Thursday, 26 January 2023

TEXTURES IN CLASSICS on Navona Records / Review





Navona Classics NV6448 / TT: 75’34”

This album by Korean-American pianist and academic Sang-Hie Lee, an artist who combines music with medical research, begs several questions. The recordings were undertaken in 1975 and 1977, but why wait till 2022 for their release? And what is an oboe sonata from the 1960s doing in a recital of classical and romantic piano repertoire? Besides Lee’s students, friends and relatives, for whom is this album targeted?  


For the recital’s first half, one finds an artist with something valid to say. Beethoven’s late Sonata No.30 in E major (Op.109) is occupied with a restless spirit, befitting the Romantic age, and her reading has both poetry and lyricism. Mozart’s early Sonata in B flat major (K.281) is much less persuasive, with intermittent rococo sensibilities peeking through stiff mechanical and charmless playing. Between the sonatas are two Debussy Preludes, The Girl with the Flaxen Hair and The Interrupted Serenade, which were pleasant enough.


Bizarrely inserted into the programme is the three-movement Sonata for Oboe and Piano (1965) by Rhineland German composer-organist Hermann Schroeder (1904-1984), whose claim to fame was having taught the avant-gardeist Karlheinz Stockhausen. The music is dissonant and chromatic, resembling Hindemith’s quirkily approachable modern idiom, but receives a sympathetic performance from Lee and the late American oboist John Corina (1928-2014). Worthy of a listen.


Then it is downhill all the way. The gnomes of Liszt’s concert etude Gnomenreigen dance with lead-filled boots in what was a dispiriting experience. Even worse has to be the most wretched and technically challenged performance of Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Handel (Op.24) ever committed to disc. This reading is one almighty struggle (for both performer and listener), with lapses, fumbles and wrong notes littered all through its course. When the memory is all too fallible, was not a printed score at hand to lend assistance? And has nobody involved in this project ever heard of editing? Warts and all, this was at least a honest traversal, and a honestly bad one at that. Why even bother? With poor and recessed recorded sound, here is a rare dud from Navona Records.

For more information on this album:

Textures In Classics – Navona Records

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