Sutton Coldfield born pianist and composer Christopher Langdown (b. 1971). After completing six years of study with Professor John Barstow and graduating with Distinction from London’s Royal College of Music, Langdown was nominated by the RCM to perform the music of Shostakovich before the legendary exponent of the composer’s music, Tatiana Nikolaeva. Twice recognized by The Wall Trust as a piano scholar of “outstanding talent,” Langdown went on to gather numerous awards and was a finalist and prize-winner in the 1997 Brant UK Pianoforte Competition. He has since appeared in recital at major London concert venues, including Wigmore Hall, South Bank Centre, LSO St Luke’s and St John’s Smith Square, and has appeared at music festivals throughout the UK and Europe. In addition to his active concertizing, Langdown is Head of Piano at The Kingsley School in Leamington Spa.
[This] is a two-disc set recorded live at Langdown’s Wigmore Hall recital on June 9, 2009. Of Jewish Polish descent, the German composer Moritz Moszkowski (1854–1925) seems well-enough represented on record, yet his music somehow remains on the fringes of the mainstream late Romantic and early 20th-century repertoire for piano. Why that is, I’m not sure because Moszkowski’s music—at least what I’ve heard of it—is gorgeous, and the four numbers that comprise the composer’s Moments musicaux , op. 84, are no exception. Incredibly, the only other recording I find listed is by Elizabeth Wolff, and it appears to be available only as an MP3 download. It’s a shame that these pieces have not been taken up by more pianists because they are really beautiful, especially the third in the set in C Minor. The good news is that Langdown plays all four of them with great technical skill and emotional sensitivity.
Book II of Debussy’s Préludes contains 12 numbers, of which Langdown gives us seven: Nos. 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, and 12. Had this been a studio recording, I’m sure Langdown would have performed the entire set, but as part of a live recital that ran to an hour and 40 minutes, it would be ungrateful to ask for more. The pianist’s Debussy is very fine, but his performances of these pieces are perhaps not as refined to the nth degree as are those in the classic recording by Michelangeli.
Arriving at the “Tempest” Sonata, it must be noted that Langdown’s first and last movements are under tempo, at least compared to other major contenders in the field, such as Ashkenazy, Pollini, and Richard Goode. They seem to lack the impetus and anxiety suggested by the work’s title. In an e-mail exchange I had with Langdown, however, he took pains to explain to me that his choice of tempos for this particular performance was not representative of a fixed interpretation he has of the sonata, but rather a response to the acoustics of Wigmore Hall where the recital took place. At a pre-concert rehearsal, it was determined that the reaction or responsiveness of the hall was better attuned and more conducive to the slightly slower reading. In every other way, Langdown’s “Tempest” is solid and satisfying.
As an aside, I did find his explanation quite fascinating in that it tended to bolster my argument with Red Priest’s Piers Lane in the Letters Column that the adoption of bracing tempos in period instrument performances would not have been the norm in the churches and other reverberant acoustic venues of the late 17th and early to mid 18th centuries.
Frank Bridge’s Dramatic Fantasia is another piece that hasn’t had much exposure on disc; yet coincidentally there is another recording of it on this same label, Divine Art, by well-known British pianist Anthony Goldstone. Since I haven’t heard it, I can’t offer a comparison, but Langdown’s performance of it sounds quite effective to me. The Bridge is a very early work by the composer, but one that didn’t surface until 1975, having remained in the possession of a fellow RCM student, Florence Smith, until her death. The piece is nothing like Bridge’s post-1920s works which tend towards a more radical musical vocabulary and style. The Dramatic Fantasia , written in 1906, is a full-blown Romantic tone-poem for solo piano which resonates with the grand 19th-century virtuoso tradition. It’s a magnificent alchemic mix of Alkan, Liszt, and Scriabin from which every so often emerges a passage in the whole-tone or pentatonic parallelism of Debussy.
From Scriabin’s 12 Études, op. 8, Langdown chooses six: Nos. 1, 2, 5, 9, 11, and 12. He also includes the very popular and well-documented-on-disc C sharp minor Étude, op. 2/1. These etudes, like everything else on this live recital program, are aimed at presenting the audience with a mix of familiar and less familiar items, all of which are nonetheless rooted in the florid, virtuosic Romantic style guaranteed to be safe and pleasing to the listener.
Langdown’s own very beautiful and moving Deo Omnis Gloria follows. It’s an 11-minute work written in 2001. Yet you would swear that its three movements—“Hymn,” “Lake of Gennesaret,” and “Resurrection”—sound like a reincarnation of Liszt. With this piece, Langdown demonstrates his considerable talent for composition as well as for the piano.
Satie’s Gnossienne No. 1 with which disc two of this set closes was, I suspect, offered as an encore at Langdown’s live recital, as most programs of this nature end with a bang rather than a whimper. I don’t know what the word “gnossienne” means, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Satie didn’t either. It’s certainly not a word in the French dictionary. Satie made it up, and it may or may not have had some connection in the composer’s mind with an interest in Gnosticism. But then probing Satie’s mind is like examining the inside of a foam pillow; it’s mostly air-pockets and empty space, which is what much of his music is made up of. The piece in question has no time signature, no bar-lines, and is peppered with cryptic instructions to the performer like “From the tip of the thought,” “Postulate within yourself,” and “On the tongue.” The strange thing about Satie’s non-music is that in spite of itself it often has a hypnotic beauty, and the Gnossienne is no exception.
Langdown is an accomplished and polished artist who, I would submit, possesses the musical intelligence and sensitivity to hear the voices of a number of different composers and to speak to us in their individual tongues. Strongly recommended.