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Reviews: Homage to Arthur Rubinstein

The MHS Review 411, VOL. 12, NO.15• 1988

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Michael Mark, American Record Guide (July/August 1988)


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Volume 1: Piano Works by Spanish and Latin-American Composers

Falla: Fantasia betica; Mompou: Cancon i dansa No. 6; Williams: Excerpts from Poema de la arana-pollo, Op. 85: Inquietud de los colibries (Restlessness of the hummingbirds); Regocijo del bosque (Rejoicing of the forest); Cluzeau-Mortet: Peric6n; Aguirre: Huella: Cancion argentina, Op. 49; Guarnieri: Dansa brasileira; Brandao: Estudo No. l; Ponce: Dos Estudios; Halffter: Homenaje a Arturo Rubins­tein ("Nocturno"), Op. 36; Villa-Lobos: Rudepoema. Gregory Allen, Piano.

It is a risky business for an unfamiliar artist, however talented (and Gregory Allen is talented), to lend himself to a project such as this one. Most listeners to this record will believe that Allen is asking to be compared to Rubinstein. I don't think it right that a lesser-known artist be set against a legend. Mr. Allen deserves to be judged on his own merits.

Mr. Allen was the Grand Prize Winner of the 1980 Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv. This disc's se­cond connection to Rubinstein is the program. During his early career, Rubinstein was a leading interpreter of Spanish and Latin-American music, his artistic temperament well suited to the fire and bravado of Falla, Albeniz, and Granados. This music, not Chopin, earned the pianist some of his first great successes in his tours of Spanish­-speaking nations between 1926 and I 929.

Three of the works recorded here were premiered by Rubinstein-many Spanish and South American composers have dedicated works to him--at a Montevideo recital August 9, 1928 at the city's Teatro Urquiza. The first of these, the Uruguayan Luis Cluzeau-Mortet's Pericon, is a clever, humorous evocation of an out-of-tune band; the second, Argentinian Julian Aguirre's Huella, is a sentimental, relaxed piece suggestive of a serenade dominated by a three-against-two rhythm; the third piece, the Brazilian Mozart Camargo Guarnieri's Dansa brasileira, is a lively samba of considerable virtuosity. This music is not without clear, prominent European influences, Falla for one; but each of these three works has lots of personality in its own right and compels attention. Allen's playing of these selec­tions is characterized by a strong sense of rhythm without ever losing the easy, confident lyricism these works elicit. There is an air of assurance to Mr. Allen's playing that suggests he is really having a good time.

I find it fascinating and mildly amusing that Mr. Allen saw fit to include music by the Argen­tinian Alberto Williams, founder of the Conser­vatory in Buenos Aires that bears his name, and a composer Rubinstein did not care for. Never­theless, the third and sixth movements from his Poema de la arana-pollo (Poem of the chicken­spider) are highly melodic and intriguing depic­tions of nature's creatures. The third movement is a description of a hummingbird. Its sixth, final, movement has strong echoes of Schumann and Brahms in its depiction of birds happy to be rid of a menacing spider. I suppose listeners to this music could have quite a good time trying to spot suggestions of other composers. But again: this is music with real personality by a composer who uses others as a starting point for saying something of his own. Allen's playing of these two movements has a wide range of color and detail and never inflates the music into something it's not. I'd like for him to record all of this work, something that couldn't really be done in a tribute to a man who disliked it. (Ap­parently Rubinstein's not flattering opinion of Williams did not greatly upset the composer, for he dedicated his Poema to the pianist!)

Perhaps the most substantial piece in this an­thology is Villa-Lobos' Rudepoema, which Allen calls "a kind of pianistic Rite of Spring." The piece is a loosely constructed assemblage of dense polytonality and violently contrasting moods with much of the melodic material stem­ming from complex reworkings of three short fragments. As in the less complex music on these tracks, Allen plays with feeling and a real point of view. There is certainly pleasure to be had here.

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