This is the second volume in a series of “Rare transcriptions and paraphrases” for piano of Tchaikovsky’s orchestral works—the first (Divine Art DDA 25093, not reviewed in Fanfare), includes the Marche slave, the Serenade for Strings, and music from The Voyevoda and the Third Orchestral Suite. A related release (Divine Art DDA 25020) has been reviewed here, however, and that one features Anthony Goldstone with his wife Caroline Clemmow in transcriptions for four hands of the Fourth Symphony and Romeo and Juliet. Several of Tchaikovsky’s own transcriptions of Russian folk songs are included as well. That release was positively received a decade ago by Christopher Williams.
I’ve found Anthony Goldstone’s recordings to be consistently delightful. He’s one of those modest virtuosos who can play anything, but who doesn’t perform and present himself as if he were on a perpetual ego trip. His discography contains a long list of unusual music, with an emphasis on nearly forgotten transcriptions and paraphrases, and on underplayed composers. (Vladimir Rebikov, anyone?)
The 49-minute centerpiece of this new release is the more or less entire third act of The Sleeping Beauty in Alexander Siloti’s transcription, which was prepared at the composer’s request. Why Tchaikovsky asked Siloti to do this is not discussed. If it was to enable amateurs to perform this music at home, then I think Siloti miscalculated: this is not easy stuff. Even your average rehearsal pianist—if that was Tchaikovsky’s intended performer—would be taxed. That need not concern us, though, because Goldstone, without ever sounding glib or insensitive to the limitations of actual dancers, glides through this wonderful, glittering music triumphantly. Of course it doesn’t compete with the orchestral original, but hearing a pianist of Goldstone’s caliber conquer such technical difficulties so genially can’t fail to bring pleasure. The purpose behind Nikolai Kashkin’s transcription of the first act Pas de trois from Swan Lake is similarly unclear (at least to me), but again it was prepared at the composer’s request, as he clearly had other ways to spend his time. Balletomanes will recall that this Pas de trois contains several sections in various tempos and styles; here, it comes out to a bit more than 12 minutes of music.
The two paraphrases are more difficult, as they were composed for pianists, not for dancers. Paul (or Pavel) Pabst was Tchaikovsky’s contemporary, and he composed a number of paraphrases based on that era’s operas and ballets. Pabst’s blue-ribbon Sleeping Beauty paraphrase is the best-known of these, probably because he doesn’t stray far from Tchaikovsky’s essential tunefulness—he just decorates it with muscles and sequins. Virtuoso pianists specializing in romantic repertory program it now and then. Goldstone’s version is just as good as Earl Wild’s, and that’s saying something. Percy Grainger, as the cliché goes, needs no introduction. His ebullient paraphrase, unlike Pabst’s, is centered on a single number from the ballet, that being the “Waltz of the Flowers.” (Characteristically, Grainger altered the title to “Flower-Waltz.”) Grainger also adheres to Tchaikovsky’s original, in the sense that he uses it as a framework on which to add virtuosic arabesques and fantastic harmonic departures. It’s not in the best of taste, but who cares? In the privacy of the recording studio, I wonder if Goldstone dressed up like Liberace and confided, “I wish my brother George was here.” He plays the heck out of it, and takes it seriously enough, although one senses a twinkle in his eye.
Although not “important,” this is a fun release—how could it be otherwise, given Tchaikovsky’s melodies and Goldstone’s impressing playing? Have an eggroll, Mr. Goldstone—have a dozen!