Phoenix Classics PH99508
Phoenix Classics PH99508

CD Reviews: Piano Suite in D minor

Piano Suite in D minor op.91
Julius Reubke: Piano Sonata in B flat minor

Andrea Carnevali, piano
Phoenix Classics PH 99508 2003 DDD 74:25

The complete cycle of Raff's piano suites from AK Coburg is well under way, but has yet to reach perhaps the grandest of the seven works - the D minor Suite op.91. It must be galling to have Italian label Phoenix Classics pip them to the post, offering an interesting coupling of the work with the Lisztian Piano Sonata of Raff's younger contemporary, Reubke. Andrea Carnevali is making his recording début with this disk, and one can only applaud his courage in doing so by taking on these two giant works of the piano repertoire. Substantial virtuosity and stamina are demanded of the pianist in both pieces.

The four movement D minor Suite has been recorded twice before. In 1971 Adrian Ruiz's barnstorming performance appeared on a pioneering Genesis LP, but the recording has not been transferred to CD. In 1990, Morton Estrin coupled the work with, of all things, some Scriabin Etudes for his Newport Classics CD, which still turns up in remainder bins. Ruiz takes only 37:17 and Estrin comes in at 40:39, wheras Carnevali needs a whopping 43:08 to complete the four movements. Speed, of itself, signifies little but there's no denying that Raff generally benefits from a brisk approach. Perhaps the newcomer offers us perspectives on this great edifice, which are only revealed by a more measured approach?

Certainly not in the opening Fantasia e Fuga. Carnevali takes almost a third longer than Ruiz (13:31 against 10:39 - Estrin: 11:39) and as a result the dynamic tension is lost, the momemtum dissipated. Carnevali's deliberate tempi and four square phrasing do lend it a certain monumental grandeur, and his apparant interpretation of Fantasia as implying a series of episodic musings interrupted by much faster interludes might hold some water, were it not for the evidence of Ruiz's, and to a large degree Estrin's performances. There, the dynamic contrast is subtler and more effective, the familiar Raff propulsive urgency is maintained, and the movement looses the heavyness which it has in Carnevali's hands. The fugue in particular is a pedestrian affair.

Listen to an audio extract The extract is from the middle of the first movement [2:39]. Compare this with the same passage in the LP performance by the Adrian Ruiz Listen to an audio extract [2:15].

He is much better in the Giga con variazioni second movement, though still heavier than Ruiz. There is more playfulness than in Estrin's rather sober set of variations and this is particularly true as the movement progresses. Carnevali seems less inhibited here than elsewhere, and he has a real feel for the ever varying timbres. There's also nothing much between any of the rivals when it comes to the delicious Cavatina - Ruiz glories in the melody but is rather slight, wheras Carnevali, after a ponderous opening, finds real drama in the movement. Estrin is somewhere in between.

Unfortunately, the coruscating Marcia finale is a heavy booted affair from Carnevali. What was he thinking of? This is deadly dull stuff. To be fair, he does pick up the tempo towards the close, but the damage has been done - gone are Estrin's fireworks, Ruiz's springy step. Again, compare the timings: 8:15 against 6:25 from Ruiz and 6:48 from Estrin.

Listen to an audio extract The extract is from the end of the finale [2:59]. Listen to how it compares with the same passage from Adrian Ruiz Listen to an audio extract [2:25].

It's pretty much the same tale for Reubke's dense and heroic Piano Sonata. Carnevali's two significant competitors (Guillou on Dorian and Patuzzi on Dynamic) both manage to convey the piece's massive architecture without being turgid, often demonstrating a contrasting lightness of touch which is quite absent here.

The CD trumpets that it's a "4D" audio recording made in 96 kHZ 24 bit sound, and its a fine, bright acoustic, with plenty of depth. The piano is nonetheless placed well forward, and this unfortunately emphasises Carnevalli's rather leaden playing. The insert notes, in Italian and English, are more than adequate.

Zolotarev's account for AK Coburg of the D minor Suite should be available in a few months - I'd wait for that.

Mark Thomas

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