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.
Ji Liu is one of the young upcoming generation of Chinese pianists to find global success in the wake of Yundi and Lang Lang.
Following studies at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music and London’s Royal Academy of Music, Liu has had significant success as a Global Classic fm recording artist, topping the UK Classical Charts, and as a concert artist who has performed around the world, appearing in such distinguished venues as the Royal Albert Hall in London and Carnegie Hall in New York.
Liu’s 2018 album Fire & Water took as its inspiration the Chinese five-element theory Wu-Xing, which is at the heart of Daoist philosophy, qigong practice and traditional acupuncture. Of the five (Wood, Earth, Metal, Fire, Water) Liu selected the pairing of fire and water as a basis for programming contrasting pieces by Debussy, Saint-Saëns, Einaudi, de Falla, Scriabin, Ravel, Xian Xinghai, Rachmaninov and Stravinsky.
Fire & Water delivers an intoxicating blend of virtuosity and appealing melody that has proved immensely popular. Several of the pieces are Liu’s own arrangements, fuelling demand for the sheet music to be made available.
For the Fire & Water publication, recently brought to us by newcomer Master Music Publications, Liu has obliged with his transcriptions, together with his annotated editions of some (but not all) of the album’s other pieces, and a brand new composition Tragicomic Trilogy.
For a second month in a row, my piano recording of the month choice comes from the fingers of a young player whose playing I did not immediately warm to, but who has more recently completely won me over.
Víkingur Ólafsson’s DG debut recording focused on the music of Philip Glass, while for his award-winning follow-up he turned to Bach, mixing the composer’s originals with transcriptions and various reworkings. The Icelandic pianist proved his mettle with an ultra-crystalline approach and technique that dazzled critics and music-lovers alike; but it left me just a little cold.
Ólafsson’s latest offering, bringing together a joyous collection of pieces by the French baroque master Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) interspersed and offset with an eclectic set of beloved and lesser-known pieces by Claude Debussy (1862-1918), is the clincher.
A disc replete with musical marvels, Ólafsson’s album of French keyboard wizardry is revelatory in its insights and deserves the highest plaudits…
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.”
As many will know, pianists and classical music lovers are this year marking the centenary of Debussy’s death in 1918.
In a previous post I addressed the frequently asked question, “where to start?” exploring his piano works, suggesting Bärenreiter Edition’s Easy Pieces and Dances collection and their excellent urtext edition of the Preludes livre 1 as great entry points.
In this post I will look at a couple of Bärenreiter’s other Debussy editions – the two volumes of Images, but first Pour le piano. These are virtuoso concert works which qualify for the diploma and professional tag in terms of difficulty.
It’s all about Claude Debussy for classical music lovers and pianists in 2018, as we mark the centenary of his death in 1918.
And rightly so! Because few composers have made such a seminal contribution to the pianist’s literature, or composed music which explores such a range of colour, tonal possibility and timbre from the instrument.
Later on in this review I will be taking a look at the Bärenreiter Urtextedition of Debussy’s Préludes (1er Livre).
But first, what about players who aren’t yet sufficiently advanced for these masterpieces? For the developing pianist, the question often arises – where to start exploring Debussy’s rich, varied and substantial body of piano music?
The good news is that, while Debussy never wrote anything simple, his oeuvre does offer up plenty of music that suits pianists of early advanced, around Grade 5-8 level. And while many of these pieces are among the world’s most cherished, a few remain surprisingly less well-known.