Rebecca Penneys - CD Review
M. Barela -- American Record Guide, 2003
Recital Gems from Chautauqua
  Recital Gems from Chautauqua
M. Barela -- American Record Guide
May, 2003

BARTOK: 15 Hungarian Peasant Songs; MOZART: Piano Sonata 10;
CHOPIN: 4 Mazurkas, Polonaise-Fantasy; DEBUSSY: Suite Bergamasque;
BOLCOM: Old Adam from The Garden of Eden; ALBRIGHT: Sleepwalker's
Shuffle; LISZT: 2 Transcriptions

Rebecca Penneys, piano
Fleur de Son 5795&-78 minutes

It is a pleasure to hear Rebecca Penneys after so many years. We were students together and friends in the early 70's at Indiana University. At that time she was already a marvelous pianist with a considerable technique and a seemingly limitless imagination. She set her mind to learn from the particular strengths of each teacher. Her playing is marked by a keen musical intelligence, imagination, and good rhythm. 

As this release demonstrates, her amazingly clean technique serves her musicianship. Her interpretations are compelling, persuasive, and satisfying. 

Perhaps reflecting the strong influence of two Hungarians in her training -- pianist Gyorgy Sebok and cellist Janos Starker -- the 15 Hungarian Songs exhibit a remarkable rhythmic elasticity and persuasive declamation. Even more, they display a joy and playfulness. 

To best appreciate her Mozart playing, it is good to know either know the score (and thus, the ornaments suggested by Mozart) or more orthodox renderings true to the score (say, by Alicia de Larrocha, who stays so close to the score, she never deviates from suggested ornamentation even in repeats). Why? During the transition from baroque and rococo to the early classical style in the late 1700's when Mozart was active, the earliest pianos had a light action, and the practice of improvising ornaments was still prevalent. It was only in the 1770's that composers began to abandon the generic designation "for keyboard" and began to label pieces "for fortepiano". Mozart's piano works fall into these overlapping patterns. Penneys' interpretive point of departure for the Sonata in C, K. 330 takes these factors into account. So it shouldn't be surprising that her touch is feathery light, and her departure from the written ornaments is deliciously sparkling, leaning toward the French rococo -- not entirely out of the realm of possibility since Mozart was so cosmopolitan. 

There was a time in Ms. Penney's youth, when she had to choose between ballet and the piano, having reached similar stages of expertise in both. So whenever there is the suggestion of dance in the music she plays, it becomes a prominent element of her interpretation. The four Chopin mazurkas here stomp, dance, and sway with exuberance, and become reflective as the music suggests. 

The Polonaise-Fantasie is dreamily rendered -- intimate, reflective, tender, sensitive. It is hard to imagine wanting more of anything. But in the faster sections toward the end, the ease produced by her big technique sometimes robs the texture of intensity by rushing headlong into the final cadence. This is surely a matter of preference, but the faster repeated chords that act, as filler to underpin the melodic line, seem to suggest a grandeur that might be better achieved by holding back the tempo. 

Debussy's Suite Bergamasque is an early work. Of its four pieces 'Clair de lune' is the most popular. This rendering holds many heartfelt treasures. 

The two humorous rags by William Bolcom and Albright are strikingly similar. Both are lighthearted and playful pieces of fluff. Bolcom's compositional voice, not readily evident here, but rather, it leans toward the popular music from the early 20th Century that he and his singer-wife Joan Morris program in their concerts. 

In Liszt's transcriptions of two songs by Robert Schumann -- 'Liebeslied' (Love Song) and 'Fruhlingsnacht' (Spring Night) -- the melody of the original songs dictates the tempers taken; yet there is a striking difference between this rendering and, say, Jorge Bolet's. The latter was a big man, and his basic sound was big and satisfying in its own way. Penneys has a lighter, more French sound. So all the elaborate figuration that accompanies the melody turn the texture into lace and filigree. Her interpretations are more tender and introspective. Lovely! 

Penneys uses very little pedal, which gives the texture a clear but sometimes dry transparency. This can work extremely well in baroque, rococo, and classical music where keyboard instruments either didn't have sustaining pedals or didn't invite extensive use. Today, many pianists unconsciously depend on the pedal to aid in achieving legato. It can become a crutch. On the other hand, depending solely on the fingers for legato with little help from the pedal can desiccate the texture, especially in Chopin's and Debussy's music, where we have come to expect a lot of pedaling for its own effect. The tradeoff in seeking clarity through finger legato and spare use of the pedal may be the need for the whole texture to move a little faster. It can take a while to adjust one's ears to quicker tempos than are usually taken. With Penneys, the rewards of the adjustment can be a better, more satisfying grasp of the works' architecture and shaping. 

Whether with humor or with a reflectiveness that goes deeper than usual, Penneys compels the listener to hear standard works with new ears and often feel the music on a deeper level.

M. Barela -- American Record Guide
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