Classical Reissue Reviews

The Maiden’s Prayer and Other Gems from an Old Piano Stool = Philip Martin, p. – Helios

Pianist Martin exhibits a slick, fluent virtuosity in these selected salon pieces that hearken to another age, that of the 19th Century salon.

Published on September 2, 2012

The Maiden’s Prayer and Other Gems from an Old Piano Stool = Philip Martin, p. – Helios

The Maiden’s Prayer and Other Gems from an Old Piano Stool = SINDING: Rustle of Spring; BADARZEWSKA: The Maiden’s Prayer; DVORAK: Humoresque in G-flat; PALMGREN: May Night; MOSZKOWSKI: Serenata; RUBINSTEIN: Melody in F; PADEREWSKI: Minuet in G; PARADIES: Toccata in A; HANDEL: The Harmonious Blacksmith; BEETHOVEN: Minuet in G; MENDELSSOHN: Spring Song; TCHAIKOVSKY: Chanson triste; SIBELIUS: The Spruce Tree; MASON: Silver Spring; PIECZONKA: Tarantella in A Minor; GRIEG: Nocturne from Op. 54; HERBERT: La Coquette Valse brillante; FIBICH: Poeme; POLDINI: Poupee valsante; MACDOWELL: To a Wild Rose; RAFF: La Fileuse; NEVIN: Narcissus; GRUENFELD: Romanze; DURAND: Premiere Valse – Philip Martin, piano – Helios CDH55410, 77:08 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

This eminently charming recital, recorded for Hyperion (22 October 2002), features Irish pianist Philip Martin on a well-tempered Steinway in twenty-four salon pieces especially conceived for those pianos that came to grace Victorian British and American homes between 1850 and 1910 that they outnumbered the number of homes with indoor plumbing!  The lesser light who created some of the music on Martin’s program hardly survive, while others like Moszkowski (1854-1925) and Palmgren (1878-1951) found champions in such virtuosos as Josef Hofmann, Shura Cherkassky, and Benno Moiseiwitsch. The sentimental rubato of Anton Rubinstein’s 1852 Melody in F, a Hofmann staple, claims a silken place among these refined miniatures proffered by Martin.

The justly famous Minuet in G (1888) of Ignaz Jan Paderewski manages to balance the galant side of Mozart’s variation style with a natural Polish zal. Having only just reviewed Irene Scharrer’s inscription of the 1754 Toccata in A of Paradies, I can well appreciate the fleet security in Martin’s rendition. The lovely B-flat series of variations by Handel, “The Harmonious blacksmith” (1720), from his Fifth Clavecin Suite opens with intimate charm and rises in virtuosity in nuanced degrees. The counter theme and trio in Beethoven’s little 1795 Minuet in G each has robust music-box sonority. The Op. 40, No. 8 Chanson triste in G minor (1878) by Tchaikovsky projects a folkish charm that Moiseiwitsch, too, found alluring. Sibelius’ The Spruce Tree (1914) hardly represents his general style, although its quiet brooding may strike a “northern” sensibility. The music of American composer William Mason (1829-1908) that remains bears a mostly pedagogical character. His Silver Spring (1850) projects a night-club view of romantic figures and runs, brilliant in the manner of a poor man’s Liszt. A relative unknown, Albert Pieczonka (1828-1912) allows Martin to demonstrate some flashy roulades in the Tarantella in A Minor, which could be easily attributed to Gottschalk or Litolff.

We know Grieg’s 1891 Nocturne from its place in the Lyric Suite, orchestrated version. Martin’s upper register suggests bells while his richly textured middle voices urge the national passion that infiltrates virtually all of his works. The rarely heard 1900 La Coquette (Valse brillante) in A-flat Major of Victor Herbert (1859-1924) traces a delicate path on both sides of a more militant central episode. Poeme by Zdenek Fibich (1892) adds a melancholy waltz to Martin’s palette, a wistful moment of old-world nostalgia. The Dancing Doll of Ede Poldini (1869-1957) used to be a staple of violinists Mischa Elman and Fritz Kreisler. The 1895 miniature displays a light touch and a finessed appoggiatura. The “Woodland Sketch” (1896) by MacDowell, “To a Wild Rose,” bears a simple elegance that aligns the piece with Schumann. The cascading etude in F-sharp Major (1870) La Fileuse by Joachim Raff imitates a Schubert image of a girl at a spinning wheel, the 166th notes in a flurry of light motion. A natural drawing-room piece de bravura, Narcissus by Ethelbert Nevin (1862-1901), exploits the crossed-hands technique in a kind of swaggering quick-march. Its melodic appeal seems one step away from a Joplin stride tune. Romanza (1914) makes us acknowledge the talent of Alfred Gruenfeld (1852-1914), the pianist noted for his transcriptions of waltzes by Johann Strauss. Martin plays the relatively ambitious work in its slightly more edgy, original key of F-sharp Major. August Durand (1830-1909) may have composed his E-flat Premiere Valse c. 1870: its moto perpetuo figures call for punishing repeated notes and a series of fourths in the final page, the relative pleasantry of the occasion having become a moment of Lisztian fireworks.

—Gary Lemco




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