CD Review: Prokofiev/ Complete Piano Sonatas. Sarcasms, Op 17
12.04.09 Anne-Marie McDermott Gramophone Magazine
By Bryce Morrison
You will search high and low for a more meticulously prepared set of the Prokofiev piano sonatas than Anne-Marie McDermott’s, which also includes the early, outrageous Sarcasms for good measure. With technique to burn and a fierce commitment to every note, she offers highly individual performances which none the less remain scrupulously true to the composer.
In her accompanying notes McDermott speaks of Prokofiev’s “intense and dramatic musical voice”, for her a “visceral and stimulating challenge”. Such eloquence is reflected in all these performances where no stone is left unturned; where every “i” is perfectly dotted and every “t” no less perfectly crossed. And just when you feel, in the Seventh Sonata’s 7/8 precipitato finale that her tempo is perhaps more judicious than thrilling, she whirls you away with a vengeance in the Sixth Sonata’s opening, discarding Prokofiev’s allegro moderato in favour of something more racy. She is smartly on the move again in the following, sardonically dancing Allegretto, yet is at the same time glowingly alert to the fourth movement’s Romance, to its expressive weight and intensity. Here, in particular, you are made aware of her rich tonal resource, big-scaled but never confusing strength with violence. The popular single-movement Third Sonata is a far cry from, say, Weissenberg’s depth-charge but unmusical virtuosity; and in the second movement of the quirky Ninth Sonata (dedicated to Sviatoslav Richter) McDermott’s command is as breathtaking as her ethereal resolution of Prokofiev’s elfin capering at the close of the finale. Just occasionally (in, for example, the “scherzoishness”- the composer’s own term- of the Second Sonata’s second movement) I wished she had indulged herself in a little more fantasy and freedom, let the music off the lead, so to speak. Personally, I would never want to be without certain classics of the recorded repertoire: Richter “live” in Nos 2 and 8 in his 1961 London recital (BBC Legends, 3/09), Horowitz’s sic of No 7, which so astonished the composer (Philips, 1/93) and Pogorelich in No 6, always among his finest offerings (DG, 11/84), yet all in all you could hardly wish for playing of a greater integrity than from Anne-Marie McDermott. Hers is a formidable achievement, reminding us that we have waited a long time for an American pianist of this stature.
10.21.09 Anne-Marie McDermott
By Peter J. Rabinowitz
Anne-Marie McDermott is one of our great under-the-radar pianists. Although she’s appeared widely in an unusually varied repertoire (from Bach to Wuorinen, via Chausson and Beach), she’s never had the kind of press splash enjoyed by Kissin or Lang Lang. Nor has she been rewarded with the kind of long-term label support that Hyperion has given such contemporaries as Hamelin and Hough. In fact, this Prokofiev cycle was originally recorded in 1999 and 2003 for Arabesque, which never even issued the third CD. But McDermott stands up well against those with more prestige: everything I’ve heard from her up until now—most recently, her spiffy Gershwin (32:1) and her Beach/Smith CD (reviewed by Michael Cameron in 32:5)—has been excellent, and this Prokofiev collection is, if anything, better still.
What’s most striking, I suppose, is the variety of utterance. Even some of the best Prokofiev pianists (say, Valentine Lisitsa or Yaakov Kaman) can homogenize the surfaces in their pursuit of visceral excitement and overall effect. But, in part because of her magnificent touch, in part because of her unfailing interpretive intelligence, McDermott makes sure that the full range of Prokofiev’s discursive practice comes through, from the impressionistic dreaminess that opens the first movement of the Eighth, to the slightly manic wit that threatens the second movement of the Sixth, to the glower of the Fourth’s Adagio, to the quicksilver madcap of the Third, and to the tight motoric drive of the third of the Sarcasms.
Granted, while her technique is solid (no strain in the finale of the Seventh) and while her sound, where necessary, is bold, she doesn’t have the bone-crunching intensity of Argerich or the sheer concentration of Richter. But she more than compensates in her treatment of details, in her rhythmic resilience, in her scrupulous dynamics, and most of all in her exceptional sensitivity to the music’s narrative progress (the peaceful end of the Ninth, usually so perfunctory, seems a hard-won resolution in McDermott’s hands). Her darting account of the first movement of the Second—with its disorienting shifts in direction—makes even Gary Graffman’s famous recording seem slightly facile. This is, quite simply, playing of the highest order.
Want a sense of the scope of her imagination? Try some of the less popular music first: her kaleidoscopic account of the Fifth (revised version) or, even better, her richly dialogical performance of the usually pale Ninth, where her biting performance of the second movement contrasts especially dramatically with her subtly troubled reading of the Andante tranquillo. Neither of these sonatas is usually considered to represent Prokofiev at his most inspired, for good reason; but in McDermott’s committed performances, they seem nearly as vital as the more popular Second.
