Top Ear

Eloquence short reviews, Vol. 1

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Leonard Ip writes

Top Ear has previously reported on the recent prevalence of Australian Eloquence (AE) issues in Hong Kong, and has promised to review as many as we can  (the whole AE series contains more than 500 CDs). The phenomenon itself is worth probing into, not least because it got many of us wondering why the huge project of reissuing rested on the shoulder of a regional department (instead of on Universal International’s) – thereby making it considerably less accessible to the international audience.

Anyway, here’s 1%, literally, of the whole population of AE issues, reviewed.

Praise be to AE for reissuing Cherkassky’s priceless Romantic encores. Cherkassky’s certainly has one of the largest encore repertoire ever, and included here are pieces by the Golden Age Romantic composer-pianists, such as Godowsky, Hofmann, Moszkowski, Rachmaninov. Technically dazzling and full of good tunes, these little pieces (count Godowsky’s “Wein, Weib und Gesang” transcription in) reflects the most enthralling facet of late 19th century (and early 20th century) pianism. A student of Hofmann himself, Cherkassky has the most natural flair for this repertoire, and is simply the best pianist you can find to let these gems shine. Of course, while Horowitz and Earl Wild often indulged themselves in sparkling encores like these (and let’s not forget our prime time virtuosos, Yuja Wand, Sudbin, Volodos etc.), Cherkassky has truly cultivated a unique, mercurial temperament which is best suited to such entertaining music. An irreplaceable Romantic artist. Piano mavens will not want to miss this.

Magaloff recorded the complete piano works of Chopin for Philips back in the seventies, and the waltzes are generally one of the components that comes off better. The 19 waltzes here, as Magaloff insisted, are performed with the composer’s manuscripts instead of later (often erroneous) editions. Clearly, Magaloff’s waltzes aren’t on the same, inspiring artistic level with Lipatti’s and Rubinstein’s, nor are they in any way idiosyncratically conceived (ref. Tharaud), but they prove their interpreter wholly intelligent and attentive to musical judgement.  One of the foremost exponent of interpretative fidelity, Magaloff plays idiomatically, gracefully and with good musical sense, making his recordings a safe one to listen to. I will prefer this CD to Ashkenazy’s Decca recording in terms of refinement and grace. This is certainly more than serviceable to those in need of the repertoire.

Larrocha plays four French concertos with the London Philharmonic: Ravel conducted by Lawrence Foster, Faure and Franck by Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos. Larrocha’s transparent, sparkling and full-bodied tone recorded here is a great advantage for French music. The two Ravel concertos are decently played, with the ideal sonority, atmosphere and rhythmic vitality. Larrocha’s well-judged articulation particularly satisfies, though I find the finale of the G major concerto somewhat lacking in drive. The Faure and Franck, however, deserve my full recommendation: Larrocha plays them to perfection. Faure’s seldom-performed Fantasie emerges here as a neglected gem (it may not really be, but this is what a great performer can do): intimate and charming like the Provencal afternoon. Franck’s mysterious yet essentially romantic atmosphere respond very well to Larrocha’s patrician playing. One will be hard-pressed to find a more vivacious and sparkling coda.

Hans Richter-Haaser never achieved stardom in his career, but he nevertheless made a good reputation post-war, with Beethoven as the cornerstone of his repertoire. This 2CD set contains all of the Beethoven sonatas that he recorded for Philips between 1956-58, including number 8, 14, 21, 23, 24 and 28, plus a Choral Fantasy with Karl Bohm and Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Richter-Haaser plays solid, sharp Beethoven, his phrasing direct, forceful and without any indulgence. His strong architectural grasp can be likened to that of Bachkaus’s, though the master’s inspiration is absent. Among the six sonatas, the “Pathetique” and “Waldstein” stand out as being most well-balanced and uncluttered in temperament, but “Appassionata” is rather undramatic and straight-faced. On the whole, these solo recordings show Richter-Haaser as an able but not special artist. The Choral Fantasy, however, is a great bonus: everyone (including the pianist) sounds tremendously involved, and the swift performance is one full of fire and elan. Everything is monophonic and I suspect this is mainly a collector’s item.

As a matter of fact, Ashkenazy did record both sets of Rachmaninov etudes for Decca, but prior to this AE reissue, Op. 39 is long out of print, and Op. 33 can only be obtained on the Decca Duo of Rachmaninov two-piano music with Previn. Repertoire-wise, then, this is an item worth acquiring, given it may be the most reliable set of complete Rachmaninov etudes available. The performances here are fully attuned to the more sober side of the composer’s character, and are, in their rational, steady narrative force, “a healthy narration for the pathological”. So there’s none of Ogdon’s and Horowitz’s fanatic intensity here, but in a way it’s more enduring and tasteful. Ashkenazy’s Russian soul (and technique, of course) is in full display in these performances, making them a good deal more engaging than his likewise technically excellent but musically bland Chopin in general. For a complete set of Rachmaninov etudes, Ogdon may well be the Dionysian and Ashkenazy the Apollonian, and it can be safely said that nearly all other contenders fall short of these two masters’ playing. The majestic 1970-80 London Decca piano sound adds much to its musical value.


Author: Top Ear

Musical hooligans.

One thought on “Eloquence short reviews, Vol. 1

  1. Pingback: Eloquence short reviews, Vol. 2 | Top Ear

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