ABC Classics 476 3390
reviewed by Neville Cohn
Piano Concerto No 1: Romanza (Chopin); Traumerei (Schumann); Piano Concerto in A minor: allegro affettuoso (Schumann); Petrarch Sonnet No 104; Piano Concerto No1: andante semplice (Tchaikowsky); Piano Sonata No 1 in C: rondo presto; Piano Concerto No 4: rondo vivace (Beethoven); Piano Concerto: allegro con brio (Bliss); The Heart’s Assurance (Tippett) with Peter Pears (tenor)
This is an important recording which ought to be listened to by anyone with a serious interest in the piano repertoire.
Noel Mewton-Wood’s career was like a blazing comet which, having soared across the heavens, vanished –suddenly and without warning – from the firmament. Mewton-Wood’s suicide – over a lovers’ tiff – when in his early thirties, robbed the world of one of the most articulate and profound pianists ever to place music on record. These nine tracks are a catalogue of keyboard marvels that makes Mewton-Wood’s exit from the scene at so tragically early an age even more poignant.
As a child, at the dawn of the LP era, the writer was given a gift of a second-hand recording featuring Melbourne-born Mewton-Wood as soloist in Tchaikowsky’s Piano Concerto No 2 in G. To this day, the sense of wonder and delight experienced on hearing this prodigious offering is as clearly recalled as if yesterday. I still treasure that now-ancient LP with its pops and crackles a legacy of being played times without number.
None of this performance features on this recently released CD which brims with other good things, not least wonderfully insightful readings of single movements from concertos by Chopin, Schumann, Beethoven, Tchaikowsky (No 1) and Arthur Bliss. With their frankly stunning insights by a musician of seemingly unlimited potential, this cornucopia of near-peerless offering is a reminder of what a loss the world sustained on Mewton-Wood’s premature death in England. In the Schumann movement, the playing is in turn imperious, tender and virile, every aspect of the music presented with unassailable aesthetic logic.
There’s an astonishing track devoted to the finale from Weber’s Sonata No 1 in C. I listened in astonishment to the sort of breathtaking virtuosity one more usually associates with Horowitz in his prime. It’s a feat of prestidigitation that needs to be heard to be believed. The music, qualitatively wafer-thin, has little inherent worth but the dazzling skill with which it is played makes it, for the duration of the piece, seem infinitely more important than it really is –and it is only a wizard of the keyboard that could cast such a spell.
Again and again, as one listens to these tracks, there is the sad realisation of a blazing flame of genius extinguished prematurely. Liszt’s Petrarch Sonnet No 104 provides a stunning listening experience.
Liner notes by Cyrus Meher-Homji make for fascinating reading.
Hopefully, more of Mewton-Wood’s glittering piano legacy will be made available on CD not only as a reminder to those who have already experienced the magic of this extraordinary musician but to reach out to those who have not yet come upon this glittering musical treasure trove.
In the Chopin track, the musical argument is expounded with a cogency and lucidity that are breathtaking, insights that are beyond criticism in the conventional sense. Recorded sound is excellent. And Mewton-Wood manages, too, to make Bliss’ long-winded and often-vulgar concerto far more approachable than it, in fact, is.
All the works on this CD are mentioned in Sonia Orchard’s novel The Virtuoso.