No one could pretend that Dvorak's solo piano music stands up either to his best orchestral and chamber scores or to the keyboard music of his more piano-wise contemporaries, from Gottschalk through Brahms to Fauré. But while it's rarely deep or especially idiomatic in its handling of the instrument, much of it has a melodic abundance and a rhythmic vitality that make it more engaging than its overall neglect would lead you to believe. Especially given the absence of the Kvapil cycle from the current catalog, therefore, the inauguration of Inna Poroshina's new series is most welcome.
A solitaire in French is a single mounted jewel, a concept that seems less than apt for the rather hefty works recorded here by British pianist Kathryn Stott. But this fine recital holds together in another way: Ravel, who so often provides the temporal endpoint for traditional piano recitals, is here, to a greater or lesser extent, the launching point for the other three composers featured. Stott's reading of the neoclassical Le Tombeau de Couperin is beautifully precise and balanced, catching the economy of this Baroque-style suite to the hilt. That economy carries over into the later works, even the rarely performed Piano Sonata of Henri Dutilleux, a work that deftly fuses Ravel's sense of classical forms with a largely dissonant language. The opening Prelude and Fugue of Jehan Alain, actually two separate works that are reasonably enough combined here, is another seldom-played piece that makes an arresting curtain-raiser, and the final "Le baiser de l'Enfant Jésus" of Messiaen, part of the giant Vingt regards sur l'Enfant Jésus, is the splendid climax of the whole, its spiritual, dreamlike ascent at the end superbly controlled. Better still is the sound, recorded at Hallé St. Peters in Manchester: it creates a hypnotic effect all its own.
This third volume of Erik Satie's complete solo piano music using Satie scholar Robert Orledge's new Salabert Edition focusses on music composed between 1892–97, including theatrical scores such as the revolutionary uspud, and the Danses Gothiques and famous Vexations written while the composer was hiding from a tempestuous love affair. The period closes with Satie composing in what he called 'a more flexible and accessible way with the final Gnossienne and the six Pieces froides'.
Carl Maria von Weber's piano music, with the exception of Invitation to the Dance, is not nearly as well known as his operas, but it deserves more attention. Michael Endres makes a strong case for the music in this two-disc set. The most significant works, the four sonatas, are full of drama, colorful pianism, and lyrical melodies, particularly in Endres' hands. The sonatas are on a similar scale to those of Beethoven and Schubert, with the drama built of sharp contrasts in key, humor, and dynamics, and with beautiful, cantabile slow movements. Weber, like Beethoven, also took advantage of the size and scope of the piano's sound. Endres vividly brings out the drama and the brilliance of virtuosic passages, while maintaining a sense of refinement and ease with the music. The waltzes are particularly polished, but Endres' also recognizes their folk elements and gives them a wonderful energy and sparkle. The showpieces of Weber's piano works are the sets of variations, obviously written to impress audiences. Again, Endres handles the technical challenges easily and cleanly. In the second set here, the Variations on the aria "Vien'qua dorina bella," he is always aware that the theme was originally a vocal work, playing with song-like phrasing and coloring. The sound of the recording could be a little richer, but it doesn't hurt Endres superb performance.
The life of the Russian composer Alexey Stanchinsky makes for a sad read. Afflicted by mental illness, initially brought to a head by the death of his father, he met an untimely end in October 1914 next to a stream. The exact circumstances remain unclear to this day. What is certain is that he was only 26 years old, and had already made an impression with the musical cognoscenti of the time, being admired by the likes of Prokofiev and Medtner. As a teenager he had benefited from the tutelage of such distinguished figures as Josef Lhévinne and Alexander Grechaninov, and later at the Moscow Conservatoire with Sergei Taneyev and Konstantin Igumnov. Although he was acutely receptive to the musical influences of the day, he wasn't slow in finding his own individual voice. Having said that, I can hear echoes of Rachmaninov and Scriabin in these works, the melodic generosity of the former and the adventurous harmony of the latter.
No prizes for predicting that this Liszt B minor Sonata is technically flawless and beautifully structured. What may come as more of a shock (though not to those who have followed Pollini's career closely) is its sheer passion. To say that he plays as if his life depended on it is an understatement, and those who regularly accuse him of coolness should sit down in a quiet room with this recording, a decent hi-fi system and a large plateful of their own words. The opening creates a sense of coiled expectancy, without recourse to a mannered delivery such as Brendel's on Philips, and Pollini's superior fingerwork is soon evident. His virtuosity gains an extra dimension from his ability at the same time to convey resistance to it—the double octaves are demonstrably a fraction slower than usual and yet somehow feel faster, or at least more urgent. There is tensed steel in the very fabric of the playing. By the two-minute mark so much passion has been unleashed one is bound to wonder if it has not all happened too soon. But that is to underestimate Pollini's unerring grasp of the dramatic structure and its psychological progression from paragraph to paragraph; it is also to underestimate his capacity to find extra technical resources when it would seem beyond the power of flesh and blood to do so.