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.
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 …
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…
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.
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…
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…
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…
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”.
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.
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.
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…