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A mixed bag
on March 21, 2008
Having listened to over 35 recordings of Brahms's Handel Variations for a 'collector's guide' to the work, which was published in the January/February 2008 issue of International Piano magazine, I can confidently say that Pratt's is among the finest versions of this great work, although not one of the very best, which are those by Jonathan Gilad (EMI), Egon Petri (Naxos), Solomon Cutner (Testament) and - best of all and one of the great piano recordings of all time - Emanuel Ax (Sony).
I have also heard a large number of recordings of Mussorgsky's Pictures, including the justly legendary 1958 concert performance by Sviatoslav Richter. In this case, unfortunately, Pratt's reading is one of the most prosaic of all. At least until the very end he resists the temptation to embellish Mussorgsky's score (unlike Horowitz and Pletnev, for example), but where is the colour, the atmosphere, the drama and the sheer excitement of this astonishing piece? Richter may hit a few wrong notes, but he blows you right out of your chair.
As to the pianist's own Bach transcription, it has to be said that Pratt is no Busoni in terms of aural imagination, but this is a worthy addition to the piano repertoire.
Pratt plays a Boesendorfer instead of the usual Steinway and the sound has a tinny edge, though this may be the fault of EMI's engineer.