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Integrity and musicianship

Haskell Small
plays Bach and Small -
appreciated by

'There's a passion in his playing ...'

J S Bach: Goldberg Variations; Haskell Small: 25 Preludes. Haskell Small, piano. © 2004 4Tay Records Inc

The American pianist Haskell Small is a keyboard player of huge integrity and genuine musicianship. There's a passion in his playing of these glorious variations that reflects the man -- both men -- and easily beats plain, severe academicism.

Think of the extraordinary other-wordliness of a Glenn Gould performance; Small does not go there, but he embraces many other worlds: quiet intensity; harmonic insight; a commitment to text and the honest reading of what is before him. There's a beautiful clarity to Small's playing even when he essays some of the big warhorses of 19th century musical literature.

Not surprisIngly it's in evidence here. He doesn't rush; he doesn't show off; he doesn't make the music bleat with aggravated emphasis, or shimmer with false emotionalism. Indeed, some might find his Bachian gentleness -- almost gentlemanliness -- slightly sub-fusc, even at times recessive, and his odd hint of unpredicted rubato, not quite firm enough for their taste.

Quiet, detailed, serene -- just listen to Variation 4 [track 3, 0:00-1:10] or the ultra-secure Variation 8 [track 4, 1:10-2:15], say, or the lovely laid backness of Variation 19 [track 8, 0:00-1:31], this is Bach as he is.

The only criticism of this more than adequate 4Tay recording is that the grouping, track by track, of preludes in threes often prevents one going straight to a particular prelude (though with a momentary reflection you can more or less guess or gauge it), as one can on Gould's landmark recordings (compare/contrast Sony SMK 52619, which has 32 tracks, whereas Small's Bach is concentrated onto twelve.)

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Copyright © 9 March 2005 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK


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