MSR MS 1148 79:36, (Distrib. Albany) ****:
I had not heard music played by Joshua Pierce prior, but his pedigree asserts I should have heard him sooner: studies with Arthur Loesser, Victor Babin, Artur Balsam, and Robert Goldsand, among others. Perhaps Mr. Pierce could be instrumental in seeing more of Robert Goldsand’s work come back to us aficionados. The Brahms Concerto is a pungent, vigorous delight, muscular and often free-wheeling in temperament. The cello solo from Alexander Ermi blends perfectly into the strong tendons which tie this energetic interpretation together. Piano sound is quite ripe, and the orchestra, of which Trevor Kirk became the chief conductor in 1994, projects a pert, often lush texture.
Now, to the more unfamiliar territory which this CD boasts. The lithe and serpentine Les Djinns (1884) of Cesar Franck belongs to those collectors who know the Ciccolini/Cluytens and Maxian/Fournet inscriptions of yore. Based on a Victor Hugo poem, the magic of the instrumentation captures the evil smoke rising from the bottle, in full keeping with Michael Powell’s eternal image of Rex Ingram confronting Sabu in The Thief of Bagdad. The Lisztian elements abound in this virtuoso piece, with stunning key changes from its initial F-sharp Minor. The momentum increases, the syncopes rummaging between 2/4 and 3/4, and the orchestral textures thickening into a malevolent brew. Pianist Pierce plays its runs, cascading arpeggios, glissandi and keyboard recitative with deliberate pace and tension, a veritable color touch-piece.
Having just reviewed the Mark Hambourg version of Liszt’s E Minor Concerto Pathetique (1856; rev. 1885), I might have been prepared to make invidious comparisons, but the orchestral realization makes me appreciate this work’s kinship to the Dante Symphony and elements in the Totentanz. The lyrical sections hearken to the lovelier aspects of the Years of Pilgrimage, with nice touches from oboe, clarinet , cello, and violin. Besides its distillation of diverse styles in Liszt, it constantly changes its emotional contour in protean colors, quite reminiscent of the A Major Concerto as cross fertilized by the two great Liszt sonatas. The transition to the coda is perhaps the weakest bit of writing, smacking of Schumann’s terse, telescoped dramatic shifts. Then the tonepoem surges ensue, and we could be hearing a militant, splashy addendum to Mazeppa.