Search - Charles Tomlinson Griffes, Edward MacDowell, James Tocco :: MacDowell & Griffes, Vol. 3

MacDowell & Griffes, Vol. 3
Charles Tomlinson Griffes, Edward MacDowell, James Tocco
MacDowell & Griffes, Vol. 3
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (8) - Disc #1


CD Details


CD Reviews

Discophage | France | 11/19/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This is volume 3 of James Tocco's 4-volume series of piano music by Griffes and MacDowell, published by Gasparo in the early years of the CD era, back in 1984. See my review of volume 1 (MacDowell: Griffes, Vol. I) for a general presentation of the two composers and the reasons why it was a nice and appropriate idea to pair them together.

MacDowell's four Sonatas were composed in close succession, between 1893 and 1901, and here we get the 2nd, subtitled "Eroica", from 1895. As in his 4th Sonata (see vol 1), and despite MacDowell's German training (he was a pupil of Raff and acquainted with Liszt and his circle), it is Rachmaninoff that comes to (my) mind in the passionate, fiery and sometimes even grandiloquent Romantic gestures of the first and third movements. But the main influence in the two others, it seems to me, is Chopin, especially in the 2nd movement "Elf-like, as light and swift as possible": it is a dazzling etude in right-hand filigree in the style of Chopin's Etudes Op. 10/2, 4, 5, 8 but melodically with a bounce reminiscent of Op. 25/3 & 5, and harking back to MacDowell's famous Encore "Hexentanz"; as for the finale it veers between Lizt and Chopin (whiffs of the 3rd Sonata and some of the Polonaises). Don't take these similitudes as a sign of dismission: while I don't find MacDowell's language very personal, I find it quite pleasurable. The only other version I have is Charles Fierro's on Delos (Macdowell: Sonata No.2, Op.50/Twelve Virtuoso Etudes, Op.46), and Tocco is much better, more virtuosic, fiery and passionate.

Griffes is certainly more personal, in addition to being more advanced in his musical language. Not so much in his De Profundis, which starts in the dreamy brooding mood of a Rachmaninoff-tinted jazzy improvisation or an early Scriabin poem and develops as a free recitative in a Romantic mood rising to passionate intensity between Liszt (a trumpet-like theme recalls Funérailles) and Rachmaninoff.

But his Sonata is a true masterpiece and its composer's towering achievement, somewhere between Rachmaninoff's Second Sonata (written 5 years before Griffes') and Bloch's (written more than 15 years later) - One is left to wonder how Griffes' language would have developed, had he not prematurely died at the early age of 35. Tocco delivers a magnificent reading of it. He hurls into the first section (like Liszt's, the Sonata is in one movement with contrasting sections) with unleashed energy and fiery passion. He makes the "Molto tranquillo" section (track 7) a moving religious meditation. At his hands the finale (track 8) sounds like a harbinger of Prokofiev's 7th Sonata. But this no-holds-barred attitude is never at the expense of clarity, and Tocco's attention to the intricacies of Griffes polyphonic writing and left-hand details is admirable.

As the others in this series this disc's only drawback lies in its total timing of 45 minutes - a too short measure for a CD (hence my four-star rating), so try and find it cheap.