Those wanting to build up a mix-and-match collection of this repertoire can choose from the long discography of individual sonatas set down by Argerich, Gilels, Horowitz, Krainev, Leschenko, and Richter, to name but a few of the front-runners. If you’re looking for a package deal, though, this cycle takes its place with the Raekallio and the Chiu as the best ever recorded, well above the relatively plain recordings by Sandor, Nissman, and Boris Berman. The excellent engineering only makes the release that much more attractive. Strongest recommendation.
"If I had to opt (heaven forbid) for just one Gershwin re- cording to take to that proverbial desert isle, this new Bridge offering might just be the one. Pianist Anne-Marie McDermott and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra under Justin Brown give really scintillating accounts of George Gershwin’s complete music for piano and orchestra, including Rhapsody in Blue, Second Rhapsody, I Got Rhythm Variations, and the Piano Concerto in F. With the exception of the Second Rhapsody, none of these works has been exactly underexposed to the public, but we hear them now with all the excitement as if we were first-time listeners."
– Dr. Phil Muse, Atlanta Audio Society, July 2008
excerpt from Gershwin flyer
"There are countless recordings available of Gershwin’s piano and orchestral music, particularly of Rhapsody in Blue; so for something to stand out it has to be really, very good. Bridge’s George Gershwin: Complete Music for Piano and Orchestra, featuring pianist Anne-Marie McDermott with the Dal- las Symphony under Justin Brown, is exactly that - one would hazard to say that is the best digital recording yet made of this repertoire."
– Uncle Dave Lewis, AllMusic.com, July 2008
Anne-Marie McDermott Works Her Magic on Chopin
10.22.10 Anne-Marie McDermott San Diego Arts
By Kenneth Herman
We are now more than halfway through the La Jolla Music Society’s ambitious Chopin Bicentennial Celebration, so the initial excitement of the concept—presenting all the works of Chopin in concert—and the novelty of all-Chopin programs have worn off. What has become clear is that it takes performers with high-octane technique and inventive intuition to make this formula work.
Although the amount of Chopin’s piano music is indeed prolific, most of his pieces are rather short and structurally simple. He was adept at churning out reams of short dance movements, as well as concise nocturnes and etudes, but only a few sonatas, multi-movement works of a certain complexity. So I confess that my enthusiasm for another recital stuffed with sets of waltzes, mazurkas, and polonaises had ebbed.
The antidote to mazurka-overload came in the form of Anne-Marie McDermott, the brilliant, perceptive American pianist who played Friday (October 22) at Sherwood Auditorium. Her Chopin was alternately vivacious, even at times a bit over-the-top, brooding, introspective, jocular—you name it. She mined the panoply of emotional and mental states the composer fused into his music with a panache that was arresting, but never indulgent. And the stamina to maintain such passionate intensity over a two hour and 20 minute recital is astounding.
Outstanding was her electric Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, a favorite show-stopper of the old school Eastern European virtuosi: Vladimir Horowitz included it on his famous “return” concert to Carnegie Hall in 1965. But McDermott has an uncanny way of removing the grandiose overstatement of this earlier approach and replacing it with a more genial bravura, one that keeps the surprise and sparkle foremost.
I cannot think of anyone I would rather hear play the four Mazurkas of Op. 17. In these quintessentially Polish dances, McDermott knew intuitively when to linger and when to push forward, and she was never easily predictable. Sometimes the lift came at the apex of the phrase, other times at the cadence or in the deft reprise of an idea. Her constant shading and sculpting of these modest dances make them a continual delight to the ear and imagination.
The “Two Nocturnes,” Op. 48, offered atypical examples of this type of dreamy confection that Chopin did not invent (the Irish composer John Field owns that prize) but surely perfected. The C Minor Nocturne sounded more like a stately cortège, and the F-sharp Minor Nocturne unfolded an odd structure that wandered capriciously. McDermott made convincing case for both nocturnes.
McDermott’s choice of waltzes brought to her program a bit of familiar comfort food. Her “Waltz in E-flat Major,” always a popular recital chestnut, allowed her to flaunt her technical prowess in its brilliant traceries, and her unpretentious “Minute Waltz” clocked in at one minute and 20 seconds. She chose a bright tempo and impetuous attitude for her opening “valse brilliante,” the “A-flat Major Waltz” from Opus 34, choices that allowed a few notes to escape their proper places. But once settled in, her technique proved more than adept to each challenge.
Considering that McDermott’s recital was the opening program of the La Jolla Music Society’s winter season, I wondered why this was not an SRO crowd. She has been a popular, regular performer with the Mainly Mozart Festival here for many seasons and was featured in the opening concerts of the Music Society’s 2009 SummerFest. Among those who know piano virtuosos, she is a revered name. But perhaps she is simply not a celebrity with a rags-to-riches backstory like Lang Lang.