Notes and Editorial Reviews
Opera Fantasies and Paraphrases
Rosemary Tuck (pn)
NAXOS 8.572774 (78: 13)
William Wallace is known, if at all, for having composed the opera
, and this disc includes his Grand Fantasy on themes from that work, as well as fantasies and paraphrases based on
La traviata, La sonnambula, Lucia di Lammermoor, L’elisir d’amore, Rigoletto, Lurline
(also by Wallace)
style="font-style:italic">, Don Pasquale, Nabucco
(by Halévy). The
fantasies require another set of hands (
is for piano four-hands,
for two pianos), and Richard Bonynge joins Tuck in those two works.
The disc is enormous fun. Tuck, an Australian pianist, has the technique and flair for this kind of thing, and it is extremely enjoyable to hear tunes that are old favorites in new garb. Wallace (1812–65) may not have had the harmonic and contrapuntal imagination and originality of Liszt, but he knew how to write for the piano and how to capture the essence of these melodies while making the music pianistically idiomatic and interesting.
There is an inherent problem for performers of all operatic keyboard transcriptions. How much do you try to retain the shape of the original vocal writing and how strongly can you focus on the keyboard aspects of the transcription? For the most part Tuck manages the balance well, though in the
Fantasy I feel some distance between what she is playing and Verdi’s melodies. I remember many years ago talking with the great romantic pianist Raymond Lewenthal about playing transcriptions, and his stressing the importance of the pianist knowing and loving the opera, and thinking of the words and the shape of the line of the original while adapting to the keyboard. The
(which is of the famous chorus
) seem not quite comfortable in these performances, rather like ill-fitting clothes. But for some reason, Tuck seems to do better with the others, and even in those two one still takes pleasure in the transcriptions and in the playing. Where Bonynge’s help is needed, it is appropriately and comfortably provided. The piano sound is a bit hard and clattery—not seriously so, but enough to note. Peter Jaggard’s notes are very informative about Wallace and these transcriptions, but not at all helpful in terms of helping us know something about those operas with which we are not familiar. Halévy’s
is not, for instance, about a dessert; the title means “the lightning strike,” and it is a comic opera.
I got a great deal of pleasure from this disc, and recommend it to those who love opera and/or the piano, and enjoy out-of-the-way repertoire.
FANFARE: Henry Fogel
Over the last decade, Australian pianist, Rosemary Tuck, has formed a comfortable liaison with this composer. Two previous piano discs on Cala focused on Celtic folk songs and fantasies arranged by Wallace (Cala CACD88042) and original Wallace compositions composed in London and America (Cala CACD88044). Next year will be Wallace’s bi-centenary and so the present Wallace release is timely.
This disc focuses on arrangements Wallace wrote for the operas that reached American shores whilst he was resident there in the 1850s.
Since Wallace himself was a competent virtuoso pianist (as well as violinist) he developed a flamboyant style that is well-captured in Rosemary Tuck’s accomplished playing. Assertive and energetic readings of forte passages are nicely contrasted with delicate and crisp articulation of fine detail in pianissimo sections. Her handling of intricate filigree and dynamics is a delight to the ear. Wallace would have included these pieces to demonstrate virtuoso keyboard skills during his recitals whilst touring in America.
The composer’s skill at interweaving motifs of well-known operas produces enjoyable results: his arrangements with decoration make engaging listening. The five fantasies to me are superb: not only do they radiate colourful texture but include those melodies by which most of us would have chosen to represent the operas concerned. The relaxed, yet majestic,
L’Elisir d’Amore is sumptuous and has a particularly balletic elegance in this interpretation. It is good to see that Rosemary Tuck has joined forces with Richard Bonynge, perhaps the world’s most notable authority on Wallace the composer. They clearly work ideally as a team.
An interesting piece is the
Night Winds from Wallace’s opera
Lurline (Naxos 8.660293-94 - see
review), as it was published in sheet-music form fifteen years before the opera was heard by the public. Perhaps the least inventive is the
Nabucco Hebrew Slaves piece: it is a straightforward transcription lacking the engaging flamboyance of the other pieces. A rarity is hearing something from Halévy’s
, a lovely arrangement with variations that combines a romantic dreamy innocence with overtones of pathos.
The pianos are placed at a medium distance where intricate detail and attack is still clear and yet is balanced by a generous bloom and warmth of tone provided by the reverberation. This is particularly noticed during the opening section of the
Fantaisie de Salon sur l’opéra La Sonnambula (tr 3) and is a credit to Phil Rowlands’ technique.
Peter Jaggard’s notes in English give us interesting background and put the pieces in useful context. It is interesting to find that the four-handed versions were written principally for his second wife who would have joined him in his engagements.
-- Raymond J Walker, MusicWeb International
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