Works by Rachmaninoff, MacDowell, Chopin, Gluck/Chasins and Chasins

KASP 57732

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KASP 57732—Works by Rachmaninoff, MacDowell, Chopin, Gluck/Chasins and Chasins

$ 13.95 plus shipping (CD)

$ 11.95 (MP3 download)

Buy at CD Baby

The American Record Guide wrote of this CD:

"This recently mastered recording of a 1995 recital conveys the fearlessness and power of the late pianist's playing. Her Rachmaninoff, praised by Arthur Rubinstein for its color and imagination earlier in her career, remains robust at age 74. The Corelli Variations are infused with fire, establishing her highly individual powers and grasp of sonority. Keene's daring liberties with the tempo to suit the character of each variation sound spontaneous. The slow variations have an especially beautiful improvisatory quality.

The same vitality is heard in the MacDowell Piano Sonata 4, lending to the outer movements majesty and heroism. She plays the second movement with great expressiveness and depth. She eschews the refined sophistication of Pollini and Zimerman's (Chopin) Ballades, but is no less compelling, deploying them in reverse order with passion and grandeur. Savage rather than sentimental, Ballade 3 shows vestiges of her approach to Rachmaninoff through her rich, orchestral sound, not without some wildness in a ferocious coda.

The last three pieces offer a contrast to the preceding tumult of the Ballades. Her husband's (Abram Chasins') shimmered transcription of "Melody from Orfeo", the tightly controlled "Rush Hour" and (MacDowell's) "To a Wild Rose" are finely polished gems.

An additional treat is the inclusion of some sound clips of Keene introducing some of the selections......These offer understanding (especially the MacDowell comments) into the programming choices and personality of an incredibly formidable and vital pianist."

MusicWeb International wrote:

Constance Keene (1921-2005), born and bred in New York, was a significant figure on the music scene there for many years. By all accounts, she made rapid progress as a youngster on the piano, and at the age of thirteen Abram Chasins became her teacher. The two were later to form a duo and married in 1943, the same year that she won the Naumburg Piano Competition. Three years later, she deputized for none other than Vladimir Horowitz; she later claimed that she was the only female pianist ever to have been given this honor. The two became friends and often played bridge together. She also had connections with Arthur Rubinstein, tutoring his children. He said of her performances of Rachmaninoff's Preludes that he was "flabbergasted by the colour, sweep and imagination and ... incredible technique. I cannot imagine anybody, including Rachmaninoff, playing the piano so beautifully". She later taught at the Manhattan School of Music, serving as the Chair of the Piano Department and as a member of its Board of Trustees. She was also a well-respected piano competition adjudicator.

The recital opens with Rachmaninoff's less familiar Corelli Variations, composed on the memorable dance melody 'La Folia', which wasn't actually written by Corelli. Keene characterizes the variations with a range of technique and colour. I love the rhythmic freedom she brings, offering some attractive contrasts. Variation X is playful, X11 and X111 have a fearless audacity, whilst XV is dreamlike and musing.

Keene offers a few words by way of introduction to the MacDowell works. She begins with a stylish rendition of the Six Fancies, Op. 7. They're all charming, attractive miniatures. The Piano Sonata no. 4, Op. 59 'Keltic' is considered by many to be the composer's finest solo work; composed in 1901, it was dedicated to Edvard Grieg. Keene has the technical resources to meet the daunting technical challenges of the three-movement score. The music is cataclysmic at times, poetically eloquent at others; she contours the ebb and flow with formidable musicality and vision. It's the first time I've heard the work, and it has spurred me on to seek out his other piano sonatas.

Centre stage are Chopin's Four Ballades, unusually performed in reverse order. I say unusually, as I've always felt that the pieces reach a climax with the coda of No. 4. I'm not sure why she opted for this order and I have mixed feelings regarding her performance of the Fourth Ballade. Like a story, the work grows out of nothing. Here, the opening is too assertive and lacks the poetry I find in Krystian Zimerman's reading, and bars 57-76 are too frenetic. However, having got over my gripe, I very much like the coda, which is dispatched with virtuosic brilliance, and Keene's performances of Nos 1 and 2 which are full of fiery brilliance; there's great passion and drama, alongside more expressive moments.

She ends her recital with three lollipops; the final one, appropriately, is MacDowell's 'To a Wild Rose'.

The recording is in remarkably good sound. Donald Isler, the proprietor of Kasp Records, provides the liner. The added value of this release is that it seems to be the only CD featuring Keene's playing currently in print. I would issue a plea to some enterprising label to reissue the pianist's other recordings — she deserves to be heard.

And the Audiophile Audition said:

"Keene had the Chopin style thoroughly at her command.....(In the Third Ballade of Chopin) when Keene turns up the velocity, the potent agogics make known their jarring, intensely visceral effect, and we simply concede the brilliant authority of her conception as she rushes the barricades at the coda.....We realize why Keene made an excellent substitute for Vladimir Horowitz on one historic occasion, and the pent-up applause acknowledges it."

A significant figure for many years in the musical life of New York (and, indeed, a life-long resident of the city) was the pianist, Constance Keene (1921-2005). A glamorous and elegant lady, diminutive but with a very big personality she was, from 1969 till her death, one of the most prominent members of the piano faculty of the Manhattan School of Music, as well as a juror at major piano competitions. Outspoken, articulate and brilliant she was also a more important pianist than has been generally recognized.

Her long career included concerts all over the United States, Europe and, in later years, Asia. She performed as soloist with orchestras in Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, New York and Berlin, and in many other cities. She made many recordings throughout her career, resulting in a very large and wide-ranging discography, and was particularly praised by critics for one of her last recording projects, the complete Piano Sonatas of Hummel.

Constance Keene was held in the highest esteem by some of her most distinguished colleagues. About her recording of the complete Rachmaninoff Preludes Arthur Rubinstein wrote "I cannot imagine anybody, including Rachmaninoff himself, playing the Preludes more beautifully. I was completely flabbergasted by the fantastic sweep, color, tone, and, last but not least, the incredible technique."

Of course, it was with great pleasure that she liked to tell people that when her friend, Vladimir Horowitz, first heard that recording, and saw what Rubinstein had written, he said "But why didn't you give it to me first? I would have happily written that!"

This live recital, which also includes Ms. Keene's comments about some parts of the program, demonstrates her virtuosity, elegance, sense of humor and her impressive temperament.

As pianist, writer and radio personality David Dubal said about her, at a 2003 program at the International Keyboard Institute and Festival in New York dedicated to a summing up of her career "Constance Keene is not just a major pianist or a prominent pianist or a distinguished pianist; she is a GREAT pianist!"

KASP 57732
Sergei Rachmaninoff
Corelli Variations, Op. 42

Edward MacDowell
Six Fancies, Op. 7
Sonata No. 4 in E Minor, op. 59 ("Keltic")

Frederic Chopin
Complete Ballades

Christoph Willibald Gluck/Abram Chasins
Melody From Orfeo

Abram Chasins
Rush Hour In Hong Kong

Edward MacDowell
To a Wild Rose, Op. 51, No. 1

KASP 57732—Works by Rachmaninoff, MacDowell, Chopin, Gluck/Chasins and Chasins

$ 13.95 plus shipping (CD)

$ 11.95 (MP3 download)

Buy at CD Baby


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