Home listening: a good week for keyboard wizards

Each in their own way, Martin James Bartlett and John Challenger pull out all the stops

• Still only 23 years old, the English pianist Martin James Bartlett won BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2014 and is now racing ahead with his international career. Love and Death (Warner) is his first recital disc: ambitious repertoire. thoughtfully and eloquently played, of subtly interlinking works by Liszt, Granados, Prokofiev and Bach (arranged by Busoni and Hess). It’s a mix of fairly familiar – Liszt’s Petrarch Sonnets, the Wagner/Liszt Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde – and less obvious. Granados’s voluptuous, almost improvisatory Goyescas No 5, El amor y la muerte, gives the disc both a title and a passionate centrepiece. The concluding work is the second of Prokofiev’s “war sonatas”, No 7 in B flat, Op 83, spiky, turbulent, impassioned. A striking debut.

• Organist John Challenger, assistant director of music at Salisbury Cathedral, is a youthful keyboard virtuoso of a different variety. Having already released a disc of Elgar, this latest is devoted to César Franck, played on Salisbury’s magnificent 1877 “Father” Henry Willis organ, and released on the cathedral’s own label. Renovations and modernisations aside, the instrument retains its original tonal colours, but one aim of this excellent disc is to raise funds for essential restoration. The booklet notes, quaintly, that “some wind leakage and action noise may be audible at times”, but you’d have to strain to notice.

Challenger displays technical wizardry and infinite sonic variety throughout. The first three pieces – Pièce héroïque, Prélude, Fugue et Variation Op 18 and Cantabile – date from almost the period the Salisbury instrument was built. Franck, himself an organist, achieved his majestic, Bach-inspired best in the Trois Chorals pour Grande Orgue, written shortly before his death. Ideally you need to listen in a large room with the volume turned up.

• There’s not much around for organ enthusiasts, incipient or fully paid-up fans, but listen out on the first Sunday of the month, when Choir and Organ on Radio 3 is devoted to the organ. Presenter Sara Mohr-Pietsch’s capacious musical appetite ensures a wide range of styles, aimed at any listener, not just those who want to talk pistons, stops and swells.

Contributor

Fiona Maddocks

The GuardianTramp

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