Recordings of the Month: May 2022

RECORDINGS OF THE MONTH
Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES


Revamping this monthly series, Pianodao now includes a headline Recording of the Month as well as selected other top choices.

Read on to find out about five new recordings of interest, with music by Mozart, Bach, jazz from Tord Gustavsen and Daniel Barenboim’s 80th birthday disc. But first…

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Beatrice Rana plays Chopin

RECORDINGS OF THE MONTH
Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES


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.

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Eric Lu: Chopin 24 Preludes

RECORDINGS OF THE MONTH
Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES


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…

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Beatrice Rana: “Reflexions”

RECORDINGS OF THE MONTH
Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES


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

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Martin James Bartlett: Love and Death

RECORDINGS OF THE MONTH
Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES


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…

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Fazil Say Plays Say

RECORDINGS OF THE MONTH
Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES


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

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