ALBUM TITLE: Britten * Korngold
WORKS: Britten: Diversions for piano (left hand); Korngold: Piano Concerto in C sharp (for the left hand)
PERFORMER: Nicolas Stavy (piano); Orchestre national de Lille/Paul Polivnick
CATALOGUE NO: 710
What an unsatisfying CD this is. It forms part of a bewilderingly wide-ranging French series of 150 projected albums, launched last year to explore musical creation before, during and after World War I. Britten’s Diversions of 1940 and the Korngold Concerto of 1923, both written for the soloist’s left hand, scrape in through the war injury suffered by their commissioning pianist, Paul Wittgenstein, whose right arm was amputated in Russia after he was shot in the elbow fighting in Ukraine. The disc’s cloudy purpose is outdistanced, unfortunately, by the smudged and blowsy recording acoustic and some less than top-notch playing by the National Orchestra of Lille. If you’re listening to orchestral Korngold, the sound especially needs depth, width, precision and sparkle: none of those qualities are abundantly present here, despite Nicolas Stavy’s left-handed determination at the keys.
The Concerto itself remains extraordinary, right from its tortuous solo opening, of questionable tonality, crammed with angular leaps suggesting music peppered with holes; another sign of war damage, perhaps? Sweeter sounds enter later, plus a little hot syncopation – the whole tied together in a complex structure spanning ten interlocking parts. Britten’s Diversions, written during his American exile, treads a much more conventional path, though both Stavy and the orchestra pitch into its variations with a larger relish for character and colour. Signs of war here? Hardly any, unless you count the fifth variation, ‘Chant’, despatched with a very sad tread. And still the acoustic limits pleasure. Not, all told, a recommended disc. Geoff Brown