Tag Archives: Piano Sonata



Panayiotis Demopoulos (piano)

Diversions ddv24142

TTP: 58:00

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Liszt: Nuages gris; La lugubre gondola 1; Unstern; Vallee d’Obermann

Beethoven: Piano Sonata No 30 in E, opus 109

Demopoulos: Terakyts for solo piano


Photo Credit: P.Demopoulos/Divine Art



I have long ago lost count of the number of performances – both live and recorded – I have listened to of Beethoven’s Sonata in E, opus 109. Many of them have been presentations of sterling worth, not least the recording Dame Myra Hess, late in life, put down on  HMV 78rpm discs. Even though she was by then past her prime, the chief joy of that long-ago performance was the poetic quality that suffused so much of the recording.


Panayiotis Demopoulos’ account calls that of Dame Myra to mind; its first movement, too, often has a poetic, extemporaneous quality that lifts it into a high category of excellence. With notes clothed in golden tone, dramatic outbursts and lyrical contemplation are finely contrasted. Certainly, the sensitivity with which Demopoulos employs rubato here is exemplary. And the toughly assertive manner and unflagging momentum that informs the prestissimo movement comes across impressively.


In the first of the variations which comprise the finale, Demopoulos maintains a sense of onward momentum at very slow speed; it’s a remarkable feat of musicianship. In Variation 2, staccato notes, like winking lights, call pointillism to mind. Nimble, sure fingers make light of the difficulties posed by Variation 3. Calmly reflective playing in Variation 4 gives way to impeccable contrapuntal, bright-toned playing. And extended, finely spun trills radiate calmness in Variation 6; it’s a tour de force.


Much of the opening movement of opus 109 has a dreamlike, extemporaneous quality and that is even more apparent in much of a bracket of four too-seldom-heard works by Liszt. Because none of these could be thought of as crowd-pleasers as, say, some of the Hungarian Rhapsodies or etudes are, they are seldom aired. More’s the pity because they enshrine some of the composer’s most memorable musical thoughts.


Beautifully controlled tremolo emphasises the bodeful, rather sinister quality of Nuages gris (Grey Clouds) – and the melancholy essence of La lugubre gondola 1 is masterfully evoked. Eerily, a month after Liszt wrote this funeral piece, Richard Wagner (with whom Liszt was staying at the time in Venice) died and was borne from his last home on just such a vessel. Here, too, Demopoulos shapes to the stylistic and physical demands of the music like wine to a goblet. This is equally apparent in  Unstern (Evil Star) in which insistent, imperious, stark utterances call Liszt’s much better known Funerailles to mind. Demopoulos clearly identifies with the piano music of Liszt – and no more so than in Vallee d’Obermann. Here, too, Demopoulos plays as if to the manner born, evoking the introspective, desolate, forsaken essence of the music. It is a tour de force.


In Taraktys, we hear Demopoulos as both composer and pianist in the four variations that comprise the work, the first dramatically dense-textured, with darting arabesques and simulation of a tolling bell, the second heavy-toned with massive blocks of tone hurling from the speakers. Variation three is softly dissonant and introspective, the fourth and final variation encompassing delicate arabesques

Noel Mewton-Wood (piano) and various orchestras


The Virtuoso

ABC Classics 476 3390

TPT: 77’18”

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Noel Mewton-Wood

Noel Mewton-Wood

Piano Concerto No 1: Romanza (Chopin); Traumerei (Schumann); Piano Concerto in A minor: allegro affettuoso (Schumann); Petrarch Sonnet No 104;  Piano Concerto No1: andante semplice (Tchaikowsky); Piano Sonata No 1 in C: rondo presto; Piano Concerto No 4: rondo vivace (Beethoven); Piano Concerto: allegro con brio (Bliss); The Heart’s Assurance (Tippett) with Peter Pears (tenor)


This is an important recording which ought to be listened to by anyone with a serious interest in the piano repertoire.


Noel Mewton-Wood’s career was like a blazing comet which, having soared across the heavens, vanished –suddenly and without warning – from the firmament. Mewton-Wood’s suicide – over a lovers’ tiff – when in his early thirties, robbed the world of one of the most articulate and profound pianists ever to place music on record. These nine tracks are a catalogue of keyboard marvels that makes Mewton-Wood’s exit from the scene at so tragically early an age even more poignant.


