Barber, Martin, etc.: Piano Sonatas & Preludes/Walsh

Review by: Jed Distler

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 8

Originally issued by Music and Arts, Diane Walsh’s 1990 recital devoted to four pianistic pillars from the first half of the 20th century receives a new and hopefully permanent lease on life via the Bridge label. Her intelligent virtuosity offers pleasure and insight in equal doses. The disc opens with a satisfying account of the oft-recorded Barber Sonata. Walsh’s straight-and-narrow, headlong response to the first movement markedly differs from the febrile rhetoric made famous by Horowitz and his followers, while making the Scherzo sound rounder and gentler than Earl Wild’s incisive, deliciously pointed reading. There have been faster and slicker accounts of the Barber Sonata’s daunting final fugue (notably Marc-André Hamelin on Hyperion), yet the way Walsh achieves dramatic momentum through judicious voicing and careful dynamic scaling pays lasting rewards.

The harmonic challenges, textural contrasts, and expressive opportunities offered in Frank Martin’s 1947-48 set of eight preludes are too compelling for pianists to ignore any longer. Walsh’s caring, conscientious pianism lovingly makes their case, although No. 7, the set’s longest and most substantial movement, might scale further emotional peaks and valleys with a slower basic tempo. Conversely, a faster, lighter touch, and more assertive trills would have imparted more bite and sardonic profile to the scampering No. 8. Walsh’s performances of the Prokofiev and Bartók sonatas boast plenty of rhythmic verve and pinpointed accents while taking into account the piano’s non-percussive, lyrical potential. It’s good to have this first-rate release back in the catalog, complete with the pianist’s excellent annotations. Warmly recommended.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Barber: Wild (Ivory Classics), Bartók : Kocsis (Philips)

SAMUEL BARBER - Sonata for Piano Op. 26
FRANK MARTIN - Eight Preludes for Piano
SERGEI PROKOFIEV - Sonata No. 2 in D minor Op. 14
BÉLA BARTÓK - Sonata for Piano

  • Diane Walsh (piano)

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