GRAMOPHONE AWARDS SHORTLIST 2019
have tremendous power. Levit is similarly dramatic here, his accompanying figuration a little less defined – choice is really down to taste.
Anyone who has heard Osborne’s visceral recording of the Hammerklavier won’t be surprised to find a similar combination of muscularity and extreme delicacy in the opening movement of the last sonata. But again there’s a sense of an underlying Classicism; and, after a Maestoso introduction full of sharp edges, there’s an absolute inevitability and clarity to the Allegro con brio with plenty of appassionato thrown in. His pedalling is a masterpiece of subtlety and I like the clipped chords, which are angry but laced at times with a kind of grim pleasure. The ferocity with which he maintains and builds momentum from 5’56” is darkly thrilling. And the ending has a quietude that makes what comes next sound entirely inevitable.
The theme of the Arietta has, like that of the finale of Op 109, an innate sense of stillness and Osborne is every bit as compelling as Goode in the way the variations unfold, growing naturally so that the duetting hands sound as one in the second, while the boogie-woogie third has plenty of character without sounding out of place as it can do; the return to quiet of the fourth has a whispered inwardness. The trilling in the closing couple of minutes has its own range of emotion, from fragility to a sense of peace, and with the ending comes the requisite sense of the sublime. In this Osborne is assisted by a very natural recorded sound.
Steven Osborne has made many outstanding recordings but this is certainly among his finest. A magnificent achievement. Harriet Smith (5/19) Sonatas Nos 30‑32 – selected comparisons: Goode (3/94) (NONE) 7559 79328-2 Uchida (5/06) (PHIL) 475 6935PH Lewis (6/08) (HARM) HMC90 1909/11 Levit (11/13) (SONY) 88883 70387-2 Sonatas Nos 31 & 32 – selected comparison:
Sudbin (4/19) (BIS) BIS2208
Debussy Préludes, Book 2. La mera Alexander Melnikov, aOlga Pashchenko pf Harmonia Mundi F HMM90 2302 (64’ • DDD)
Érard pianos from either side of 1900 seem to have survived the ageing process rather well, at least to the point where other pianists before Melnikov (such as Hubert Rutkowski and Jos van Immerseel)
have had the idea of recording Debussy on them, and with results that are far more than merely quaint or intriguing. But this is the first time I feel like reaching for normally taboo superlatives: such as ‘revelatory’.
In recent years Melnikov has been showcasing his own collection of pianos from various times and locations, in both concerts and recordings. His Érard dates from around 1885 and was restored in 2014 (take a bow, Markus Fischinger). The range of colour and attack he conjures from it is nothing short of breathtaking, starting with a truly misty ‘Brouillards’, continuing with astonishing veiled sonorities in ‘Feuilles mortes’, then evoking all the dust and glare of summertime Granada in ‘La puerta del vino’, with its ‘brusque oppositions of extreme violence and passionate softness’.
Time and again markings such as ‘spiritual and discreet’, ‘soft and dreamy’ and ‘voluble’ register with uncanny precision, losing any suspicion of whimsy. Put it down to hypersensitive pedalling and touch at the behest of sharp aural imagination and subtle sensibility. In fact it’s not just a question of over-pedalling but at times also of daring reduction; hear the muted sparkling of ‘Les fées sont d’exquises danseuses’ and ‘Feux d’artifice’, for instance, both taken more dryly than you would think possible.
In some climactic moments in La mer the Érard cannot deliver the full brassiness of its modern equivalents. But there are many more passages that are jaw-droppingly beautiful, and I can truly say that the duet version has never so completely made me forget about the orchestra (bravo to Olga Pashchenko here, too).
I don’t want to get into the pluses and minuses of period versus modern instruments, nor into the relative merits of different period instruments. Debussy himself owned a Bechstein (upright) and spoke more favourably about that make than any other. It was actually Ravel who favoured the Érard. Alexei Lubimov uses a 1918 Steinway for Book 2 of the Préludes (and a 1925 Bechstein for Book 1). His chosen instruments have their own special qualities but they sound more like a modern piano with a particular leaning towards string-section sonorities, whereas Melnikov’s Érard tends more towards woodwind evocations, if I can put it that way.
To say that Melnikov matches Lubimov for imaginative flair would be high enough praise. But in point of fact he is in a league above. We’ll be lucky if the Debussy centenary throws up any release as distinguished as this one. David Fanning (8/18)
Préludes – selected comparison: Lubimov (9/12) (ECM) 476 4735
‘Stephen Hough’s Dream Album’ Albéniz España, Op 165 – No 5, Capricho Catalana Chaminade Pas des écharpes, Op 37 Coates By the Sleepy Lagoon Dohnányi Rhapsody, Op 11 No 3 Dvořák Humoresque, Op 101 B187 No 7. Songs my mother taught me, Op 55 B104 No 4a Elgar Salut d’amour, Op 12 Hough Iver-song (Lullaby). Lullaby. Matilda’s Rhumba. Niccolo’s Waltz. Osmanthus Reverie. Osmanthus Romp. Radetzky Waltz J Isserlis Memories of Childhood, Op 11 – In the Steppes Liszt Étude, S136 No 10. Harmonies du soir, S139 No 11 Love The Third Man – Das alte Lieda Minkus Don Quixotea – Dulcinea’s Variation; Kitri’s Variation Mompou Scènes d’enfants – No 5, Jeunes filles au jardin Ponce Intermezzo No 1 Seymer Solöga (Sun‑eye), Op 11 No 3 Sibelius Five Pieces, Op 75 – The Spruce Solovyov‑Sedoy Moscow Nightsa Tate Somewhere a voice is callinga Traditional Blow the wind southerlya (aarr/ transcr Hough) Stephen Hough pf Hyperion F CDA68176 (80’ • DDD)
A bran tub of bonbons, yes, but much more than that: it is also a portrait of an artist in love with music of all sorts (including, with no apology, the unfashionable and the second-rate if it happens to appeal to him), of a master transcriber and of that rare animal, a concert pianist who is not afraid to mix high jinks with high art.
The first two items set the tone for the whole album: Hough’s own take on the Radetzky March transformed into a waltz in the style of Grünfeld with plenty of mischievous Godowskian figurations along the way – virtuoso, musically knowing and pianistically sophisticated. Then Das alte Lied, second of the 15 Hough transcriptions and original compositions featured on the album. It’s a nostalgic song that many will know from the recording by Richard Tauber accompanying himself on the piano (it’s known as the ‘Whispering Record’). Tauber was one of those magicians with the power to transform base metal into gold. Hough is another. I found this among the most moving pieces of the 27, along with Sibelius’s ‘The Spruce’, Chaminade’s Scarf Dance, ‘Somewhere a voice is calling’ and ‘Blow the wind southerly’ (the last two both simple Hough transcriptions). In all these we are
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