Xavier de Maistre: Moldau
Xavier de Maistre last graced these pages in October 2013 with a stunning disc of Mozart. His performance of the Piano Concerto K459 sticks in the memory. His new disc is a solo recital bound by a common Slavic element. It opens with ‘Vltava’ from Má vlast, the first of several ‘how does he do it?’ transcriptions, this one by Hans Trneček (1858-1914). He follows this with Henriette Renié’s transcription of Liszt’s transcription of Alyabyev’s ‘Le rossignol’, a once-popular piano encore. Halfway through comes the now ubiquitous Fantasy on Themes from ‘Eugene Onegin’ by Ekaterina Walter-Kühne. De Maistre is a kind of Hamelin of the harp: the agility, the ease with which the most astonishing technical challenges are surmounted, the conversational phrasing and evenness of rapid passagework instantly amaze. But it is also his depth of tone and variety of colour that beguile.
Yet something doesn’t quite work. A succession of virtuoso showpieces offers diminishing musical returns: despite the artist’s assertion that this album ‘includes rather more rough edges’ than earlier albums in his quest to ‘provide a more faithful account of all the colours and contrasts I was keen to recreate’, everything is so peerlessly executed that it is hard not to believe one is listening to some fabulous musical automaton. ‘Montagues and Capulets’ lacks essential pomp and bluster; there is more fun to be had, surely, from Lyadov’s Musical Snuffbox; and Dvořák’s American Suite gains nothing by being transferred from the piano. The exception is Glinka’s Nocturne, which de Maistre invests with exquisite tenderness and which, tellingly, is the only harp original of the programme. Superb recorded sound.