Jean Roger-Ducasse was born in Bordeaux on 18 April 1873. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire from 1892 and in 1895, along with Ravel, joined the composition class of Gabriel Faure. In 1902 he won the second Grand Prix de Rome with his cantata Alcyone, with Ravel gaining fourth prize. He had a very active role in musical life in Paris founding the Societe Musicale Independante in 1909 and gaining the position of inspector general for the teaching of singing in Paris schools in 1910.
This set is a remarkable bargain, containing all of Brahms's solo piano music, including such chips from his workshop as cadenzas for other composers' concertos and a series of strictly mechanical piano studies that nobody will want to listen through. No matter. Idil Biret has a firm grasp of Brahms's idiom, and she plays with insight and passion throughout the set. Although she doesn't startle with her virtuosity, she handles the considerable technical demands of the music with great confidence.
All the pieces recorded here come from the 1920s, the period of the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies, and are rarities. Among the finest are the Five Sketches, which come from the very end of the decade and more among Sibelius’s last published works. They may be slight but they are highly individual and hive great finesse. The Village Church from Op. 103 has overtones of the Andante festivo for strings, and The Oarsman seems to ruminate on ideas in the Seventh Symphony. Sibelius’s piano-writing may have evoked little enthusiasm during his lifetime and it is true that, by the exalted standards he set elsewhere, it is limited in resource and scale. But pieces like In Mournful Mood and Landscape from Op. 114 are curiously haunting. So is the rest of the Op. 114 set, and its neglect has been our loss.
This outstanding two-CD survey of the piano music of Christian Wolff comes courtesy of the composer's longtime friend, pianist John Tilbury, with a little help from Matchless label boss (and fellow AMM mainstay) Eddie Prévost and the composer himself. Wolff's studies with John Cage began at the tender of age of 16, and "For Prepared Piano" (1951) is an affectionate nod toward the rhythmic procedures of his teacher, who sent his student off to the hotbed of avant-garde Europe that same year to meet Pierre Boulez.
The first volume of this series (Naxos 8.550761) mixed the first two sonatas of Field's Op. 1 with the first nine Nocturnes. The Sonata Op. 1 No. 3 in C minor logically appears on this second volume, in a most successful performance. Dedicated to Clementi, the first movement shows distinct tendencies towards 'Sturm und Drang'. Neither movement is fast: the concluding Rondo (marked Allegretto scherzando) is bursting with wit and charm to balance the stress of the first. This piece alone justifies the modest outlay for this disc. The remaining tracks, the next nine Nocturnes in the series, demonstrate Frith's sensitivity. Importantly, he shows a laudable restraint with the sustaining pedal. His sweet cantabile is the result of an acute musical sensitivity, and he never overblows the scale of these miniatures.
Fifteen years before Chopin wrote his first “nocturne”, Irish pianist/composer John Field composed his Nocturne No. 1 in E-flat major, followed by at least 15 more pieces in the same style. In these short works for solo piano, Field–who was one of the most celebrated pianists in the world during the first quarter of the 19th century–put form to the idea of a contemplative, lyrical composition, specifically tailored to the piano’s expressive capabilities. These “night” pieces are primarily characterized by a dominant, gracefully flowing melody, with most of the harmonic activity in the pianist’s left hand. Although other pianists have recorded at least some of Field’s Nocturnes–most notably John O’Conor (Telarc) and Miceál O’Rourke (Chandos)–Benjamin Frith’s own uniquely inflected, poetic readings have a satisfying aura of intimacy cast in the warm colors of his well-tempered, expertly recorded piano. Although O’Conor’s playing is more lyrical, with more fluid legatos, Frith generally takes more time–and these invariably lovely pieces blossom just as fully and brilliantly.