BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 30 in E, Op. 109. Piano Sonata No. 31 in A flat, Op. 110. Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111.
Artur Pizzaro, pianist
LINN CKD 225 TT: 62:15 (5.l channel)

POULENC: Concerto in G minor for Organ, Strings and Timpani. PETIT: Concertino for Organ, Strings and Percussion. BARBER: Toccata Festiva, Op. 36.
Gillian Weir, organist/English Chamber Orch/David Hill (Poulenc)/Raymond Leppard, cond.
LINN CKD 180 TT: 59:02 (5.l channel)

The Scottish company Linn Records produces classical and jazz recordings with a strong emphasis on music of Scotland. They've just completed their 12-CD project of recording all of the songs of Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns. The company has an established reputation for quality in both performance and sonics, exemplified by these two releases.

The organ collection was recorded at St. Augustine's Chapel, Tonbridge School, in October 2000 and July 2001. Dame Gillian Weir has a distinguished career and over the years made many fine recordings including all of Bach's organ music. Today she is known particularly for her interpretation of music of Olivier Messiaen. On this new recording she plays three widely different works beginning with the familiar Poulenc concerto for organ, strings and timpani, given a dramatic reading tastefully low on bombast, appropriately sensitive in the many retrospective interludes. Pierre Petit, best known as music critic for Le Figaro for 25 years, wrote many works including concertos, operettas, ballets and chamber music. His Concertino was composed in 1958 for Pierre Cochereau who premiered it that year in Australia. In three movements, it ends with a sprightly very French-sounding Modéré which has a rather ominous organ cadenza before its racy conclusion. It is not a major work in repertory for organ and orchestra, nor is Samuel Barber's Toccata Festiva, written in 1960. This was a commission by Mary Curtis Bok Zimbalist to be performed at the first concert featuring the new organ she had donated to Philadelphia's Academy of Music. Paul Callaway was soloist at the premiere with Eugene Ormandy conducting (Ormandy later recorded the work with E. Power Biggs). In spite of its occasional "big" effects, Toccata is a boring work without a tune to remember. Weir, the ECO and two conductors involved offer splendid performances with a big, natural resonant "church" sound and plenty of low organ pedals to test your woofers.

Artur Pizzaro, winner of the Leeds International Piano Competition in 1990, is another rising virtuoso on the piano scene, and seems to prefer the relatively obscure for his recordings. Currently for Hyperion he has a CD of music by Milhaud for two pianos (with Stephen Coombs), another of music for piano and orchestra by José Vianna da Motta, and music for clarinet and piano (mostly by Yuste and Toldra) with clarinetist Joan Enric Lunna. I haven't heard his previous Linn release of four of the better-known Beethoven sonatas (scheduled for SACD issue this summer), but this new release of the same composer's towering last three sonatas suggests he isn't quite ready yet to tackle these formidable scores. All are well-played, but there's no grand statement as there should be. Pizarro plays a Blüthner concert grand piano; its magnificent sounds have been well-captured in this resonant recording made in July 2003 in St. Georges Church, Bristol. Surround sound hardly is a requirement for a solo instrument except to provide ambient hall sound, well-accomplished in this release.

R.E.B. (May 2004)