Music Library Reviews: Jorge Luís Prats and Andrew Manze
April 2, 2012
by: Chris Hathaway
GRANADOS: Goyecscas. VILLA-LOBOS: Bachiana brasileira No. 4 for piano. CARLOS FARIÑAS: Alta Gracia. IGNACIO CERVANTES: Danzas cubanas. LECUONA: Malagueña. Jorge Luís Prats, piano, recorded in concert in Zaragoza, Spain. Decca 4782732.
Decca proudly claims that this is an unexpurgated recording of a stellar recital in a visually as well as sonically enticing new hall in Zaragoza, Spain. Audience noise is conspicuously absent from all of Goyescas and the Villa-Lobos Bachiana brasileira No. 4; tumultuous applause does not occur until after the irresistible Cervantes set of dances in the encore group—much more than the usual "salon music", music (like everything on the program) that makes huge technical as well as interpretive demands on the player, and in which the pianist is also called upon to act as his own percussionist. Whatever the source or occasion, this is pianism that is at once perfect and full of depth and spontaneity—a feeling for the grand gesture, but for sentiment rather than sentimentality.
From the opening movement of Goyescas, there is a sense of occasion. There are performances like that—where the artist and the audience are perfectly focused from beginning to end; and where, musically and spiritually, things start on a high level and stay there. The audience is remarkably silent on such occasions. Even in the languorous passages in Coloquio en la reja (Conversation at the window), there is a sense of tremendous power – an immense variety of tone, of color, of emotion. This is a concert where the player and the music are one: for Mr. Prats, a proud Latin, it is one close to home — in terms of temperament as much as of national feeling. Prats, speaking about himself, may be summing up part of the secret of his compelling artistry: "I was an actor during my early years, and I have to say I'm a very good cook. What I can't do is dance, except in my mind, when I remind myself that in Cuba we dance from the hips, very sexy and with a special sense of rhythm."
Prats omits the Epilogue from Goyescas, saying that the final apotheosis of El amor y la muerte (Love and death) sums it all up and any postmortem is redundant. He does include the humorous, almost polonaise-like interlude of El pelele, a straw man thrown the couple's way in celebration.
It is hoped that Decca will issue more documentations of Mr. Prats' extraordinary pianism and musicality. Jorge Luís Prats, who will turn 56 this year, has been virtually unheard-of since he took top honors in the Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud competition in Paris in 1977. He made a winner's album for Deutsche Grammophon, which at that time was putting out a series of albums showcasing young pianists who were victors in various competitions. He also played a number of concerts. Visa restrictions, and later family issues, limited Prats' scope of travel and performing venues. A video of a Prats recital in Miami attracted the attention of the agency which is now managing him, which arranged for his appearance at the Concertgebouw's Master Pianists series in Amsterdam (which it organized). Decca signed him at about that time. A recording of a recital was ideal for Prats, who has to have an audience in order to play his best.
This is an unusually rewarding recording. The playing is always miraculous and revealing.
BRAHMS: Symphonies Nos. 1-4; Variations on a Theme of Haydn, op. 56a; Tragic (op. 81) and Academic Festival (op. 80) Overtures. Andrew Manze conducting the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra. CPO 777720: 3 CDs.
Manze, a superb (and very creative) violinist and conductor known for his way with Baroque music is, thankfully, not approaching these benchmark works of the 1870s and ‘80s as an early-music specialist but as a musician. There may be (here and there) a lack of the white-hot passion in the music-making that one heard from conductors of the past, but the music is graced by a kind of chamber-music approach (notably in drawing attention to inner-voice string syncopations in the first movement of No. 3) and a fine sense of continuity and of the big picture of musical design. Phrases are handled sensitively, and the importance of the luftpause and the rest is never ignored. The juxtaposition of ¾ and 6/8 in the first movement of No. 2 is clearly delineated, as well as the deliciously lyrical second theme of that movement. At times, especially in the Haydn Variations as much as in the symphonies, the lower brass have a tendency to penetrate rather than to blend.
Manze takes the repeat in the first movement of the third symphony, but more importantly he takes the repeat in the same movement of No. 2. Very few conductors elect to do so, whether on recordings or in concert. Pierre Monteux observed that repeat in both of his recordings of this symphony, taking an expansive approach to the work as a whole. George Szell acknowledged the desirability of observing the repeat in the first movement of No. 2, but did not take that route. The second is a work brimming with confidence as well as lyricism, not having the long (twenty-year) gestation of the first: it was finished in slightly less than a year, and is often called "Brahms' Pastoral". The third is the most compact of all of the four, and often sailing past the first movement repeat helps it move along.
Manze seems to have caught the spirit of the second symphony: the first movement is a very good performance that gets better as it progresses. The focus on the brass contributes mightily to the effectiveness of the reprise and coda. Manze seems to encourage the horn players to play espressivo, which is much to his credit. The second movement of No. 2 is wonderfully reposeful and its sheer clarity brings to mind something Arturo Toscanini said during a playback in the early days of magnetic tape, the closest he came to praising any of his performances: "Is honest performance! Is like reading score!" The third movement is marvelously paced, with wonderful attention to dynamic subtlety and blending in the faster middle section. The finale shows a similar focus, and Manze again catches the spirit of exuberance and inventiveness which characterizes it.
The first symphony, in Manze's hands, is the most straightforward. Manze is at his best, in the opinion of this reviewer, in the finale, where the abundance of ideas and sheer creative energy are boldly limned. The same can be said of No. 4, whose concluding passacaglia (as expected) seems to appeal to Manze, who handles the very un-Baroque dynamics and shadings more than capably. Indeed, this entire symphony seems to provoke more of Manze's musical sympathies than the other three combined.
The two Overtures benefit from that same sense of pacing and balance.