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August is often the calm before the storm of top pianists releasing new recordings in the Autumn, and this year has proved no exception. But what better time to make an impact?
All four of this month’s selected recordings is uniquely wonderful, and any of them could easily be regarded as my Recording of the Month, or even of the year, so please read on with that in mind! In fact, these four releases are each so remarkable that you would be forgiven for thinking I am bluffing, so please be sure to check them all out for yourself on the streaming platform of your choice. You won’t be disappointed!..
Orli Shaham • Mozart Sonatas
Orli Shaham (sister of violinist Gil) is a new name to me, although she has produced a number of previous recordings including as an accompanist, chamber musician, and soloist.
In 2020, Shaham released the first disc in a Mozart Sonata cycle, and post-pandemic now brings us Volumes 2 and 3 as a double set.
Including several of Mozart’s best-loved piano works, this release serves up the dramatic A minor Sonata K.310, the beloved F major Sonata K.332, the student’s chestnut C major K.545, and the evergreen A major Sonata “Alla turca” K.331 (among other works).
You may be wondering whether the world needs another Mozart Piano Sonata cycle, but Shaham proves that we do: hers is truly different, merging a robustly modern pianistic approach with an authentic and distinctive dose of improvisatory flair.
We are told that for months leading up to the recording sessions, Shaham worked on sections that she felt Mozart left open to improvisation, experimenting with all kinds of ideas. The result is a sense of authentic spontaneity. And as she puts it in her (commendably in-depth) CD booklet interview,
“The act of improvisation allows you to feel some sense of what Mozart would have felt. He was a real flesh-and- bone human being, for all his genius, just like us.”
Shaham’s approach has resulted in a Mozart recording which is undoubtedly the most interesting, arresting and enjoyable that I have heard in a long time. Each Sonata is replete with appealingly fresh and inspiring musical ideas, and Shaham’s gift for improvisation in the classical style is at times startling.
If you thought that you would never find anything new in a Mozart recording, think again. I hesitate to suggest this release sets a new benchmark, but it is certainly THE version of these works to which I anticipate returning time and again. It will be interesting to see how others respond to this release. I have found it almost overwhelmingly stunning.
Ola Gjeilo • Dawn
Ola Gjeilo’s Night was not just one of the most comforting CD releases of 2020, but in its sheet music form became one to the most poplar contemporary piano collections that I have taught to my students, rivalling and generally besting the music of Einaudi and the other best-selling artists dominating the “new classical” space.
Now, Norwegian composer Gjeilo (previously best known for choral works) is back with an equally superb sequel, appropriately titled Dawn…
From the opening track Daybreak, I was was completely transfixed, mesmerised by the beauty of these touching compositions. Basically, he’s done it again.
How can the course of a piece of music be so obvious, and yet so unpredictable? Gjeilo certainly has a remarkable gift for combining simplicity and originality of expression, and this album reaffirms him as, in my view, the frontrunner in the field of accessible contemporary composers.
Carefully eschewing the corny, the kitsch and the saccharine, Gjeilo weaves a remarkable spell in each of these 17 short and immediately lovable compositions. The finished impact is truly a balm… my goodness, this music is just too beautiful for words! Be sure to have a listen; personally, I have no doubt that I’ll be enjoying this music for years to come.
Vadim Neselovskyi • Odesa
The Ukrainian jazz pianist Vadim Neselovskyi has been hailed by several jazz luminaries as one of the greatest improvisers and composers of the new generation, and on the evidence of his latest recording Odesa I can see why…
Describing his new album as “a musical walk through a legendary city”, Odesa is a both a homage to Neselovskyi’s home city and a tribute in honour of his father, dying of cancer. Here we find music that seemingly shoots between anger and calm, emotional agitation and great beauty.
The nine tracks take us on a walk that begins in the Black Sea port’s railway station before promenading through a succession of nostalgic memories and evocative musical Polaroids of the city’s storied, often tempestuous history.
The music here at times reminds me of the alchemical reaction between classical virtuosity and jazz spontaneity found in Fazil Say’s phenomenal Troy Sonata (reviewed here); this seems to me music with similarly astonishing ambition and swaggering conviction.
The conflict currently engulfing the region may add to the timely resonance of this release, but in any case this is music which powerfully makes its mark. From the coruscating Potemkin Stairs to the bittersweet nostalgia of Acacia Trees, this is unquestionable one of the most remarkable and original of piano releases this year.
Olga Kopylova • Colours of Villa-Lobos
To finish with, an album that to the best of my knowledge hasn’t even been given a physical release, at least here in the UK. A Pianodao first?
Olga Kopylova was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in 1979. Since 1999 she has been based in São Paulo with the State Symphony Orchestra, where she has undoubtedly imbibed the spirit of Brazilian music. As such, she is perhaps the ideal natural exponent of the (in my view criminally overlooked) piano works of Heitor Villa Lobos (1887-1959).
Feel free to insist Villa Lobos wasn’t one of the finest piano composers of his time, and I will feel free to disagree, citing this album as evidence of both his genius and of the supreme musicianship of Ms. Kopylova.
Although Nelson Freire and Christian Ortiz (among others) made a strong case for the music of Villa Lobos, the current benchmark is the complete 8CD Naxos recording of the solo works by Sonia Rubinsky, whose survey reveals the remarkable consistency of invention in this composer’s oeuvre.
Kopylova does a superb job of cherry-picking, easing us in with the delicious Bachianas Brasileiras No.4. Immediately apparent is her affinity for this music, as well as the mellow warmth of the recording relative to Rubinsky’s.
Kopylova’s choice of repertoire shines a light on the romanticism of Villa Lobos’s writing, including such gems as A lenda do Cabocio and Chôros No.4 before introducing the stunning Suíte Floral Op.97, surely one of the brightest gems among this composer’s output. The Carnaval das Crianças Brasileiras W.157 is perhaps an even more bedazzling jewel, and makes for a fitting climax to this wonderful release.
A pity that I cannot link to a CD release, but don’t miss this on the streaming service of your choice. It’s too good…
In September I am looking forward to releases from Evgeny Kissin, Myriam Barbaux-Cohen and more. Join me here to find out my choice of Recording of the Month…!
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