Bellini, Gluck, Korngold, Puccini, Saint-Sa‘ns, Strauss and Wagner

COMPOSERS: Bellini,Gluck,Korngold,Puccini,Saint-Sa‘ns,Strauss and Wagner
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: Aria: Opera Without Words
WORKS: Piano arrangements of Bellini, Gluck, Korngold, Puccini, Saint-Saëns, Strauss and Wagner
PERFORMER: Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 475 7668
It was American pianist-composer Yvar Mikhashoff (1941-93) who introduced Jean-Yves Thibaudet to his Puccini arrangements and encouraged him to explore the rich repertoire of operatic transcriptions. In 1992 Thibaudet recorded a disc of Liszt’s transcriptions, and, 15 years later, this more eclectic follow-up centres on four of Mikhashoff’s own arrangements, which are inventive and pianistically resourceful.

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Mikhashoff’s works – especially his extended ‘operatic sonata-fantasy’ on Madame Butterfly (superbly performed here) – are serious and demanding additions to the repertoire, and Thibaudet complements them here with music of a more populist outlook. The Korngold and Saint-Saëns arrangements credited jointly to Thibaudet and the Holywood pianist-composer Randy Kerber are charming if slightly saccharine, while the works by Alfred Grünfeld (after Johann Strauss) and Louis Brassin (Wagner’s The Ride of the Valkyries) are thrillingly virtuosic if blatant.

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Thibaudet is always poetically refined and plays with delicacy and colour. He is immaculately controlled in Grainger’s wonderful Ramble on the Last Love Duet from Der Rosenkavalier, while in music of greater lyrical simplicity he is suave and knowing. Nevertheless, despite the attractions of Thibaudet’s cultivated style I sometimes miss a greater sense of raw emotion; Michael Ponti, for example, was often more engaging if less perfectionist in this repertoire. The sound is warm and clear, albeit rather close. Tim Parry