Modest MUSSORGSKY(1839-1881) Pictures at an Exhibition [32:28] Ludwig van BEETHOVEN(1770-1827)
Sonata No. 8 'Pathétique' in C minor, op.13 [20:28] Johannes BRAHMS(1833-1897)
Rhapsody in B minor, op.79 no.1 [9:13]
Rhapsody in G minor, op.79 no.2 [6:46]
Stephen De Pledge (piano)
rec. Music Room, Champs Hill, Pulborough, England, 11-12 December
CHAMPS HILL RECORDS CHRCD 030 [69:12]
Experienced Kiwi pianist Stephen De Pledge makes his debut solo
recording for Champs Hill with a thoughtful programme drawn
from the heart of the repertoire. Previously he has featured
both in a chamber and solo capacity on a disc of various small-scale
pieces by Messiaen (CHRCD 022).
Somewhat curiously, this new CD has taken four years to make
it to the market. On the other hand, although there can be little
argument about the artistic supremacy of Mussorgsky's Pictures,
Beethoven's Pathétique and Brahms's Rhapsodies, it does
seem rather unlikely that anyone will bounce with excitement
over yet another recording of any of these works in what has
long been an extremely congested marketplace. Indeed, with now
hundreds of recordings available of central piano repertoire,
it probably makes more commercial sense nowadays for a soloist
of De Pledge's calibre to champion relatively neglected composers.
Without denying either that he is a pianist of considerable
poise who deserves to be heard, or that his recital is an intelligent,
varied one, had De Pledge left Beethoven and Brahms for another
day and recorded instead, say, a piano sonata by one of the
many undervalued Russian or Polish contemporaries of Mussorgsky,
this CD may well have found a larger audience.
Indeed, half De Pledge's programme is given over to Mussorgsky's
Pictures which has, rather sadly, earned itself something of
a reputation as a 'warhorse', at least in its orchestral form.
Certainly it seems to crop up repeatedly in recordings and concert
halls across Europe and beyond. Such 'ill repute' is undeserved,
because the original piano version in any case is actually one
of the most imaginative works of its kind of the entire 19th
century, and De Pledge's account, whilst not without certain
minor drawbacks - ponderous or workaday in places and an emotionally
unexceptional 'Catacombae', for example - has enough insight,
excitement and originality to lift it above a good many other
For reasons not altogether clear, the title Pictures
atan Exhibition has become firmly entrenched in preference
to the correct translation of Mussorgsky's original Russian,
Pictures froman Exhibition. 'Pictures at'
does not even make proper sense, strictly - Mussorgsky is not
passively walking round his deceased artist friend's exhibition,
noting pictures as he goes. Instead he has created his own edited,
stylised version of it, selecting only a handful from the original
400-odd artworks and 'altering' their content to suit his musical
ideas. These are Pictures taken from an exhibition, not
contemplated at one. In his lengthy, informative and
lucid booklet notes, the ever-reliable Malcolm MacDonald makes
this fact pretty clear - but that does not prevent him from
perpetuating the illogic.
Elsewhere, De Pledge's punchy Beethoven is likely to have wide
appeal in its emotional centre-course - he happily avoids sentimentalising
the famous adagio cantabile, for example - and he excels
in the lyrical drama of Brahms's brilliant Rhapsodies.
Sound quality is good. Microphones are perhaps a shade closer
than ideal - there is just an inkling of distortion in the very
loudest passages of Pictures.
Ultimately, these are expert, attractive readings that do not,
however, quite add up to essential listening, particularly given
the huge, frequently illustrious competition already available
on all three fronts. Those who have seen De Pledge play, supporters
of the worthy not-for-profit cause that is Champs Hill Records,
and collectomaniancs are the most likely market, and they will
not be disappointed.
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