Britten • Finzi • Milhaud • R Strauss
Britten: Young Apollo; Finzi: Eclogue; Milhaud: Le Carnaval d’Aix; Strauss: The Bourgeois Gentleman – Suite
Joshua Pierce (piano); Slovak State Chamber Orchestra of Zilina; Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Kirk Trevor
MSR Classics MS1756 69:11 mins
The raison d’être for this slightly miscellaneous-seeming choice of works is that the piano plays a prominent but not quite concerto-like role in all of them. In Young Apollo, Britten’s brief, bright paean to the tonic chord of A major, its function is to add florid arpeggios and to define bouncy rhythms; in Milhaud’s jolly Le Carnaval d’Aix – 12 very short movements on traditional tunes and dances – the piano is more integrated into his typically chunky orchestration. Gerald Finzi’s Eclogue – all that remains of a projected piano concerto – is cast rather as a calm, and not-so calm dialogue between piano and strings, whereas in Strauss’s neo-baroque confection drawn from his incidental music for Molière’s comedy, Le bourgeois gentilhomme, the piano only features in five of the nine movements, sometimes in brief solos, sometimes in a more continuo-like way.
The Britten goes well enough with flamboyant roulades from the US pianist Joshua Pierce and incisive playing from the Slovak State Chamber Orchestra of Zilina, while the American conductor Kirk Trevor secures an appropriately brash energy in the Milhaud – it is not very subtle music. In the Finzi Eclogue, Pierce is more forward-moving in the opening solo than one usually hears, and the reading, with the strings of the State Radio Symphony Orchestra of Bratislava, leans towards intensity rather than repose. And, despite some nicely turned orchestral solos, the Strauss suite is a little disappointing, lacking the wit and sweetness of the best performances, and not helped by a slightly edgy and less than ideally balanced recording. Altogether a mixed bag.