ROBERT WOOLLEY is a young English harpsichordist, only 26 now, whose name is hardly a familiar one in this country, though he has been performing, teaching and recording in England and Europe for some time. Our introduction to him comes from Nonesuch, in form of a new two-disc set of the complete harpsichord music of Purcell (HB-73033) which is not only the most economical way to enjoy this material, but simply the most enjoyable.
All this music has been recorded by Janos Sebestyen in a three-disc Vox Box, and by Zuzana Ruzickova in a digitally mastered two-disc set for Denon. Colin Tilney has given us the eight suites on a DG Archiv disc, and Sylvia Marlowe's attractive collection of six of the suites and some of the shorter pieces, originally on American Decca, was reissued some time ago on Serenus. None of these is as unerringly persuasive in every item as young Woolley. His feeling for the character of a phrase seems instinctive, his ornamentation is stylish and tasteful, his own sense of delight in the music communicates itself irresistibly, and the sound of his instruments is most appealing, too.
Two harpsichords are involved, both of them copies of English instruments made about 1700. The recording (by Saga) is just about ideally focused, and the handy gatefold container carries details on the instruments as well as pertinent notes on the music. Highly recommended.
French pianist Michel Beroff is four years older than Woolley and a good deal better known; he has performed here during the last few years, and is represented by a number of most impressive recordings. Curiously, only one of the three discs he made with Kurt Masur and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra of the Prokofiev concerts was issued here, and it was withdrawn a year or two back, but now Angel has released a disc on which the same team may be heard in four of Liszt's brief concerted works -- the "Totentanz," Hungarian Fantasia, "Malediction," and the Fantasia on Beethoven's "Ruins of Athens" (SZ-37761).
This is a convenient collection and all four works are performed very well indeed, though perhaps without the ultimate in real Lisztian flair. Three of these four titles have been well represented on records, but the adorable little Fantasy on "the Ruins of Athens" made its first LP appearance only about a year ago, when Turnabout issued its recording by Jerome Rose with the Philharmonia Hungarica under Richard Kapp (QTV 34708, packaged with Liszt's concerted arrangements of Schubert's "Wanderer" Fantasy and Weber's Polonaise brillante in E Major). In that performance, I think, one finds a greater sense of involvement: Rose and Kapp seems to be having real fun with the piece, while Beroff and Masur render it with rather unremarkable dryness. While the other performances on the Turnabout disc are nothing special, I think I would prefer that version of the Beethoven Fantasy and go for BRENDEL (ON EITHER turnabout or Philips) for the other three titles in Beroff's collection, convenience to the contrary notwithstanding.
Sir Clifford Curzon, of course, is not only older than both Woolley and Beroff's combined ages (73 last May), but has been one of the most respected and admired of pianists for decades, particularly on the part of his colleagues. It seemed incredible that London withdrew his marvelous recording of the Dvorak Piano Quintet a few years ago; not only his own playing but that of the Vienna Philharmonic Quartet (led by Willi Boskovsky) was on the very highest level, as was the integration of the two elements. Among subsequent recording of this work, perhaps only the one by Emanuel Ax and the Cleveland Quartet on RCA reaches the same heights. It is a pleasure to report that the Curzon/Vienna recording has been issued in London's low-priced Stereo Treasury Series (STS-15525). As in the original issue, the disc is filled out with the quartet's splendid performance of Schubert's "Quartettsatz" in C minor, D. 703. The domestic pressing is pocked in spots, but not enough to keep this from being one of the truest of bargains.