As a child, at the dawn of the LP era, the writer was given a gift of a second-hand recording featuring Melbourne-born Mewton-Wood as soloist in Tchaikowsky’s Piano Concerto No 2 in G. To this day, the sense of wonder and delight experienced on hearing this prodigious offering is as clearly recalled as if yesterday. I still treasure that now-ancient LP with its pops and crackles a legacy of being played  times without number.


None of this performance features on this recently released CD which brims with other good things, not least wonderfully insightful readings of single movements from concertos by Chopin, Schumann, Beethoven, Tchaikowsky (No 1) and Arthur Bliss. With their frankly stunning insights by a musician of seemingly unlimited potential, this cornucopia of near-peerless offering is a reminder of what a loss the world sustained on Mewton-Wood’s premature death in England. In the Schumann movement, the playing is in turn imperious, tender and virile, every aspect of the music presented with unassailable aesthetic logic.


There’s an astonishing track devoted to the finale from Weber’s Sonata No 1 in C. I listened in astonishment to the sort of breathtaking virtuosity one more usually associates with Horowitz in his prime. It’s a feat of prestidigitation that needs to be heard to be believed. The music, qualitatively wafer-thin, has little inherent worth but the dazzling skill with which it is played makes it, for the duration of the piece, seem infinitely more important than it really is –and it is only a wizard of the keyboard that could cast such a spell.


Again and again, as one listens to these tracks, there is the sad realisation of a blazing flame of genius extinguished prematurely. Liszt’s Petrarch Sonnet No 104 provides a stunning listening experience.


Liner notes by Cyrus Meher-Homji make for fascinating reading.


Hopefully, more of Mewton-Wood’s glittering piano legacy will be made available on CD not only as a reminder to those who have already experienced the magic of this extraordinary musician but to reach out to those who have not yet come upon this glittering musical treasure trove.


In the Chopin track, the musical argument is expounded with a cogency and lucidity that are breathtaking, insights that are beyond criticism in the conventional sense. Recorded sound is excellent. And Mewton-Wood manages, too, to make Bliss’ long-winded and often-vulgar concerto far more approachable than it, in fact, is.


All the works on this CD are mentioned in Sonia Orchard’s novel The Virtuoso.

Pictures at an Exhibition (Mussorgsky)

Pictures at an Exhibition (Mussorgsky)
Scott Davie (piano)


Piano Sonata No 1; Fragments;

Oriental Sketch; Piano Piece in D

minor; Piano Piece in A flat


ABC Classics 476 3166


reviewed by Neville Cohn



Scott Davie provides one of the most satisfying recordings of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition currently available on compact disc. His musicality runs like a silken thread through the performance.

Recorded sound is exceptionally fine – it is in the best sense “real” – allowing the listener to savour Davies’ interpretative probings to the full. There’s not a dull moment in a performance brimming with insights that make even the meanest succession of notes eminently listenable.

The Promenade episodes that dot the score are a case in point. In lesser hands, they can so easily sound routine, even humdrum. Not so here. In turn strident and gentle, they are like fine musical sorbets that provide the aural equivalent of clearing the palate between courses at a sumptuous feast.

If ever there was a work in which the first rate is inspired by the third rate, it is this. Had Mussorgsky not written this work – triggered by drawings and paintings of his friend Victor Hartmann – it is almost certain these quite ordinary efforts would long since have disappeared into history’s rubbish bin. But Mussorgsky’s wonderfully imaginative work – written in homage to his friend who ahd die aged a mere 39 years – ensures that his friend’s lacklustre drawings will be thought of as long as this keyboard masterpiece remains in the standard repertoire.

Consider Davies’ account of Bydlo. How masterfully he suggests – in the most unequivocal of terms – the ponderous, lumbering nature of a ox-drawn wooden cart. The Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks is another gem, its insouciance coming across with featherlight buoyancy. By contrast, Catacombs, with its overlay of a tolling, treble-register bell, has about it an all-encompassing mood of desolation, of sadness beyond sadness.

In the first movement of the Rachmaninov Sonata, Davies marshals its tsunami of notes with remarkable success, giving to this epic utterance a sense of structure that would elude most others game enough to play it. Certainly, the wildness that lies at the heart of much of the first movement is impressively conveyed. Davies, too, manages to make the meretricious note spinning that is the finale sounds far better than it really is.

In a bracket of miniatures, Davies does wonders with Fragments coming across as a hushed essay in wistfulness. And one could hardly imagine a more sympathetic interpreter of the Piano Piece in D minor, its mournful essence judged to a nicety.

Copyright 2006 Neville Cohn