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Hyperion Records

APR5595 - Mendelssohn: Valerie Tryon plays Mendelssohn

Recording details: Various dates
St George's, Brandon Hill, United Kingdom
Produced by Bryan Crimp
Engineered by Jonathan Lane
Release date: October 2005
Total duration: 61 minutes 29 seconds

Valerie Tryon plays Mendelssohn
Andante  [2'03]  recorded 5 May 2002
Presto  [4'17]  recorded 5 May 2002
No 1 in E major: Andante con moto  [3'22]  recorded 5 May 2002
No 2 in A minor: Andante espressivo  [2'02]  recorded 5 May 2002
No 3 in A major: Molto allegro e vivace  [2'17]  recorded 5 May 2002
Theme: Andante assai espressivo  [0'53]  recorded 4 May 2003
Variation 1: [untitled]  [0'53]  recorded 4 May 2003
Variation 2: [Legato sempre]  [0'44]  recorded 4 May 2003
Variation 3: Più vivace  [0'45]  recorded 4 May 2003
Variation 4: Più moderato  [0'50]  recorded 4 May 2003
Variation 5: Tempo 1  [3'32]  recorded 4 May 2003
No 6 in A flat major, 'Duetto': Andante  [2'36]  recorded 5 May 2002
No 1 in G major: Andante espressivo  [2'22]  recorded 5 May 2002
No 2 in E minor: Scherzo: Presto  [2'34]  recorded 5 May 2002
No 3 in E major: Andante  [3'23]  recorded 4 May 2003
Theme: Andante tranquillo  [0'52]  recorded 4 May 2003
Variation 1: Cantabile  [0'53]  recorded 4 May 2003
Variation 2: [untitled]  [0'53]  recorded 4 May 2003
Variation 3: Allegro  [0'37]  recorded 4 May 2003
Variation 4: [untitled]  [0'38]  recorded 4 May 2003
Variation 5: [untitled]  [3'28]  recorded 4 May 2003
No 4 in C major, 'Spinnerlied': Presto  [1'48]  recorded 5 May 2002
No 1 in F major: Andante espressivo  [2'16]  recorded 5 May 2002
Theme: Andante sostenuto  [0'38]  recorded 5 May 2002
Variation 1: [poco più mosso]  [0'33]  recorded 5 May 2002
Variation 2: Più animato  [0'33]  recorded 5 May 2002
Variation 3: Vivace  [0'25]  recorded 5 May 2002
Variation 4: [delicatissimo]  [0'22]  recorded 5 May 2002
Variation 5: Agitato  [0'22]  recorded 5 May 2002
Variation 6: [a tempo]  [0'22]  recorded 5 May 2002
Variation 7: Presto con fuoco  [0'21]  recorded 5 May 2002
Variation 8: Allegro vivace  [0'18]  recorded 5 May 2002
Variation 9: [untitled]  [0'24]  recorded 5 May 2002
Variation 10: Moderato  [0'48]  recorded 5 May 2002
Variation 11: [molto cantando]  [0'29]  recorded 5 May 2002
Variation 12: Presto  [0'29]  recorded 5 May 2002
Variation 13: Tempo di tema  [0'40]  recorded 5 May 2002
Variation 14: Adagio  [0'52]  recorded 5 May 2002
Variation 15: Poco a poco più agitato  [0'21]  recorded 5 May 2002
Variation 16: Allegro vivace  [0'18]  recorded 5 May 2002
Variation 17: [untitled]  [2'26]  recorded 5 May 2002

This is a recording from Appian Publications & Recordings Ltd (to quote the full title)—the label invariably more familiarly known simply as "APR".

Since its foundation in 1986, APR has won an enviable reputation as a quality label devoted predominantly—though not exclusively—to historic piano recordings. In particular APR has won countless laurels for the high standard of its 78rpm restoration work—"Transfers of genius" to quote one critic—as well as the detail and content of its booklets.

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Few pianists appear to relish the prospect of recording: Benno Moiseiwitsch likened it to a round in the boxing ring and Sviatoslav Richter placed the experience on a par with the torture chamber. As ever, there are exceptions: Valerie Tryon positively thrives on the process. There is almost a party feel to her recording sessions (with much light-hearted banter and laughter in between takes) and, for all the seriousness of the matter in hand—which in fact amounts to nothing less than leaving part of yourself for posterity—work invariably proceeds in a relaxed, easy-going manner. Most definitely there is no angst, there are no tantrums.

