Eric Lu: Chopin 24 Preludes

Recording of the Month

The 22-year-old Chinese-American pianist Eric Lu is one of the brightest rising stars in today’s classical music firmament, his playing revealing both an exciting engagement with the repertoire and a fresh and compelling new perspective on it.

Aged 20, Lu was unanimously voted winner of the Leeds International Piano Competition 2018, an achievement which propelled him firmly into the limelight and rewarded him with a management deal, major label recording deal with Warner Classics, and a concert commitment which might overwhelm the less assured player.

For his part, Lu would seem to have taken all this in his stride, the embodiment of a dream he has nurtured from a young age growing up in a house where classical music was cherished.

I briefly met Lu and heard him perform Mozart’s 23rd concerto at the Chetham’s Summer School last year (shortly before he made his BBC Proms debut with the same work), and was struck then by his poise onstage and off, his quiet confidence and calm energy.

But listening to his Warner Classics studio debut, a disc which includes Chopin’s 24 Preludes Op.28 as well as short works by Brahms and Schumann, it is the emotional range he brings to his playing which most immediately strikes me…

Continue reading Eric Lu: Chopin 24 Preludes

Hiromi: Spectrum

Recording of the Month

New releases are usually a bit thin on the ground in January and this has proved true again in 2020, the respite providing the perfect chance to revisit the best albums of the last year.

2019 was a solid year for new jazz piano releases, many of which I have enjoyed repeatedly. Highlights have included Keith Jarrett’s superb Munich 2016 recording, Ahmad Jamal’s gorgeous Ballades, Abdullah Ibrahim’s Dream Time and Chick Corea’s double live trio CD Trilogy 2.

My personal favourite of the many good recent jazz albums has to be Hiromi Uehara’s Spectrum, however.

Following a succession of brilliant trio, ensemble and collaboration albums, Spectrum is Hiromi’s first solo piano studio album for a decade, and is a remarkable musical tour de force.

Speaking to The Japan Times, Hiromi said of the recording,

“As a pianist, making a solo album is really like, kind of being naked. There is nowhere to hide. There is no other instrument to play with in order to cover the sound. It’s really challenging, but at the same time, it’s the best way to fully enjoy this instrument…
It’s like having a conversation with myself. I can be really free, if there is nobody there to restrain me. I can go anywhere that I want in improvisation.”

Let’s find out where Hiromi’s playing led her …

Continue reading Hiromi: Spectrum

Beatrice Rana: “Reflexions”

Recording of the Month

Following her superb recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations in 2017, leading classical music magazine Gramophone named Beatrice Rana Young Artist of the Year, noting:

“Young musicians usually impress in one of two different ways. One is to dazzle with the exuberance of youth, the sheer joy of their own talent and personality. It’s a hard thing to resist, but one would be wise to wonder if it will still be serving them so well a decade or so down the line. The other is to show technique, yes, but also the poise and wisdom often lazily assumed to be beyond the attainment of youth, but which, if you’ve got it, will surely never go away. A few minutes with the playing of Beatrice Rana leaves you in no doubt which category she is in.”

Two years later her latest recording, a dazzling account of music by Ravel and Stravinsky, further affirms Rana as one of the most extraordinary artists of our time.

No difficulty in selecting my Recording of the Month

Continue reading Beatrice Rana: “Reflexions”

Andrey Gugnin plays Shostakovich

Recording of the Month

Though perhaps not the best-known of his piano works, Shostakovich’s solo music for the instrument surely ranks among the best of the twentieth century.

Now, in his newly released Hyperion debut, Russian pianist Andrey Gugnin presents an all-Shostakovich programme which showcases both the quality and variety of this repertoire…

Make no mistake: this is a stunning album, and even in a month crowded with new releases from major artists, I found it an easy choice for inclusion in the Recording of the Month series…

Continue reading Andrey Gugnin plays Shostakovich

Igor Levit: Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas

Recording of the Month

Undertaking a complete recording of the 32 published Piano Sonatas of Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827) remains one of the monumental challenges for any concert pianist, and with the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth next year it’s likely that the many accounts on disc will come under greater comparative scrutiny than ever.

Enter Igor Levit, who has previously impressed critics and audiences around the world both in recital and on disc. A Sony Classics artist, Levit is flying the flag for one of the world’s largest labels with his new 9CD set of the Sonata cycle, released this month.


photography © Felix Broede /Sony Classical

These are interpretations which inevitably face comparison with the legendary recordings by such luminaries as Artur Schnabel, Wilhelm Kempff and Friedrich Gulda, beloved cycles by Stephen Kovacevich, Alfred Brendel and Claudio Arrau, and the more recent accounts by Paul Lewis, András Schiff, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and (revelatory on fortepiano) Ronald Brautigam.

