Tag Archives: Liszt

Keyed-Up series



Raymond Yong (piano)

Callaway Auditorium

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Few composers are as demanding on musicians as Mozart. The tiniest misjudgement in passagework, the smallest lapse in clarity can prove disastrous. Happily, Raymond Yong succeeded in steering the clearest and most musicianly way through the solo part of Mozart’s Concerto in A, K414 ensuring, seemingly effortlessly, that the peak of the afternoon lay securely in the keeping of the Salzburg master.


It was a rarely encountered version of the work, with the orchestra here replaced by a string quartet, an alternative mooted by Mozart himself. Here, with his customary distinction, Paul Wright led a quartet made up of Isabel Hede (violin), Jared Yap (viola) and Sophie Parkinson-Stewart (cello).


If this had been Yong’s only contribution to the afternoon, it would have been an altogether fulfilling experience, such were the precision, fluency and expressive insights brought to bear on the score. Raymond Yong


Later, we heard Liszt’s massive Sonata in B minor, a work which is

no-man’s-land to all but the very few pianists able to meet its formidable challenges, not least of which is substantial staying power to maintain momentum through its frequently gruelling episodes. In its half-hour course, Liszt’s work poses immense physical and stylistic challenges that can test the mettle of the most experienced of pianists. From every standpoint, however, Yong was clearly in control. It was an heroic effort, crowned with success in a way that augurs well for a solo career of distinction. There was no hint of strain at all, despite the massive demands the sonata makes on the performer.


A bracket of the first eight of Chopin’s 24 Preludes opus 28 was less uniformly persuasive. The first, in C, barely hinted at the composer’s requirement that it be played agitato. No 5 in D sounded rather bland. But the famous Prelude in E minor was a beautifully considered offering, an essay in melancholy. The Prelude in F sharp minor, too, could hardly have been bettered, its fiercely demanding, very rapid figurations in the right hand despatched with utmost agility and accuracy.


As encore, Yong played Schubert’s Impromptu in G flat, its serenity a perfect foil to the passionate grandeur of the Liszt Sonata.

The Great Pianists



Shura Cherkassky / Leopold Godowsky

Dal Segno DSPRC D051

TPT: 60’10”

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Shura Cherkassky is in his element here. A master of pianistic fantasy,  he,  Midas-like, transforms everything he touches into musical gold. Not the least of the wonders of this offering is the fact that, despite his pianism sounding like that of a mature, arrived master, Cherkassky was still a teenager when making these piano rolls. I cannot too highly praise his playing.


Listen, for instance, to his account of Tchaikowsky’s Song without Words, a miniature routinely murdered by legions of earnest, untalented school girls and boys. Here, its oh-so-hackneyed measures flash into enchanting life.


Rachmaninov’s Polka de W.R, too, with its magical lift to the phrase, seduces the ear as does Liszt’s Rigoletto Paraphrase, where astounding fleetness of finger, perfectly finished, rippling arabesques and wondrous tonal colourings make this fiendishly difficult work sound ridiculously easy.


Cherkassky’s name is frequently spelled incorrectly as Cherkassy!


Leopold Godowsky is in another class; his playing had an emotional depth that Cherkassky never reached. He gives a wondrous account of Mozkowski’s Polonaise in D in playing that is informed by a superb hauteur. From the opening fanfare-type flourishes, it is clear we are in the presence of a master although his rubato sounds excessive to early 21st-century tastes. Schumann’s Traumerei, too, is mined for every subtlety in a reading that points up detail after exquisite detail, fascinating listening despite now-quaint-sounding rubato.


Godowsky is in wonderful form in Henselt’s little Lullaby with a glorious right hand melody that would surely tempt the grumpiest bird from a twig. This and the same composer’s La Gondola are so beautifully essayed that, at least for the duration of the playing, we forget what cheap stuff it is. Godowsky’s rhythmic liberties in Chopin’s Three Ecossaises sound mannered but his account of Ballade in G minor is frankly thrilling. Here, Godowsky reaches for the stars, building up to magnificent climaxes with a brilliance that takes the breath away – and ascending octave passages at a speed that would have had other virtuosos nervously looking to their laurels. At its most powerful, the playing is incandescently persuasive.

Stephanie McCallum (piano)




Octagon Theatre



reviewed by Neville Cohn





It would be unreasonable and manifestly unfair to expect an absolutely unwavering standard of excellence from any musician, even the most experienced and committed. In the nature of things, any performer can have an off-day. And this an overriding impression of Stephanie McCallum’s recital in UWA’s Keyed-Up recital series at the weekend.