On a technical level she is naturally one hundred percent prepared. That is taken for granted. What makes working with her so intriguing is that she appears not to have an interpretation set in stone. Rather, she’ll record a take or two then place them under intense personal scrutiny. Having satisfied herself as to what (if anything) needs ‘adjusting’, she’ll offer her thoughts—usually in a self-derogatory manner—and invite the opinion of others. We have arrived at the all-important creative aspect of recording: building and fashioning an interpretation. This might, or might not, vary from day to day. After all, the venue, the instrument and, as she sees it, her ‘fellow workers’, inevitably inspire different creative juices. She’s also an excellent mind-reader. If her producer inwardly thinks that the piece is immaculately played but might perhaps benefit from a little more ‘punch’, she’ll give him a straight look and innocently enquire: ‘Do you want me to rough it up a bit?’ (She’s more than aware that her training, allied to a technique which knows no obstacles—not that she for one moment would make such a claim—has throughout her career inclined her more to unruffled understatement than rhetorical gestures.) More takes then ensue before another listening session. If the ‘roughing up’ process is deemed to have worked then it’s onto the next piece.

Perfunctory and routine? Far from it! There is an exceptional symbiosis between Valerie Tryon and the piano, something far deeper than the obvious connection between pianist and instrument. I will never forget our recording session in February 2000 when we met for the first time to record an all-Friedman programme (APR 5592). This was also her first meeting with the wonderful (ex-BBC) Steinway instrument at St George’s, Brandon Hill in Bristol. Pianist and piano required little by way of introduction. After a few minutes of snatches of what was to come, interspersed with the occasional pearly scale, the partnership declared itself fully acquainted and pro­ceedings began with Friedman’s transcription of the ‘Ballet des ombres heureuses’ from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. Page-turner, sound engineer and producer exchanged looks of sheer astonishment at the extraordinary warmth of sound, the subtle range of dynamics and the velvety rubato that emanated from this newly minted alliance. She intuitively knew the possibilities of that instrument from the very first note. (That first take of that first session remained untouched and opened the resultant CD programme.)

Pianist and instrument were reunited for this all-Mendelssohn programme. It is instantly apparent that these performances find Valerie Tryon in complete harmony with Mendels­sohn’s music and, most significantly, with the composer’s approach to the keyboard. The description of Mendelssohn as being ‘calm and reserved but full of depth of feeling’ uncannily reflects Valerie Tryon both as a person and a pianist. It is well known that Mendelssohn abhorred virtuosity: ‘Of mere effects of performance’, said Clara Schumann, ‘he knew nothing—he was always the great musician, and in hearing him one forgot the player, and only revelled in the full enjoyment of the music … his playing was always stamped with beauty and nobility.’ Certainly the avoidance of shallow effect serves only to enhance the music. Recorded in her down-to-earth, no-nonsense manner, these interpretations are so lit from within that they could only result from a lifetime spent in the composer’s company. Valerie Tryon recalls meeting Mendelssohn for the first time via an album containing a selection of popular Songs without words and songs presented to her by her primary school. Since then she has ‘never been without Mendelssohn’. During her student days she frequently turned to the Songs without words after ‘scheduled practise’ and ‘read through them simply for pleasure and relaxation. I’m drawn to the touching poignancy of his melodies and I find my fingers have a natural feel for his nimble, fluid music.’

And what of the chosen repertoire? It’s a mix of the familiar and the near-forgotten. The English took Mendelssohn to their collective heart on the strength of his part-songs and, more especially, of his Songs without words, gems deriving from the composer’s delight in penning intimate small-scale character pieces. In all there are eight books (the last two published posthumously), each comprising six pieces. Their former popularity is apparent from the host of gratuitous ‘genteel’ titles (quoted on the contents page), though of the cross-section of Songs without words included in this programme only ‘Hunting song’, ‘Duetto’ (said to depict a conversation between the composer and his fiancée) and ‘Spring song’ were actually attributed by the composer. (For some time the Victorians, somewhat prosaically, preferred to call ‘Spring song’ ‘Camberwell Green’—where it was composed during Mendelssohn’s seventh visit to England in 1842.)

The Variations sérieuses in D minor, Op 54, stand as one of Mendelssohn’s greatest achievements in any genre. Dating from 1841, the composer appears to have been taken aback by his own creativity: ‘Do you know’, he confessed in a letter to a friend, ‘what I have recently been composing with enthusiasm? Variations for the piano—actually eighteen on a theme in D minor; and they amused me so famously that I instantly made fresh ones on a theme in E flat major and now for the third time in B flat. I feel as if I must make up for lost time, never having written any before.’ The latter two sets were published posthumously and, if not on the exalted level of the Variations sérieuses with their breathtaking invention, exploratory harmony, dazzling concision and a degree of bravura unusual in Mendelssohn’s keyboard works, they nevertheless do not deserve neglect. (It’s refreshing to have all three sets within a single programme.)

Although published in 1833 the miraculous Andante and Rondo capriccioso, Op 14, almost certainly dates from some ten years earlier when Mendelssohn was mere fifteen.

Finally, the three pieces assembled as Trois fantaisies ou caprices, Op 16, were written in 1829. They include the little ‘Scherzo’, so beloved by pianists of ‘the golden age’, as their second number.

Bryan Crimp © 2005

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