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CD 1: PROKOFIEV Concerto nr. 2 in G minor op. 16
RACHMANINOV Concerto nr. 3 in D minor op. 30
Orchestre National de Belgique/Gilbert Varga

CD 2: Ian MUNRO (1963) / Dreams
Severin von ECKARDSTEIN Orchestre National de Belgique/Gilbert Varga
BEETHOVEN Sonata nr. 27 in E minor op. 90
Jeroen D’HOE (1968) / Toccata-Scherzo
STRAVINSKY Petrouchka Suite
BEETHOVEN Sonata nr. 31 in A flat major op. 110
Jong-Gyung PARK

CD 3
MOZART Concerto nr. 20 in D minor KV 466
Jin JU
Orchestre Royal de Chambre de Wallonie
Geroges Octors, direction
SCHUBERT Sonata in A major D 664
BEETHOVEN Sonata nr. 22 in F major op. 54
HAYDN Sonata in C major Hob XVI:50

Cypres CYP9616

This live recording of the young gladiators in combat at the Queen Elisabeth Piano Competition 2003 demonstrates the good health of piano teaching and learning at the highest level. There are some fine performances to be enjoyed - no editing or patching! Biographical details and track lists of the three CDs are on line at the Cypres website.

I was vastly impressed by the German winner's Prokofiev (far the hardest and most challenging of his piano concertos) and it was interesting that one of the set pieces was by Ian Munro, well remembered in UK as 2nd prizewinner of the Leeds International Piano Competition (1978). The booklet characterises the 2003 winner fairly thus:

- - Severin von Eckardstein. Maturity, stylistic plenitude and fullness of sound were combined in him with an indefinable air of culture, exempt of arrogance and show, resulting in performances that were anything but adventitious. We shall be listening again and again to what this young man was able to do under the very difficult conditions, as regards both length and intensity, of the toughest of international competitions. We can but be convinced that the discovery of a true Beethovenian, able to master both a contemporary score and to give such a performance of the Prokofiev Second, is unquestionably to be assigned to the Competition’s credit."

A noteworthy feature of this welcome release is the quality of the orchestral accompaniments and their well balanced recording, without the piano unduly prominent as feared and which so often destroys concerto recordings on CD.

Roberto Giordano's Op 110 is impressive and Jin Ju delighted me in the Mozart D minor concerto but, on the rest of the third disc, I was less captivated by the Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert playing and seriously wondered how long young pianists and piano competitions would be limited by reliance on the ubiquitous Steinway, which dominates the concert and recording world and is inclined to stultify imagination of sonic potentialities in classical and early 19 C music?


Sonatas in A major D 664 & E minor D 566
Impromptus Op 90 Nos 3 in Gb & 4 in Ab
Opus 111 LC 5718

This came my way after a revelatory Mozart concert in which Olga Tverskaya played her own wonderful Brodman fortepiano. She includes two of Schubert's sonatas, one of them heard just before writing this in the third of the QE Competition CDs reviewed above, and it is frankly dull by comparison.

Olga Tverskaya, a formidably equipped young pianist trained in Russia on the modern grand piano, is often asked how she could have adapted her playing to the fortepiano, its predecessor from another age. Her explanation is so important that I reproduce an excerpt here:
"My view is that the fortepiano is the only surviving witness of how Schubert's works actually sounded, and so it is the most reliable guide for my interpretations. By trusting the instrument entirely and never imposing upon it, I let it tell me which tempos and dynamics are most appropriate to the style of the piece I wish to play. With its enormous range of colours, its warm, singing, yet deep and powerful sound, the instrument itself gives vivid insight into the phrases, forms and contrasts as well as the atmospheres Schubert had in mind when composing. - - Because the instrument is so evocative, a strong sense of intimacy has grown up between me and the music Schubert wrote, to such an extent that I feel I am close to him, that he and I share feelings and thoughts with the listener."

It is a wonderful recording, deserving the attention of every aspiring concert pianist and competition adjudicator, and is another blow in my personal campaign in support of what many will consider an extreme opinion - "Performances on modern string and wind instruments, and on the ubiquitous Steinway grand, will soon come to seem anachronistic and belonging ’historically’ to the twentieth century" says Peter Grahame Woolf (review of Early Music Weekend at Greenwich).

Response by Ian Pace
Very glad you mention Tverskaya and Staier's recordings of Schubert sonatas on period instruments, which do demonstrate unique attributes of the music by virtue of the relationship between Schubert's written scores and the particular timbres, voicing possibilities, sustaining power, etc., of the instruments they play on. Bilson's recordings, very different to either of the above, are also ones I value very highly (and those of Lambert Orkis of the Impromptus).

