Amusing Reviews

Roy Howat’s unfussy way of performing French music has caused some contention among critics, especially those not used to listening for symphonic breadth and coherence in this repertoire. Here are some amusing juxtapositions, all of them from reviews of vol. 1 of the Debussy cycle on Tall Poppies:

[Howat] takes the first Étude a lot more steadily than most pianists, and makes the least of its contrasts and humour.
– Adrian Jack, BBC Music Magazine.

[In] the first Étude, [Howat’s] chosen basic tempo allows Debussy’s many ritards and accelerandos to sound more natural than usual and the humour to seem less forced.
– Charles Timbrell, International Piano Quarterly.

The next three studies show that a staid approach is [Howat’s] rule.
– Adrian Jack, BBC Music Magazine

[On Howat’s disc] the Études radiate their richly coloured canvas with an almost orchestral brilliance, strident bite, delicacy of wit.
– Malcolm Miller, Piano Journal (EPTA)

[In fact Howat’s tempi for Études 3 & 4 are much livelier than on the two recordings Adrian Jack goes on to recommend (one of which takes a minute and 90 seconds longer than Howat for each ofÉtudes 3 & 4; the other takes 30 seconds longer for each one).  Mr Jack perhaps heard these tracks on a rough day, if at all. He also fails to observe that one of the recordings he recommends doubles the indicated speed in the final bars of Étude 1, thus missing the passage’s humour…  He was probably just having a bad day, as the following suggests:]

Nor does [Howat] justify the general title of Images, for only notes seem to be in his mind.
– Adrian Jack, BBC Music Magazine

[In Howat’s] Images the different layers of sound are impressively maintained even through the difficult climax of ‘Mouvement’, and the usual tendency to sectionalize ‘Poissons d’or’ and ‘Reflets dans l’eau’ is carefully avoided.
– Charles Timbrell, International Piano Quarterly

I listened to ‘Mouvement’ [from the Images] as if for the first time, so skillful was the separation of primary and secondary material… It is evident that he has thought deeply about the structure and intentions of the music, combining brilliance and sensitivity in his climaxes and achieving that all-too-rare sense of line, like a ‘mysterious thread’, which characterises the best Debussy performances.
– Robert Orledge, The Musical Times, about a similar performance on Howat’s 1980 Nimbus LP.

… the piano is placed too far back and you are all too aware of it in a reverberant empty room
– Adrian Jack, BBC Music Magazine.

Tall Poppies’ sound is warm and well-balanced, not too close yet capturing all the subtle variety of dynamics and touches.
– Charles Timbrell, International Piano Quarterly.

Listen to some tracks and decide for yourself.