Karim Said: Echoes from an Empire
In ‘Echoes from an Empire’ (good title), the Jordanian-born London-trained pianist Karim Said (b1988) presents six engagingly diverse examples of piano works from the decade immediately before the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, beginning with the work that, perhaps better than any here, combines the past, present and future. Berg’s Piano Sonata, Op 1 (1908 09) is given a full-blooded, lucid reading, both its texture and performance having much in common with Webern’s Sonata Movement from three years earlier (in this, Said makes the most of the resonant bass register captured at Potton Hall). Schoenberg’s Three Piano Pieces, Op 11 (1909) which end the disc, abandoning tonality almost entirely, have already taken us into a new world.
Elsewhere Said chooses to further illustrate his theme, somewhat surprisingly, with Bartók’s Three Rondos on Slovak Folk Tunes, the innocent first of these dating from 1916, the latter two resolutely dissonant from a decade later. Janá∂ek’s Sonata 1.X.1905, a response to the death of a 20-year-old worker in a demonstration, is wonderfully well played, with Said creating a palpable mood of desolation in the spare Adagio second movement (‘Death’) before its impassioned climax.
The real discovery of the disc is Enescu’s rarely heard Suite No 2 in D, his Op 10 written in 1903. In his excellent booklet, Paul Griffiths believes that the reason for all four movements being cast ‘in olden style’ was a strategy of the composer for defying the collapse of tonality. So we have the Baroque forms of a Toccata, Sarabande, Pavane and Bourrée, all of them ‘touched with up-to-date exoticism’. Worth the price of this classily produced and superbly executed disc alone.