Winter 2020: Recordings
THE PIANO MUSIC OF CLARA SCHUMANN
Isata Kanneh-Mason, piano
[Total Time 76:00]
Contributing to this year's bicentennial celebration of Clara Schumann's birth is the debut album of the twenty-three-year-old British pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason. In 2015, while a student at the Royal Academy of Music, Kanneh-Mason, along with five of her siblings, participated in the popular British television show Britain's Got Talent, gaining public recognition and media attention. Following that rise to stardom—unusual for classical musicians—this recording marks a major milestone in the pianist's young career. It consists of Clara Schumann's sole concerto, and her mostly small-scale solo and chamber works. These works all bear Clara's tender affection for her husband Robert, and she wrote many of them at his request, or as a gift to him. They showcase her ability to express a variety of moods and weave them skillfully and seamlessly into a work. If the pieces sound Schumannesque—as they were often so described, then and now—perhaps it is natural, because she performed his pieces constantly and received advice from him often. In the piano concerto, composed in Schumann's early teen years, Kanneh-Mason handles most of the virtuosic elements quite effectively, though certain passages sound labored and unduly punctuated at times. With the various miniatures and the Piano Sonata in G minor, though, Kanneh-Mason's playing is more consistent. Particularly impressive is her ability to convey the architectural whole through an organic and nuanced flow in each piece. —Choong-ha Nam
Konstantinos Destounis, piano
Grand Piano GP779
[Total Time: 79:00]
Theodore Antoniou (1935–2018) was one of the foremost Greek composers of his generation. Almost half of the CD's running time is devoted to works written in 1958–59. Aquarelle (1958), a set of nine character pieces, teems with rhythmic energy and transparent textures. His Piano Sonata (1959) is an effective neoclassical work, and sets of Inventions, Preludes and Fugues (1958) deftly incorporate a freely atonal language into venerable forms. Syllables (1965), cast in aphoristic movements, is informed by the ancient Greek discipline of rhetoric, with musical procedures mirroring different verbal devices. The remaining works, written since 1982, project a more original profile, in particular Entrata (1983)—a dramatic and variegated ode to Prometheus—and the extremely mercurial Synaphes (2001), which seems to explore every textural dimension of the instrument. Extended techniques and additive meters derived from traditional Greek music abound throughout the program. Destounis performs everything incisively, and with wide-ranging color.—Geoffrey Burleson
In examining the idea of transcendence, Tetzloff makes a compelling case in uniting seemingly disparate works under a similar theme, and the album is filled with robust playing, tone color, and effortless virtuosity. Griffes's Piano Sonata sets the tone with a powerfully potent performance. Tetzloff's architectural command of Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan is excellent, and warrants the listener's attention. Hearing the wide contrasts evident in this particular selection of Scriabin's works, spanning early to late, is striking. The Piano Sonata No. 7 ("White Mass") explodes through the pianist's commanding grasp of dynamic color and beautiful tone production. Vers la Flamme is well-paced without sounding frantic. Most enjoyable was the suspended tonality of Enigma, played with spritely finesse, and attention to detail. As one of the most transcendent works ever written, Franck's Prelude, Chorale, and Fugue was particularly effective, and a number of adroit interpretive choices make this an especially stand-out performance. —Kristín Jónína Taylor
Cahill Smith, piano
Blue Griffin BGR483
[Total Time 72:36]
Highly regarded by Rachmaninoff, the piano music of Nikolai Medtner (1880–1951) receives much less attention than his Russian compatriots. A virtuosic pianist himself, Medtner was a master craftsperson of color, character, and intense rapturous emotion. Rising from the cracks between the late-Romantic Russian style and the more abstract approach of Scriabin, Cahill Smith is a champion of this music, enthralling the listener through every twist and turn. Two of the three cycles of "Forgotten Melodies" are included in this recording. The sets include two substantial one-movement sonatas, several dances, and other character pieces. The cycles are tied together through the clever recycling of themes and motives throughout each set. Aspects of Chopin, Rachmaninoff, and Scriabin forge together into fascinating pieces—the Danza festiva, for example, is simply dazzling—all solidly performed with unwavering conviction. The accompanying booklet provides a thoughtful thematic analysis for the curious listener. —Thomas Swenson
THIS ISSUE'S CONTRIBUTORS:
NICHOLAS PHILLIPS is Recordings Editor for the Piano Magazine and 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.
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.
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.
KRISTÍN JÓNÍNA TAYLOR is Assistant Professor of Piano at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She performs regularly throughout the US and Europe as a solo pianist as well as with the Atlantic Piano Duo.