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Making Russian music in Toronto: the city’s Symphony Orchestra and music director Peter Oundjian watchmaker’s care. The humanity comes from Byrd himself being genuinely affected by the presence of emotion and life in what he had previously considered inanimate objects. The performances are so precisely and flexibly played and recorded that it is like hearing digital instruments come to life. Laurence Vittes

Chopin . Schumann Chopin Preludes, Op 28 – selection Schumann Kinderszenen, Op 15 Martin Humphreys pf Supermono F XOR0001 (54’ • DDD). Recorded 1989

Janáček On an Overgrown Path – Book 1. Piano Sonata 1.X.1905. Two Moravian Folksongs Martin Humphreys pf Supermono F XOR0002 (45’ • DDD). Recorded 1999

Performances from the late Toronto pianist issued from CBC broadcast tapes In early 2013 the Canadian novelist and poet Helen Humphreys published a moving memoir of her younger brother, the pianist Martin Humphreys, who was diagnosed with stage IVb pancreatic cancer in 2009 and died of the disease four months later. Judging from these two posthumously issued solo discs, he was a sensitive if inconsistent keyboard stylist.

In Schumann’s Kinderszenen, his propensity for clipped phrasing and intimate poetry often evoke Wilhelm Kempff’s like-minded conception. However, one might carp at his occasional casualness over note values, such as the erratic rhythmic articulation in the first and ninth pieces, or shaving the first note of ‘Traümerei’ in half.

Rather than offer all 24 of Chopin’s Op 28 Preludes, Humphreys omits four selections and reorders the rest. He does his best work in less technically demanding, more lyrical pieces such as the D flat and F sharp major. But his texturally vague C major and F sharp minor, and poorly articulated, under-tempo reading of the F major are frankly uncompetitive, not to mention the curiously misread G flat instead of G natural in No 18’s opening measures. On the other hand, despite his brusque demeanour in the A flat major Prelude, he is one of the few artists on record (along with Serkin and Gulda) who plays the introductory measures absolutely straight, without the unwritten ‘traditional’ ritard that most pianists favour.

Humphreys fares far better with Janá∂ek. If he doesn’t match the polish and cultivation pianists like Schiff, Firku≈n≥ and Moravec bring to this repertoire, Humphreys nevertheless conveys the conversational syntax of the composer’s phrase groupings with idiomatic fluency. In On an Overgrown Path’s opening piece, for example, note how the Adagio section’s hushed beauty truly honours Janá∂ek’s dolcissimo directive, or how Humphreys organically unifies No 3’s sudden, quirky tempo changes. Despite the recording’s slightly constricted dynamics, the Sonata’s firstmovement climax appears to build with authoritative assurance, while his brisk tempo for the Adagio casts a refreshingly unsentimental light on what can be a droopy dirge in the wrong hands. In short, approach the Schumann/Chopin disc with caution; but the Janá∂ek release stands as a worthy memorial to Martin Humphreys’s tragically curtailed career. Jed Distler

Rachmaninov . Stravinsky Rachmaninov Symphonic Dances, Op 45 a

Stravinsky The Rite of Spring b

Toronto Symphony Orchestra / Peter Oundjian TSO Live F TSO0512 (69’ • DDD) Recorded live at Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto, b December 4 & 6, 2008; a May 30 & 31, 2012

Works by Russian émigrés for TSO’s own-label release The Toronto Symphony Orchestra take up two Russian classics on their splendid new disc gramophone.co.uk

GRAMOPHONE NOVEMBER 2013 III

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