I recently reviewed
Angela Brownridge’s coupling of the Leighton and Gipps piano concertos (Cameo CC9046CD). Despite some reservations about the orchestral playing and the recording quality I warmed to the music and the excellent contribution of the soloist. She now demonstrates her versatility and superb musicianship with these three volumes devoted to Schumann, Chopin and Liszt. I have no idea how the repertoire was chosen but the discs are satisfying programmes in their own right, with each one including a sonata supported by a varied selection of other works.
Angela Brownridge was originally from Goole but her family moved to Leicestershire when she was twelve. She became a soloist with the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra, playing Beethoven’s First concerto and the Grieg concerto in the UK and on tour in Germany and Norway in the early 1960s. Now established as one of the country’s finest pianists, she travels the world and has played in numerous venues and festivals with major orchestras. She has made numerous recordings including a complete Saint-Saëns cycle with the Hallé (ASV
) and a really fine version of Schumann’s Album for the Young
on Hyperion Helios. These discs, at bargain price, are well worth searching out.
Turning now to this collection of recitals she has recorded for Cameo Classics. The Schumann CD is highly recommendable. Ms Brownridge performs the G minor Sonata with an attractive gentle reserve. This approach really brings out the beautiful, feminine qualities of the composer. In Carnaval
she takes her time in presenting each of the delightful miniatures with great detail and flair. Equally important in this work, the individual movements are presented in one long arch of music and the result is very satisfying. Her tone and touch are transparent and clear and the technique exemplary. The recording is clear and attractive with a pleasant bloom. This is an excellent Schumann compilation and I can enthusiastically endorse it.
Musically, the Chopin collection is something of a triumph. The four Scherzos
show the pianist in real unbuttoned form. Whereas the Schumann performances are gentle, ruminative affairs, here we have an artist in full flow and all the technical challenges are all brushed aside with great aplomb. Nothing is forced or ugly but nothing is held back either. What is also striking is the clarity of articulation. Her interpretation of the Piano Sonata No.3
has the same virtues. Virtuosity is never over-emphasised at the expense of the music. There is an emotional restraint that I personally find attractive - some Chopin interpreters just overplay everything in a showy fashion. If that’s what you like, stay away from this CD. What you get here is a far more thoughtful approach. I must say at this point that, unlike the Schumann, there is a technical issue with the Chopin. Played at concert hall volumes, especially through headphones, there is an annoying rattle and some edginess at the top end. This isn’t a problem throughout the CD - the distortion comes and goes. This is a shame because it detracts from the enjoyment of the splendid performances.
Ms Brownridge really pushes forward in the Liszt sonata. It’s fast but, importantly, not rushed and the overall effect is very refreshing and stimulating. The playing is as clean as a whistle and superbly detailed. There’s no cheating by using the pedals to smudge the textures. The general approach, as demonstrated on the other CDs in this collection, is to leave plenty in reserve and avoid overplaying the heavy, fortissimo passages. In another review I read elsewhere, the reviewer expressed the view that this was an issue and preferred more of a hot house approach to the sonata. I tend to disagree. This is a physically demanding piece and I think that the pianist succeeds in maintaining the level of tone and virtuosity right through to the end of the work. There are plenty of fireworks here but they are never overemphasised to the detriment of the music’s flow. The Petrarch Sonnets
are blessed with lovely control and a laid-back quality that suits the music admirably. Unfortunately, the musical excellence on display has to be tempered with the same regret over the technical issues that bugged the Chopin disc. Patches of top end distortion are distracting.
To summarise, here we have three fine recitals by one of the country’s finest pianists. It’s a shame that two of the discs are let down by the engineering.
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf