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6 minutes reading time (1242 words)

Summer 2021: First Looks: Recordings

Namji Kim, Piano
Centaur CRC 3820
[Total Time: 53:49]

Gabriel Fauré's thirteen Barcarolles were composed between 1882 and 1921, and they present an overview of the evolution of his style. The language of the early Barcarolles conforms to nineteenth-century harmonic practice, albeit with a modal touch, which explains their bittersweet lyricism. Barcarolle No. 5 in F-sharp Minor, Op. 66 marks a shift to a more complex harmonic language, and by No. 9 we hear a sparseness in Fauré's expression. A mere glance at the score of No. 13 reveals the bleakness of his late style. As can be heard in some of these works, Fauré had a penchant for writing melodies that are enveloped by accompaniment figurations. Namji Kim takes us on a beautiful journey with her sensitive touch, exquisite phrasing, and clear understanding of Fauré's compositional style. She also excels in her handling of quirky metric shifts, as heard in the second Barcarolle. This disc is worth repeated listening. —Franklin Larey 

Ning Yu, Piano
New Focus Recordings
[Total Time 48:50]

Ning Yu's debut CD features first recordings of works that will strike a chord with pianists looking for fresh yet effective music. The album opens with Wang Lu's beautiful Rates of Extinction (2016), which compellingly draws one in a sound world depicting the heart rates of different animals recently lost due to the negative effects of our modern world, yet also provides a counterbalance through the celebration of "an imagined eternal freedom through the blossoming of pianistic virtuosity." Pulsation and virtuosity also play important roles in Misato Mochizuki's dynamic Moebius-Ring (2003), and Yu delivers with excitement and drive. Of larger proportion is the thought-provoking Of Being (2019) by Emily Praetorius. With Virginia Wolfe's "moments of being" as inspiration, extended techniques are placed within a sparse texture to call the listener to the present moment. Yu is a masterful performer who commands attention through this well-conceived and executed recital. —Elizabeth Moak

Hiroko Ishimoto, Piano
Grand Piano GP844
[Total Time 77:30]

In this aptly titled album, the dynamic artistry of Hiroko Ishimoto richly encapsulates and features these distinctive compositional gems to a wider audience. Listeners will be drawn to an array of music from women composers, from the eighteenth century to the present day, with Miyake Haruna's 43° North – A Tango (2019). While some pianists may be familiar with the evocative works by Cécile Chaminade, Clara Schumann, Amy Beach, Lili Boulanger, and Florence Price, the accessible lyricism of Dora Pejacevic's "Rose" from Blumenleben, Op. 19 richly sings through Ishimoto's sensitive performance and elongated phrases. Pianists will be inspired to expand their repertoire of waltzes and dances from this lush time period with Emma Kodály's Valses Viennoises, Chiquinha Gonzaga's Cananéa, Valsa, and Tekla Badarzewska-Baranowska's Douce Rêverie (Mazurka). Most selections are short miniatures, and demonstrate the versatile, dynamic pianism, and diverse stylistic and musical approach of Ishimoto. —Yeeseon Kwon

Artina McCain, Piano
Kairoi Music KM 107
[Total Time 60:04]

In this album, Artina McCain succeeds in vividly representing the rich heritage of the Americas' musical culture in the last century. Her reserved approach to León's Tumbao makes way for a powerful musical climax, and Metz's Hermetito—which combines Latin and classical musical elements— is managed with clarity and rhythmic vitality. It is especially refreshingto hear Griffes' Three Tone Pictures played evocatively, and with appropriate impressionist treatment. In Taylor-Perkinson's Scherzo, the largest work on this album, McCain manages exceptional control and pacing of its structure. Her gorgeous tone made George Walker's Prelude and Caprice the highlight of the album. The imaginative arrangements of African-American spirituals are an important addition, and this particular arrangement of Amazing Grace puts the hymn in an inspiringly new light. Bonds' Troubled Water delivers a final exclamation point on this compelling recording. —Kristín Jónína Taylor

Jeremy Denk, Piano
Nonesuch 563316-2
[Total Time 101:00]

With this ambitious project—in which programming becomes as much of an art as performing—Jeremy Denk triumphs on both fronts, curating an album that spans works from the late-Medieval period to the end of the twentieth century. Especially impressive are the substantial number of delightful pre-Baroque selections, and his flair for playing them. Reflecting the early intabulation practice, the album opens with Denk's own transcriptions of works by Machaut, Binchois, Dufay, Gesualdo, and more. He succeeds gloriously in turning the vocal lines into exquisitely "sung" tunes on the modern piano. With Bach's Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue nearly at the halfway point of the album, the Classical and Romantic Era portions are relatively brief, and many selections are delightful miniatures. The twentieth-century portion fittingly showcases the variegated trends of the epoch with such works as the jazz-inspired Piano-Rag-Music by Stravinsky, and Stockhausen's serial work Klavierstück 1.Choong-ha Nam

Ruth Slenczynska, Piano
Deutsche Grammophon/Eloquence 484 1302
10 CDs
[Total Time 7:24:56]

These recordings represent Ruth Slenczynska's reentry into the musical world after a period of silence following a brief, but notorious, career as a child prodigy. For those new to Slenczynska, these CDs will be a revelation. Chopin makes up the bulk of the set, and her études are dazzling musically and technically, featuring a disciplined yet dramatic lyricism uncommon
in modern traversals of these works. The ballades are less impressive, occasionally crossing the border from the land of heartfelt into the realm of mannered. The waltzes are remarkable for digital clarity, but don't achieve Alfred Cortot's depth. Ultimately, the études represent the pinnacle of Slenczynska's achievement interpreting Chopin's music. The Liszt disc is stunning; the Paganini études are played at conservative tempi, but reward with microscopic precision. By the end of the ten-disc musical journey, I was grateful for this gifted American pianist who played with such accuracy, elegance, and passion. —Richard Masters


YEESEON KWON is Associate Professor at Roosevelt University, where she teaches piano musicianship and piano pedagogy. She has authored and edited numerous publications, and is currently president of the Illinois State Music Teachers Association.

FRANKLIN LAREY is Professor and Director of the School of Music at Illinois Wesleyan University. Previously, he served as Professor and Director of the South African College of Music at the University of Cape Town.

RICHARD MASTERS is a soloist, opera coach, and conductor based in Blacksburg, VA, where he is an Assistant Professor of Piano and Collaborative Piano on the music faculty at Virginia Tech's School of Performing Arts.

ELIZABETH MOAK is a pianist and recording artist who performs as soloist throughout North and South America, Asia, and Europe. An Associate Professor at the University of Southern Mississippi, Moak studied at Peabody Conservatory with Fleisher, Martin, and Schein.

CHOONG-HA NAM is 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.

KRISTÍN JÓNÍNA TAYLOR is Assistant Professor of Piano at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She performs regularly throughout the United States and Europe as a solo pianist as well as with the Atlantic Piano Duo.

NICHOLAS PHILLIPS is Recordings Editor for the Piano Magazine and Professor at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. He regularly performs solo recitals across the United States and abroad, and is an active recording artist.

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