It’s difficult to know what to make of Louis Glass. He’s one of those composers who rather flatter to deceive, who begin with a flourish and tend to end in prolixity. Or that’s the impression one often gets. Peter Seivewright’s mission naturally is to prove the virtues in Glass’s Beethovenian-inspired melodrama and to convey it with articulacy and proper scale. I can’t fault his proselytising but I still have problems with Glass.
It’s interesting that Seivewright prefers the A flat major sonata. One can see why. It’s a bigger, bolder work than the more youthful E major, which Seivewright tends rather to slight. But I have a sneaking admiration for the Op.6. The later A flat major sonata opens with bullish Beethovenian rhetoric, ambles into romantic pastures – it was published in 1898 – and then slows right down. Dynamics here are extreme, themes return with rather repetitious regularity. My own instinct was that the music should be taken much faster but Seivewright is a sagacious guide and one should trust his judgement. Seivewright’s booklet digression on the Chromatic Fourth in the second movement would infuriate the Editor but quite interested me, though like many an eminent High Court judge I’ve never heard Miss You Like Crazy by Natalie Cole. Those moments in the second movement that owe their genesis anywhere perhaps owe most to Mussorgsky, a composer Seivewright doesn’t mention – though he does mention Bach, Purcell, Wagner and the song sung by Miss Cole. I’m afraid that hereafter Glass’s inspiration runs pretty empty. The scherzo, despite the pianist’s best protestations, is a trudge and the finale, whilst it revisits earlier material goes nowhere. I can’t sympathetise with the idea that the scherzo boasts a “sublime four-part counterpoint” – it might be lucid to play but it’s prolix to hear.
The earlier sonata attempts slightly less and achieves slightly more, at least in my book. Again there are touches of Beethovenian power but also leavenings of Grieg. It’s a more coherent statement, though only slightly shorter, than the Op.25 sonata though one would have to admit that it’s very much more conventional in tone. I greatly took to the central panel of the scherzo with its rather beautiful melodic impress, surrounded as it is by more extrovert writing. The finale is again rather paragraphal and lacking in cumulative direction. But as a sonata I found it the more engaging.
The Fantasi was apparently Glass’s most popular work during his lifetime. It does have grandeur and it does have a quasi-improvisatory spirit that command attention. But it’s simply too long and for stretches one loses interest. The smaller pieces show us the miniaturist. They consist of character studies, little elfin dances or romances, small moments of concise nobility. The Lyrical Bagatelles whiz by but the Op.66 Piano Pieces are cut from a rather deeper cloth. There’s even a rather assertive Ecossaise. The Op.4 set is pure Schumann – with a twist of Bach for the fifth, In The Rain. They’re not referred to in the booklet notes so far as I can see.
I’m not in a position to compare this two disc set with Nina Gade’s recital on DCCD9306 – she plays the sonatas and the Fantasi. But Peter Seivewright is a powerful and obviously convinced exponent who once again shows his mettle here. For me it’s a losing cause but for others it may well prove, given the sympathetic recordings, a more enjoyable introduction to Glass’s piano oeuvre.
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