As Autumn draws in, there is usually a bumper selection of new piano recordings to enjoy, and this year is proving no exception.
In recent weeks, several major artists have released recordings which explore unusual territory, adding to the interest of their programmes. Streaming these latest issues, I have heard superlative pianism and moments of supreme beauty and inspiration. Sadly though, I must also admit that some albums I had high hopes for have ultimately left me disappointed, proving perhaps that novelty as an end in itself is not always the best route.
Enter Beatrice Rana with her latest CD for Warner Classics. Following on from her stunning and highly acclaimed recording of Ravel and Stravinsky a couple of years ago (my Recording of the Month here), Rana’s latest disc is a recital of Chopin, comprising his 12 Études Op.25 and the Four Scherzi.
And that’s it. No obscurities, DJ collaborations or electronic noodling thrown in to entice the punters, nor even an encore bonbon to sweeten what is essentially a rather dark programme.
But Rana’s programme is, in my view, the most audacious of all. It is perhaps easier to impress with music that is lesser known; to tackle two such beloved monuments of the piano repertoire and breathe fresh, invigorating life and artistic illumination into them: well, that’s a significant challenge!
And – big sigh – Rana succeeds. This new recording is in a word: magnificent.
Cordelia Williams’ dual interests are quickly uncovered by the discovery that she was not only the Piano Winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year 2006, since when she has embarked on a globetrotting performing and recording career, but that she has also has a First in Theology from Clare College, Cambridge.
Williams’ pianism and spiritual enquiry share the focus of Nightlight, her fourth solo piano disc for SOMM Recordings, and Pianodao’s August 2021 Recording of the Month…
I concluded my review of Romance, young British pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason’s debut recording for Decca a couple of years ago, writing:
“As a recording debut, this release is impressive indeed; after so thrilling an introduction, I can’t wait to hear what Kanneh-Mason does next.”
Well that wait is now over, and Kanneh-Mason’s second CD is with us. Summertime is a joyous celebration of vibrant 20th century solo piano compositions that draw from the deep well of the American repertoire.
With the sort of programming one might associate with Lara Downes, the new album includes compositions by Gershwin, Copland, Barber, Beach, and the world premiere recording of Coleridge-Taylor’s Impromptu No.2, a poignantly evocative piece that I hope will belatedly find its place in the wider repertoire…
The French pianist Lise de la Salle is one of those rare prodigies who seem to arrive, fully formed, on the international concert scene at an improbably young age.
Signed by the Naïve Classique label when she was just 14 years old, de la Salle has performed internationally full time since she was 18, and by the time she was 20 she had already recorded three recital discs (featuring Rachmaninov, Ravel, Bach, Liszt, Mozart and Prokofiev) and a concerto disc (Shostakovich/Liszt/Prokofiev) under the baton of Lawrence Foster.
A further six discs later, and having recently turned 33, de la Salle is now back with a concept album of music for dance written by composers from three continents between 1850-1950, which she describes thus:
“An immersion in a variety of different worlds, juxtaposed without transition, linked together by the main thread of rhythm, movement. It’s a journey that explores the different ways in which dance takes possession of the body: with an amazing swing in North America, developing a strong, erotic sensuality, in South America and Spain, with reserve, elegance and sophistication in France, or through the expression of a late sentimental romanticism in eastern Europe and Russia.”
And it’s a stunning journey: all of the above and more…
When global concert and recording artists Paul Lewis and Steven Osborne teamed up a couple of years ago to record an album of piano duo music by Schubert, it seemed they might become the new dream team in this repertoire. Now they are back with a second helping.
French Duets delivers exactly what it says on the tin, with music by Fauré, Poulenc, Debussy, Stravinsky and Ravel: some of the brightest gems in the piano duo treasury. And to my taste at least, this recording surpasses the last, becoming an immediate favourite.
“Vida breve” – life is short. Ah yes, and don’t we all know it!
But pianist Stephen Hough has crammed an improbable amount into his 59 years. Indeed, if there’s a piano artist in the UK today who deserves the accolade “polymath” it’s surely Hough; in addition to his much-in-demand concert appearances and illustrious recording career, he is well respected as a composer, commentator, writer and novelist.
