Antonio Soler: Sonata No. 62, in B Flat Major (4:57)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Adagio und Rondo (10:08) fur Harmonika, Flote, Oboe, Viola und Violoncell, K. 617
Domenico Scarlatti: Two Solo Sonatas (5:49)
Bernhard Molique: Six Songs without Words (12:14)
Bernhard Molique: Sonata for pianoforte & concertina, Op. 57 (20:37)
Andrew Hugget: Suite for Accordion & Piano
review date: January 1999
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Review by Joseph Natoli:
Are you in the mood for some world class performing? Are you in the mood to hear some very special music that is off the beaten path of those war-horse pieces that almost all keyboardists seem compelled to choose for recordings? Are you in the mood to be pleasantly surprised and delighted whether you are an accordionist or just someone who appreciates truly good music? You've come to the right place. In the words of the immortal Monty Python, "And now for something completely different!"
This 1993 release from CBC Records entitled simply "JOSEPH PETRIC, Accordion," is sure to solidify his reputation as one of the leading and most talented representatives of the accordion in the world today. This collection of 18th and 19th century works (plus one from a contemporary composer), is one of those fortunate discoveries where the artist doubles not only as a sensitive performer, but also as an intelligent musicologist who has done his homework and taken the time to find rare and underrated gems that any listener is sure to enjoy again and again. What is even more amazing is that he is equally at home with contemporary or traditional music. Until now, I have only reviewed his contemporary offerings, but this CD firmly establishes Joseph Petric as a well-rounded and gifted performer in any genre.
The first thing that will impress you about Mr. Petric's playing style is the extreme care he gives to each and every note. He is not content merely to focus on flashy displays all over the keyboard like those that exist on so many other accordion recordings out there. Instead, he is very interested in choosing pieces that allow him to take his time to concentrate on sensitivity and phrase shaping for a completely well-balanced and satisfying listening experience. It's like the driver of a beautiful yet powerful Lamborghini automobile who chooses some of the time to cruise around town at the speed limit. Of course he knows that his race car can go 150+ miles per hour when he needs it to, but he is also cognizant that people would not be able to appreciate the beauty of the Lamborghini's lines and its aerodynamic design if driven constantly past potential admirers at breakneck speeds. This analogy applies to Mr. Petric's CD very well. He has chosen pieces that allow the listener to appreciate the beauty of the instrument as well as his ability to shape notes and phrases. Yet when the pieces require technique, he has the finesse of a gazelle and uses his polished technique strategically as an enhancement and complement to his artistry.
The first track of the CD is a gorgeous little sonata by Padre Antonio Soler, born in 1729, whom I happen to know is one of Mr. Petric's favorite composers from this period. Like the sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti, who is also represented on this compilation, the bulk of Soler's sonatas are in one movement, but freer in form than Scarlatti's. Both composers have written many works that fall very appropriately on the accordion. In fact, even though most of Soler's sonatas were for the forte-piano, he also composed sonatas for the organ and cembalo as well. Therefore, one cannot help but feel Soler would highly approve of this performance by Mr. Petric, especially since there were great pains taken to adhere stylistically to every ornament and nuance. Additionally, on the Soler sonata as well as the entire CD, Mr. Petric seems incapable of a bellows break or performance errors of any kind.
Another characteristic of Mr. Petric's artistry that seems to jump out of the stereo speakers is the complete independence of his hands, and the way in which he is able to use this independence to underscore and enhance important aspects of the compositional structure. This is very apparent in both the Soler and the Scarlatti sonatas, but becomes even more applicable in the Bernhard Molique Six Songs Without Words for concertina and harp and the Sonata for pianoforte and concertina, where successive notes are alternated between hands much as a concertinist would do. However, even without that background knowledge, the color changes invoked with this technique are very pleasant and intriguing to the ear.
Speaking of the Molique compositions, I found his Six Songs Without Words to be very evocative of a simpler era during the 19th century, when music was supported and appreciated in the parlors of many homes. This collection of pieces are so melodious and poignant, they truly do deserve to be called "songs without words". In fact, I found myself quite choked up at times listening to them, which is a reaction that almost never occurs to me. The nostalgic quality of these songs is especially enhanced by the color combination with the harp and Mr. Petric is especially lucky to have one of Canada's leading harpists, Erica Goodman, on these six tracks. She has thrilled audiences everywhere in every imaginable musical context and she lives up to that claim on this CD as well. Again, there are no blazing pyrotechnics here...just truly beautiful music, performed with great artistry and sensitivity.
The second Molique composition on this CD, Sonata for pianoforte & concertina, Op. 57 is a little more pedantic, but all three movements are still very expressive and melodious. As someone who is not well-acquainted with the concertina and/or its literature, I was very surprised to learn in this composition that the concertina possesses the technical arsenal with which to accomplish many of the difficult passages in the Sonata, especially in the very lively third movement entitled Rondo. These tracks have given me a new found respect for the concertina and its potential as a concert instrument.
Mozart fans will not be disappointed with the Adagio and Rondo movements of the Glassharmonica Quintet K.617. Joseph Petric had transcribed the work into a very colorful blend using accordion and string quartet. Hearing this very lush instrumental setting with Mr. Petric's modern day accordion, one cannot help but imagine that the very adventurous and experimental Mozart would have loved to have a shot at writing for the accordion. Certainly if he had heard this recording, he most likely would have jumped at the opportunity.
Finally, a big surprise for me on this CD was the last composition by Andrew Hugget, Suite for Accordion & Piano, filling up the last four tracks. It is so refreshing to hear that a contemporary composer can still write accessible and memorable melodies without sacrificing contemporary artistic concepts. Even though these four movements are based on existing east coast Canadian folk songs, there is further melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic originality around every turn. I was especially excited by the 2nd and 4th movements, which are rhythmic and polyrhythmic extravaganazas. Anyone who loves music will love this composition, no matter what his/her stylistic persuasion. I just hope Andew Hugget plans on writing more for the accordion, because our literature will surely benefit from his standard of quality and craftsmanship. Guy Few, the piano accompanist on these and the Molique Sonata tracks, is a fantastic talent who is to be commended for matching the artistry and accuracy of Mr. Petric on both of these compositions.
The only negative I can find with this recording at all is the fact that I detected a background hiss throughout the entire CD, similar to that found on audio tape. The hiss is a very minor annoyance and almost undetectable, and therefore would not keep me from buying the CD. However I found it very curious that the hiss even existed on CD media, especially since it was recorded by a leading Canadian record producer, CBC Records. Hiss should not even be a possiblity, considering this CD was recorded completely in the digital domain. However, somehow CBC Records found a way to hold onto this artifact. Hopefully they will be more careful in the future to eliminate such problems.
As a final thought, I once read an interesting remark made to the late great Vladimir Horowitz. One of his admirers indicated to him that he seemed have the ability to execute at least 100 different levels of pianissimo. Maestro Horowitz humbly thanked the admirer for noticing. Joseph Petric seems to have that same level of artistic control, which puts him on my very short list of some of the finest accordionists in the world today. I highly recommend this CD for those looking for something artistically unique and completely captivating. You will not be disappointed.
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