Leonard Pennario plays = LISZT: Piano Concerto Nos. 1 & 2; KHACHATURIAN: Piano Con. – Leonard Pennario, piano/London Symphony/Rene Leibowitz/ Concert Airs Sym. Orch./Felix Slatkin – HDTT

by | Mar 23, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Leonard Pennario plays = LISZT: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major; Piano Concerto No. 2 in A Major; KHACHATURIAN: Piano Concerto in D-flat – Leonard Pennario, piano/London Symphony Orchestra/Rene Leibowitz/ Concert Airs Symphony Orchestra/Felix Slatkin (Khachaturian) – HDTT HDCD224, 75:25 [avail. in various formats incl. hi-res at www.highdeftapetransfers.com] ****:
Leonard Pennario (1924-12008) held a special place in American pianism: an artist of immaculate technique and ennobled taste, he brought clarity and spontaneity to his performances, a penetrating vitality, and a colossal fervent tone. I recall a lunch with him–I was a graduate student in Atlanta–at Emory University, in which he absorbed the check, asserting with his typical gentility, “I make more money than you do.”  His EMI inscriptions of the music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk conveyed a terrific sense of style, while his favorite recording by his own admission remained his Rachmaninov Third with Walter Susskind.
The two Liszt concertos date from 1965, originally inscribed for an RCA LP. Conductor Rene Leibowitz (1913-1972) with whom Pennario works endures as a master of modernist scores, often deriving from the 12-tone idiom. The orchestra literally “injects” the first theme, “which none of you understands” to quote Liszt.  Its cyclic redistribution of themes finds Pennario in fine fettle, lithe and elegantly lyrical, elastic in his phrases, runs, and wicked trills, what Benita Hume would call “stately gaiety.” The Quasi adagio section exudes wonderful poise, Pennario and the orchestra violas and cellos in perfect blend.
The triangle makes its pert presence known in galloping rendition of the transition to the Allegretto vivace–Allegro animato. The simply fluid series of motions to the final coda testify to a deft facility beyond compare, the rhythmic flux as subtle as it is sure. The horns, trills, and big chords that relate the finale literally explode upon our senses.
The Second Concerto, of labyrinthine metamorphoses, takes Weber’s Konzertstueck and the Litolff Concertos symphoniques as its models, the piano often accompanying woodwinds and strings, never having played the theme in its original form. Pennario gives a bold rendition, broad and driven at once, perhaps more bravura-ridden more in the Richter tradition than those inscriptions we know from Casadesus and Arrau. Sweeping figures to the Marziale un poco meno allegro, a stolid march in which Pennario  embellishes riffs from the horns and chromatic strings. In the latter pages, something of Pennario’s jeu perle emerges, a diaphanous raiment but of woven steel, especially when augmented by brass and cymbals.
Auditors may wish to hold off on a direct segue to the percussive Khachaturian 1936 Piano Concerto–from 1959 2-track Capitol tape–after the two Liszts back-to-back. [It was also offered on vinyl by Analogue Productions…Ed.] Felix Slatkin (1915-1963) leads his own Concerts Arts Orchestra and the result remains eminently stylish, given the composer’s penchant for Armenian doxology and chanting figures. Pennario attacks the first movement with vibrant panache, his busy runs and big chords in high gloss over an insistent orchestral tissue. The  “static bass line” Khachaturian favors often suggest the sinuous drones of Orientalism, the keyboard sonority thinned out to imitate dulcimer of some sort. The virtual rivalry between piano and orchestral culminates in the cadenza, in which Pennario flexes some impressive, fleetly wide-spanned muscles. Piano and bass clarinet make some fine duets in the slow movement, whose dignified melodic curve culminates in a powerfully frenetic  merger of Oriental elements and Russian soul. Contrasting themes and a monster cadenza mark the last movement, attacked with vigor by all parties. Brash and demonstrably stentorian, the Allegro brilliante delights in its over-the-top theatrics, its sonority perhaps beholden to the Gershwin Concerto in F. Slatkin hustles his orchestral part, and so Pennario has his hands full to acquire all the notes; but somehow the mystery of great collaboration triumphs, and the last pages pour down a whirlwind rain of musical fire.
— Gary Lemco

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