Reminding us of his truly formidable pianism, Hough is back with a new recording on the Hyperion label, effectively a ‘recital-in-the-studio’ comprising virtuoso works by Bach/Busoni, Chopin, Liszt and Hough’s own Piano Sonata No.4 ‘Vida Breve’.
The leitmotif running through the programme is death, but when Hough sat down in front of the Yamaha CFX concert grand in St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town in December 2018 to make this recording, none knew that by the time of its release more than two years later, a global pandemic would have made the spectre of death a more imminent and vivid reality to so many.
If Hough’s choice of programme didn’t immediately entice me, it’s still more to his credit that in a month that saw several exceptional CD releases, Vida Breve takes the title Recording of the Month. Let’s find out why…
Clare Hammond has a reputation for delivering imaginative, adventurous and engaging programmes of predominantly twentieth century and contemporary music.
Hammond’s latest release, just out on the BIS label, is no exception, offering an eclectic selection of Variations composed by Karol Szymanowski, Helmut Lachenmann, Harrison Birtwistle, John Adams, Aaron Copland, Paul Hindemith and Sofia Gubaidulina.
Here is a fascinating programme that shines a light on concert music that is too rarely heard, while also providing a vehicle for Hammond’s astonishing pianism and musicianship. It’s one of the most compelling recordings I’ve heard in a while, and an easy choice for Pianodao Recording of the Month…
The music of Spanish composer Enrique Granados (1867-1916) is surely one of the great treasuries of the piano repertoire, with imaginatively engaging and brilliantly crafted pieces suitable for players at all levels of development.
And yet too many are unaware of the breadth of Granados’s output, despite instantly recognising his name; aside from a couple of the pieces from his monumental masterpiece Goyescas and one or two easy pieces which have been picked up by music examination boards, much of his music remains largely unexplored by today’s players.
The brilliant Alicia de Larrocha (1923-2009) did much to popularise the music of Granados alongside the other great composers of her country, but for me the discovery of his music was first made through the fabulous complete set recorded by Martin Jones for Nimbus back in 2001, which has proved an ongoing source of musical delight.
And yet still too-little cherished, much of this music remains rarely heard.
Appearing last year, but a fresh discovery to me, French pianist Myriam Barbaux-Cohen’s disc of Granados’s music offers another noteworthy opportunity to discover some of the hidden music that you may have missed!
With Spring in the air, the sunny disposition of this disc definitely belongs to this moment, so let’s take it for a spin. It’s my February 2021 Recording of the Month…
I first heard the 33-year-old Italian pianist Vanessa Benelli Mosell a few years back when she released an impressive disc of Debussy on the Decca label. Exploring her catalogue I soon found myself considering her one of the most artistically adventurous and astute artists of her generation.
Her latest disc, Casta Diva, more than confirms that view, and is quite simply one of the most dazzling piano recordings I’ve heard in a while.
So it’s a very easy choice for the first Recording of the Month in 2021…
The last months of any year always include several notable CD releases, and 2020 has been no exception. But for this month’s choice recording I am again eschewing the mainstream for something a little different, but truly exceptional and revelatory…
Herbert Howells (1892-1983) was an English composer, organist and teacher who is chiefly remembered for his wondrous contribution to the Anglican choral tradition. Alongside these activities, he wrote a significant body of solo piano music, much of it unpublished, undiscovered and unloved until now.
Matthew Schellhornis a leading performer who regularly appears at major venues and festivals throughout the UK, has recorded numerous critically acclaimed albums and given over a hundred premieres of new works, including several solo and chamber pieces he has himself commissioned.
Having previously performed music from Howells’ modest published output for the piano, Schellhorn was fascinated when presented with manuscripts of the composer’s unpublished music, and so began a journey of discovery that has led to the release of the first of two albums of this hitherto unknown music, brought to us on the Naxos label.
The alchemy between composer and pianist is tangible in these astonishing recordings, every work seemingly a masterpiece.