Yeol Eum Son plays Kapustin

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South Korean pianist Yeol Eum Son, since bursting onto the classical music scene (when she was aged just 18) as a concerto soloist with the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Lorin Maazel in 2004, has steadily developed an impressive discography with Decca and latterly with Onyx.

Highlights have included solo recitals of repertoire from Schumann to Stravinsky, a pristine recording of Mozart’s 21st Concerto with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields under Sir Neville Marriner, and duo recordings with violinists Clara-Jumi Kang, Svetlin Roussev and oboist Kyeong Ham.

But for the unconverted, Son’s latest disc, an audacious recital of music by Kapustin, wipes away any doubt that she is a significant emerging artist for our century. And it is another easy choice for inclusion in my Recording of the Month series. So let’s find out more…

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Catherine Gordeladze: Caprice Brillant

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In my review of Catherine Gordeladze’s Dance Fantasies CD back in 2017, I concluded,

Dance Fantasies is a brilliant success, offering a fabulous selection of familiar and semi-familiar music in a fresh and inspired piece of programming.”

Now Gordeladze is back with an equally clever and in my view even better executed recital album intriguingly titled Caprice Brillant. Featuring a 76-minute programme of music from Bach to Kapustin, from Mendelssohn to Moszkowski, Gordeladze once again assembles an imaginative and riveting programme of too-little performed piano gems.

Let’s take a closer look at this month’s Pianodao Choice recording…

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Exploring the Piano Music of Nikolai Kapustin

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Kapustin’s extensive catalogue of solo piano music is increasingly recognised as one of the significant landmarks of the contemporary recital repertoire.

In an earlier review Discovering the Piano Music of Nikolai Kapustin I had a look at two contrasting works, the fiendishly difficult Sonata No.6 Op.62 (1991), and the more accessible (and now highly popular) Sonatina Op.100 (2000), new editions of which Schott Music had recently released.

Since then, Schott have been continuing to refresh the Kapustin catalogue (theirs since 2013) with new editions of his solo works appearing at regular intervals.

In this follow-up I will be giving a quick round-up of all the latest arrivals. Of these it must be noted that even the least assuming pieces here are rightly classified as virtuoso, being at least Diploma level in difficulty.

In all cases, these works are fully scored-out compositions in the classical vein, but heavily imbued with the language, techniques and aesthetics of contemporary jazz, leaning on influences that encompass modern jazz piano icons from Thelonious Monk to McCoy Tyner and beyond.

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Yuja Wang: The Berlin Recital

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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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Artist photos © Peter Adamik

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

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Discovering the Piano Music of Nikolai Kapustin

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Without doubt one of the more interesting, indeed extraordinary, composers of our times, Nikolai Kapustin was born in the town of Gorlovka in eastern Ukraine in 1937.

At the age of 14 he relocated to Moscow, studying piano at the Conservatoire, and announcing his composing career in 1957 with the Concertino for piano and orchestra Op.1. During this time he also had his own quintet and was a member of Yuri Saulsky’s Big Band; his enthusiasm for jazz continued after graduation when he joined the Oleg Lundstem Big Band.

Focussing purely on composing from the 1980s, Kapustin uses jazz idioms within the context of formal classical structures, writing orchestral, chamber and piano solo works for the concert hall.

Kapustin’s piano writing is for the most part rhythmically complex and highly virtuosic, making huge technical and musical demands on the performer.

Although his jazz-infused classical music is gaining an ever-larger audience of enthusiastic connoisseurs, few of us it seems have found a suitable entry point for learning and performing his works, in spite of the fact that his publishers Schott Music have many of his solo piano works available in print.

Schott’s two latest additions to the Kapustin catalogue may provide impetus, however: the Sonata No.6 Op.62 (1991) and Sonatina Op.100 are among his more approachable works, and should be accessible to players upwards from UK Grade 8 to Diploma level.

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