“Piano Tales” = MENDELSSOHN: Rondo Capriccioso Op. 14; BEETHOVEN: Sonata in D Minor, Op. 31 No. 2 “Tempest”; JUHO MIETTINEN: Shadow over Innsmouth; LISZT: Hamlet (arr. August Stradahl); CHOPIN: Ballade in G Minor, Op. 23; Etude, Op. 10 No. 12 “Revolutionary” – Risto-Matti Marin, piano – Alba ABCD 296, 61:43 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
It seems that Finland has an endless supply of young virtuoso pianists, and we can thank Alba for bringing them to light. Not too long ago, I was impressed with a Szymanowski recital by pianist Anu Vehviläinen, and now here is Risto-Matti Marin, seemingly possessed of the same credentials: musicality; a big technique; an ability to project big confident piano sound.
This is the kind of recital that if it doesn’t totally disarm criticism at least channels criticism into concerns other than fretting over whether the performances under consideration can stand as a benchmark of this or that classic. On the other hand, the Mendelssohn and Beethoven works especially are given first-rate performances here. The Rondo Capriccio may be the work of a fifteen-year-old, but it already maps out the fantasy world that Mendelssohn would capture so eloquently in his Midsummer Night’s Dream music and his many elfin scherzos. Marin plays it without sentimental swooning or other unwanted glosses and tears through the main rondo movement with the agility and power needed to dispel the idea of Mendelssohn as effete or lightweight.
I find nothing to cavil at and much to admire as well in Marin’s Beethoven playing. The stormy drama of the opening movement is perfectly captured, as is the moments of respite that crop up here and there in this mostly restless Allegro and in the dogged Allegretto. The Adagio is the perfect, reposeful eye of the storm it needs to be. Tempos are judiciously chosen, use of the pedal is skillful. In all, a fine Tempest Sonata.
In Hamlet, Liszt’s piano pupil August Stradahl turns the tables on the Hungarian master: Stradahl transforms the 1858 tone poem into a Lisztian piano ballade, with all the keyboard pyrotechnics such an act implies. Marin gives it the full virtuoso treatment, and to my surprise, I ended up enjoying it more than Liszt’s original, which admittedly has never been one of my favorites. This version still has all the old Lisztian bombast, unfortunately, but it also has drama and élan and gives a pianist every opportunity in the world to show his or her stuff. Apparently, this is the first recording of Stradahl’s arrangement. That’s something of an oversight on the part of pianists, as far as I’m concerned.
I find that the Chopin Ballade has the right admixture of poetry and drama, and Marin tells Chopin’s piano tale well. The big-hearted melody about three minutes in sings with rapture at each of its appearances, and the manic runs and big anguished chords benefit from Marin’s sure technique.
Applause at the end of the Ballade and the Revolutionary Etude are the only indication that this is an “edited version” of a live recital. And the etude is the only work on the bill of fare that Marin does not do justice to. I thought initially that he played it too swiftly, but comparisons convinced me that wasn’t so. The problem is a lack of emotional involvement on Marin’s part. Rubato, dynamics—none of the legitimate point-makers in the pianist’s arsenal are used to good effect here. The revolutionary passions don’t seem to run very hot in Finland. This is just a straight-up playing of the notes (though they’re played quite capably) and will leave you longing for Perahia or Pollini. My suggestion? Cut the CD off before you get to the last track.
And think back to Finnish composer Juho Miettinen’s spooky Scriabinesque evocation of H. P. Lovecraft’s horror stories. Now, I’m not much one for horror tales; I’ve heard of Lovecraft before, of course, but have never sampled his fiction. On the other hand, Miettinen’s chilly music might just as well be thought to evoke a forbidding al fresco environment (the frozen wastes of Finland, for example) as some ghoulish interior one. The music is atmospheric, well-wrought, interesting to listen to, and doesn’t outstay its welcome. That’s about all I ask of most pieces of program music. Again, pianist Marin seems in tune with the idiom, and the sizable technical challenges of the piece don’t daunt him.
An interestingly varied program well played, then, with two worthwhile pieces you won’t possibly have heard before. Marin has the benefit of big very present piano sound with an appealing touch of resonance thanks to the venue, Helsinki’s Johannes Church.
— Lee Passarella
Budapest Quartet Plays Brahms – String Quartets Nos. 2, 3; String Sextet No. 2; String Quintets Nos. 1, 2 – Pristine Audio
Another historic release from Pristine — Brahms, Budapest