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Fantastic Performances Of Unmemorable Music

Jed Distler

Artistic Quality:

Sound Quality:

It’s difficult to describe the piano music of the Bucharest-born, Paris-based composer Marcel Mihalovici (1898-1985). He has a gift for fluently languid textures, such as in the Sonate’s improvisatory middle movement, yet they never convey sensuality in the manner of, say, Szymanowski’s like-minded gestures. There’s plenty of contrast in his large-scale pieces dominated by contrapuntal rigor like the Ricercari and the Passacaille for the left hand, but their tonal ambiguity is devoid of harmonic tension. I prefer the simpler, more accessible style of the Pastorales, where tonality and wistful lyricism seep through, and compensate for a lack of memorable melodic interest.

Some listeners will find much to admire and respect regarding Mihalovici’s seriousness, precise workmanship, and impeccable sense of proportion. To my ears, it’s academic and anonymous stuff . That said, Matthew Rubenstein makes the best possible case for Mihalovici. He plays with the utmost care, character, rhythmic élan, and timbral variety. Just sample the pianist’s staggeringly precise leaps and unsplintering, well-defined chord work in the Passacaille for left hand, and you’ll hear what I mean. Rubenstein’s piano also benefits from superb engineering.

Writer Lukas Nëf’s passionate advocacy on behalf of this composer is everywhere evident his extensive and cogently analytical annotations, prefaced by Charles Timbrell’s touching personal remembrances of the composer and his pianist wife Monique Haas. In sum, Rubenstein’s pianism rates an easy 10, Mihalovici’s music a reluctant 5, with my ultimate rating splitting the difference.

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: This one

    Sonatine Op. 11 (1922-23); Quatre Caprices Op. 28 (1928); Ricercari Op. 46 (1941); Quatre Pastorales Op. 62 (1950); Sonate Op. 90 (1964); Passacaille pour le main gauche Op. 105 (1975)

    Soloists: Matthew Rubenstein (piano)

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