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Macdowell, Hindemith: Piano Sonatas / Randell

Release Date: 09/08/2009 
Label:  Lyrita   Catalog #: 2110   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Edward MacDowellPaul Hindemith
Performer:  Sheila Randell
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Mono 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MACDOWELL Sonatas: No. 1, “Tragica”; No. 4, “Keltic.” HINDEMITH Tanzstücke, op. 19. Sonatas: No. 2: No. 3 Sheila Randell (pn) LYRITA 2110, mono (2 CDs: 87:43)

Strange bedfellows! The Hindemith and MacDowell sonatas have almost nothing in common beyond instrument and title. MacDowell is Read more grandly Romantic, expansive, picturesque, and filled with extraneous flourishes; Hindemith is harmonically sec , tightly structured, and dense, yet with not a note to spare. If MacDowell is a vast, unspoiled landscape, Hindemith is a busy, churning metropolis.

MacDowell’s sonatas, with their giant, over-the-top moments, demand not only an enormous technique, but also a cataclysmic Romantic vision and the ability to express it; Van Cliburn would have been their ideal interpreter. Unfortunately, neither he nor any of the famous virtuosos chose to record them; whether they were thought to be “beneath one’s dignity” we will never know. More likely, MacDowell’s scores never came to their attention. They have been recorded by several pianists just below the top rank: James Tocco, Alan Mandel, and—one who deserves to be among the elite—Constance Keene. Randell is inconsistent; there are moments when she blows us away, but also places where she sounds insecure, in mind even more than fingers. When the final Allegro eroica of the “Tragica” slows to muse amid the thunderclaps, she fails to convince us that it is MacDowell who is taking a break. Nevertheless, Randell’s heart is in the right place; we feel that she understands and sympathizes with this music, and wants to do it proud. Intentions that come across in a recording count for much.

At first, Randell sounds less comfortable with Hindemith, meting out notes without grasping their meaning. Tanzstücke is more than mere exercises; where is its humor, its sarcasm, its charm? She flails away to great digital effect, but for naught. The Second Sonata is played like the MacDowells; apt, brilliantly executed passages vie with clueless moments. Again, a certain bravado makes do in the climaxes, but a sense of continuity is wanting. Then, in the Third Sonata, Randell brings it all together, fully and consistently capturing the Hindemith ethos. Her third movement, Mässig schnell (Heavy, measured pace?), is stunningly realized, as is the final fugue. In these two movements, Randell matches my favorite Hindemith pianist, Hans Permandl. She is abetted by a superb instrument, consistently solid and ringing, from bottom to top, and by marvelous—even though monaural—analog recordings, made in the summer of 1958 and resounding like that era’s great stereo LPs of audiophile fame. Perhaps the era also affected the artist’s attitude toward the music: Hindemith was then in full favor, and MacDowell’s light has flickered out over the past half century.

This seems to be the first issue of these performances in any medium. Lyrita follows an annoying British tradition by telling us nothing about its artist; I know about Hindemith and MacDowell; I would like to learn something about Sheila Randell, but the Internet turns up only sites that want to sell me these CDs. As my favorites in both these repertoires have slid from availability, and as this is a two-for-the-price-of-one issue, I recommend this set highly.

FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Piano no 1 in G minor, Op. 45 "Tragica" by Edward MacDowell
Performer:  Sheila Randell (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1891-1892; USA 
Sonata for Piano no 4 in E minor, Op. 59 "Keltic" by Edward MacDowell
Performer:  Sheila Randell (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1900; USA 
Dance Pieces for Piano, Op. 19 by Paul Hindemith
Performer:  Sheila Randell (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1922; Germany 
Sonatas (3) for Piano: no 2 in G major by Paul Hindemith
Performer:  Sheila Randell (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1936; Germany 
Sonatas (3) for Piano: no 3 in B flat major by Paul Hindemith
Performer:  Sheila Randell (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1936; Germany 

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