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Firebird: 20th Century Transcriptions for
Piano Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911) Super-Adagietto (transcr.
Yoichi Sugiyama) Intermezzo XIII [10:50] Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971) L’Oiseau de feu
(transcr. Guido Agosti) (Danse infernal du roi Kastcheï [5:28];
Berceuse [3:52]; Finale [4:04]) [13:24] Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) Prélude à l’après-midi
d’un faune, L.86 (transcr. Leonard Borwick) [9:42] Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951) Kammersymphonie No.1 in E,
Op.9 (transcr. Eduard Steuermann) [25:07]
Aki Kuroda (piano)
rec. 21-23 September, 30 September–1 October 2013, Odradek Studios. ODRADEK ODRCD312 [59:03]
The first item here is Yoichi Sugiyama’s version
of Mahler’s Adagietto from the Fifth Symphony, especially transcribed
for this recording. Considerable pianistic virtuosity is required and
this is available in abundance from Aki Kuroda, but she also seems able
to provide real delicacy where needed. The transcription/arrangement,
now entitled Super-Adagietto is a reworking by a composer of
today of a piece over a century old prepared in terms of the possibilities
available on a modern piano. In other words a new work is presented
here. I am reminded that Mahler’s original would have sounded very different
at its premiere from performances we hear today. Conductors nowadays
give a sense of sadness and tragedy, perhaps influenced by the Visconti
film Death in Venice of 1971 for which this Mahler movement provided
the soundtrack. In fact it was written as a love letter to Alma Schindler.
In this new arrangement we have yet another experience but I must say
that to me it is a superficial one compared with Mahler’s original,
as its new title rather suggests.
The Infernal Dance from Guido Agosti’s transcription of Stravinsky’s
Firebird is a fairly colourful arrangement. That said, I felt
that although Kuroda provides energy in abundance in Kastcheï’s Dance,
she needed to maintain a tighter grip on the pulse. This should be absolutely
regular to achieve the ferocious and frightening quality of the original.
Here the pianistic complexity seems to get in the way of a real sense
of dynamic rhythm. She fares better in the Berceuse which is
sensitively played but I felt a lack of an overall grasp of the structure
and shape of the music and the contours of the melody. The Finale
is effective enough and the transcription is full of pianistic colour
but in the slower sections the piano cannot sustain the long notes as
the orchestral instruments can. Once again the approach to climaxes
sometimes seem ineffectual, with long pauses and delays preventing a
natural flow; for example, at the crescendo in the final bar.
Maybe I am just biased because I heard Stravinsky conduct the Firebird
Suite live in his final concert in London. I always thought he was
a fine conductor: there was nothing flowery or meandering about his
performances, just precision and detail, and above all seemingly perfect
tempi and a totally tight pulse, which made for thrilling climaxes.
Agosti’s flowery arrangement here gives great scope for pianistic virtuosity
and colour, but ultimately the piano’s lack of sustaining power leaves
one longing for Stravinsky’s original.
Aki Kuroda has a true feeling for the ebb and flow of Debussy’s music,
as can be heard from her sensitive performance of Leonard Borwick’s
straightforward transcription of Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune.
Of the transcriptions here, this was the most effective and convincing.
Debussy’s style suits Kuroda perfectly, and, much as I know and
love the colours of Debussy’s original, Borwick’s transcription allowed
me temporarily to forget the orchestral version. It's an effective piece,
apart from the long sustained first note that we are accustomed to hearing
played on the flute; it dies away uncomfortably soon on the piano.
Finally we hear a performance of Eduard Steuermann’s version of Schoenberg’s
Chamber Symphony No.1. This transcription is of historical interest
because Steuermann was a colleague of Schoenberg and gave first performances
of much of that composer’s piano music. Kuroda gives a very fine performance
and has a firm grasp of the overall structure of the four movements
of the work which, as in Liszt’s Sonata, are joined. She also pays very
close attention to detail and balance. The first movement builds to
a magnificent climax and Kuroda copes admirably with all the pianistic
hurdles. She moves convincingly among the constantly fluctuating tempi.
The original version is scored for fifteen different solo instruments
and this allows for great clarity in the texture — very necessary in
Schoenberg’s music. Even though there is only one instrument involved
here clarity is achieved by the pianist and the recording engineers.
This is very interesting and enterprising — a disc well worth hearing.
The piano playing and recording are both excellent. I have mentioned
the fine qualities of Odradek in previous reviews but I should like
to add to those positive features the excellent programme notes and
beautifully presented packaging here and in the other discs I have received.