Notes and Editorial Reviews
Seven Variations on a Theme by Rossini. Valses-Caprices d’aprés Schubert. Li Marinari. R.W. Venezia. La Lugubre Gondola. Aprés une lecture de Dante. Fantasia quasi Sonata.
Sonata for Madame. Liebestod
Une caresse a ma femme. Valse Lugubre
Silke Avenhaus (pn)
AVI 8553262 (70:03)
Historians of musical
performance, at least those inclined to cultivating a popular following, are fond of conjuring so-called “golden ages.” Personally, I love historical recordings, and there is no doubt that our musical culture is incalculably enhanced by the legacy of, well, you name them; Horowitz, Callas, Toscanini, Björling, Ferrier, Schnabel, Casals, and so on. But the level of musicianship is, in reality, so high today that it would not be unreasonable to say that we are in the midst of a golden age. You can certainly experience it if you regularly attend recitals at a top music school (my local outlet is the Curtis Institute of Music). The degree of polish, ardor, and sophistication is astonishing and seemingly endless.
And then there is the world of recorded music, where an embarrassment of riches, greatly abetted by digital technology, exceeds anything I have experienced in my nearly half century of collecting. These thoughts occurred as I listened to the wonderful pianism of Silke Avenhaus, a young German pianist who plays with a combination of effortless technique, gorgeous tonality, and dramatically shaped phrasing. I might as well be describing a recording by Josef Hofmann from the 1930s! This is a “concept” album, designed by Avenhaus as a digitalized version of a 19th-century salon. The music is not played in the order listed in the headnote above (although I have preserved Avenhaus’s quirky mix of translations in the titles). Rather, it is programmed to reflect the relationships between the composers, especially the famous one between Liszt and Wagner, and also references to other composers and literary figures. The flow of music is managed so well that it is easy to forget which composer is being presented or who is being treated to an homage. I especially enjoyed the range of dramatic impact, from the purple exoticism of Wagner’s
to the playful charm of Rossini’s
Sins of Old Age
, with plenty in between.
Okay, so Avenhaus is not Hofmann reincarnated. Hofmann is on any piano aficionado’s short list of the great ones, and his colleague Rachmaninoff considered him to be the greatest pianist he had ever heard. But he could also be erratic, and prone to mannerisms. Avenhaus shows no inclinations to those defects. Her playing is never showy, and might even be described as a bit dreamy, as the music calls for such an approach. Tempos are deliberate, even conversational, as befits the theatrical nature of this undertaking. She has tremendous control of weight and tonality, allowing for exquisitely shaped phrases (the conclusion of
is especially magnificent). Her sforzandos are plush, never bangy.
In short, this is a stand-out release in any number of respects; imaginative programming, excellent production values including interesting notes and sumptuous recorded sound, and most importantly, completely captivating piano playing. Can you go wrong? I think not.
FANFARE: Peter Burwasser
Works on This Recording
R. W. - Venezia, S 201 by Franz Liszt
Silke Avenhaus (Piano)
Written: 1883; Rome, Italy
Date of Recording: 11/2011
Venue: Studio 2, BR München, Germany
Length: 3 Minutes 1 Secs.
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