Part of the appeal of this little album by British pianist Richard Saxel is that an audience of the early 20th century would have recognized the program as almost commonplace. As programmatic music was displaced by abstract systematizers, the idea of a program made up of forest pieces would have come to seem sentimental. But it is no such thing. Each of the three works here presents a different vision of a walk in the forest, and the notes by Saxel and G.J.N. Neill elegantly situate them all in a longer tradition running back to Shakespeare and forward to Robert Frost. Saxel is not an especially demonstrative pianist, and the detailed images of Schumann's Waldszenen, Op. 82 (Woodland Scenes), are a bit dry in his reading. But things pick up from there: the limpid Woodland Sketches, Op. 51, of Edward MacDowell, receive jewel-like performances, while the psychological dramas that arise for Leos Janácek in On the Overgrown Path, Book I, sneak in with a delightful unexpectedness in the middle sections. Saxel's approach, still dry but attuned to the music, brings to mind the harmonium for which some of these little pieces were initially planned. There are plenty of recordings of all these pieces, but Saxel does well to put them together, and he offers a convincing performance with a strong narrative.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Waldszenen, Op. 82|
|Woodland Sketches, Op. 51|
|On an Overgrown Path, Book 1|