Presto News - 4th November 2013
Works for Pedal Piano by Gounod
Something of a novelty this week, as Hyperion reaches the 62nd volume in its series, The Romantic Piano Concerto, the seemingly limitless trove of forgotten gems of the 19th and early 20th-century piano concerto repertoire. The twist with this one is that it's actually a recording of four pieces that the French composer, Charles Gounod, wrote for pedal piano and orchestra.
Roberto Prosseda and the pedal piano
Yes, you read that correctly: a pedal piano! Principally developed in France in the nineteenth century to enable organists to practise outside church, the modern instrument as used by Roberto Prosseda on this recording essentially consists of a second piano removed from its legs and placed on the floor, which is then attached to a pedal mechanism connected to the lowest 61 notes, enabling them to be played by the performer’s feet.
The instrument attracted attention from composers as illustrious as Schumann, Liszt, and Alkan, and, as you can see from the accompanying image, was clearly as appealing for its visual spectacle as much as it was for the virtuosity of the performer. One of the more popular pedal pianists in the salons of 19th-century France was a young lady by the name of Lucie Palicot, and one contemporary commentator recalled the spectacle of a concert she performed in 1882 thus:
“I remember what a strange impression was produced by the sight of this graceful and dainty person perched on a huge case containing the lower strings of the pedal-board beneath a grand piano; what surprised us above all, pleasantly enough to be sure, was to see Mme Palicot wearing a short knee-length skirt (entirely necessary, but astonishing in those days), and her pretty legs darting most adroitly to reach the different pedals of the keyboard she had at her feet.”
Well, Prosseda may have ditched the knee-length skirt, but there’s certainly no shortage of adroit pedal-work! The main piece on the disc is the Concerto for pedal piano in E flat major, unpublished in Gounod’s lifetime but championed by the aforementioned Mme Palicot. It’s clear from the outset that Gounod wanted to show off the pedal board much more than in his previous pieces for the instrument, as after a brief orchestral introduction we’re launched straight into a virtuoso pedal passage that really shows off Prosseda’s mastery of the instrument.
Perhaps the highlight for me was the slow movement, a melancholy Adagio which sounded to me like a cross between a funeral march and a slow tango, giving way to a lyrical melody which is surely worthy of Rachmaninov in terms of its heart-tugging emotion.
The second substantial piece is the Suite concertante in A major, an earlier work than the concerto. It has a really exciting second movement, entitled Chasse, and its vigorous horns and furious piano figurations evoking the hunt contrast with another theme of great beauty, sensitively played by Prosseda. His passage-work is again immaculate: as in the opening to the concerto, his feet are certainly given a good workout in some of the more elaborate arpeggios required of him!
Also on the disc is is the Fantaisie sur l’hymne national russe, based on God Save the Tsar. This melody was the official anthem of the Russian Empire from 1833 to 1917, and I imagine is most familiar through its use in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. It’s here that the added weight enabled by the pedals, with its extra octave doublings, really makes a difference, giving a lovely sonority and richness to the piano’s opening statement of the theme.
Throughout the disc, Prosseda is given wonderful support from conductor Howard Shelley, who draws warm, expressive playing from the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana. Highly recommended, especially if you’ve not come across the pedal piano before and are intrigued by the notion. Long may the series continue!
The Romantic Piano Concerto 62 - Gounod
The complete works for pedal piano & orchestra
Roberto Prosseda (pedal piano), Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, Howard Shelley
James Longstaffe - email@example.com
4th November 2013
Bartók: Four Orchestral Pieces; The Miraculous Mandarin
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Edward Gardner
Edward Gardner and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra perform three great orchestral works by Béla Bartók: Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta, the suite from The Miraculous Mandarin, and the Four Orchestral Pieces.
(Download also available from 5th November)
Busoni: Late Piano Music
Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
Marc-André Hamelin triumphantly masters the extraordinary technical difficulties and contrapuntal complexities this composer presents. This 3-CD album offers most of Busoni’s mature works and the widest selection of pieces from the Klavierübung so far recorded, many of them for the first time.
Birth of the Symphony
Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr (director & harpsichord)
This first release on AAM Records, the new label of the Academy of Ancient Music, explores the development of the symphony in the eighteenth century. The recording includes rarely-heard works by composers of the avant-garde “Mannheim school”, Richter and Stamitz, as well as Haydn’s mature La passione symphony.
John Adams: Harmonielehre
Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Peter Oundjian
Three seminal works by the American composer John Adams: Harmonielehre, an expansive, richly expressive, and often breathtaking work, the Doctor Atomic Symphony, based on Adams’s controversial opera Doctor Atomic, and the energetic fanfare, Short Ride in a Fast Machine.
Bach, J S: Christmas Oratorio, BWV248
Katherine Watson (soprano), Iestyn Davies (countertenor), James Gilchrist (tenor) & Matthew Brook (bass), Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment & Trinity College Choir Cambridge, Stephen Layton
Stephen Layton and an impressive line-up of soloists present a joyous rendition of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. James Gilchrist has become one of the most admired Evangelists performing today; his limpid, flexible tone and great musicianship bring the stories thrillingly to life.
Bob Chilcott: The Rose in the Middle of Winter
Commotio, Matthew Berry
Bob Chilcott's Christmas pieces, a number of which are heard here in première recordings, reveal his enthusiasm for recently written texts, to which he responds with acute verbal sensitivity. The central piece of this album is the previously unrecorded carol sequence, On Christmas Night, which shows how his ambition is to infuse new blood alongside more traditional melodies.
Nicola Alaimo, Joyce El-Khoury, Camilla Roberts, Russell Thomas, Alastair Miles, Peter Hoare & Darren Jeffery, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sir Mark Elder
Little-known today, Belisario is one of Donizetti’s finest achievements, telling the story of the 6th-century Byzantine general. This two-disc studio recording is conducted by Opera Rara’s Artistic Director, Sir Mark Elder.
Britten: The Rape of Lucretia
Sarah Connolly (Lucretia), Christopher Maltman (Tarquinius), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (Bianca), Orla Boylan (Female Chorus) & John Mark Ainsley (Male Chorus), English National Opera, Paul Daniel
Sarah Connolly's oustanding portrayal of the wronged Roman noblewoman lies at the heart of David McVicar's powerfully stark production for English National Opera, with Christopher Maltman as her arrogant nemesis, Tarquinius. Filmed by the BBC at Snape Maltings during the production’s premiere run at the 2001 Aldeburgh Festival.
Blu-ray version also available here.
BBC Radio 3 CD Review
Saturday 2nd November 2013
Building a Library - Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15
(coupled with Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 83)
Nelson Freire (piano), Gewandhausorchester, Riccardo Chailly
Download - download options available for this item (Download not available in all countries)
Disc of the Week
Aleksandrs Antonenko (Otello), Krassimira Stoyanova (Desdemona), Carlo Guelfi (Iago), Barbara Di Castri (Emilia), Juan Francisco Gatell (Cassio), Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Riccardo Muti
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