With such high stakes, let’s find out how Levit’s cycle fares …

Continue reading Igor Levit: Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas

Isata Kanneh-Mason: Romance

Recording of the Month

2019 marks the bicentenary of the birth of Clara Schumann, who wan born on 13th September 1819. Right on cue, this new recording from Decca offers the perfect introduction to her music, as well as marking the solo recording debut of rising star Isata Kanneh-Mason…

photo Robin Clewley

Continue reading Isata Kanneh-Mason: Romance

Anna Gourari: Elusive Affinity

Recording of the Month

Once in a while, I hear a new recording which not only introduces me to a rich seam of new repertoire, but which is quite simply mesmerising from start to finish. Elusive Affinity is Russian pianist Anna Gourari’s third recording for ECM recordings, and it is such a disc.

Juxtaposing a selection of tonal and non-tonal music, with a focus on pieces which explore musical connections and influences extending across the arts, Elusive Affinity is a genuinely astonishing album on every level, and a clear choice for Recording of the Month here on Pianodao.

So let’s take it for a spin…

Continue reading Anna Gourari: Elusive Affinity

Martin James Bartlett: Love and Death

Recording of the Month

Since winning the BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2014, Martin James Bartlett has become a welcome and friendly presence in concert halls as in the media, while also pursuing his further studies as a Foundation Scholar at London’s Royal College of Music.

Having recently signed to major label Warner Classics, Martin’s debut album was released at the start of May.

Entitled “Love and Death”, the recording must I believe be regarded as marking a very significant arrival in the classical music world, Bartlett casting his spell with an imaginative programme of music by J.S. Bach, Franz Liszt, Enrique Granados and Sergei Prokofiev…

Continue reading Martin James Bartlett: Love and Death

Fazil Say Plays Say

Recording of the Month

Fazil Say has established himself as one of the leading pianists and composers of his generation, but his multifaceted talent has sometimes left critics as perplexed as audiences are thrilled. He’s a hard man to categorise!

Say is equally at home performing and recoding the complete Sonatas of Mozart (released by Warner Classics in 2016 and available here) as he is when playing his own highly distinctive and imaginative compositions.

It is the latter which in my view confirm Say’s place in the upper echelons of the classical tradition, however. I love pieces such as the scintillating 1001 Nights in the Harem (a four-movement Violin Concerto), and the Hezarfen Concerto for Ney and Orchestra.

These have recently been joined on the top shelf by the stunning Troy Sonata, a near-40-minute solo piano work in ten movements, included as the centrepiece of his latest release, Fazil Say plays Say.

Say’s music has a vivid cinematic approach to storytelling, and draws on a smorgasbord of influences, from late Romanticism through to experimental modernism, while incorporating the colours of modern jazz: all unmistakably and decisively shot through with the spirit and culture of his native Turkey.

It makes for a unique and intoxicating blend with which, like his greatest composing forebears, Say’s personal voice emerges from an accomplished fusion of musical reference points.

Fazil Say Plays Say brings together a thrilling selection of Say’s most recent (and I believe finest) solo piano works. It’s an easy choice for Recording of the Month

Continue reading Fazil Say Plays Say

Dohnányi’s Complete Solo Piano Works

Recording of the Month

In his recent interview for Pianodao, concert pianist Martin Roscoe enthusiastically discussed his long-held ambition to record a complete series of the solo piano works of the great Hungarian composer and polymath Ernő Dohnányi (1877-1960).

Now that ambition reaches its fulfilment, culminating in the fourth and final release in Roscoe’s recorded Dohnányi cycle for Hyperion Records, released this month, and an easy choice for Pianodao’s Recording of the Month.



I’ve been a fan of Dohnányi’s music for several years, not least knowing that my own teacher Joseph Weingarten had been one of his students in Budapest Academy. I’ve been collecting Roscoe’s recordings since the series started, and have been eagerly awaiting this final issue.

Before reviewing the CD itself, here’s a short introduction to the composer and music…

Continue reading Dohnányi’s Complete Solo Piano Works

Rare Piano Music by Arnold Bax

Recording of the Month

For her debut recording for Usk Recordings, pianist Natalia Williams-Wandoch has selected an intriguing programme of hitherto unrecorded music by the great, but somewhat neglected, English composer Arnold Bax.


As she writes in her excellent booklet notes,

“I hope that you will find this unique and rewarding music as bewitching as I have done”.

Well, let’s find out…

Continue reading Rare Piano Music by Arnold Bax

Tom Blankenberg: “Atermus”

I’ve been enjoying the music of Düsseldorf-based German musician Tom Blankenberg for a few years now, since he first joined the Soundcloud community for pianists which I was running at the time.

