Seclusion Discs – Mark Tanner

We have asked our tutors, while they are marooned in isolation, which 8 tracks mean the most to them, so we can share some new listening ideas with you and find out a bit more about them. This week, pianist Mark Tanner, introduces his picks.

Mark Tanner is a concert pianist, composer, B.I.F.F. adjudicator, teacher and writer. His performing and academic work takes him regularly to all five continents. Solo appearances include many recitals at London’s Wigmore Hall, South Bank Centre and St John’s Smith Square, as well as St George’s Bristol, where he performed in piano duo with Alan Schiller at the Mozart 250th Anniversary Celebrations. He appears regularly on luxury cruise liners, having given in excess of 300 recitals on all of the Cunard, P&O and Saga ships.

Track One: Chabrier – Idylle, from ‘Dix pieces pittoresques’ (played by Richard McMahon)
Richard was my piano teacher while studying for my MA in performance during the early 90s, and I’ve always greatly admired what he stands for as a pianist, teacher and musician on so many other levels. This particular performance is ideal (or should that be Idylle?) for its sense of freshness and immediacy. Just listen to that dancing left hand accompaniment, which in itself deserves our attentive listening, but also the melodic line, which sits above it so poetically and sings with what could also almost be a French accent.

Track Two: Vaughan-Williams – Symphony No.5 (Royal Liverpool Philharmonic conducted by Vernon Handley, 1990)
There’s something rather epic and rousing about this work, composed across the WW2 years. Its wonderful tunes, dense harmonic texture and slow, patient unfolding gives it such a satisfying impact. A coming together of pastoral charm, suave tunes and all things British.

Track Three: Ravel – Gaspard de la nuit (played by Ivo Pogorelich)
Although there have been plenty of critics who’ve sought to pick away at Ivo Pogorelich’s eccentric behaviour at the piano, and in particular his tendency to tug at the normal bandwidth of acceptability for speeds and dynamics, I’ve always been a great admirer. Pianists simply can’t win when it comes to garnering the affections of audiences, critics and fellow pianists; it seems they’re either too similar, or too daring. Listen to Pogorelich’s pristine fingerwork in Gaspard, and I bet you won’t find another interpretation to rival it. There’s the famous Argerich one of course, which many prefer, though the darkness and vitality of Pogorelich’s, for me, wins hands down. In Ondine, his playing ripples impossibly fluidly; in Le Gibet, the hangman’s noose is scarily real to my ears, and in Scarbo, the repeated notes surely couldn’t sound crisper if you fired off a few rounds from a Browning machine gun.

Track Four: Rachmaninov – Piano Concerto No.3 (Played by Ashkenazy on Decca)
Though often dubbed “Rach Three” (an unnecessary abbreviation which I absolutely hate, by the way), this confirms the enduring popularity of this effervescent, large-scale concerto. Whether it’s the cadenzas which bring you close to a cold sweat, or that nonchalant opening ‘simple’ tune, this is a work admired, feared and loved the world over. Ashkenazy, who has just retired from the public scene, is on splendid form, bringing a staggering amount of muscularity and pathos from his small frame. There are more fragrant, or more powerful accounts from today’s crop of younger virtuosi, but for me the Ashkenazy rendering is par excellence.

Track Five: Messiaen – Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jésus (played by Yvonne Loriod)
Who better to be the ambassador for this immense two hour-long work than Messiaen’s utterly devoted wife, Yvonne Loriod? Every note is brimming with colour (the composer famously bringing his synaesthesia to good purpose in his compositions), and I love the rumble of the Paris Metro, which can occasionally be felt to vibrate through your toes if you crank up the volume to a sufficiently neighbour-annoying level. The piece is one worthy of being sent to the moon, or any another distant celestial rock for that matter – it teems with religious connotation and is quite simply a tour de force in 20th century pianism.

Track Six: Finzi – Eclogue (played by Howard Shelley)
This all too brief work, which was originally to be the middle movement of a piano concerto, ended up being left to its own devices, a stand alone gem, which we don’t hear often enough. Shelley brings to it a most fragrantly perfumed pianism, a truly crafted and insightful performance of this contemplative miniature.

Track Seven: Andy Williams – Up, Up and Away
What can I say? This is, for me, one of the most joyful, ebullient ditties lingering on my phone – always ready to Bluetooth across to my ancient Mercedes convertible’s radio as I finesse my way along country roads, top down, wind in my eyes. I even love the slightly out of tune backing singers.

Track Seven: Petula Clark – Down Town
I’ve written elsewhere that this song holds a very special place in my heart. It holds a sentimental charm that I don’t often detect in other pop tunes of the era. Maybe it’s because it was written around the time of my birth, by Tony Hatch in 1963, or perhaps simply that it captures a feeling of yearning, tinged with whimsy, tinged with optimism. Whatever.