CD REVIEWS July 2016 – Part 1

Capture.PNGLucas Debargue
Works by Scarlatti Chopin Liszt & Ravel
Sony Classical
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Fourth place in a piano competition may not come across as significant to many, but in the case of French pianist Lucas Debargue, it may well have worked to his advantage. He was placed fourth at the recently completed 2015 Tchaikovsky Competition, although he was regarded as the real winner by many including the Moscow Music Critics’ Association, who upon presenting their award described him as “the pianist whose incredible gift, artistic vision and creative freedom have impressed the critics as well as the audience”. His debut album for Sony Classical is a series of live performances in Paris encompassing a selection of works by Scarlatti, Chopin, Liszt & Ravel. He opens with four Scarlatti sonatas which work well as an introductory expose. The delicate Sonata in A Major is counter balanced by the dramatic and forward-driven Sonata in D Major. He displays a sense of the baroque, combining a light touch together with a inner sense of rhythmic vitality. The Ballade No 4 in F Minor, Op 52 by Chopin is a beautifully structured work. Debargue delivers its song-like qualities and together with strong yet measured pedaling, he shows that the sonorities of the work can be brought out without overplaying the technical demands. He reserves his best for Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit which he describes as a great spiritual work filled with light and darkness. He played it to critical acclaim during the second round of the Tchaikovsky competition. This is by far and away the highlight of the disc as his holistic treatment of the three movements from the translucent Ondine right through to the fiendishly difficult Scarbo serves to announce him as a pianist of some note. It’s little wonder that Debargue was allowed to play at the request of conductor Valery Gergiev contrary to the rules in the winners’ concert. This was one time the rules clearly needed to be broken.

– Frank Shostakovich

Capture.PNGChopin – Piano Concerto No 1
Grigory Sokolov piano
Munich Philharmonic Orchestra
Witold Rowicki, conductor
Sony Classical
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This album is a newly remastered version of Sokolov’s November 1977 recording in Munich. It is significant in that it represents one of the few studio recordings Sokolov has completed with orchestra. His career recordings stem almost exclusively from live performances. At 43 minutes it represents one of the slower recordings of the concerto which works well in some parts but not in others. The slow movement is stretched out to 12 minutes, compared to the majority of recordings that come in at around 10 minutes. The craftsmanship both in the music and playing during the slow movement suits the slower tempo and it encompasses the colour and beauty of the music superbly well. The finale, unfortunately proved to be underwhelming in that the bright, glittering piano writing is lost with an over emphasis on tempo. The balance in the recording in the finale is also questionable and the remastering has done little to provide an acceptable blending between the soloist and the orchestra. From a historical standpoint, it is a significant recording for the reasons mentioned above. Musically, whilst Sokolov does provide moments of pure delight (his charismatic use of ornamentation in the first movement is outstanding), it falls short on a number of levels, in particular the overdrawn phrasing in some of the piano playing combined with an impenetrable sound from the orchestra. This is the only work on this disc which is also disappointing. The inclusion of some of Chopin’s shorter solo piano works would have been nice. It proves that for some performers, live is better.

– FS

Capture.PNGHaydn: Piano Trios
Minasi-Toffano-Emelyanychev Trio
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
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Haydn composed more than 40 piano trios; presented on this disc are No. 5 in G minorNo. 13 in B flat, No. 26 in C minor and No. 39 in G. Like all Haydn’s music, they exhibit his characteristic style – amazing inventiveness, variety of mood, intellectual rigour and great musical substance. There is not a dull or perfunctory bar in any of them. My own favourite, I think, is the wistful first movement of No. 26. The gypsy- style last movement of No. 39 is also delightful, but all are of high quality and consonant with Haydn’s stature as one of the greatest of composers. The artists are all comparative newcomers to the musical scene. Riccardo Minasi, who plays the baroque violin was born in 1978, Federico Toffano, an Italian, in 1989 and Maxim Emilyanychev, a Russian, in 1988. Minasi and Emilyanychev have also substantial reputations as conductors. The performances are much less crude and amateurish than many efforts on period instruments, although the cello sounds sometimes rather wheezy. I understand that the instruments are tuned to the same pitch as modern instruments and not at a lower pitch as is often the case with period instruments, thus giving the music a considerable lift. I myself would prefer the brighter, more lustrous sounds of modern instruments, but for those who like, or are prepared to put up with, period instruments, these performances can be recommended for their accuracy, fluency and style.

– Richard Gate

These reviews appeared in the July edition of Fine Music Magazine – you can subscribe to our monthly magazine and have it posted to your home or business or click the link here to read online.



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