Classical CD Reviews

BACH: Concerto No. 1 in d; HINDEMITH: The Four Temperaments; BLOCH: Concerto Grosso No. 1 – Joshua Pierce, p./ Capella Istropolitana/ Slovak Radio Sym. Orch./ Kirk Trevor – MSR Classics

A nice mix-and-match of styles not all that far apart.

Published on August 2, 2013

BACH: Concerto No. 1 in d, BWV 1052; HINDEMITH: The Four Temperaments; BLOCH: Concerto Grosso No. 1 – Joshua Pierce, piano/ Capella Istropolitana/ Slovak Radio Sym. Orch./ Kirk Trevor – MSR Classics MS 1415, 74:19 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Though Joshua Pierce is the headliner here he really isn’t except in the Bach concerto. Not that I am complaining; though earlier in my life I tolerated only “complete” albums by one composer, now I rather like these “mixed” programs, especially those that on the surface seem so disparate. Neither the Hindemith nor the Bloch has anything to commend itself to a soloist—most orchestras playing either one of these would be content with the house pianist in the role. But obviously Pierce has a love for each of them and so I certainly can’t grumble about their presence here. But first to the Bach.

There are a lot of recordings of this piece out there—lots—so it takes some guts to even approach the studio with this thing in hand. Gould and others have set the standard. Pierce, whom I have looked upon as a bit of a romantic, really doesn’t take that path here. Instead he is more aligned with modern sensibilities—so called—with quick tempos and rather clipped articulation. This isn’t bad, and I would certainly rate this on a par with most other recordings out there.

What makes the Bach more interesting is what follows it. Hindemith’s Four Temperaments is a superb piece not played that often though it does have a decent but small recorded history. The version by the late James De Priest is one that I have always held in high regard, along with the composer’s own with the Berlin Phil. So this one is very welcome and is played with a lot of spirit and panache. The piece is actually called Theme and Variations for Piano and Strings so there is somewhat of a soloist component to it. The work, originally commissioned as a ballet score, takes the four humors connected with a body fluid—not attractive as a premise, I know—to assert four separate variations. It’s linear dimensions and contrapuntal activity work well after the Bach and one immediately ascertains the connection.

The Bloch piece was written in Santa Fe and completed in Cleveland, ostensibly with the idea to show students that it was still possible to write convincing tonal music at a time when it was supposedly on its deathbed. It succeeds brilliantly and has become one of his most-played and recorded works, though oddly there are only 13 now available, the ones by Quincy Porter in San Diego and Howard Hanson at Eastman being among the best. Add this one to it—Maestro Trevor has the true measure of the piece in a nicely balanced and lovingly crafted interpretation that does the piece full justice.

This is a fine recording, though if pressed I think I favor the Hindemith the most. Pierce is excellent in all three, and each has its felicities and well worth you attention.

—Steven Ritter




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