And in the intervening years it has been a thrill to see his music develop, to hear that he was touring, and now that his debut album is recorded and released.

“Atermus” offers an accomplished and rounded set of reflective piano works, all superbly recorded (which is perhaps not surprising given Tom’s background as a sound designer and film editor who also records for media and advertising) and released on the Less Records label.

Talking about his piano music, which belongs to the new “neoclassical” or minimal stream, Tom says:

“I tend to call them Short Stories or Polaroids or sometimes even Calendar Sheets.”

A wonderful description, but see what you think for yourself. For me, this is one of the best contemplative and reflective piano albums I’ve heard – I love it!

I hope you will agree that from the experimental harmonies of opening track Tori and through 13 successive moments of musical beauty, concluding with the lusciously melodic November and warmly intimate Nesuto, this is a stunning album!

By the way, in case you were wondering, Tom tells me that the striking title ‘Atermus’ is just a meaningless word which occurred to him while recording:

“I like nonsense titles more that too discriptive ones…”

The album was recorded at Van Heys Studio, Kleve, and in Düsseldorf between November 2017-April 2018, and brings together pieces composed mostly between 2012 and 2018 (together with one earlier piece dating from 1987). The cover art, incidentally, is a reproduction of a work by Hiroshi Kjawano.

You can listen to the full album below, and it is also available on major streaming platforms or to purchase on CD or vinyl. Enjoy!

You can find out more from Tom’s website here.



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William Youn: Laughter and Tears…

Artist photography: Irène Zandel

Recording of the Month

William Youn has been establishing a growing international reputation as a “genuine poet” of the piano (as one critic eloquently put it).

His recording of Mozart’s complete piano sonatas for Oehms Classics has received particular and extensive critical acclaim, and now he brings us his debut recital disc for major label Sony Classical.

Continue reading William Youn: Laughter and Tears…

Yuja Wang: The Berlin Recital

Recording of the Month

Artist photos © Peter Adamik

Yuja Wang’s meteoric rise to global stardom has been one of the most extraordinary stories of the piano world over the last decade.

When her debut CD for Deutsche Grammophon was released back in 2009 she was barely in her 20’s and many (me included) raised their eyebrows at her choice of programme, opening with Chopin’s monumental B flat minor Sonata and squeezing in performances of Scriabin’s 2nd Sonata and two Ligeti Etudes before finishing with Liszt’s Sonata in B minor. As it turned out, she performed all these with aplomb, her Liszt in particular being among the very best readings recently committed to disc.

Since then, the Chinese virtuoso has recorded concerti by Rachmaninov, Prokofiev (perhaps the most emotionally gripping performance I’ve yet heard of his grief-ridden 2nd Concerto), Ravel and Mendelssohn. Her solo discs Transformation and Fantasia have delighted fans, and she has lit up the world’s greatest concert halls with her technically explosive and musically rapt playing.

Now she’s back with a new recording. The Berlin Recital was recorded live at the Berlin Philharmonie Kammermusiksaal in June 2018, and features a bedazzling programme of music by Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Ligeti and Prokofiev.


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It’s an easy choice for Recording of the Month. Let’s investigate…

Continue reading Yuja Wang: The Berlin Recital

Keith Jarrett: La Fenice

Recording of the Month

“So, who’s your favourite pianist, then?”

It’s a question most of us run from. But over the years I have become comfortable naming Keith Jarrett as, if not “favourite”, then certainly one of the most extraordinary pianists alive.

So when a new album of his live improvised music is released, it jumps straight to the top of the pile, and likely becomes a very easy choice for “Recording of the Month”.

Happily for me (and for you) La Fenice is not simply an album of live outtakes from the vault, but another very special Jarrett release which demonstrate just why he is such an extraordinary and acclaimed musician. 


La Fenice

Recorded live in concert on a single evening, La Fenice exemplifies everything that those in-the-know have come to treasure in Jarrett’s music. So let’s take a closer look…

Continue reading Keith Jarrett: La Fenice

Tord Gustavsen Trio: “The Other Side”

Recording of the Month

Photo credit: Hans Fredrik Asbjørnsen

Just as the great classical composers would often use the medium of the string quartet to explore new compositional ideas, techniques and directions, so jazz pianists have often produced their most exploratory work in the trio format.

One of the noteworthy recent exponents of the jazz trio is Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen. His Trio, featuring drummer Jarle Vespestad and bassist Harald Johnsen, toured between 2003-08, releasing three recordings, Changing Places (2003), The Ground (2005), Being There (2007), all on the ECM Records label.

