International Record Review

The title suggests the Marx Brothers (or Queen!). Actually, this CD is a collection of ‘paraphrases, transcriptions and variations for piano solo’, all based on operatic themes. This is a sensible idea, and I am surprised that more pianists have not recorded similar collections. What is particularly good about the present release is that Anthony Goldstone, in assembling this programme, has completely thwarted monotony not only by mixing genres and composers but also by mixing sizes and moods. For example, Sgambati’s intimate, touching arrangement of Gluck’s ‘Dance of the Blesses Spirits’ is followed by Chopin’s 17-minute and very demonstrative variations on ‘Là ci darem la mano’ from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Despite Robert Schumann’s praise, I don’t think the latter is great music, although it is clever, and it gains in stature by being framed by the Sgambati/Gluck on one side and by Rachmaninov’s arrangement of ‘Flight of the bumble-bee’ on the other.

Even though one of the works was recorded in 2005, and two as far back as 1995, all ten works fit together as if this had been the original intention. There’s nothing about the engineering that hints at a 13-year gap; the sound is clear, warm and consistent, without too much echo, although the piano was recorded in a church.

Before receiving this disc, I had not heard Goldstone’s playing, but it appears that his discography is heavy on Schubert. He is a pianist who does not like to let the listener know how hard he is working – and he must work very hard indeed to play this series of finger-busters. His playing is effortless. At the same time, it is never glib, and never merely flashy for the sake of flashiness. Turning to Earl Wild’s CD of transcriptions (recorded live in Carnegie Hall), we hear a pianist who is more of a showman, but not necessarily a more understanding or even a more technically accomplished musician. {Wild’s} playing makes me break into a sweat, Goldstone’s makes me relax. Both approaches to this repertory are valid. In the two Liszt works, Barenboim’s pearly tone is hard to resist, but the other side of that coin is that Goldstone’s readings sound less contrived. (One could argue, though, that contrivance is an essential element of these works!)

Goldstone wrote the booklet notes and they are every bit as enjoyable as his pianism, and full of unusual information to boot. For example, he explains Grainger’s use of the term ‘ramble’ vis-à-vis Grainger’s take on iDer Rosenkavalier by turning to the OED , where the term is defined, related to cats and rabbits and such, ‘to be excited by sexual desire and wander about’. ‘Not inappropriate for this sensual piece’, Goldstone writes, adding ‘I expect that Grainger was aware of the etymology’. That, my friends, is how booklet notes should be written, and this is how this repertory should be played. Bravo, Anthony Goldstone!

—Raymond S. Tuttle