|Here's an imaginative
and effective recital of piano music inspired by Christmas images and all
manner of bells. The program's centerpiece is Liszt's Weinachtsbaum cycle,
whose 12 movements interweave gentle musical portraits and paraphrases
of traditional carols. From the frisky Scherzoso and tangy Ungarisch to
the sparsely lyrical O Holy Night and Old Provençal Christmas Song,
Roland Pöntinen's rich tone and patrician fingerwork perfectly points
up the music's wistful sentiments and contrasting moods. Compare, for instance,
Pöntinen's swagger in the Polnisch to Leslie Howard's old gray tread,
and you'll almost be fooled into thinking that you're hearing a major Liszt
work. Two contrasting movements from Messiaen's Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus
are lovingly served up with ravishing color and rock-solid rhythmic poise:
I hope Pöntinen will record the entire cycle in due course.
For sheer gorgeousness and harmonic allure, you won't easily resist Reger's Mariä Wiegenlied and Busoni's Nuit de Noël. Funny how these two composers are best known for their prickly upholstered large works, yet not many pianists take on their exquisite miniatures. Stefan Pöntinen, the pianist's brother, composed his three-minute Carillon for this recording. It recalls Messiaen's chordal asymmetry, but with leaner, less sensual sonorities. Two Wilhelm Kempff transcriptions of Bach chorale preludes, In dulci jubilo and Nun komm der Heiden Heiland, provide this program's introduction and coda. If you seek a holiday disc appropriate for any day of the year, look no further.