Nicholas McCarthy - Solo
Nicholas McCarthy is unique in music history in being the first person born without a right arm to make a career as a pianist. One of the attractions of the left hand alone medium is to hear how successfully or otherwise one hand and judicious pedalling can deceive the ear into believing the music is being played by two hands. Listening blind, one might simply enjoy ‘Solo’ as a sumptuously engineered disc of more or less popular works with immediate appeal to McCarthy’s growing legions of fans. Those familiar with the original versions of the piano works will, while being duly astonished at what it is possible to execute with the left hand, note in some pieces a palpable loss of momentum and lack of tension (particularly true of the opera aria arrangements).
There are, according to recent estimates, some 6000 published works for the left hand alone (as opposed to a mere 40 or so for the right hand), most of them rarely heard, so hats off to McCarthy for giving us the chance to sample transcriptions by Adolfo Fumagalli (1828 56), a pioneer of the medium, and the wonderful Count Géza Zichy (1849 1924), the first professional one-armed pianist. I hope Warner will let us hear more of Zichy from its new signing, who also calls upon Godowsky and modern master Frédéric Meinders, as well as offering a specially commissioned piece by Nigel Hess. McCarthy is a fine pianist and the piano sings with a generous tone, but when it comes to left-hand repertoire in recordings by some other (two-handed) pianists, he is not in the same class, technically, as Marc-André Hamelin in the two Godowsky studies, for instance, or Leon Fleisher and Simon Barere in the Blumenfeld study. With them, the aural deception is complete and one listens in utter disbelief; with McCarthy one merely marvels.