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An evening with Naxos One Concert and Three Receptions

The arts reviewer's life is a strenuous one. On the way to a concert in Mayfair, a quick visit to the 88-year old Terry Frost's private view in Cork Street; good wine and colourful abstract pictures.

Then to Grosvenor Chapel, South Audley Street, Mayfair,
for a concert to celebrate Sonia Rubinsky's UK debut recital appearance, promoting her Naxos Villa-Lobos series; only time for a quick drink at the reception afterwards before a sprint to Soho for their UK distributor's concurrent launch party to inaugurate their Naxos British Piano Concertos series.

The Mayfair Concerts held monthly in this prestigious church have a loyal following and are very civilised affairs, if this was a typical example.

First we heard Icelandic born mezzo Gudrun Olafsdittir, a post-graduate student at Guildhall School of Music & Drama, whom we have encountered several times in their opera productions, most recently in the outstanding Handel Susanna; q.v. my review. She gave a connoisseur's selection of Spanish song with guitar, composers including Valls, Lorca (yes, the poet Federico Garcia) and Giminez, and sang them impeccably with considerable flair, though remaining careful never to make an ugly sound. This gave us nearly unalloyed pleasure; not quite, because her diffident and unassertive partner Francisco Javier Jauregui was what Gerald Moore might have called an 'ashamed accompanist' (Gerald Moore, The unashamed accompanist, 1959). I hope to hear her in recital with piano at the Guildhall shortly; meanwhile you can listen to her singing Chausson by navigating via the Mayfair Concerts website to Gudrun's; a pleasurable excursion!

I had enjoyed listening to part of Sonia Rubinsky's CD, Naxos 8.554489 (Vol 1 of a projected eight); undemanding listening and fairly well put across, though I was not quite able to share Bryce Morrison's enthusiasm (in Gramophone) and had a few doubts whether she was making the best possible case for the pieces. My memory of Rubinstein playing Prole do bebê was that his performance was more strongly characterised. She is a fluent pianist and plays all this music from memory; the the most interesting music on this first volume is the 1926 Cirandas, less so Homage to Chopin (1949) The live recital confirmed my reservation, the Villa-Lobos selection included some of his duller works;this performance certainly failed to convince that Bachianas Brazileiras IV deserves a settled place in the repertoire.

There is always a potential danger with those intégrale projects. For some prolific and relatively neglected composers it may be wiser to purchase a careful selection of the best. I felt at the Mayfair recital that Sonia Rubinsky lacked spontaneity, a feeling that she was playing that particular piano (a small Weinbach), at that moment; perhaps it was not a very good piano, I cannot tell? She rarely allowed her feet away from the pedal, and the quality of touch was undifferentiated, with little attempt to balance left and right hands, melody and accompaniment; all too literal. So to my taste, it was music that was acceptable at home for relaxed listening but nothing to make you regret that she was playing for only half an hour, not a full solo recital. But why take my opinion - with the magic of the web and a single click you can hear Sonia Rubinsky play one of the best of Villa-Lobos' extended pieces, Rudepoema, on her website.

After the concert, the entire audience - a large one - processed to a drinks reception at a nearby hostelry. Upon departure everyone was given a present in a bag, chocolates and a CD, which proved to be an unusual, and highly desirable, newly released recording of the late Felicja Blumental, who settled in Brazil and was a noted interpreter of Brazilian piano music. She plays Beethoven's Piano Concerto in D, the composer's own arrangement of his violin concerto (Brana Records BR0004) with, in this account of it, several virtuosic cadenzas including one with obligatto timpani; are they original too? The fill-ups are a Rondo and a concerto movement also in D major, of doubtful authenticity (hear Felicja Blumental play extracts from the Beethoven, and from Villa-Lobos' Piano Conreto No.5).

Finally, to the Naxos launch event at The Groucho in Soho; one of those occasions in which the crescendo of music business networking makes it hard to hear yourself drink! But what a worthy project to celebrate, the British Piano Concertos series, begun wisely and auspiciously with those of one of my favourite composers of the mid-20 C., Alan Rawsthorne, a fine CD by Peter Donohoe & the Ulster Orchestra which I will review separately.

And in our Press Pack fromSelect Music & Video Distribution Ltd we also were given another CD which I might otherwise have passed by, to my loss; a new one of a Requiem and other choral music by one of the most performed of all composers worldwide, John Rutter. Altogether, a seredipitous evening, which I hope is interesting for readers to share, as they can (apart from the wines) by surfing the links to the various websites and sound examples of music heard and collected on our way.


© Peter Grahame Woolf