Please try this at home
Haydn: Piano Sonatas Nos. 29, 31, 34, 35 and 49
Emanuel Ax, piano (Sony Classical)
Third in Ax’s ongoing series of Haydn sonatas, this disc includes the frequently encountered Sonata No. 31 -- without whose introspection and harmonic explorations Beethoven’s music might not have been possible -- and four less familiar works, including two sonatas written for amateurs. There are surprises aplenty, not the least of which is the technical arsenal the player must draw upon. Ax lives up to the demands with great liveliness, following the composer’s free play of imagination into sophisticated byways and unexpected directions. There is only so much he can do with the works aimed for amateurs, however, which even more than the others were designed to charm and entertain without putting undue strain upon technical ability. Ax makes sure they do charm and entertain, unfailingly in No. 34, less so in No. 35.
-- Chris Pasles
a la Strauss
Benjamin Luxon, speaker; Frederick Moyer, piano (JRI)
Michael York, speaker; John Bell Young, piano (Americus)
Here is one of the more peculiar rarities in the Strauss corpus, a sprawling accompaniment to Alfred Lord Tennyson’s melodrama about a young man, presumably lost at sea, who returns home many years later to find his wife remarried to his childhood friend. Strauss himself disowned the thing -- and though his contribution has plenty of the grand rhetoric of his tone poems, there isn’t very much music in between and underneath the long-winded stretches of narration.
Remarkably, two small labels are competing with new recordings of “Enoch Arden” at the same time, each with differing approaches to all that talk. York’s intimate, conversational telling of the tale works far better on a recording than baritone-turned-speaker Luxon’s stentorian, overly melodramatic, overly reverberant orations -- and Young’s playing is freer in manner.
While York/Young make several cuts in the text (Luxon/Moyer is a handful of words short of complete), their CD includes a full transcript of the poem, plus Young’s informative, hyper-enthusiastic liner notes.
-- Richard S. Ginell
Minimalism in a childlike guise
David Lang: “Child”
Sentieri Selvaggi (Canteloupe)
Minimalism is not necessarily a dead or even stale issue when afforded an inspired and fresh approach. David Lang’s beguiling 1999 chamber ensemble piece, “Child,” for instance, abides by the M-word’s legendary power of the pulse and its gradually evolving, repetitive textures, especially in the first three of the work’s five movements.
The last two sections, “Stick Figure” and “Little Eyes,” become more open and spacious, ending on a pensively airy note. In the more kinetic movements, key tones -- sometimes verging into dissonance -- yammer like strobe lights in sound. The effect reflects the haunting fragmentation of childhood memories, a running theme here.
Boldly realized on this recording by the young Italian ensemble Sentieri Selvaggi, “Child” snakes its intriguing way over varied emotional turf, with melancholic irresolution in the mix. Sheer musical energy and spiritual inquiry hover over the proceedings.
-- Josef Woodard