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Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, December 2004

"Previous volumes in the series;
Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3

As with the third volume in Naxos’s impressive Powell series this final one contains an unexpected bonus for collectors and discographers in the form of the previously unpublished 1913 Borowski. Elsewhere the high standards are properly and rightly maintained, from full recording details to good quality transfers, and biographical notes. Powell devotees and those interested in performance practice will need no second invitation. To those yet to make her acquaintance I’d suggest starting with one of the earlier volumes because as well as concluding the series we also have a very useful – though specialist – mopping up operation of releases. So there is the 1907 and 1916 Gluck Melodie, the 1904 and 1916 Neruda and the 1907 and 1909 Drdla. The later recordings replaced the earlier inevitably displaying greater technical fidelity.

Since the series is not chronological and ranges back and forth across Powell’s recorded career I would be repeating my previous reviews to a large extent – so please see those for specifics of her performing style. There are still some interesting points to note though. Her earlier Gluck is a considerably less impressive performance than the later one – gauche portamenti, a slow vibrato, monochrome tone and compromised intonation – but the 1916 disc is quicker, firmer and more streamlined even if it does sound a mite rushed. Her Mendelssohn Concerto finale must have been one of the very first recordings of it – velocity wins out over style here and there’s an intriguing cut or two (it would have fitted the disc). One of the less well-preserved discs is the Wieniawski Capriccio Valse, where her bowing is fine but the tone is scratchy and the vibrato woefully slow.

A comic highpoint is the absurd-comedic leaning on phrases in the Chopin, her own arrangement but the Sauret Farfalla, a piece she recorded more than once, is full of vim and charm and shows her great communicative powers. We do see a gradual tightening up in her playing if we compare the earlier and later recordings of the same piece. As with the Gluck her Drdla is better the second time around – far less riddled with gaucheries and old school mannerisms. Why wasn’t the Borowski released at the time? Was it the final two bars?

This has been a major undertaking by Naxos. Powell’s complete, issued output is now available in four budget priced CDs. There’s a great deal here to ponder in the musicianship of this important figure and Naxos has been wise in utilising Ward Marston’s work, much of which first appeared in CDs and cassettes for the Maud Powell Foundation. A series like this deserves a salute and it gets one from me."

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