COMPOSERS: Mussorgsky; Beethoven; Brahms
LABELS: Champs Hill Recordings
ALBUM TITLE: Mussorgsky • Beethoven • Brahms
WORKS: Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition; Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 8 (Pathétique); Brahms: Two Rhapsodies, Op. 79
PERFORMER: Stephen de Pledge (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHRCD 030
This New Zealand pianist is a leading advocate of the music of Messiaen, Arvo Pärt and numerous other contemporary composers, and he brings to this CD his trademark transparency of touch. The sound is bright and firm as he begins the first promenade, and ‘Gnomus’ emerges with expansive breadth, with every note clear and clean in the more-usually scrambled fast passages. For the second promenade, and the ‘Old Castle’ which follows it, he finds a sweet melodiousness, bringing out the murmured inner theme with a singing tone. The ‘Tuileries’ tableau is gracefully measured, allowing the cart being pulled in the following tableau to become an occasion for massive force.
And so it goes on, each episode vividly characterised: the echoing acoustic chosen by the sound engineer intensifies the quirky charm of the ‘Ballet of the Chicks’, and sharpens the contrast between ‘Goldenberg and Schmuyle’; only once – in the Limoges marketplace – does De Pledge’s deliberate approach seem too leisurely. The final three tableaux – the ‘Catacombs’, ‘Baba-Yaga’, and the ‘Great Gate of Kiev’ – develop majestic momentum.
In such safe hands one happily accepts the extraordinarily drawn-out spaciousness of the Pathétique’s introduction, and the period prettiness of the passagework in the first movement’s Allegro. The Brahms Rhapsodies which round off this impressive CD are a delight: the first is exquisitely nuanced, the second unleashes a mighty performance.