Autumn 2019: Recordings
FARRENC: VARIATIONS FOR PIANO
Biliana Tzinlikova, piano
Paladino Music PMR 0088
[Total Time: 53:02]
This is a significant new recording of Louise Farrenc's piano works. The program consists of four sets of variations, all written in the 1830s, including Air russe varié (on the composer's own theme), one on the cavatina "Nel veder la tua Constanza" (from Donizetti's Anna Bolena), and one each on now forgotten themes by George Onslow and Wenzel von Gallenberg. These sets are very characteristic of the piano music that straddled late classicism and early romanticism, recalling in general the musical language of Weber and early Mendelssohn. The writing is consistently ingenious and inventive. Despite emanating from the most obscure source material, the Gallenberg set is perhaps the most musically interesting overall, although the Air russe varié—which contains an intricate fugal variation and a potently compelling coda—is also very effective. The entirety is played with the requisite verve, élan and transparency that this music requires.—Geoffrey Burleson
THE POETRY OF PLACES
Nadia Shpachenko, piano
Reference Recordings, FR 730
[Total Time: 77:32]
With the experience of space at its core—and the piano at its heart—this album presents works by living composers inspired by buildings and spaces from Ireland to Santa Monica, Baltimore to Bangladesh, and Massachusetts to New York. The result is an expertly produced multimedia project distilled into sound that startles and transports the listener in waves and jumps (Norman's Frank's House), through passage graves (Van Zandt's Sí an Bhrú), personal trauma (Kirsten's h.o.p.e.), and melodic mazes (Lash's Give Me Your Songs). It locates places in time and music in space, evoking culture, and even projecting a nation's hope (Spratlan's Bangladesh). Shpachenko and her co-performers' intuitive musicianship bring it all to life, but the audio recording medium does not do the project full justice, in spite of its spot-on performances, excellent engineering, and comprehensive 27-page full-color booklet. To get the full effect, see it live. Otherwise, this recording is the next best thing.—Charisse Baldoria
CÉCILE CHAMINADE: PIANO MUSIC
Mark Viner, piano
Piano Classics PCL10164
[Total Time 60:14]
Though known mostly for her salon music, Cécile Chaminade had a true gift for melodic writing, and her work is tinged with reminiscences of Saint-Saëns and Grieg. Viner's playing makes a compelling case—still sorely needed, unfortunately—that this isn't just good music by a woman composer; it's good music, period, and deserves a far wider audience. His performance of Pierrette is charming and convincing, with nice use of agogic accentuation and clear articulative choices. The Six Etudes de concert, Op. 35, are especially effective, and Viner's technical and musical ability are ably showcased here. From this set, the often-performed "Autumn" displays lyricism contrasted with flashy virtuosity. Les Sylvains is bubbly and enjoyable, and Viner plays the Poèmes provençales poetically and sensitively."Idylle," from the Romances sans paroles, is impish, yet sincere, and the Thème varié, Op. 79, provided a robust ending.—Kristín Jónína Taylor
PIANO WORKS BY SARA FEIGIN
Benjamin Goodwin, piano
Navona Records NV6147
[Total Time 46:52]
Born in Latvia, Sara Feigin (1928–2011) achieved prominence in Israel as a composer, performer, and educator. Bridging lateand post-Romantic styles, these dramatic pieces employ fervent chromaticism, clever colorful dissonances, and lusciously rich harmonies. Goodwin performs with passion, vision, and a wide range of colors. Folk melodies and historic events serve as inspiration for many of the compositions. The earliest pieces, a fiendish Toccata and four-movement Sonata, are exhilarating and sensational, while also the most dissonant. Two Pieces ("Prelude" and "Storm") convincingly juxtapose the stylistic characteristics of Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, and Chopin. Four Scenes begins with "Legend," incorporating sudden mood changes. This is followed by a scherzo-like "Joke," a shifty quasi-Parisian-waltz titled "Memories," and a Debussy-esque "Perpetuum Mobile." Goodwin soulfully infuses each note in the captivating Variations with purpose, direction, and commitment. Feigin's music is compelling, emotional, well-constructed, and worthy of more attention.—Thomas Swenson
FRÉDÉRIC CHOPIN: 24 ETUDES
Tatiana Chernichka, piano
Ars Produktion ARS38548
[Total Time 61:32]
A formidable pianist, and laureate of several major competitions, this recording was a deeply personal project for Chernichka, and it is subtitled "in loving memory of Olga Volchkova," (her late mother, who also performed these works). Chernichka's playing is impressive throughout; each study is technically immaculate, musically polished, and dramatically satisfying. Tempi are generally brisk but rarely feel rushed. Take, for example, Op. 10, nos. 1, 4, and 12, or Op. 25, nos. 11 and 12, as displays of Chernichka's thrilling tempi and crystalline clarity. In general, the slower études of Opus 10 (nos. 3 and 6) are slightly less persuasive, and some listeners might wont for clearer voicing and a more spacious approach. The poco più animato of Op. 10, nos., 3 feels a little breathless in particular. It is a shame that the bass of the piano is fairly twangy, when the playing is so engaging.—Stephen Pierce
HOLES IN THE SKY
Lara Downes, piano
[Total Time 67:00]
Inspired by the women who were "ahead of their time in the courage of their creativity," this is both a deeply personal tribute, and a pioneering concept, resulting in an album both fresh and relevant. Downes—who also has imminent releases featuring the music of Clara Schumann, Florence Price, and Margaret Bonds—is a trailblazing pianist who combines exquisite musicality with an acute awareness of how an artist can make a positive and lasting social impact. She pairs contemporary miniatures with a diverse collection of songs—both with vocalist and in arrangements for solo piano— by Billie Holliday, Joni Mitchell, and many others. In Albatross (with Judy Collins singing), Downes' pianism really shines; she casts a hypnotic spell, and plays individual layers with such acute sense of line that it sounds like two pianists. Another personal favorite is Meredith Monk's Ellis Island, a timely inclusion reflecting on immigration in America. Very rewarding listening.—Nicholas Phillips
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.
CHARISSE BALDORIA is a pianist who explores the piano's role in intercultural exchange. She has performed on five continents and is currently Associate Professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.
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.
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.
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.