Although I possess only seven albums from Altarus, I rate it as one of the best recording labels for several reasons. The sound quality is crisp, clear, and fresh, regardless whether the music is bombastically loud or a sister to silence. Their selection, though by no means extensive, has pioneered the rediscovery of many twentieth century composers such as Busoni, Sorabji, and others only on the fringes of reacceptance. Of great importance to me, the sleeve notes are thorough, presenting not only commentary and narrative descriptions of the works included, but history on the composers, performers, and the impetus behind each work, as well as numerous pictures and diagrams to better illustrate the selections. My only complaint is that the track times are not listen.
Music for two pianos and piano duet
Pianos: Joseph Banowetz and Ronald StevensonTrack Listing:
Ferruccio Busoni was clearly one of the masters of Piano music of the twentieth century, and this album brings together many of his original works and transcriptions for piano duet. It is a delight to hear Stevenson partaking in the interpretation, as he has been one of the main forces behind returning Busoni's oeuvre to the standard concert repetoire. He and Banowetz bring power and clarity to the Fantasia Contrappuntistica, a prophetic recasting and completion of the final incomplete fuge from Bach's The Art of Fugue. This work alone makes the album a worthy purchase, but the other pieces that share this titan are equally delightful, and are brought to life with verve and wit. One will find themselves prancing along until the final bas of this album come to a delightful close.
Soprano: Sarah Leonard
In Memoriam John Ogdon
Organ: Kevin Bowyer
Piano: John OgdonTrack Listing:
This two CD set celebrating the life and work of British pianist John Ogdon clearly demonstrates the great impact he has had on the musical life of the United Kingdom in this last half century. With several premier recordings, including the delicious Hinton PansophiŠ, melts from ones stereo, as if this was the only way these pieces should be played. The organ works resonate with sullen drama, though they are perhaps a bit too quiet at times, a drama that Bowyer finds easy to supply. The piano works bristle with Ogdon's ferocious energy, charm, and as Stevenson put it, "the fire of Prometheus and the stillness of dawn". The last selection is a work by Ogdon himself, and it clearly demonstrates why he will be remembered as one of the greatest pianists of our time.
Ignacy Jan Paderewski
Piano Works Vol. 2
Piano: Adam WodnickiTrack Listing:
This collection brings together some of the most famous of Paderewski's pianistic oevure (like the Menuet in G), with their companions pieces, as well as one of his most powerfully evocative statements that has been unjustly neglected. This latter of course being the final selection on this disc, the Variations and Fugue in Eb Minor. Standing nearly at thirty minutes in length, this titan brings to close a very delightful collection of music. From the versatile and whimsical minitures to the drama that pervades the Variations, Adam Wodnicki provide just the necessary force in his execution to bring across the meaning without being overbearing. He also displays all the charm that is required in the minitures to bring to life the nineteenth century atmosphere they preserve. Like Chopin, Paderewski conveys much of Poland in his music, though he speaks with a voice drawing the Romantic era to a close, whereas Chopin brought it into the light. A delicious CD for any lover of piano music, with high praise for the marvellous Variations.
Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji
Piano: Donna AmatoTrack Listing:
The music on this CD demonstrates many of Sorabji's typical tendencies, except for one glaring ommission. None of the works on this disc invoke the Passacaglia form, of which Sorabji was quite fond. That said, this is a very solid selection of works, played with determination by Donna Amato, a champion of Sorabji's music. For those unfamiliar with Sorabji, this is not the best place to begin as the music is very dense and the structure is hard to isolate. The first two pieces are actually based upon ghost stories by M.R. James, and with repeated listenings, one can feel the narrative sweep them along in the ancient Victorian horror. A very good supplement to even a modest Sorabji collection.
Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji
Toccata No. 1
Piano: Jonathan PowellTrack Listing:
Sorabji's seventy minute Toccata No. 1 represents two distinct things in his oeuvre. First, its structure of Prelude - Passacaglia - Fugue became the basis for many of his larger scale works that would follow in the years to come (including the famous Opus Clavicembalisticum). Secondly, it stands as the foremost example of Sorabji's brief flirtation with more simpler modes of expression. The opening Preludio corale maintains a quaver pulse throughout, and the melody, such as it is, is quite easy to follow through its course and subsequent development. And the opening melody returns almost unaltered at the beginning of each new section, giving the piece a very firm structural foundation. Sometimes, it can become easy to get lost if one is not paying close attention, but this is by far the most easily accessible piece of Sorabji's that I have to date had the pleasure of hearing.
Piano: Ronald StevensonTrack Listing:
It is a pity that we do not have the luxury of hearing the nineteenth century piano masters performing their own works. So it is a delight to see a twentieth century master performing some of their most pivotal works, as in the case with Scottish composer Ronald Stevenson, and most especially the monumental Passacaglia on DSCH. Dedicated to Dmitri Shostakovich, this eighty minute magnum opus uses the initials from the German spelling of Shostakovich as its entire basis. Variation after variation is spilled from this small cell, employing techniques of piano playing from every corner of the globe. At one point, Stevenson manages to give the impression their is a tympani section accompanying him by clever use of the pedals! Other pianists have recorded this work, but Stevenson brings to it a romantic spirit that truly captures his intent in every note. The other selections on this album are equally pleasing, demonstrating the firm grasp of pianism that Stevenson has attained in his many years as a composer and pianist. I can say without reservation that Stevenson is Scotland's greatest pianist, and this disc only proves that. These selections deserve wider recognition than they have received so far. The Passacaglia stands as a monument for future composers to aspire to.
Piano: Donna AmatoTrack Listing:
With the exception of the Beltane Bonfire, all the works on this CD are indebted to the works of Norwegian master Edvard Grieg. The seminal work on this CD is the Hinton Variations. Indeed, they take up the space of sixty minutes. Composed over the course of eight years, it represents a tower of pianism, capturing the melancholy spirit of the Grieg theme, as well as occasional references to other works by Grieg (such as the opening to the Piano Concerto). The works maintains its vitality throughout, never failing to both surprise and delight the listener. I have had the distinct privelege of trading emails with Mr. Hinton himself, and have offered him my congratulations on such a fine piece as this, and my sincerest hope that more music of his will be recorded soon. While I lack the finesse to encourage him as Sorabji did by writing his malicious and perverse variation on the Grieg theme (the title is very apt for this delightful miniature!), I hope my full-throated recommendation of this CD will suffice.
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