Summer 2019: Recordings
D'Albert was a prized student of Liszt and his piano transcriptions of Bach's organ works bear the influence of his master. Unlike some transcribers, who sought to glorify Bach by embellishing his works in grandeur, both Liszt and d'Albert stayed largely reverent to the original works. One exception here is d'Albert's version of the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582. It is arguably the most pianistically effective and interesting of these arrangements, with distinct use of tempo changes, and copious dynamic and other expressive markings. Delucchi's playing is admirable, and the 1906 Steinway he plays sounds warmly resonant throughout. These works may benefit from an even wider array of tonal color, however, and a more imaginative approach to phrasing, so that musical lines are shaped with greater expression (especially fugal subjects comprising repeated notes). Additionally, better voicing would help illuminate the counterpoint.
— Stephen Pierce
George Antheil's early works, for which he is best known, embraced something of an Italian futurist ethos, filled with propulsive, mechanistic rhythms and cluster harmonies. In his later works, however, Antheil reveals more traditional neoclassical and neoromantic underpinnings. Judy Pang's first disc of Antheil's piano works includes many rarities. In the charming Ben Hecht Valses, and in the 13 movements of Carnival of the Beautiful Dresses (commissioned for a fashion show), nothing of Antheil's audacious past is really detectable, although there are a few inventive harmonic juxtapositions and dissonant asides. The Valentine Waltzes are more distinctive, memorable, and contain greater emotional depth. The two Toccatas, the first quite Stravinskian and the second redolent of Prokofiev, are quite effective. Also included is the original version of Sonata No. 5's 3rd movement, an impressively relentless virtuoso tour de force. Pang performs everything with beautifully varied expression and driving energy where needed.
— Geoffrey Burleson
German pianist Michael Korstick persuasively performs Kabalevsky's largest and most complex solo piano pieces. The Sonata No. 1 in F (1927) is the composer's first attempt at a large-scale composition, and was completed while a student of Myaskovsky at the Moscow Conservatory. Korstick overcomes the technical demands admirably to unify this awkward sonata. Sonata No. 2 in E-flat (1945) was dedicated to, and premiered by, Emil Gilels. Often disapprovingly compared to Prokofiev's Sonata No. 8 (given its premiere by Gilels a year prior), it is Kabalevsky's most ambitious sonata, with many absorbing moments. At the center is a sublime Andantino semplice movement. The third sonata, composed just a year later, is probably the most appealing. Korstick plays it with charm, panache, potency, and charisma. Two virtuosic encores—the Rondo, Op. 59, which was commissioned for the 1958 Tchaikovsky Competition (Van Cliburn's win) and the Recitative & Rondo, Op., 84—close the CD.
— Thomas Swenson
Swiss pianist Benjamin Engeli focuses on several exquisite works spanning Brahms' early, middle, and late periods. Brahms was rarely considered a flashy performer, and Engeli's passionate, poetic, and sensitive playing show his comprehension of this more introspective approach. In the four Ballades, Op. 10, one hears a broad emotional spectrum: pain, struggle, contentment, hope, and love. The two Rhapsodies, Op. 79, are weighty and heroic, yet never aggressive. The three Intermezzi, Op. 117, are sorrowful, melancholic, intimate, and meditative. Each of these pieces is substantive enough on its own, but Engeli's magnetic playing makes one want to hear the set as a whole. The last track is Brahms' transcription for left hand of Bach's Chaconne, BWV 1004, which Engeli plays with such full tone, effortless virtuosity, and total conviction that it is easy to forget we are listening to just one hand. Throughout, Engeli's proves himself to be a thoughtful and artistic interpreter of Brahms' music.
— Wei Chen (Bruce) Lin
Joyce Yang, silver medalist of the Twelfth Van Cliburn Competition, collaborates for the second time with the widely recorded Alexander String Quartet, and the result is a resounding success. The first-rate pianist and tight ensemble produce very satisfying readings of the first true masterpieces of the piano quartet genre. Yang's effortless pianism conveys her sensitive musicianship, and the ensemble's precision is great throughout. A minor quibble concerns the overall balance, which tends to favor the piano; while the brilliant writing of the piano part may warrant and even justify it at times, there are moments when a greater presence of the string parts is desired, especially in the slow movements. This recording will not disappoint even the most exacting of listeners, however: there is plenty Mozartian charm in these works, communicated with the highest order of expressive playing from all the players.
— Choong-ha Nam
This Issue's Contributors:
Nicholas Phillips is Recordings Editor for The Piano Magazine and Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. He has performed in solo recitals across the United States and abroad, is an active recording artist, and is a regular presenter at national and international conferences.
Geoffrey Burleson is on the piano faculty of Princeton University, and is Professor/Director of Piano Studies at Hunter College-CUNY. He is currently recording the complete solo piano works of Saint-Saëns for Naxos Grand Piano.
Wei Chen (Bruce) Lin is Assistant Professor of Piano at Texas Lutheran University. He has performed and adjudicated in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Taiwan. Recently, he made his debut with the American Wind Symphony Orchestra.
Choong-ha Nam is Associate Professor of Piano at West Texas A&M University, and has performed and presented extensively in the United States. She wrote her dissertation on the music and compositional technique of George Perle.
Stephen Pierce is Associate Professor of Piano at the University of Southern California. He has performed in the Czech Republic, Canada, the United States, and South Africa, and is editor of CAPMT Connect.
Thomas Swenson is in demand as a teacher, clinician, presenter, author, and adjudicator in the southeast United States. An MTNA Foundation Fellow, he recently served as President of the North Carolina Music Teachers Association.