The Compact Collection

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It's just four months since the Peter Pan of pianists took centre stage for a recording of piano quintets by Schumann and Dohnányi. A rush release on the Ivory Classics label should prove popular though the instrumental recipe is unusual. Rather than share the music among five, 84-year-old Earl Wild engages the 30-strong American String Orchestra, bolstering both scores to the scale of mini concertos.

It's just four months since the Peter Pan of pianists took centre stage for a recording of piano quintets by Schumann and Dohnányi. A rush release on the Ivory Classics label should prove popular though the instrumental recipe is unusual. Rather than share the music among five, 84-year-old Earl Wild engages the 30-strong American String Orchestra, bolstering both scores to the scale of mini concertos.

The Schumann works best in the lyrical second set of his second movement where string lines soar and Wild strokes a discreet accompaniment. His command of the outer movements is unflinching and his seamless legato harks back to the eras of Rubinstein or Rosenthal. Isaiah Jackson conducts and although the band is occasionally just a little too loud for comfort - it's a close, fairly dry body of sound - the playing is full of zest and the marriage will make particular sense to readers who love their piano concertos but find chamber music too effete.

A more recherché corrective to that age-old misconception would be the chamber music of Charles-Valentin Alkan. The Grand duo concertant for violin and piano rises like a summer dawn, though the "Hell" of the second movement is so dark that even a conciliatory fiddle line can't dispel the gloom. And to think that Mendelssohn played the Piano Trio while working on his own Violin Concerto. The slow movement's opening sounds like one of Mendelssohn's string quartets, but what I wonder would Victoria's favourite composer have made of the tortured declamations that follow? The same APR collection also features a hyperactive Cello Sonata and a handful of solo works including the caustic Capriccio alla soldatesca. Pianist Ronald Smith exhibits an unflinching command of Alkan's often complex idiom and his excellent string collaborators are violinist James Clark and Cellist Moray Walsh. The 1992-4 recordings were made by Nimbus but are receiving their first-ever release here.

Turning back to Bach, the American pianist Edward Aldwell has taped his exquisite Bach performances for Nonesuch, Biddulph and now the German-based Hänssler label. Aldwell's latest venture covers all six of Bach's French Suites, newly released in the UK as part of Hänssler's prestigious Bach Akademie Edition. The First Suite's opening Allemande immediately sets the standard with a measured tempo, careful voicing and a lively appreciation of the music's harmonic structure. Aldwell is a pianist in the Glenn Gould tradition, though without Gould's propulsive staccatos or frequent eccentricities of phrasing. He posits a strand of counterpoint like an insistent rumour, always subtly though with a firm sense of musical purpose. His touch is never percussive, and his timing mostly impeccable. Hänssler's latest Bach release has also given us fine sets from harpsichordist Trevor Pinnock (Partitas) and pianist Evgeni Koroliov (Italian Concerto, etc), but Aldwell's French Suites have already drawn me back more often than either.

Schumann, Dohnányi Wild, etc Ivory Classics/Nimbus 71003 Alkan Smith, etc APR 7032 (two discs) Bach Aldwell Hänssler CD 92 114 (two discs)

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