HISTORICAL PIANO RECITAL SERIES, VOL. 3
Steven Spooner (pn)
STEVEN SPOONER (no number) Available at CD Baby (66: 55)
Romanze in F♯.
in c, Op. 6/2; in f, Op. 7/3; in a, Op. 17/4.
Polonaise-Fantaisie in A♭.
“Keith Jarrett”; Toccata “à la Argerich.”
Garden of Eden:
HISTORICAL PIANO RECITAL SERIES, VOL. 5
Steven Spooner (pn)
STEVEN SPOONER (no number) Available at CD Baby (73: 07)
Piano Sonata in b.
Paraphrase on Themes from Rienzi.
Aufenthalt. Ständchen. Mut. Die Loreley.
Robert le Diable:
Pianist Steven Spooner was not previously known to me prior to my receiving these two CDs and one DVD. Thus, given the CD titles and label, “Historical Piano Recital Series,” it was not unreasonable to assume that here was an artist of yesteryear receiving well-deserved recognition in a survey of his recorded legacy. That, after all, is what we’re usually given to understand the tag, “historical,” to mean. Since Steven Spooner is very much alive and well, and these are fairly recent recordings, in what way, I wondered, were these two CDs historical?
The album note to the first of the above headlined entries revealed the answer. Spooner explains that this series of discs, of which there are 16, are tributes to legendary pianist Anton Rubinstein, who, in 1885, inaugurated a series of concerts he billed as “Historical Recitals.” Some of the programs, according to Spooner, went on for three hours, featuring much of what we regard today as the central standard piano repertoire. Indeed, to no small degree, it was Rubinstein who defined what that repertoire was through his marathon recitals. While Spooner’s programs are his own and not duplications of Rubinstein’s, he nonetheless offers these recordings as homage to Rubinstein, as well as to his more contemporary heroes, namely Artur Rubinstein and Sviatoslav Richter.
First up is a mixed recital featuring well-known works by Schumann, Chopin, and Liszt, along with Liszt’s transcriptions of two numbers from Schubert’s
, Nos. 4 and 5,
. After being soothed and salved by the romantic beauties of the Schumann, Chopin, and Liszt’s Schubert transcriptions, and thrilled by the pulse-quickening virtuoso fireworks of Liszt’s
, the last three tracks on the disc present quite a contrast.
Spooner has “composed,” if that’s the right word, a piece called
Etude “Keith Jarrett
,” as a tribute to the famous jazz-cum-classical pianist. I’m not sure if the term “aletoric” or “chance music” technically applies to the piece, but it’s a freely improvised introduction, leading, eventually, to the incorporation of the tune,
My Funny Valentine
. In both theory and practice, the piece, as it’s heard here in this performance, will never be heard again (except, of course, in the replaying of it on the CD) because it can last anywhere from three to 20 minutes, and is meant never to be repeated in the same way. So, whether one likes this seven-minutes-plus version of it or not is irrelevant, because the next time it’s performed, it won’t be the same piece. As it’s played here by Spooner, it sounds like a sort of dreamy, easy-listening, dinner-jazz-type piece. The
Etude-Toccata “à la Argerich”
is more conventional as a composition and was written by Spooner to capture Martha Argerich’s Latin temperament and volatile virtuosity as heard in three works for which she is especially noted, Scarlatti’s Toccata, K 141, Ravel’s
Gaspard de la Nuit
, and Prokofiev’s Toccata, op. 11. Spooner’
portrait is brilliantly realized, both as a composition and in his playing of it. It’s quite hair-raising. The disc concludes with William Bolcom’s popular manic ragtime portrayal of “The Serpent’s Kiss” from his
Garden of Eden Suite.
The second CD, Volume 5 in Spooner’s “Historical Piano Recital Series,” features the pianist in a blockbuster performance of Liszt’s great B-Minor Sonata, played on Liszt’s actual 1886 Bechstein. The instrument speaks with a ringing tone and very quickly, which aids tremendously in clarifying the rapid virtuosic passages. The whole of this disc, in fact, is devoted exclusively to Liszt, including his
Paraphrase on Themes from Wagner’s Rienzi
, his piano arrangement of the
Robert le diable
, and a piano transcription of his own song
. Also included on the disc are the same two Schubert pieces,
, heard on Volume 3, but in each case, the timings are different by about a second or two, and I suspect these are not the same performances, as I’m pretty sure these recordings are taken from live concerts. Unfortunately, the details of performance dates and venues are not given. The albums contain well-written, informative notes on the music by Spooner himself, but production documentation for these CDs is absent.
For those unfamiliar with Steven Spooner—as was I before receiving these releases—he appears to be not a particularly young man, but a seasoned artist with a well-established international career. Interestingly, one of his teachers was Edmund Battersby, who I had the privilege of interviewing in the last issue. Tatiana Nikolaeva and Leonard Hokanson are also among those with whom Spooner studied. I suspect he is not as well known in the States as he should be because his recordings for EMR Classics, Everything Music, and IU (Indiana University) labels don’t seem to have wide distribution channels; at least they don’t show up on Amazon or ArkivMusic’s websites. But these “Historical Piano Recital Series” CDs
available at Amazon, so I would urge you to avail yourself of them immediately, if not sooner.