IT WAS a total surprise to find my name under an excerpt from a magazine review spread I across the cover of the two-disc Quintessence set of Ravel's piano music played by Kun Woo Paik (2PMC-2712, cassettes 2P4C-2712). It seemed unlikely I could forget having encountered anything so substantial, but I was certain I had never come across this recording, or even heard of the Korean pianist, and reading the quoted material rang no bell. On checking, I found that the review in question did indeed come from the July 1976 Stereo Review, but that I was not responsible for it: in the magazine the signature reads clearly: Eric Salzman.
Nevertheless, it was a curiously proprietary interest that impelled me to listen to these discs (identified as "Vol. I," though the original issue comprised only three discs), and I found Paik to be a stimulating musician. He seems to be so thoroughly in command of his instrument, so capable in dealing with technical challenges, that he can devote his full energy to interpretive considerations, and he clearly forsworn anything resembling surface-level virtuosity.
The set contains six works: Miroirs, Valses nobles et sentimentales, Le Tombeau de Couperin, the early Menuet antique, the tiny and virtually unknown Prelude of 1913, and the ubiquitous Pavane pour une infante de'funte. Paik seems to be able to X-ray the music without leaving it merely skin and bones. He does not seek to impose any interpretive overlay, but simply to bring out what Ravel more or less "wrote into" these scores. His tempi are occasionally on the brisk side, but never uncomfortably so. The one misfire in the whole set, I think, is the Alborada del gracioso, which lacks the sinuous rhythmic flexibility that most of us would regard as the core of that piece. In all, though, a set worth hearing.
A recording I did review in the aforementioned magazine, and most enthusiastically, was the Raphael Trio's stunning performance of Dvora'k's Trio in F minor, Op. 65, originally issued on the Sonar label. It has reappeared now, both more accessible and less costly, on Nonesuch H-71397, and it is something no lover of chamber music should allow himself to miss.
Violinist Charles Castleman, cellist Susan Salm and pianist Daniel Epstein have been performing together as the Raphael Trio for several years, but this is apparently the only recording to come from that activity so far. On the basis of this single performance, one does not move the Beaux Arts and Suk trios down from their well-earned pedestals, but neither of those more celebrated ensembles (both of which have recorded all the Dvora'k trios) made this work as exciting, as luscious or as all-round compelling as it is in this recording. The sound is pretty special, too. For anyone yet to discover Dvora'k's chamber music beyond the well-loved Piano Quintet and Op. 96 ("American") Quartet, there could not be a better starting-point than this disc.
More music from Dvora'k's homeland, far less likely to be reissued on a domestic label, is an intriguing collection of "Czech Pastoral Partitas" played by the Collegium Musicum Pragense under Frantisek Vajnar on a new Supraphon import (1111.2616). The five works are a Partita in D for pairs of oboes, horns and bassoons by Va'clav Vincenc Masek, a "Partita pastoralis" in G by an anonymous composer for the same instruments, Josef Fiala's Divertimento Bastorale with clarinets added, Va'clav Pichl's Concertino in F con pastorella for the eight winds plus double bass and tambourine, and--shortest but most endearing of the lot -- Vaclav Havel's Allegro ut pastorella for two clarinets, two horns, two bassoons and "tuba pastoralis."
That term was a fancy name devised for chamber music use of what is actrually the rugged and unpretentious alphorn; in this case it is a nine-foot bass alphorn (there is a back-liner photograph of Va'clav Hoza performing on the instrument) and it decorates the work with robust outdoorsy fanfares.
All the music comes from around 1800; all of it is tuneful and colorful, the unpretentious work of village teachers. The performances could not be more ingratiating, the sound is good, and this is a sweet, if inconsequential, reminder that there is still something new under the sun, after all.