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CD & DVD Reviews: November/December 2017

Michael Mizrahi, piano
New Amsterdam Records NWAM075
[Total Time 60:01]

Whether you are an avid fan of contemporary music, a casual listener looking for something off the beaten path, or a pianist looking for new music to program, there is much to admire here. Simply put, this terrific album features solo piano music by a handful of composers who, with luck, will continue to expand the repertoire. Mizrahi is a passionate advocate for this music, and his playing is riveting throughout. He deftly handles virtuosic passagework in Troy Herion's Harpsichords, and displays consummate pacing and control in Patrick Burke's enchanting Missing Piece. Sarah Kirkland Snider's The Currents is a beautiful, lyrical, and turbulent song without words. Missy Mazzoli's Heartbreaker is an etude of restless intensity, and Asha Srinivasan's Mercurial Reveries is a fascinating and improvisatory five-movement work with pitch material based on ragas. In The Bright Motion Ascending, Mark Dancigers creates an ethereal atmosphere, where alluring and enchanting harmonies rule. 

—Nicholas Phillips

Hymns & Dervishes
Frederic Chiu, piano
Centaur CRC 3468
[Total Time 65:05]

Because of his dazzling technical prowess, mesmerizing refinement of touch and tone, and distinctive programming, Frederic Chiu has been on my radar since the 1980s. This sublime CD alternates between mystical chants (often paired with a dance) and hymns. It also alternates between equal-tempered and non-Western tunings. Chiu elucidates in the liner notes: "Through a carefully choreographed alternation of Dervish pieces with Western hymns, the listener is gently guided back and forth between the East and the West…through the tension and release of the unexpected changes in modes, one experiences an emotional inhale/exhale…." Although Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann (1886–1956) and Russian-Armenian mystic George Gurdjieff (ca. 1866–1949) collaborated on the hymns, the chants are Hartmann's transcriptions of Gurdjieff's performances. Delicate textures, gentle tremolos, modal harmonic progressions, and haunting melodies abound. A pleasant Bach transcription by Chiu concludes the CD. Although not a collection of virtuosic pieces, this CD provides a glimpse into the inquisitive mind of a remarkable artist. 

—Thomas Swenson

Grey Clouds: Liszt/Ravel/Debussy/Stravinsky
Pål Eide, piano
CDK 1143
[Total Time 77:48]

Eide's second CD focuses on the impressionistic nature of storytelling. He conquers two sets of the most difficult pieces from the twentieth century—Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit and Stravinsky's Three Movements from Petrouchka—along with four selections each by Debussy and Liszt, including Nuages gris. Eide's ability to convey musical imagery is both precise and impeccable, from the mysterious and gruesome (La lugubre gondola and "Le gibet"), to contemplatively nostalgic (Clair de lune and Consolation), refreshing and surreal ("Ondine" and Reflets dans l'eau), theatrically grand (La cathédrale engloutie and "Chez Petrouchka"), and unpredictably ferocious ("Scarbo," Feux d'artifice, "Danse russe," and "La semaine grasse"). Eide's playing is executed with dazzling virtuosity and an innermost sensitivity. With rich textures, complex harmonies, and sophisticated rhythms, he makes the piano sound like an orchestra, ultimately marking Eide as a gifted pianist, capable of painting vividly graphic soundscapes on the piano.

—Wei Chen (Bruce) Lin

Live Chamber Recitals and Home Solo Performances
Nadia Reisenberg, piano
Budapest and Galimir Quartets
David Glazer, clarinet
David Soyer, cello
Romeo Records 7318-19
[Total Time 153:10]

This vintage two-disc set of music from 1951-80, featuring live performances and home recordings, extends Reisenberg's legacy. Despite questionable microphone placement and historic sound quality, these previously unavailable tracks reveal Reisenberg's love for chamber music, and include touching program notes from her son Robert Sherman, Program Director at WQXR-NY. The performance of the Dvořák Piano Quintet (with the Budapest Quartet) captures one's attention, from the opening gorgeous tone of the cello solo to the exhilarating tour-de-force finale. Reisenberg's natural sense of phrasing and her beautiful singing tone allow the piano to shine at appropriate moments. Weber's aptly named Duo Concertante spotlights the sparkling virtuoso technique of both Reisenberg and clarinetist David Glazer. Morsels of solo pianistic charm of home recordings include Chopin's Waltz in A-flat Major, and a seemingly effortless display of fireworks in Liszt's Spanish Rhapsody. 

—Laura Melton

John Field
Complete Nocturnes
Elizabeth Joy Roe, Pianist
Decca 478 9672
[Total Time 86:08]

Composed between 1812–1836, John Field's eighteen nocturnes were known to Chopin, yet Chopin's nocturnes achieve an elevated degree of tonal sophistication and structural resilience. Field's dreamy soundscape is beautifully crafted by Elizabeth Joy Roe (of the Anderson & Roe Piano Duo). Her poetically conceived interpretation is infused with a silky right-hand legato that floats above a tightly knit accompaniment, and she projects the delicate inflections of Field's earlier second and sixth nocturnes with bel canto purity. Nuanced embellishments and luminous fingerwork are palatably executed in the later, more harmonically evolved, tenth and eleventh. The twelfth, rondo-style "Nocturne caractéristique: Noontide," with its catchy theme, sparkles with piquant articulation, while the intriguing use of the final nocturne's rhythmic shifts and spicy cadence modulations is further enhanced by Roe's lingering expressivity. Booklet notes, written by Roe, include a statement from Liszt about Field's musical contributions. 

—Leonne Lewis

For more about John Field's nocturnes, see this issue's New Music reviews.

Hölder | Scriabin Night Sessions
Boris Bergmann, piano
[Total Time 152:25]

I came for Scriabin and stayed for Hölder. The first disc of a two-disc set features Bergmann's compositions from 1998–2015, which are subtly performed. Bergmann explains in the program notes that these works emerged from recording hours of improvisation, and then reassembling passages into formal works. The works unfold gracefully, with an improvisatory quality. They vary in style, too: for example, Piano Sonata 1 is jazzy and repetitive, while Piano Sonata 3 is dreamy and meditative. Bergmann's treatment of Scriabin's works (Preludes, Opp. 11 and 74) demonstrates elements of beauty, yet Bergmann tends to favor a strong, vertical rhythmic presentation. (Op. 11, No. 5, for example, sounds more like a Chopin waltz than a misty night.) Scriabin's works, which are on the second CD, require a more color-oriented palette of sound awareness, and the thin, brittle sound of Bergmann's instrument does little to help his cause. 

—Sang Woo Kang

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