Rafael Music Notes

Divine Art is a record company that, rather than trying to be all things to all people, focuses its efforts instead on creating very special things for some people. For devotees of the rare, the neglected, the obscure and the unusual in recorded music Stephen Sutton’s Divine Art is the go-to one of a kind music boutique. One need go no further than their on-line catalogue (www.divineartrecords.com) and perusing its hundreds of titles, many showing composers one might or might not recall from one’s dreaded days in Music 101 in college.

Cases in point: Alfred Jaëll…Theodore Leschitizky…Even the name of Sigismund Thalberg sent us running to our Grove’s Dictionary of Music in order to jug one’s fading memory bank. Ah, yes! The big rival of Liszt’s!

Were it not for the larger than life musical labor of love of Scottish pianist Andrew Wright this album would have not been made. But love is not only what is at play in this CD (dda25153) but, rather, the pianistic prowess and large scale musicianship of Mr. Wright, who (begging the reader’s forgiveness for the pun) is simply the right artist for this job.

Through 67 minutes plus and nine tracks of 19th century piano music, Andrew Wright dazzles with his command and conquest of the pianistic mine fields of Liszt’s Fantasy on Themes from Wagner’s Rienzi or the endurance test Thalberg creates for the pianist in the fifteen-minute fantasy on Rossini’s Dal tuo stellato soglio, from Moses in Egypt.

The demands this repertory places on technical wizardry, including interlocking and alternating and cross-voicing from hand to hand, extended passages using massive octaves, unending arpeggios, and its call for the stamina of a sportsman are beyond the reach of any but the most valiant of pianists. Mr. Wright is one such keyboard artist.

In Wright’s own transcriptions of Bellini’s Col sorriso d’innocenza from Il Pirata, and in his Miserere, after Verdi’s from Il Trovatore, the piano not merely imitates the technical accomplishments of the great singers of these composers’ times, but inventively evokes the legendary agility, the legato singing and the bravura abandon of Patti and Malibran and Grisi and Viardot.

I asked myself: if I was not familiar with some of the music that inspires these works, would I respond in the same way to more familiar stuff?

I ventured an answer as I listened to Meyerbeer’s riff on his own Robert, toi que j’aime from Robert, le Diable. The lyricism is there and, yes, the piano version absolutely satisfied me and then re-directed me to enjoy once more a familiar piece of music. Altogether a musical win-win proposition, I dare say.

Is this Salon or Concert music? Or can it not have the same function and fulfill expectations in both musical milieus? Can we listen past the technical challenges or are they the only thing by which we measure these compositions?

These fantasies and paraphrases and reminiscences were conceived by Chopin and Liszt and Meyerbeer in the 19th Century – an era during which the salon played as important a part in musical life as the recital or concert hall. Any good music was good music back then and this music is good enough for me wherever it may be played.

Oh, how I wish to God it would get more play in the stultified concert venues of today, where the repertory encompasses just about everything from A to B and little else.

In an age in which the “intellectualization” of concert programs (in Mr. Wright’s choice of words) has subjected the concertgoer to many hours of numbing sameness, these musical tours of strength provide entertainment and solace. Our artist’s website (www.andrewwrightpianist.com), his insightfully researched liner notes, and his sound cloud evidence that this extraordinary artist has made it a lifetime mission to unearth and cultivate this repertory. Heartfelt thanks are due him.

Since the good people at Divine Art sent this CD on to us for reviewing I have played it over several times. And neither one of my two cats has left the room.

—Rafael de Acha