INKPOT#69 CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEWS: Ruth Laredo – My First Recital (Essay)
My First Recital
RUTH LAREDO piano
ESS.A.Y Recordings CD1006
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Prelude No.1 in C major (from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1)
Two-Part Invention Nos.1 in C major, BWV 772
Two-Part Invention No.4 in D minor, BMV 775
Two Part Invention No.8 in F major, BWV 779Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Fantasia in D minor K397
Sonata in C Major K 545
Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1849)
Sonata in G major Op 49
Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)
Waltz in A major, Op.64 -” Minute Waltz”
Waltz in B minor, Op.69 No.1 (after the Warsaw Autograph)
Grand Valse Brilliante in A, Op.18
Claude Debussy (1862-1856)
The Girl with the Flaxen Hair (from Preludes, Book 1)
Clair de lune (from Suite Bergamasque)
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Kinderscenen (Scenes from Childhood) Op.15
From Foreign Lands and People
A Curious Story
An important Event
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)
March from Peter and the Wolf
by Johann D’Souza
If you are looking for a “Wow” CD of classical piano virtuostic works – this is not the disc. However, listening to this album does bring back memories for a former piano student like myself. Well, as the programme suggests, it is a nostalgic look at Ruth Laredo’s first recital and constitutes works every pianist would have gone through when learning the piano, from earlier works by J.S Bach to Fr Elise by Beethoven, with works gradually increasing in difficulty and progressing to modern works like Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf March.
The late Artur Rubeinstein was once asked, “How do you become a great pianist?” of which the legend of the keyboard barked loudly “Bach! Bach! Bach!”. Well, Bach was undoubtedly a legendary keyboardist of the High Baroque and that reputation has persisted through the centuries. The music world greatly owes him a lot for the education he has given to the greatest of pianists and other musicians, even those who write more than they play.
The works on this disc start with the First Prelude from the The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1 which has also been integrated into a song by Gounod setting the ever-popular “Ave Maria”. The remaining pieces are the two- and three- part inventions Nos. 1 in C major, No.4 in D minor and 8 in F major. These form the first introductions to contrapuntal and polyphony for most pianists; for me they taught me the inter-relationships between the various separate voices which interlock and are forged into a single communication.
Ruth Laredo takes these pieces through with the deliberation I could only wish I could have played with as a student. Her pedalling is exact and phrases are given new thought yet never sounding too much out of the mainstream. When one mentions “out-of-the-ordinary”, one must inevitably refer to Glenn Gould. Bach put relatively few phrasal markings in his scores and this thus gives the pianist much leeway for individual thought and interpretation. I suppose this is why Bach played by Glenn Gould can sound so different from Bach played by Andras Schiff or Rosalyn Tureck. It is always interesting to make a comparison between Gould and many a famous pianist because it is he that gives you so much more to think about in terms of new interpretations.
Ruth Laredo includes two of the most famous of Mozart’s piano works – the Fantasia in D minor and the ever popular C major sonata K 545. Mozart has often been viewed as the hardest of composers to perform as the works are neither virtuosic nor introspective in nature (in the Romantic sense, or relative to other composers) and yet have their own distinctively “Classical” difficulties for pianists.
Examination boards like the British Associate Board of the Royal School of Music have acknowledged this and introduced Mozart’s music into examination programmes and teaching courses. Major competitions like the Van Cliburn and Leeds have also introduced compulsory Mozart pieces in the early rounds of competition to filter out the good pianists from the rest.
Laredo gives clean readings with clear and distinct trills and punctuation marks clearly adhered to – however I have to admit that these works do not give you much room for expression and I for one have never taken much liking to Mozart programmes with the exception of the interpretations of Mitsuko Uchida who seems to play Mozart with a particular sense of drama and passion which is yet to be emulated by others. Having said that, Ruth Laredo proves to be interesting through her clarity in expressing even simple markings like mf, crescendo and pp which now, when heard after all these years, gives these pieces new life. Metronome timings are also taken at a pace where students and the general pianophile can appreciate.
For those that do not know her, Laredo has been hailed as the “First Lady of the Piano”. She was the first person to record all the solo works of Rachmaninov, and other records have included the complete Sonatas of Scriabin and her recording of Samuel Barber’s Sonata won her a Grammy nomination. Previous interviews with her conducted by David Dubal have shown her to be a person who puts tremendous thought into her music. Her playing is often seen as concentrating greatly on making sure that the composer’s intentions are strictly adhered to. She often studies the lives of the composers whose music she plays to have a better understanding of how he or she would have loved the work(s) to be played, thereby allowing textual fidelity without sacrificing the composer for the music.
She has always advocated that every time you play, you start from scratch so the word “success” does not hold any weight. Personally I do not subscribe to this – without taking the meaning out of context she may have a point, however every pianist has his or her own way of interpretation, and interpretation is often a matter of opinion. Let us take for instance her rendition of Clair de lune from Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque which I found taken slightly too fast as compared to say Claudio Arrau. The latter takes it roughly at 2 minutes slower for a piece which is deeply bent on having a very dreamy disposition and should be taken with a more Adagio stance. However Laredo still plays it with much impressionistic atmosphere. Her rendition of The Girl with the Flaxen Hair is taken with less use of the pedal than usual and sounds very much like how a student of the piano would interpret it compared to master pianists like Walter Gieseking or Michelangeli – the latter who would remark that the lack of the pedal lacks the dreamy and fairy tale experience when one plays Debussy. They were masters of the pedal and used it with total ingenuity.
Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf always has that youthful exuberance and that is exactly how Laredo performs the March, enjoyable even if it does not have the more spectacular and difficult virtuostic staccatos that we have come to expect in pieces like the famous Toccata and the piano sonatas.
Laredo has chosen some of Beethoven’s and Chopin’s favourite pieces for the piano which is a good way to introduce these composers to budding pianists as well as children who may be interested in the piano. Fr Elise is played by everyone who learns the piano; to Laredo’s credit, she spins magic into those simple notes.
I highly recommend this disc for its great variety and ease of listening. For those who love the warmth and charm of a special woman pianist- this is the disc of the First Lady.
This disc is available at or can be ordered from Borders (Wheelock Place) or Tower Records (Pacific Plaza & Suntec City).
Johann D’Souza has just visited the Kingdom of Thailand and is amazed at the charm and beauty of the country.