“Miniatures & Folklores: 23 Challenges for Cello & Piano” [TrackList below] – Gavriel Lipkind, cello/ Alexandra Lubchansky, piano – Lipkind Productions multichannel SACD, 77:03 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
This disc celebrates the musical miniature—whether as an original composition or as an arrangement, oftentimes by the performer himself—that used to feature prominently as encores in concerts and recitals. Hence we see among the listed works arranger credits for Fritz Kreisler and Jascha Heifetz (as well as the lesser-known Peter von Wienhardt and Uzi Wiesel, Gavriel Lipkind’s teacher). Another fact underscored by the title of the collection is that many of these miniatures have their roots in more-or-less faithful imitations of national musical styles. I say “more-or-less faithful” because no listener would mistake German composer (of Polish extraction) Moritz Moszkowski’s once-famous Spanish Dances or his sweetly scented Guitarre (included on this recording) for the work of a Spanish composer. But then we also have music with a genuinely Spanish flavor, the lively Tango of Albeniz and the wild Danza Finale from Gaspar Cassadó’s Suite Espagnole, at the conclusion of which Lipkind adds his own surprising vocal obbligato.
There’s attractive but nonetheless ersatz imitations of Arabic music (Glazunov), Chinese music (Kreisler), and, most famous of all, Gypsy music (Brahms), as well as music that a Romanian (Grigoraş Dinicu’s Hora Staccato) or a Georgian (Sulkhan Tsintsadze’s Chonguri) would immediately recognize as his or her own. In fact, while I can’t attest to this, Chonguri is said to be a canny imitation of the Georgian folk instrument of the same name, a four-stringed lute. (Oddly enough, the Brahms Hungarian Rhapsody is lacking in rhythmic bounce in the fast outer sections; I’m not sure if this is a fault of the arrangement or of the performance.)
The “challenges” of the title come from the fact that, as Laurence Lesser writes in his introduction to the booklet notes, “What is so special about playing little pieces? I guess it’s like the difference between big novels and short stories. You have only a few minutes to reveal a character or a mood or a world. It’s not one bit easier than thee big piece. In fact, in a way, it’s even harder. One false move and the mood is gone.” But there are other challenges as well. Some of this music is gruelingly demanding, short duration not withstanding. That’s especially true of the music by celebrated cellists: David Popper’s tiny Dance of the Elves and Cassadó’s aforementioned Danza. A different challenge that’s as much the recording engineer’s as the performer’s comes in the shape of Fauré’s Allegretto Moderato, written as a competition piece for the Paris Conservatoire; Lipkind plays both parts in a feat that’s certainly not new to recorded music but which nonetheless always manages to amaze me. For the most part, the playing by Lipkind and his accompanist is outstanding: cleanly articulated; emotionally charged; in short, virtuosic. This is especially notable given that Alexandra Lubchansky is first and foremost a soprano known for her performances in Enführung aus dem Serail and Ariadne auf Naxos!
One nice plus is the number of pieces here that aren’t at all familiar though their composers are. Some of these works bespeak the known quality of their composers, such as Prokofiev’s Waltz. I’m always struck by how original and immediately recognizable even lesser pieces by this master often are. Which is not to slight equally attractive music by Tcherepnin, Scriabin, Ben-Haim, Ibert, Bloch.
This disc is an SACD remastering of an original DDD recording set down at the Jerusalem Music Center, apparently a lively acoustic that imparts just a touch of hardness (or sheen, if you’re more charitably inclined) to the sound of the cello, though the piano is quite natural, and the remastering provides a sense of depth and immediacy that are most appealing. The makeover includes deluxe packaging: a cardboard outer sleeve and a very attractive hardback booklet with an elaborately die-cut sleeve on the back cover to hold the CD. This is a presentation-worthy album that you should maybe present to yourself—if you’re partial to the Old-World charm of the musical miniature. I certainly am, when it’s as well done as it is here.
MORITZ MOSZKOWSKI : Guitarre, Op. 45, No. 2, for cello and piano (arr. Lipkind)
HENRYK WIENIAWSKI: Scherzo-Tarantella, Op. 16, for cello and piano (arr. Lipkind)
ALBENIZ: Tango for cello and piano (arr. Kreisler/Lipkind)
GRIGORAŞ DINICU: Hora Staccato for cello and piano (arr. Heifetz/Lipkind)
DOMENICO GABRIELLI: Ricercare No. 5 for cello solo (arr. Lipkind)
ALEXANDER Tcherepnin: Tartar Dance, Op. 84, No. 2, for cello and piano (arr. Lipkind)
PROKOFIEV: “Waltz” from Music for Children, Op. 65, for cello and piano (arr. Wiesel)
GLAZUNOV: Arabic Melody for cello and piano (arr. Lipkind)
PAUL BEN-HAIM: “Lively” from Music for Violoncello for cello solo
SCRIABIN: Romance for cello and piano (arr. Lipkind)
JOACHIM STUTSCHEWSKY: Oriental Dance for cello and piano (arr. Lipkind)
SULKHAN TSINTSADZE: Chonguri for cello solo (arr. Lipkind)
MENDELSSOHN: Song Without Words No. 43 from Op. 102 for cello and piano (arr. Lipkind)
DAVID POPPER: Dance of the Elves, Op. 39, for cello and piano
FAURÉ: Allegretto Moderato for two celli
TCHAIKOVSKY: Lullaby for cello and piano (arr. Lipkind)
JEAN-LOUIS DUPORT: Etude No. 7 for cello solo (arr. Lipkind)
JACQUES IBERT: The Little White Donkey for cello and piano (arr. v. Wienhardt)
GASPAR CASSADO: “Intermezzo e Danza Finale” from the Suite Espagnole for cello solo (arr. Lipkind)
ERNEST BLOCH: “Prayer” from From Jewish Life No. 1 for cello and piano
ALFREDO PIATTI: Caprice No. 5 for cello solo
BRAHMS: Hungarian Dance No. 1 for cello and piano (arr. v. Wienhardt/Lipkind)
FRITZ KREISLER: Tambourin Chinois for cello and piano (arr. v. Wienhardt/Lipkind)
The counterculture movie from the 60x