Philip Martin: Once more with feeling...
Philip Martin is a fine pianist, as anyone will attest who has in their collection his invaluable account of the complete works of Gottschalk, the fascinating disc of Henri Herz solos and, more pertinent to the matter in hand, his 2002 cornucopia entitled ‘The Maiden’s Prayer and other gems from an old piano stool’. This latter featured a collection of 24 once-popular pieces ranging from Sinding’s Rustle of Spring and Nevin’s Narcissus to Badarzewska’s deathless eponymous title. All these were for Hyperion and boasted at least one important quality missing on Martin’s new album: lovely, rounded, full piano sound.
‘Once more with feeling … a selection of favourite piano encores’ is billed as a 70th-birthday tribute to the Irish pianist and composer. The best present I could have wished for Martin was a different piano, or at least one that sounded more agreeable. This one, wherever it was recorded (the disc merely says ‘Upton-on-Severn’), is a less than top-notch instrument located, so it sounds, in someone’s front room. Sad to say, with the first bars of Debussy’s Arabesque No 1 which opens the disc, it is the piano sound that commands attention rather than the performance and the music itself. It is an even greater shame because the selection of 23 pieces is imaginative and whimsical – typical, in fact, of this pianist. As well as welcome discoveries such as Déodat de Séverac’s Stances à Madame de Pompadour and Tansman’s ‘Ostinato ritmico’ from his Suite variée of 1954, Martin includes seven short pieces of his own, including ‘Boogie Woogie’ inspired by memories of the Trinidadian-born Winifred Atwell and her boogie-woogie hits from the 1950s. Great fun.
If Grieg’s ‘Butterfly’ and Joplin’s Solace are a little heavy-handed for my taste, piano buffs will relish the repertoire on offer and perhaps accept more readily than me the aural deficiencies of this homespun production.