March/April 2018 First Looks - Recordings
Chopin Sonata in B minor, Opus 58 and Liszt Sonata in B minor, S 178
Chad R. Bowles, piano
JRI Recording J141
[Total Time 57:38]
American rising star Chad R. Bowles plays two significant Romantic piano sonatas on his fourth release. In these nineteenth-century sonatas, Liszt and Chopin took the formal structure and expression to greater heights than did their Classical predecessors, and Bowles's dynamic pianistic personality delivers both the drama and the sentimentality of Romantic-era music. His mature performance of Chopin's sonata features a majestic first movement, a nervous Scherzo, a colorful Largo, and a jubilant Finale. Bowles builds phrases to thunderous climaxes, yet still manages to convincingly shape the entire work. Although the cyclic Liszt sonata was composed as a single movement consisting of connected episodes, Bowles's timing and rubato are well planned. His interpretation surely evokes the emotions of Faust, Mephistopheles, and Gretchen: struggle, pain, sadness, joy, triumph, torment, fear, hope, and love. Bowles possesses the exceptional technical skills and colorful ingenuity demanded by both works.
—Wei Chen (Bruce) Lin
Rachmaninoff & Sitsky
Edward Neeman, piano
[Total Time 68:08]
Australian-American pianist, Edward Neeman, presents an exciting debut recording with the complete Etudes-Tableaux Op. 39 of Rachmaninoff and Sonata No. 1 by Australian composer, Larry Sitsky. Neeman gives a convincing personal account of the widely-performed Rachmaninoff études, displaying long, sweeping melodic lines in combination with a wide variety of color and texture (albeit with an audio reverb that is a bit too heavy). The treasure of this recording is Sitsky's Sonata, published in 2009. Although the movements' titles refer to literary influences from voodoo lore, Sitsky says there is little relationship between the music and the ritual.
Sitsky's intense and fiery virtuoso writing spans the entire keyboard with dramatic orchestral colors, and Neeman, increasingly known for his new music premieres, is wholly comfortable with the composer's style. The wide dynamic contrasts and clashing sonorities create a wild and sometimes manic picture, full of character and special effects.
Highly recommended listening.
— Laura Melton
Schubert, and Mozart
Sir Andras Schiff, pianist and conductor
Unitel Classica DVD A045500450000
[Total Time 1:49:00]
These performances show a lighter side of serious pianist-scholar Schiff, while simultaneously confirming his status as an exquisitely refined and meticulous artist. Schiff brings out the whimsical elements in Beethoven's first concerto: His first-movement cadenza (the longest of Beethoven's three offerings) sounds comical at times, and he infuses the final movement with quirky rhythmic inflections. Similarly, in his own cadenza for the first movement of Mozart's Concerto K. 482, Schiff cunningly quotes a theme from Sonata K. 332. He is clearly having a good time as pianist-conductor, and the Cappella Andrea Barca responds to his economical gestures with excellent support. However, Schiff's seemingly intentional use of frequent dislocation or hand splitting (as discussed in his excellent Beethoven lecture-recitals), along with fluctuations in tempo, agogic accents, rubato, and a highly articulated touch may not appeal to all listeners.
– Stephen Pierce
Nicholas Phillips, piano
Blue Griffin BGR409
[Total Time 73:13]
This program of pieces composed in the past decade has many treats, all showcasing the variety of works offered by American composers. Phillips has a knack for this diversity. Some works, like Stacy Garrop's splintery Keyboard of the Winds, evoke impressions of nature, but most reimagine old classics. Joel Puckett's une petite barcarolle stems from his baby's desire to hear Chopin's Barcarolle and Beethoven's fifth symphony simultaneously. Judd Greenstein's First Ballade is a sophisticated mixture of favorite composers. Also included are two selections from The Piano's 12 Sides, by Carter Pann (reviewed in the July/August 2016 issue of Clavier Companion). Pann's "White Moon on Water" is reminiscent of Debussy's Images, while his Appalachian-inspired "She Steals Me" is plaintive without being saccharine.
The first movement of Mark Olivieri's Hommage à Trois (to Copland, Takemitsu, and James Brown, respectively) swings with a mellow jazziness; Phillips fully embraces the improvisatory nature of the second movement. The third movement exuberantly rounds out the recording with a killer bassline—pure fun!
– Sang Woo Kang
Nelson Freire: Brahms
Nelson Freire, piano
[Total Time 73:09]
Brazilian-born virtuoso Nelson Freire's all-Brahms recording, following on the heels of his wondrous Bach album of 2016, offers a deeply personal account of some of the composer's exquisite works. The colossal Sonata, Op. 5, and Four Pieces, Op. 119, frame the program; sandwiched between are selected pieces from most of the multi-movement sets, thus making the overall collection a marvelous sampling of Brahms piano works. At seventy-two, Freire's new take on the sonata is a gentler, more mild-mannered approach than he took on his debut album a half-century earlier. Although some listeners may occasionally find the recording lacking in rhythmic vitality and power, Freire's relaxed pacing and luxurious treatment of the expressive moments are particularly satisfying in the more lyrical passages and works, especially in the wistful Intermezzo in A major, Op. 118, No. 2, and the Intermezzo in E major, Op. 116, No. 4.
— Choong-ha Nam
Seong-Jin Cho, Pianist
Deutsche Grammophon 00289 4798308
[Total Time 72:47]
Seong-Jin Cho won the prestigious 2015 Warsaw Chopin Competition when he was only twenty-one, and his previous recordings featured works of Chopin. His latest offering, however, spotlights Debussy. Cho's playing revels in a soundscape of articulation, pinpoint voicing, and creamy pedaling that illuminate the tonal sophistication of Hommage à Rameau from Images I and Cloches à travers les feuilles and Poissons d'or from Images II. His silky touch and demure rubato provide soft-spoken expression and humor in two selections from Children's Corner, "The Snow is Dancing" and "Golliwog's Cakewalk." L'isle joyeuse, however, while delivered with flash and dash, lacks the sense of elasticity presented in Suite bergamasque. In the suite, each harmonic shift and arpeggiated twist has meaning, particularly in Prélude, Menuet, and Clair de lune, and Cho's interpretation is a must-hear for its quintessentially impressionistic luminous flow.
— Leonne Lewis
This issue's contributors
Sang Woo Kang, pianist, performs and teaches as a soloist and chamber musician throughout Asia and the United States. Currently he serves as Associate Professor of Music and Chair at Providence College, RI.
Leonne Lewis has a varied career as a pianist, music journalist, concert manager, and lecturer. She has been a consulting editor of Clavier, a contributor to publications in the United States and Europe, and a juror of Vienna's Rosario Marciano Piano Competition.
Wei Chen (Bruce) Lin is an 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 American Wind Symphony Orchestra.
Laura Melton is the Coordinator of Keyboard Studies at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. A frequent recitalist and clinician throughout North and South America, Asia, and Europe, her recent CD recordings are on the Naxos and Albany labels.
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 Assistant Professor of Keyboard Pedagogy at the University of Southern California. He has performed in the Czech Republic, Canada, the United States, and South Africa, and published in Clavier Companion, The South African Music Teacher, and Piano Pedagogy Forum.