Changing Places wasn’t, as it happens, my first encounter with Gustavsen’s playing; he had previously recorded sessions with fellow Norwegian chanteuse, Silje Nergaard, one of my absolute favourite singers. Gustavsen’s understated but deeply felt piano lines in her early recordings certainly made their impression on me, but hearing him let loose in a trio format really bought home the delicate brilliance and originality of his playing.

Following on from the three trio albums, which established Gustavsen’s voice as the preeminent lyrical pianist of the Nordic school, with colourful tinges of blues and gospel never far from the surface in his playing, he developed larger ensembles. The Tord Gustavsen Quartet added saxophonist Tore Brunborg, while the Ensemble added the vocals of Kristin Ambjørnsen.

And for his 2016 release What Was Said (my personal favourite, by the way) he was joined by German-Afgan jazz singer Simin Tander alongside regular drummer Jarle Vespestad.

Along the way, Gustavsen added experimentation with electronic instruments and treatments to his already gorgeous sonic palette.

The Other Side marks Gustavsen’s return to the basic format of the standard Trio after more than a decade of exploring these other musical possibilities. As I listened to preview track The Tunnel over the late summer, I wondered whether this new album would be somewhat a return to Gustavsen’s roots, or be markedly different from the earlier Trio albums ….

Continue reading Tord Gustavsen Trio: “The Other Side”

Alice Sara Ott: Nightfall

Recording of the Month

Of the many wonderful young pianists who have arrived on the international performing circuit in recent years, Alice Sara Ott impresses me as one of the more honest to her own artistic intentions, and authentic in her delivery.

Her several recordings for Deutsche Grammophon have consistently revealed Ott as an intelligent pianist, eschewing glitz for its own sake, ready and willing to plough her own musical furrow, staying true to her vision and – importantly – to the intentions and spirit of the composers whose music she identifies with.

Commenting on her latest release, Nightfall, the now-30-year-old German pianist writes:

“It’s a very personal album in which I recall many moments of light and brightness, but also moments of darkness and doubt. One month before I entered the recording studio – I was in the midst of the bleak world of Gaspard de la nuit – my father suffered a heart attack that he barely survived. Despite a fortunate outcome, these were terrifying hours and days in which I realised how close life and death are intertwined. But there can be no light without darkness, and no hope without fear. And sometimes the borders blur – as in Nightfall.”

Continue reading Alice Sara Ott: Nightfall

Christmas Piano Music

Recent Recordings

I simply must tell you about Peter Froundjian’s new release for SONY Classical, Christmas Piano Music. It is surely one of the most unusual, but fabulous recordings of the year!

Unusual, because there is hardly a single work on here that will be familiar (many are world premiere recordings). Fabulous because, from top to toe, these neglected works are wonderful and beautifully performed.

It really deserves to be heard in every household this Christmas season!

Continue reading Christmas Piano Music

Tokio Myers: Our Generation

Album Review

When 32 year-old Tokio Myers won this year’s Britain’s Got Talent, students were quick to ask my opinion, and like many, I was undecided about his music, but blown away by his story.

Now Tokio returns to the public eye with the release of his debut album…

Continue reading Tokio Myers: Our Generation

Andrew James Johnson: ‘Winter’s Heart’

Recent Recordings

Winter’s Heart is the debut solo album by Andrew James Johnson, released this week. 

According to the press release I received a few months back,

“Andrew’s music has an honesty and openness that reflect his life journey in a meditative and truthful way that universally appeals to listeners of all ages.”

I was naturally curious – and the advance review copy has been spinning in my CD player fairly regularly over the last few weeks. Here’s my review…

Continue reading Andrew James Johnson: ‘Winter’s Heart’

Catherine Gordeladze’s ‘Dance Fantasies’

Recent Recordings

It has become fashionable, once again, for concert pianists to release recital albums containing a mixed variety of music, brought together by a particular concept.

I personally welcome this approach, finding that it leads to releases which are generally more enjoyable than listening to the completist’s rendition of a huge raft of music by one composer. But it is certainly a challenge for pianists to put together a programme that is both fresh and familiar.

Where some have failed, Georgian pianist Catherine Gordeladze has brilliantly succeeded on her new release, called Dance Fantasies. And remarkably, about half of the music here was new to me, even though the programme strikes a fabulous balance between novelty and the comfort of the familiar.

Continue reading Catherine Gordeladze’s ‘Dance Fantasies’

Ayako Fujiki: “brightwater”

Recent Recordings

Ayako Fujiki is a Japanese classical pianist who lives in Barcelona, Spain, where she had the privilege of learning with the legendary Spanish concert pianist Alicia de Larrocha.

brightwater

She has released three classical recordings, and now brings us Brightwater, a collection of her own original compositions. Already a success in Spain, Ayako now hopes to win more fans in the UK and beyond.

Continue reading Ayako Fujiki: “brightwater”