Whilst I wouldn't for a moment wish to suggest that these artists are anything less than amongst the finest of all Schubertians, one question does cross my mind - why is it still practically unknown (or even unthinkable) that all but a tiny few big international 'superstar' pianists would consider performing this (and other) music on the instruments that the composers knew and wrote for? Tverskaya in particular is most unusual in being a pianist of Russian training who has gravitated in this direction.

The arguments that one often hears, that those who play old instruments are simply those who couldn't make it on 'real' pianos (rather like similar comments often made about those who focus upon contemporary music) won't wash any longer (if they ever did) - Staier's recording of D960 can, in my opinion, stand its own alongside the Schubert recordings of Schnabel, Yudina, Sofronitsky, Richter, Brendel, Pollini, Uchida or whoever. But I would like to have heard (or would like to hear, for those of them still alive) what any of them would have created when bringing their own very personal insights into play with an engagement with the different possibilities of the period instruments.

Sonata No.2 in b-flat, Op.35; Berceuse, Op.57; Ballade No. 4 in f, Op.52; Three Mazurkas: in E, Op.6 No 3; in b-flat, Op.24 No.4; in D-flat, Op.30 No.3; Fantaisie in f, Op. 49
Vox VXP 7908

Ivan Moravec's rare recitals in London are memorable events and this new CD includes works enjoyed recently at Queen Elizabeth Hall. He has exactly the right way with the not-quite-3/4 rhythm of the Mazurkas, and has chosen several of my favourites, as are the Fantaisie and Berceuse.

There are always details to savour, or to question, in Moravec's phrasing but that adds to the feeling of liveliness. His recording of the Schumann & Brahms No 1 concertos on Dorian has been reviewed twice by Gramophone; with opposite preferences! I like them both - Dorian DOR90172.

It is interesting to learn (Alan Silver, quoted in International Record Review, Dec 2003) that this pianist's preparation routine is similar to Menuhin's advice to students to maximise dynamic & tempo contrasts, rubato etc in practising, and then reduce them to within the point of 'good taste'. Moravec begins by investing his playing with 'a lavish spectrum of interpretative nuance', subsequently paring these down until he judges the work ready for performance.

Here Moravec's distinguished, aristocratic playing, well recorded for Vox, gives me no call to complain and I recommend it to those whose shelves are not already groaning under the weight of Chopin CDs! Competitive repertoire; this one should hold its place in the catalogue for many years.


Isaac Albéniz; Johann Sebastian Bach; Ludwig van Beethoven;
Frédéric Chopin; Manuel de Falla; Enrique Granados; Franz Joseph Haydn; Aram Ilyich Khachaturian; Franz Liszt; Felix Mendelssohn; Federico Mompou; Xavier Montsalvatge; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Maurice Ravel; Franz Schubert; Robert Schumann; Antonio Soler; Joaquin Turina
Decca: 4738132

Here is a marvellous compendium of the recordings in her extensive repertoire of this great veteran, now 80 and retired in the 2002-2003 season from concert giving (since 1929!) but active adjudicating etc - and who could be better equipped for that role? The prevailing impression of these recordings of 1970-83 is of just moderation and unshowy 'rightness'. Alicia de Larrocha leaves you in no doubt that she does not have to be regarded as only a specialist in Iberian music, although her performances of Albéniz, Falla etc are benchmark interpretations. My only reservation is that the sound is sometimes a little constricted and 'sanitised', though this is a minor quibble and should not put anyone off.

The seven CDs are in simple slip cases in a box, each with a photo from the stages of her long career. They have given us a great deal of pleasure. The full track list can be found on the Decca website and there are many samples of performances in this collection to be heard on line, though navigation to them is not as easy as might be.

Debussy: Pour le piano; Images Sets 1 & 2
Ravel: Le tombeau de Couperin

6Recordings from the BBC archives are now being released regularly with the BBC Music Magazine, and the combined package is excellent value.

Vlado Perlemuter famously studied with Ravel and recorded all his piano music for Vox. He was rediscovered and championed in by William Glock and made many R3 broadcast recordings in his later prime, going on to give master classes and recitals until he was nearly 90; he died in 2002 at 98. These are treasurable, idiomatic performances which date from 1968/1970 to put alongside the many for Nimbus, including a 6-CD set NI 1764 recorded in 1974/84.


© Peter Grahame Woolf