Looking at this disc one might be forgiven for thinking that most gypsy-inspired art music emerged from Hungary and the surrounding territories. Certainly a lot has, but it is good having some Spanish material and French too in Augusta Holmès. Featuring eleven composers’ (counting Bizet and Schubert) individual takes on gypsy idioms is either likely to appeal a great deal or not much at all. In his lucid eight page accompanying note Goldstone makes the case for acknowledging more openly the Gypsy influence on western art music and draws out the threads between the works. His playing makes the case with equal eloquence and his instrument is recorded within a tightly focused frame.
A strength of this disc is that it places cheek by jowl the familiar in unfamiliar form, a few works commonly known in their present form and some lesser known repertoire. Goldstone’s own arrangements show his affection for the works whilst affording him the opportunity to showcase his talent. Those of the other arrangers (Busoni and Enescu) set him similarly daunting fences to hurdle, but more on them later.
Goldstone opens with his own ‘translation’ of Kodály’s Dances of Galánta, a veritable rush of high-powered pianism that would challenge many a keyboard artist. The result though is a thoroughly enjoyable and faithful account of Kodály’s orchestral score made naturally at home on the piano. The Haydn finds Goldstone momentarily more relaxed and reflecting with ease upon the vague Hungarian influence that permeates the work – the purpose of which is a means to an end in colouring the piece.
To my ears the Liszt and Brahms works were perhaps a little too similar in vein, undoubted showpieces though they are and delivered with all the sweep and verve that one could require for such late romantic repertoire. The sheer audaciousness of Busoni’s Chamber Fantasy on Bizet’s “Carmen” provided exactly the kind of change in terms of mood and material that was needed. Like much else here, it’s unashamedly virtuosic and played with sensitivity, passion and technique equal to the task. Some may pall at the thought of Busoni or Liszt’s opera paraphrases – but they form a rich stream of piano literature that could bear more frequent airings.
Dohnányi returns us firmly to Hungarian soil in one of his most inventive rhapsodies – and here Goldstone captures a lilt and sway to the rhythms that I had not before picked up on, and in so doing effectively communicates the gypsy influence within the work. The fluid quality Dohnányi’s flowing writing calls for might not be as outwardly ambitious with regard to technique as the Busoni, but it is no less impressive for that.
The works by de Falla and Holmès may not count amongst the disc’s first recordings, but they do effectively serve to diversify the musical diet at this point in the disc. The former provides authentic Spanish inflections to neatly counter those arranged by Busoni. If Arthur Rubinstein, its commissioner, found the work “too long and complicated” there are elements that interest; and also extend knowledge of de Falla’s piano writing beyond the oft-heard Fire Dance and Nights in the Gardens of Spain.
Holmès would seem a composer, rather like Amy Beach, whose music has inner strength and worth but has never found an audience willing to regularly receive it seriously. Her idiom steers a course between Franck and devotion to Wagner yet captures a certain personal edge (indeed, one might understand why Saint-Saëns called her “untamed”!)
For the finale we come to Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody no. 1 – in his own concert arrangement. Goldstone describes it “well night unplayable”. Over the past few years I have listened to all of Enescu’s output in great depth – one might expect a violinist to write strong string parts, but more and more for me it is his piano writing that impresses. Whilst Goldstone captures the quirky playfulness of the work, unlike many orchestral conductors he also pays careful attention to metronome markings with their fluctuating tempi that accompany unequal bar lengths. It ends in a thunderously resounding battery of chords.
A pianistic tour de force without a doubt, and most warmly recommended.
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