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15.1.10

Reviewed, Not Necessarily Recommended: Scarlatti Sonatas & Bach Concertos

available at Amazon
Bach, 7 Keyboard Concertos,
Feltsman / Orch. of St.Lukes
Nimbus (Re-issue)

available at Amazon
Scarlatti, 30 Sonatas,
John Browning
Nimbus (Re-issue)
Here are more of Nimbus’ re-releases from the Music Masters catalogue. Those unearthing-efforts were warmly welcome when they offered Vladimir Feltsman’s 1991 Goldberg Variations which are spunky and thoroughly gratifying. Those efforts are also welcome when it comes to Feltsman’s recording of the Bach Keyboard Concertos—wholly affable and with liner notes by Tim Page. The same can’t quite be said for the John Browning Scarlatti Sonata collection that Nimbus helped to an extended, budget-priced life-cycle.

Recorded about eight years before his final recital—at the US Supreme Court (Browning v. Chopin)—it is a fine testament to Browning’s unfussy, levelheaded playing. Everything is tasteful (almost too tasteful) and in place, there are no technical issues, and the sound is good. There’s nothing wrong with it, and is easy to derive great pleasure from the thirty popular sonatas Browning chose for the recording. But the enemy of the good is the perfection or, in this case, the very easy availability of more Scarlatti, performed more individualistic, more spiritedly, and indeed better—at less cost, still. Mikhail Pletnev’s two-disc Scarlatti album has rightly become the Alpha of all Scarlatti-on-the-piano discs, and is an inexorable element of any self respecting classical music collection. And after Pletnev, it’s still not Browning’s recital that vies for immediate attention. There are Yevgeny Sudbin ( BIS), Maria Tipo ( EMI), Vladimir Horowitz ( Columbia), Christian Zacharias ( EMI or MDG), Konstantin Scherbakov ( Naxos), and Ivo Pogorelich ( DG) to get to, first.

If you’re through those, or if you wish to familiarize yourself with John Browning’s playing, then the Nimbus disc will, and should, enter your radar, especially as it is a wonderful contrast to another great Browning recording, that of the Prokofiev Piano Concertos under Erich Leinsdorf ( Testament).

On to Feltsman’s Bach Concertos. Admittedly, there is no reason to replace Angela Hewitt’s slightly more complete (and considerably more expensive) recording ( Hyperion, also available on SACD), or András Schiff’s (Decca), or Murray Perahia’s ( Sony) with Feltsman. But if you have none of these recordings and you see Feltsman’s about, go ahead and grab it in the secure knowledge that you will have a very fine account at hand.

Feltsman includes the ‘standard 6’, BWV 1052-1056 and 1057, but not BWV 1057, the modified Fourth Brandenburg concerto and the incomplete BWV 1059—and he adds a performance of the Italian Concerto. Much of what I said about Browning—tasteful, levelheaded, technical efficacy—applies here, too, but at the other, upper end of the neutral-positive spectrum. The Orchestra of St. Luke’s, conducted by Feltsman, turns in a very spirited performance. And although it’s not a HIP band, their nimble forces and lissome playing make this 1993 recording sound modern which is to say: devoid of the 19th and 20th century romantic baroque opulence that had occurred here and there. Only in the opening Allegro of the F minor concerto (BWV 1056) is the orchestra minimally heavy footed; everywhere else tempos strike lively and natural. Terrific stuff that makes for happy listening.

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Vladimir Feltsman will appear at the Music Center at Strathmore, courtesy of WPAS, on Friday, March 26, 2010 (8PM).

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