Christina Petrowska Quilico has done music lovers a great service by recording this fascinating collection of twenty-nine “Romantic Gems” choosed from the neglected works of well-known and little-appreciated composers from Franz Liszt to Cyril Scott. While there are many rubies, pearls and a couple of diamonds in the mix, it must also be reported that there are a couple of glass imitations.
Recorded at the CBC Glenn Gould Studio in 1999, I found the overall sound to be rich and clear if, perhaps, a little too closely mic’d resulting in the predominance of the middle register and the need for a touch more reverb. William Westcott’s program notes contained many interesting tidbits, but the numerous typographical errors and incorrect dates for some of the composers detracts from the overall integrity of this important collection.
Petrowska Quilico’s formidable technique and musical imagination meant that any faults in the performances could almost exclusively be found in the dusty scores that she so lovingly brought to life.
Not surprisingly (given the pianist’s well-known affinity for the dance), it was her saucy reading of Alberto Guerrero’s Tango that stood out in the early tracks. It had me wanting to roll back the carpet and find a rose.
Prior to that, Valentin-Alkan’s Prelude was warmly moving even in its compositional uncertainty, which came across as clearly as the inner voices. The pair of works from Grondahl seemed, in the former, more reminiscent than descriptive of youth and full of Bizet-rich harmonies and even a cheesy “Hollywood Ending,” in the latter.
And while Beach’s Waltz had nothing to say, it provided telling contrast to the charming lilt (although I was wishing for a slightly stronger bass) and flow of Borodin’s Serenade. Carreno’s Berceuse paid many harmonic compliments to Debussy and was delivered with admirable finesse. Chaminade’s “scarf” must have been designed for a Canadian winter and was too heavily voiced to bring my mind around to silk.
Dubyansky’s “Cradle Song” came across as more immature than naïve; surprisingly, César Franck’s following Prelude was merely pleasant. But then Glière’s opus raised the bar with its calmly moving direction and a marvellously executed ending. In the Granados that followed, I found myself dreaming for a contrasting subject—even miniatures need balance!
But the best was yet to come:
Rachmaninoff’s brief Polka Italienne sparkled from beginning to end, full of fun humour and zest. The entire album is worth obtaining just for this minor masterpiece. I would also recommend Lizst’s four pieces, at times eerie, but with great emotion lurking just below the surface, will pay great dividends on repeated hearings. Here, Petrowska Quilico’s amazing legato glues everything together beautifully.
Not to be missed is Levitzki’s Valse, whose intriguing lilt and sense of style paves the way for its magical closing bars. Similarly Lalo’s Spanish Dance sizzles over the keys with relentless drive and verve (and with the treacherous double thirds tossed off with aplomb).
Nielsen’s fanfare-filled Lyric Interlude was a pleasure to discover and Tchaikovsky’s Waltz-ette proves that even in thirty-nine seconds he has more to say that Szymanowska could in four-and-one-half minutes of her sleepless Nocturne.
But that’s the joy of this wonderful CD: the tried and true with seldom heard, all vying to capture your attention and interest. Why not pick up a copy and have your own fun? Slip it into your player on random and have your guests play name that composer! JWR