Piano Orchestra 2
Francois-Xavier Poizat, piano.
Ars Production 38 249
Total Time: 61:13
Before the advent of radio and recorded music, music lovers wanting to experience the latest orchestral music did so through being fortunate enough to hear them in concert, or needed to find piano transcriptions. Throughout the 19th Century, publishers rushed to fulfill this need, often with pianists and the composers, themselves, creating reductions and editions to be used for this Hausmusik. French pianist Francois-Xavier Poizat released an earlier album exploring some of these pieces (by Bizet, Liszt, Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky) earlier on the label hence the “2” in this collection of pieces that further explore this aspect of piano literature. Here the pianists who made these transcriptions are as important as the works themselves
The selections on this release have a more decided 20th-Century, and Russian, bent. However, the program opens with one of the important nationalist works of the 19th Century, Smetana’s “The Moldau” from Ma Vlast. One of the seminal works of Czech music, this piano version was adapted by Heinrich von Kaan-Albest (1852-1926). Across his career, the composer and educator would transcribe and adapt many of Smetana’s works for piano. This version was not published until 1934. It is quite fascinating to hear this massive orchestral work reduced in this way, though reduction may not be quite the right word as in the larger moments of the work it would seem the performer might need an extra hand or two. The writing here is not unlike those of Liszt, showing as much Smetana’s own debt to the composer perhaps. Poizat manages to take us from the most simple musical beauties as the river moves on its course to the grander statements exhibiting a host of technical skill coupled with moving interpretations of this familiar work.
Stravinsky chose three pieces from his ballet Petrushka for the pianist Arthur Rubinstein. A more popular version for two pianos was created, with the composer’s approval, by Victor Babin. Published in 1922, this five-movement suite by the virtuoso Theodore Szanto appeared the same time as the composer’s version. Szanto’s pieces are arranged more in keeping with the ballet’s structure and orchestral score. As one might suspect, these are intended to provide virtuosic showpieces for the pianist but also require moments of restraint and lyrical beauty. As such, this makes for an engaging work exhibiting the required attention to rhythmic detail and accentuation.
The music of Khachaturian has managed to maintain a foothold in the concert repertoire through his music for two ballets, Gayane (1939) and Spartacus (1954). It is the latter’s gorgeous “Adagio” from Act Two which Poizat includes here in a recent realization by pianist-composer Matthew Cameron. It demonstrates a continued interest in this genre of transcriptions for piano in the modern era. But it creates a nice relaxed buffer from the technical skill of the earlier pieces. Here is a chance for Poizat to exhibit his interpretive style and align himself in the grand piano virtuoso style which he does superbly. There is also some touching beauty captured in this performance.
Most of these transcriptions are rather rare on disc and so it is also somewhat surprising that Prokofiev’s Pieces for Piano, Op. 96 (1941-42) tends to appear on only a couple surveys of his piano music. The music here is a sort of reuse of themes and music the composer would use in his opera War and Peace (1942; “Waltz”, no. 1) and the film score Lermontov (1943; no. 2, “Contradanse”, and no. 3, “Mephisto Waltz”—a sort of perpetual motion challenge). The music has that angular modernity with sardonic with known to the composer. Here the grandiose gestures of the opening waltz show off some of the composer’s Neo-Classical tendencies with touches of Romanticism. These are perfectly captured in Poizat’s performance and one can hope for more Prokofiev from him in the future.
The excellent sequencing of the album transitions us from the angular style of Prokofiev’s waltzes to the more grandiose parodistic music of Ravel’s La Valse. This is not the composer’s own transcription but a more recent one by Russian pianist Alexander Ghindin published in 2001. The version here goes back to the orchestral score and works to be a reduction and realization of that work to piano. The performance here captures the grandeur and sweep of the work quite well.
The album concludes with Shostakovich’s Waltz No. 2 which was originally part of a film score (The First Echelon, 1956). The piece found new notoriety in the Kubrik film Eyes Wide Shut (1999). This is a more recent transcription by Florian Noack serving as a perfect technical challenge encore for the album.
Poizat’s program really is an excellent one here that provides opportunity for him to show off technical skill as well as his own personal interpretive abilities for these works. The multichannel hybrid disc is stunning with a warm sound that complements this music so well. If one has not picked up his first volume, this may be worth adding as well. This is a seriously excellent album all around.
The pianist will be heard in concert at the Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall, New York, Sunday, December 2 at 7:30pm. Those able to secure tickets for the program of Liszt and Ravel will likely not be disappointed.