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4.6 out of 5 stars
4
Piano Recital: Ashley Wass
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Price:£7.49

on 20 February 2016
This is a very good disc and Ashley Wass is clearly a pianist of the front rank. The works on this disc range from the gentle nostalgia of Les Plaintes D'Une Poupees, a pretty salon piece, to the grandeur of the Prelude, Choral and Fugue. The real find, though, is Eglogue, an early work, which opens with a simple, lovely melody and develops into a work of real substance. It lasts nearly seventeen minutes and if the composer's inspiration flags a bit, it is played with such spirit and conviction that you can believe it a greater piece than perhaps it is. When the lovely melody returns at the end you can barely resist a smile.

The Prelude, Choral and Fugue is a masterpiece and Ashley Wass has the full measure of it, both intellectually and technically. Its structure and logic are well brought out and he finds an extra degree of lyricism, particularly in the opening prelude, that I haven't experienced in the work before. His interpretation isn't the only way to play it, and at times I think he misses something of the work's grandeur, but maybe that's just me. The other works are finely played – he brings out the lyricism and nostalgia in the middle of the Grand Caprice as well as its melodrama, and the structure of the other big work, the Prelude, Aria and Final, which I haven't always been able to make sense of.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 November 2014
This recording was Ashley Wass's debut disc, following his 1997 win in the World Piano Competition. Since then, he has shown unusual enterprise in recording a lot of material that isn't in the standard repertory -- a lot of it British -- and he is a great advocate for that less familiar material. To focus his debut disc on Franck's solo piano work was enterprising too, and the one well-known piece here, the Prelude, Chorale, and Fugue (PCF), receives a fine performance, with each section given its own shape and the thematic coherence of the whole nonetheless coming through. I haven't listened to this piece often enough to say how it stacks up against Brendel and Perahia, but it works perfectly well on its own terms. I like the way the initially unpromising fugue subject is developed into a powerful climax, and how the feeling of the Chorale -- perhaps the most emotionally compelling section -- is reasserted at the end. The PCF is a late piece (around 1884), and the other late piece on the disc, the Prelude, Aria, and Final, is deft and attractive but seems to be made of less compellingly stern stuff than the PCF.

For all that, maybe my favorite piece on the disc was the Op. 3 "Eglogue." It was written around 1843, when Franck still harbored hopes of a career as a piano virtuoso. At 16+ minutes, it might be a bit longer than it needs to be, but the pastoral flow is quite enchanting, and the furioso interruption has lots of brio and left-hand glissandos. I was reminded of that part of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony when the thunder starts, and there seems to be a similar narrative suggested here. The Op. 5 Grand Caprice has more variety than the Eglogue, but it seems to be more of a virtuoso showpiece (ending splashily, in comparison to the gentler Eglogue), but it's great fun for all that. If I hadn't been impressed by Franck's Symphony in D and his Violin Sonata, great works both, I might not have picked this up. I'm glad I did.
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on 14 October 2012
I did not know any of Franck's piano music when purchasing the disc, but it has become established as one of my personal favourites. The two mature pieces, each in three sections (Prelude, Choral et Fugue and Prelude, Aria et Final) are fine works, requiring time to appreciate, and they have grown on me. However, I immediately loved the opening two early works, Eglogue and Caprice, and the enjoyment has not faded over many hearings. They are sharply contrasted, the first mainly gentle and reflective with a haunting beauty, and the second much more lively and great fun. I have not heard other performances, but Ashley Wass is undoubtedly a major talent, and the CD deserves a wholehearted recommendation.
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on 18 February 2013
This is indeed a fine and sensitive set of performances of an underrated composer for the piano. Wass can sometimes be difficult to watch live, in my experience - he doesn't always seem to be enjoying life - but he is a more than talented pianist. Perhaps he sets himself standards that he doesn't always feel he has lived up to - I don't know - but this recording is simply beautiful.
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