsichordist Gilbert Rowland has completed a substantial project with his recording Johann Mattheson 12 Suites for Harpsichord (Athene ath 23301.1 divineartrecords.com). The three-disc set is a valuable document shedding some light on the music of a hitherto obscure composer. Mattheson was a contemporary of Handel and came to know him well as a friend and colleague. He is said to have written numerous operas, oratorios, sacred works and music for organ. Most of these manuscripts were kept in Hamburg, where Mattheson lived and worked for much of his life. Allied bombing of the city during WWII destroyed most of the Mattheson documents, leaving little for modern scholars to study. Fortunately, the 12 Suites for Harpsichord, dating from 1714, have survived. They are well-conceived mature works written in the French dance suite style. Rowland plays a 2005 copy of a French instrument from 1750 by Goermans.
Andrew Wright has recorded a second disc in his series of operatic transcriptions, The Operatic Pianist II (Divine Art dda 25153 divineartrecords.com). Opera transcriptions were, in their day, the equivalent of pop song covers. They also provided travelling pianists with ample popular repertoire for performance. Liszt may be the best-known contributor to the form, although a great many composers dabbled in the genre. Wright clearly has a wonderful working grasp of this repertoire and knows how to bring forward the vocal line as well as how to portray the orchestral colour that any given emotional moment requires. His playing is consistently fabulous, whether he’s pounding out Liszt’s Rienzi Fantasy or Saint-Saëns’ Concert Paraphrase on Thaïs. It’s easy to understand how these transcriptions achieved “hit” status in the time before the gramophone and digital access to opera performances.
Misuzu Tanaka has, at first blush, twinned a pair of unlikely composers in her new release, Janáček, Bach - In concert (Concertant Classics CD PR201601 concertantclassics.com). She admits, however, that in the process of the recording she discovered that both were having the same effect on her. Tanaka’s performance of the Bach Partita No.6 in E Minor BWV 830 reveals her strict adherence to the perfection of Bach’s structure. It also uncovers the emotional richness of the minor key. This last consideration is where she makes the link to Janáček. His Moravian heritage and his links to Czech folk music are reflected in the emotional content of On an Overgrown Path, Books 1 and 2. Minor keys are prevalent. Melancholy is pervasive. In its own way, this shared feature is, for Tanaka, the point of connection.
Tanaka approaches Janáček with an intent to uncover the inspired simplicity of his music. She moves through the numerous parts of Books 1 and 2 with thoughtful deliberation, capturing the essence of the composer’s evocative titles: Words Fail, Unutterable Anguish, In Tears, for example. Her playing is as perfect for Janáček as it is for Bach. What a wonderfully unlikely pair.
Martin Perry’s third recording Martin Perry Piano – Hugo Weisgall, Piano Sonata & Paul Hindemith, Ludus Tonalis (Bridge 9467) continues his artistic focus on contemporary piano music, and specifically on substantial forms. The disc opens with a three-movement Sonata for Piano by Hugo Weisgall, a Moravian immigrant to the US in 1920 whose serious pursuit of music study at Peabody and Curtis, and privately with composers like Roger Sessions, helped form the rigorous approach he developed in his own writing. His language tends towards a 12-tone, relaxed serialism where the musical ideas are rather long. There’s a good deal of highly contrasted emotional content that Perry handles beautifully, giving the sonata what the liner notes call an “operatic” quality.
In the same vein, the Hindemith Ludus Tonalis has an illuminating subtitle: Studies in Counterpoint, Tonal Organization and Piano Playing. Hindemith writes a fugue in each of the 12 major keys, joined by interludes that help establish the new key. The opening Praeludium is played inverted and in reverse as the Postludium. It’s all rather cerebral, but Perry uses the distinct character of each fugue and interlude to colour the work in the most creative way. It’s a very engaging performance.
Andree-Ann Deschenes describes herself as a “French-Canadian pianist specializing in the passionate music of Latin and South America.” Currently doing doctoral work at California State University in LA, her latest recording Villa-Lobos / Castro (191061746096 aadpiano.com) is a rich program revealing the skill and artistic mastery of this very gifted pianist. Opening with the Villa-Lobos four-part Ciclo Brasileiro W374, Deschenes establishes her credentials as a serious student of these Latin composers. With an unerring sense of rhythm for every turn of phrase and ornament, she navigates through the Villa-Lobos and the five Tangos para Piano by Juan José Castro, finishing with a brilliant performance of Festiva by José Maria Vitler. It’s a terrific recording with a tremendous amount of energy, humour and astonishing talent.
Norman Krieger puts two wonderful standard repertoire items on his newest CD: Beethoven Piano Concertos No.3 Op.37 & No.5 Op.73 (Decca DD41154 / 4815583). The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra under Joann Falletta performs beautifully with Krieger. They appear to have an agreement that the Concerto No.3 will not be overly furious and that the “Emperor” will similarly not be too imperiously grand. The outer movements of the concertos are sufficiently strong and emphatic where they need be, and the middle, slow movements are given ample space to breathe. The Concerto No.5 is especially effective in this way. The playing throughout is excellent. To top things off, the recordings are live concert performances that bring their own unique energy to the music. It’s a successful collaboration that shows promise.