CHOPIN Piano Sonata No 3 LISZT Piano Sonata S178
The Baltimore-based pianist Chad R Bowles is co-director of the Peabody Piano Academy and the chair of the piano department in the conservatory’s preparatory division. He’s also a superb, confident technician and an intelligent stylist, who doesn’t have to prove anything in his performances of the Chopin and Liszt B minor Sonatas beyond playing clearly, directly and masterfully, for the most part.
Bowles organises the thorny polyphonic strands of Chopin’s Allegro maestoso in long-lined arcs that ebb and flow organically, and underscore the music’s harmonic density without contrivance. In contrast to other performances, Bowles takes the Scherzo’s Trio and outer sections in close to the same tempo; the latter aren’t especially fleet and feathery but Bowles’s elegant, supple phrasing certainly satisfies. His fluent pacing of the Largo restores the songful eloquence that some pianists suppress with their slower-than-death tempos, while the finale is solid but a mite square and insistent.
The first section of Liszt’s Sonata stands out for Bowles’s fervency and drama, although he errs on the side of caution when the dreaded octave sequence kicks in. Yet the pianist gives lyrical vibrancy to the Andante sostenuto section and chooses a tempo sensible enough for the Allegro energico fughetta’s contrapuntal voices to comfortably convey character. The final pages decompress gradually, with the bass notes carefully weighed and voiced. And no caution whatsoever on Bowles’s part concerning the peroration’s blistering right-hand octaves!
Unfortunately, the recorded sound is distant, diffuse and dynamically constricted, with a metallic patina in full-bodied passages. And have you ever seen such a tacky and cheap-looking CD booklet design? It’s not worthy of Timothy Hoft’s stimulating and informative notes.