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Perfect primer of an understated master; CD REVIEWS CLASSICAL CD.

Byline: Terry Grimley

Nielsen: Complete Piano Music. Martin Roscoe (Hyperion 2 CDs) ****

Much as one would have liked to be a y on the wall in Paris in 1926 when Carl Nielsen took his turn at the piano with Ravel, Roussel and Honneger, two recently-discovered wax cylinders apparently conrm that the Danish composer was no great pianist.

And yet he wrote some of his most personal and intense music for the instrument. Nielsen's essential piano music consists of just four masterpieces written between 1916 and 1928 - the Chaconne, the Suite, the Theme and Variations and the Three Pieces - to which I would add the earlier, and lighter, Humoresque-Bagatelles for their irresistible evocations of jumping-jacks, musical clocks and spinning tops.

All of these pieces, apart from the Theme and Variations, are included on Leif Ove Andsnes's single CD on Virgin/EMI. But Nielsen buffs will not want to miss esoteric treats like the little improvisation on Silent Night or the Festival Prelude for the New Century, which is possibly unique in musical history in having been published on the front page of a newspaper, Politiken, to greet the 20th century on January 1, 2001 (the music, like the date, is a bit pedantic).

Much more substantial than this, playing for a total of 26 minutes, are the two books of Piano Music for Young and Old, a collection of teaching pieces (literally, in Danish, "for big and small") which dates from 1930 and is among Nielsen's last works.

Though aimed primarily at novice pianists rather than listeners, this collection of little pieces charmingly reects the inuence of Nielsen's beloved Mozart, seasoned with his own idiosyncratic harmony. Unfortunately Martin Roscoe can't do a great deal to redeem the somewhat hamsted Symphonic Suite of 1894, which was criticised by Nielsen's friend, the pianist-composer Ferruccio Busoni, for being too orchestral in concept.

But generally Roscoe serves Nielsen well, with performances that are very much on the front foot. An example is the nal movement of the Suite, where Roscoe nds real anger in the growly bass gure, where some interpretations are merely quizzical.

Peter Sievewright, on two Naxos CDs, is very good and obviously cheaper, but Roscoe is now a clear rst choice for the complete works. In fact his collection is more complete, including a mysterious "Piano Piece inCmajor" which is new to me. However, this 40-second snippet is so insignicant that I can't even nd mention of it in the booklet notes.

Perhaps it turned up with the wax cylinders.

Martin Roscoe plays Elgar and Beethoven at the Forum Theatre Malvern, on Thursday as a member of the Cropper Welsh Roscoe Trio (7.30pm).
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 9, 2008
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