Let it be said at once that Ms McCallum is one of the brightest and most enduring stars on the Australia’s fine music scene. She has numbers of well-received compact discs and a formidable list of live concert successes to her credit.


McCallum’s program for the Keyed-Up series incorporated the complete set of Beethoven’s Bagatelles opus 33 which she recently committed to compact disc – and it was one of the most positive highlights of the evening, with care lavished on minute detail. These seven miniatures, lovingly fashioned, came across like a chaplet of finely facetted gemstones.


I particularly liked Roger Smalley’s Morceau de concours. In McCallum’s hands, it came across as one of the composer’s more approachable offerings, a study in tonal levels, with an abundance of subtle sonic shifts and much trilling – a technically formidable piece which was commissioned as a compulsory item for those taking part in a recent Sydney International Piano Competition.


Schumann’s Fantasie in C, one of the composer’s most passionate utterances, was given a frankly disappointing, very uneven, performance with scatterings of inaccuracies and moments when momentum faltered as the soloist, playing from the score, seemed to be searching for notes.


In Liszt’s Ballade No 2, too, McCallum’s performance was marred at times by a less-than-total engagement with the music, with error-strewn moments that lay cheek by jowl with episodes in which there was a thrillingly virtuosic identification with the score. Yet more Liszt was no less uneven. Wilde Jagd is not for timid pianists and, on past form, one would have expected McCallum to take its hurdles in her stride but, as in the Ballade, the playing was uneven.

GREAT PIANISTS Vladimir Horowitz (piano)

Scarlatti, Haydn, Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, Rimsky Korsakov, Debussy, Stravinsky, Poulenc

NAXOS 8.110606
TPT 1:17:31

 reviewed by Neville Cohn

In this centenary year of pianist Vladimir Horowitz’s birth in 1903, a flood of re-issues of recordings he made over a long career brings to a new generation of listeners the idiosyncratic virtuosity of a musician whose artistry captured the imagination of millions. This is yet another fascinating compilation in Naxos’ admirable CD series devoted to resurrected recordings made by great pianists mainly during the first half of the 20th century.

For sheer digital brilliance and phenomenal left-hand power and authority, Horowitz was virtually without peer, as is abundantly evident in these performances recorded between 1932 and 1934 when at the peak of his formidable form.

Some may take issue with his over-romanticised treatment of two Scarlatti sonatas. But few, surely, would fail to thrill to his near-incredible finger facility, especially in relation to his trademark, machinegun-rapid repeated notes and wondrous glowing tone in the Sonata in G, L487. And in Haydn’s Sonata in E flat major, Hob XVI/52, the sort of music that could at times suffer from overly flamboyant treatment at the hands of the Russian-born virtuoso, is here enchanting. The outer movements bristle with vitality but very much in context in stylistic terms ­ there is no lapse into vulgarity here; it is the
essence of good taste, musicmaking that, even in repose, fully engages the attention, as does his account of Schumann’s Arabesque, masterly in its simplicity of presentation, and capable, surely, of melting the iciest heart.

Nowadays, keyboard athletes in Olympian form are ten a penny, all of them endeavouring to emulate the great Vladimir. But, digitally agile though they may be, there is little to distinguish one from the next. Frequently, there is a conveyor-belt- sameness about their presentations that make it difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish one from another. Not so this extraordinary pianistic wizard. In the athletic stakes, he could hold his own against any comers but his instantly recognisable keyboard style marks his offerings instantly and memorably. Is there a pianist alive who could so effectively mine Chopin’s Etude in C sharp minor from opus 10 for its savage grandeur as does Horowitz? Or bring to Danse Russe from Stravinsky’s Petrouchka such sizzling energy and accuracy at top speed?

Horowitz is not often thought of in relation to the music of Debussy or Poulenc. But when he turned his attentions to these French masters, the results could be extraordinary. Listen to the exceptional clarity and control of arpeggionated figures – and subtle pianissimo shadings – in Debussy’s ferociously tricky Etude XI. Listen to Poulenc’s Pastourelle as it caresses the ear ­ as well as Poulenc’s Toccata. In Horowitz’s hands, it flashes into fantastically energetic and nimble life, as does Rachmaninov’s arrangement of Rimsky Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee.

Oceans of ink have been spilled extolling the merits of Horowitz’s 1932 recording of Liszt’s Sonata in B minor. Here, words seem superfluous in this landmark performance in which music so eloquently picks up the thread that language drops.