Friday 28 February 2014

Tom Poster - In Dance and Song

Tom Poster: In Dance and Song: CHRCD075
In Dance and Song: Tom Poster: Champs Hill Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 27 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Imaginative dance and song inspired programme from pianist Tom Poster

This new disc from pianist Tom Poster on Champs Hill Records takes song and dance as its theme, with a selection of pieces with various links to the idea of song, dance or both. In his first solo recital disc Poster has made a thoughtful and imaginative selection, Gluck's blessed spirits give way to folk dances from Grieg and Bartok, with music by Schubert and Chopin which give sophisticated form to song and dance. Kurtag's almost aphoristic pieces lead to Ravel's dead infanta and his wonderful water sprite. Songs by Schumann are followed by Stravinsky's lively shrove-tide fair, with Gershwin bringing up the rear.

Poster plays Gluck's Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orphee et Eurydice in its transcription by the Liszt pupil Giovanni Sgambati. Poster plays with expressive, singing tone and a lovely simple line, proving that less is more.

Grieg's Slatter are based on Hardanger fiddle music, dances passed by oral tradition which Grieg rendered into some of his most daring and advanced music. Bridal March from Telemark has a nice sense of freedom, with Poster bringing poetry to Grieg's folk transcription. The Goblins' Bridal Procession at Vassevangen has a real feeling of fiddle music to it, with a characterful climax as well as lovely subtle moments, help together with great rhythmic clarity. And Poster's playing has a really infectious rhythmic snap in the intriguingly titled Prillar from The Parish of Os (in fact the title refers to an instrument of goats horn with a juniper reed).

Bartok's Three folksongs from the Csik district seem to have a clear link to the Grieg; they date from 1907, just four years after Grieg's pieces were published. Bartok's three folk songs transcribe shepherds' pipe music. The first two are slow, meditative and tiny poetic gems. Both display amazing rhythmic freedom in the right hand, with the left hand accompaniment barely there; poetic with a certain austerity. The third movement is a robust dance, but still with great rhythmic freedom.

Schubert's Impromptu in G flat major is the third of his first set of impromtus written around the time of Die Winterreise. A song without words to which Poster gives a lovely singing tone and great clarity of line, full of poetic rapture. The piece flows nicely but Poster does not take it too fast and there are some lovely darker moments under the surface. Chopin's Polonaise-Fantasie in A flat major is a late work which underpins a free fantasie with the rhythm of the polonaise. Poster has a delicate touch here, combined with a strongly powerful rhythmic feel when needed, full of power and poetry, with a lovely clear sound. It flows beautifully, never feeling self indulgent, and when required Poster navigates Chopin's fistfuls of notes with brilliant dexterity.

Gyrogy Kurtag's Jatekok (Games) are a series of miniatures which explore the use of silence and improvisatory freedom. The first two that Poster plays are both homages to Ferenc Farkas, Kurtag;s composition teacher. The first evokes a traditional Romanian carol in spare textures and quiet wisps of notes. The second, evoking Petrushka, is more dramatically gestural but still rather spare. The final one is an homage to Nancy Sinatra (!) and the highly rhythmic music hints distantly at These Boots are made for Walking.

Ravel's Pavane pour une infante defunte receives an elegant performance, with Poster giving the lovely melody the nuance it deserves in quiet delicate tones. By contrast Ondine from Gaspard de la nuit is a wonderfully flighty water nymph, all shimmering textures, control and quiet strength under the delicacy, with Poster displaying a superb technique.

Liszt's transcriptions of Schumann's songs remain faithful to the composer's original, rendering them on the solo piano with sensibility (and only a little showing off). Widmung (the opening song of Myrthen) has a lovely melodic line with a sympathetically flowing underlay before Liszt lets rip with bravura in the final verse. Fruhlingsnacht (the final song from the Eichendorff Liederkreis) is more pianistic in style, with Poster giving a vividly impulsive performance. Though I have to admit I found the upper piano sound a little glassy.

Stravinsky's own piano solo version of Petrushka, three movements written for Artur Rubenstein, is a pianistic tour de force. Here Poster plays La Semaine Grasse (Shrove-tide fair) with real bravura and a lovely sense of the different tone colours and textures of Stravinsky's score. Finally we get Poster's own elegant transcription of a song by one of Stravinsky's contemporaries, Gershwin's Someone to watch over me.

The programme works brilliantly as a whole, with Poster's fine performances illuminating the individual pieces and linking the whole together in a series of intriguing contrasts. But one of the strengths of the disc is also that Poster makes you want to hear more of the works, whether Grieg's Slatter, Kurtag's miniatures or Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit.

Highly recommended.

Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714 - 1787) arr. Giovanni Sgambati (1841 - 1914) - Dance of the Blessed Spirits [3.48]
Edvard Grieg (1843 - 1907) - Slatter (excerpts) [6.59]
Bela Bartok (1881 - 1945) - Three folksongs from the Csik district [3.27]
Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828) - Impromptu in G flat major [6.47]
Gyorgy Kurtag (born 1926) - Jatekok [3.34]
Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937) - Pavane pour une infante defunte [5.57]
Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937) - Ondine (from Gaspard de la Nuit) [7.06]
Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856), trans. Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886) - Two Songs [6.24]
Igor Stravinsky (1882 - 1971) - La Semaine Grasse (from Petrushka) [8.47]
George Gershwin (1898 - 1937), trans. Tom Poster (born 1981) - Someone to watch over me
Tom Poster (piano)
Recorded 11-13 March 2013 in the Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex

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