International Record Review

Christopher Langdown has a lovely tone, smooth legato and a technique equal to the pianistic challenges in this programme. On the other hand, he is overly reliant on the pedal and not always careful about articulation.

At the start of Debussy’s prélude ‘La puerta del vino’ ( the first in Langdown’s group of seven from Book 2) he pedals through the left hand accompaniment’s two rocking quavers (eighth notes) on the second beat of each 2/4 bar, rather than playing them either détache or staccato, as the scores indicates. This compromises the clarity and incisiveness of the piece’s Habanera rhythm, which should be audible even though its expressive character is sultry and sinuous. In ‘Feux d’artifice’ (the final prélude of the 12 and also the last in this group of seven) he keeps the pedal down right from the beginning, even though Debussy’s first pedal mark only occurs three –and-a-half pages later, precisely at the point where brilliant cross-handed arpeggios (a dominant seventh chord on C that never resolves to F) start to splash across the top half of the keyboard. By pedaling the entire previous section Langdown dampens the right hands’ high-octave ‘flying sparks. He is obviously trying to simulate the pianistic version of a murmuring harp bisbigliando that Debussy’s middle-register ostinato represents, but it is perfectly possible (though much harder) to do this without recourse to the pedal.

Such details apart (and there are others), my real concern is the overall structure of this programme. Individual, innovative programming is all to the good, and there is no reason why a piano recital has to proceed in chronological order, starting with Bach, Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven, travelling through the nineteenth century, and then reaching at the least the early twentieth. When one attends a recital the sequence of works is a given, to which one simply listens, and then evaluates afterwards. In this live recording, however, hearing the pieces in Langdown’s chosen order can strike the listener as a series of non sequiturs. The first half consists of Moszkowski’s salonesque Quatre Moments Musicaux , then the seven Debussy Preludes, with Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata coming before the interval. The second half starts with Frank Bridge’s Dramatic Fantasia (1906), continues with Langdown’s own Deo Omnis Gloria (2001), and ends with seven Scriabin Etudes. I assume that the last track, Satie’s Gnossienne No. 1, was played as an encore.

In the first half, the Beethoven Sonata sounds very illogical after Moszkowski and Debussy. I kept imagining a different, much more relevant preparation for the Beethoven, and eventually this crystallized as Mozart’s Fantasia in D minor, K397, a quintessential embodiment of ‘small but perfectly formed’. The rhythmically notated arpeggios of its opening Andante forecast the upwardly rolled arpeggiated chords that pervade Beethoven’s Largo Introduction, while the suddenly faster, anxious appoggiaturas in Mozart’s next section audibly evoke the Allegro ones that follow Beethoven’s slow harp-like chords. To precede Beethoven’s Tempest by the Mozart Fantasia might seem like chronological programming, but the listener would certainly respond to the two works’ mutual echoes.

In the second half, the Bridge Dramatic fantasia tends to ramble, rather than being very strictly composed, yet creating the illusion of free improvisation that truly great keyboard fantasies (for example, those by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann and Chopin) do. Next, Langdown’s own piece is, unfortunately, embarrassing. It mixes tonal, neo-Romantic harmony with a more atonal idiom, and often tends to the grandiose in a way that compromises and lets down his no-doubt genuine religious feelings. In compensation, he plays the Scriabin Etudes very well, and the fact that he chose seven of them at least mirrors the number of Debussy Préludes in the first half.

Langdown’s booklet note is engaging and informative, though an editor should have caught his incorrect spelling of “complemented” as ‘complimented’. The title of the CD, ‘Christopher Langdown Live in London’ also causes concern. There are many CD piano recitals that are recorded live, and the title is more redolent of a pop-or rock-music event than a classical recital. I was interested to hear this release once, because Langdown is really a very good pianist, but I’m not sure how well it would stand up to repeated listening.

*we accept the views of all reviewers – however to quibble at length about the order of works in a recording of a live concert is surely not relevant – it is a personal opinion and the reviewer should learn to use the pause or track order programming on his CD player if he does not want to hear Beethoven immediately after Debussy.. and his objection to the title – well really…. of course there are many live recordings but only one in London by Christopher Langdown! – What could describe the CD better? As to the pedaling, the pianist says that in order to sustain certain harmonies adequately, it is not possible to play the left hand Habanera rhythm of La puerta del vino detached throughout even when using the middle sostenuto pedal. In the interest of consistency, Christopher employs the pedal right from the start (as do Gieseking and Michelangeli). Secondly, the reviewer’s assertion is incorrect – Debussy himself did not provide any pedal markings whatsoever in Feux d’artifice , so the matter is left to the performer. Christopher uses the pedal for the opening to add resonance and colour.

—Stephen Pruslin