Recordings of the Month: September 2022

Products featured on Pianodao are selected for review by ANDREW EALES.

Autumn as ever brings a string of compelling recordings from many of the world’s top artists, and choosing a September Recording of the Month has proven challenging; October is looking equally exciting!

The four albums I have settled on all mix wonderful pianism with exquisite artistic taste, elevating them above the crowded pack of releases…

Evgeny Kissin • The Salzburg Recital

A fresh release from Kissin is a major event in the piano world and this, his first new solo piano recording for five years, abundantly rewards the wait.

Featuring an eclectic live recital programme of music by Berg, Khrennikov, Gershwin and Chopin, with encores which include one of his own compositions, The Salzburg Recital is simply outstanding on every level.

Kissin is known equally for his intellectual rigour and pianistic passion, both characteristics of the one movement Piano Sonata of Alban Berg (1885-1935), which sets the serious tone that unfolds throughout this recital.

Much could be said of Kissin’s inclusion of six miniatures by Tikhon Khrennikov (1913-2007), often demonised in the West for his involvement as Stalin’s musical czar, suppressing the voices of Prokofiev and Shostakovich among others. A personal friend who knew Khrennikov in his later years, Kissin makes a compelling advocate for his rehabilitation as a composer. The six miniatures included here are early pieces, and display similar humour, taut sense of structure and melodic charm to those of his aforementioned compatriots.

A significant part of this 2CD set is given over to Kissin’s performances of Chopin, with whose music he has been closely associated throughout his career. Here he includes the Nocturne Op.62/1, Impromptus Opp. 29, 36 and 51, Scherzo’s 1 and (among the encores) 2, and the mighty Polonaise in A flat Op.53 ‘Heroic‘, a work he has performed in solidarity with Ukraine as an encore at every concert since Russia’s invasion.

These are in every sense astonishing performances which, among so many benchmarks, surely only further raise the bar.

The recording is also exemplary, capturing both the intimacy and wide canvas of Kissin’s sound. Audience applause has been edited out save for in the encores, which also include one of Mendelssohn’s ‘Lieder ohne Worte’, his own Dodecaphonic Tango, and concluding with a suitably rapt, valedictory performance of Debussy’s Clair de Lune.

Kissin’s legions of many admirers will hardly need my persuasion to buy this recording right away; nor indeed should any lover of serious piano music. An immediate classic, The Salzburg Recital is an utterly indispensable album.

Myriam Barbaux-Cohen • Mel Bonis

I have previously praised French pianist Myriam Barbaux-Cohen’s disc of Granados’s music, and now I am equally impressed with her second disc for Ars Produktion, which showcases the music of Mélanie Bonis (1858-1937).

Mel Bonis was born into a modest Parisian family with no musical background, and having taught herself the basics of piano playing she was eventually able to learn with a teacher and enter the Paris Conservatoire.

Bonis’s nascent career seemed permanently interrupted when her parents withdrew her from the Conservatoire, simultaneously also curtailing her romance with a fellow student, in order to conclude a marriage of convenience to a very wealthy industrialist. Continuing to develop her musical interests alongside managing servants and building a family however, she devoted herself to composing.

Bonis left a significant body of more than 300 works in a post-Romantic style, ranging from orchestral to choral and instrumental music. We are told in Christine Geliot’s informative booklet note that Mel’s passion for composing was,

“…exacerbated by her hypersensitivity, inspired by her impossible love and sublimated by her Christian persona infatuated with morality and mysticism.”

From her solo piano oeuvre, Barbaux-Cohen has selected a delectable programme of 18 miniatures and character pieces, the most substantial of which are the Ballade Op.27 from 1897, and (at around nine minutes) the picturesque La Cathédrale Blessée (1915).

The pieces are presented in chronological order of their composition, from 1884 to 1929, the final piece being Cloches lointaines (distant bells), which can be enjoyed in this official promotional video:

The music on this release is a uniformly happy discovery; I expect many players will want to explore this repertoire for themselves.

As for Barbaux-Cohen’s superb performances here, she certainly makes an eloquent and persuasive advocate for Mel Bonis, giving life to every nuance of expression in these compelling and deeply felt accounts. This is an album to cherish.

Mariam Batsashvili • Romantic Piano Masters

Following on from her 2019 Warner Classics disc of Chopin and Liszt, Mariam Batsashvili returns to the world of opulent, arguably excessive, romantic pianism in an awe-inspiring disc dominated by piano transcriptions.

  • Mariam Batsashvili Romantic
  • Mariam Batsashvili piano

Batsashvili’s reading of Bauer’s transcription of Franck’s Prélude, Fugue et Variation Op.18 brings a poetic lyricism to a work that could easily seem austere or overly portentous in other hands.

Elsewhere in this recital, Thalberg’s paraphrase on Bellini’s La somnambula makes for an interesting contrast with Liszt’s denser transcriptions from Gounod’s Faust and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, the latter reaching a climax of almost overwhelming rapture. Waltzes by Chopin (A flat, Op.42) and Schubert (the “Kupelwieser” Waltz in G flat) inject unaffected beauty into what is undeniably a very rich feast here.

Mariam Batsashvili is undoubtedly one of the most stunning pianists of her generation, and her showing here is a tremendous tour-de-force.

The recording has a resonant warmth that further adds to its immense appeal. Spectacular!

Michael Dussek • Romantic Revolution

Though perhaps best-known for his work as a chamber musician and accompanist, Michael Dussek has over the years released an impressive catalogue of solo piano recordings characterised by an enthusiasm for exploring less-chartered waters.

His latest project, Romantic Revolution, is an engaging adventure, juxtaposing works by his illustrious ancestor, the Czech classical composer Jan Vladislav Dussek, with the music of Chopin. Volume 2 has just arrived:

Though the performer states his belief that Dussek founded a school of piano playing which he passed on to Chopin via Field, his strategy of pairing these composers’ music is undoubtedly a high-risk one.

When a first disc in this series appeared last year, however, any doubts I had were quickly rendered redundant by the enjoyment that Dussek’s performances brought; it’s an opinion I find strengthened by this second, equally engaging disc.

Michael Dussek’s most singular achievement here is undoubtedly to bring the terrific and often highly distinctive music of Jan Ladislav Dussek to a wider audience. The Piano Sonata in A flat, Op.70 “Le retour à Paris” is by any standards a masterpiece.

And there is no denying that this highly inventive music provides as convincing as any bridge between the elegance of Viennese Classicism and the exploratory yearnings of the Early Romantics.

This is a tremendous disc, brimful of joy from the first to the last note. More please!

In October we can look forward to releases from Keith Jarrett, Víkingur Ólafsson, Kristian Zimerman and more! Join me here to find out my choice of Recordings of the Month…!

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Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is the author of HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC, published worldwide by Hal Leonard. He is a widely respected piano educator and published composer based on Milton Keynes UK.