“Pianist Lost: Sunken Cathedrals” – Works of ALKAN, MENDELSSOHN, DEBUSSY and FAURÉ – Peter Halstead, p. – Albany Records Blu-ray (primarily audio-only) + SACD

by | Oct 17, 2013 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

“Pianist Lost: Sunken Cathedrals” – Works of ALKAN, MENDELSSOHN, DEBUSSY and FAURÉ – Peter Halstead, p. – Albany Records multichannel SACD and Blu-ray disc TROY1205, 56:00 [7/9/13] **:

This disc of piano music is a puzzlement. It contains music tangentially related to water, with works by Mendelssohn, Debussy and Fauré.

The set contains a well-produced book with what appears to be the random thoughts of the pianist/author with comments about Monet, Shakespeare, and even references to the 1956 sci-fi film, Forbidden Planet. In all, the 150 page book, which includes personal commentary on the works being performed is strange (to be polite), bizarre and self-indulgent (to be not so polite). Halstead states the disc contains “…nine pieces that imitate the various guises of water…unaffected and beautiful boat songs…” The pianist supposedly took a piano into the Himalayas along with a sound engineer, piano technician and trekkers to make this recording. [Amazing. I don’t believe it…Ed.]

The set includes a hybrid CD/SACD. There is also a Blu-ray disc with the same audio program but in hi-res. The Blu-ray disc also contains still photos taken in the Himalayas, where the music was recorded, and each one lasting the length of a track. The recordings all sound virtually identical and are good, but not reference quality. I can’t imagine the recording venue was the best place for a high definition recording. The sound of the piano is spread among all the speakers, so the sound is unfocused, but I doubt Halstead was trying to recreate the sound of a live performance.

The piano solos are all right, but a bit eccentric and choppy to my ear, with odd intonations and rhythm choices. Certainly, these performances are more about Halstead, then they are about the composers.

This set is volume two of the series. The first offering, is an identical format with two discs and an extensive book. The first set is called Pianist Lost: Excesses and Excuses, a title which might serve as a mini-review of volume two.

I’m not sure what to make of this set. The music is pleasant enough, but seems light on emotion and rather mechanically played. The notes in the included booklet are arcane and tend to ramble. They don’t shed much light on the purpose of this project.

All artists are vain. There is probably a bit too much vanity here, and not enough focus on a good performance. The packaging is unique and attractive. I wish I knew the purpose of this release, and many listeners will be scratching their heads as well. [Since Debussy’s Sunken Cathedrals is my favorite work of his I was naturally drawn to this release. I found some of the writing about Debussy’s water music and the pieces interesting, but as you say: Very Strange…Ed.]

—Mel Martin

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