GOUNOD Complete Works for Pedal Piano and Orchestra
Gounod’s complete works for pedal piano and orchestra is not something the musical world has been waiting for with bated breath. Yet, like an item in one of those gift catalogues full of things you never knew existed but suddenly seem essential, it proves to be a real winner. It is also among the very jolliest of piano-and-orchestra recordings to come my way for some time. The music may have the depth of a puddle but it has no pretensions to be anything else than audience ear-ticklers. Being Gounod, it is supremely well-crafted melodic music but the kind of material that can collapse like a soufflé without the right cast to show it in its best light. I’ve heard recordings of his Fantasy on God save the Tsar so dreary you can understand why the last one was shot. Not here. Hyperion’s cast is top-drawer.
Normally, the pedal piano as championed by Schumann, Alkan and others is an integrated piano with pedal keyboard. Here, Roberto Prosseda plays the newly conceived Pinchi pedal piano system which combines two Steinway D grands placed one on top of the other. It is hard to distinguish between the bass of the left hand and what is being played on the pedals. The titles of the Suite concertante’s four movements (1886) describe exactly the music’s flavour: ‘Entrée de fête’, ‘Chasse’, ‘Romance’ and ‘Tarentelle’. The unpublished Concerto (1889), again in four short movements, is another charmer with an especially touching, Schubertian slow movement, beautifully played by Prosseda. The finale and the 1888 Danse roumaine (with hints of JS Bach) give the hands and feet plenty to do. Given exactly the right light touch and deft execution, abetted by Howard Shelley’s stylish accompaniment, Gounod’s box of bonbons is an unexpected delight.