Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Fab CDs

My last post has been removed due to circumstances beyond my control. Sorry. I thought it was nice. Anyway, here are two wonderful new CDs for you instead.

As promised, details of Philippe Graffin's new recital disc: release date is now 18 April. Entitled in the shade of forests: the Bohemian world of Debussy, Ravel, Enescu, this is a disc that could only have been devised by a violinist with more than his fair share of intelligence and creativity, and the musical result is just as exciting, with Philippe's improvisatory sense of fantasy and glorious tone expertly partnered by the French pianist Claire Desert. The programme's inspiration is the image of the gypsy wanderer so long associated with the violin in its purest, most instinctive form, and the way that that image has inspired the three composers involved.

Enescu's Impressions d'enfance begins the disc, imbued with the notion of the wandering minstrel fiddler that Enescu carried with him to maturity; then there is, of course, Ravel's Tzigane, but played as you've never heard it before. Philippe and Claire employed not only the 'lutheal' - the mechanism, akin to a prepared piano, that provides the piano with a range of stops to evoke the sound of the cimbalom, the guitar and many stranger beings - but the original lutheal, fitted into a small 1919 Pleyel grand in the Musical Instrument Museum in Brussels, on which the piece enjoyed its very first recording. Sounds completely different from Dan Hope's also excellent recording ('East Meets West'), which involved fitting the machine into a modern Steinway. The 1919 instrument sounds more like a guitar than a harpsichord and meshes into some extraordinary, mesmerising soundworlds with the violin. Then comes the Ravel 'posthumous' sonata (a beautiful early work written for the composer to play with Enescu while both were students of Faure) and, last but not least, Debussy's complete works for violin and piano: not only the wonderful sonata, but also an early Nocturne & Scherzo that Philippe has reconstructed himself, and a batch of lovely pieces - two preludes and two songs - in arrangements, approved by Debussy, by the American-Hungarian violinist Arthur Hartmann. With superlative presentation, a thorough and fascinating booklet written mostly by Philippe himself and, above all, matchless, poetic, 500%-committed playing from both artists, this is Avie Records' latest must-have.

Marc-Andre Hamelin has an amazing new CD out: Albeniz's Iberia, complete, filled out with more treats from this ever-underrated but truly astonishing Spanish composer-pianist. Albeniz himself realised just how difficult Iberia was - apparently he considered it virtually unplayable and almost destroyed the manuscript for that reason. Thank heavens he didn't. And thank heavens for Marc, someone who can not only play it but can imbue it with the poetry, evocativeness, warmth, passion, earthy rhythm and sheer, lush gorgeousness that it deserves. I couldn't get enough of this, especially since I once entertained fond ideas of learning 'Triana', only to find my eyes crossing in front of my nose at the sight of the termite-heaps of notes that comprise the score. You'd never guess its fiendish complexity from this apparently effortless rendition, filled with wit and colour and dreamlike beauty bringing out every inch of the extensive French influence on the composer. If Debussy liked to sound Spanish, then Albeniz liked to sound like a French symbolist (except that he, of course, had just a little too much of a sense of humour!). Iberia is a one-off - there is nothing else quite like it in the piano repertoire - and I think this new recording is likely to be regarded as definitive for some time ahead. It's Hyperion's Record of the Month, and they're not wrong.

More soon.