Wednesday, 14 October 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, October 2015)

Danacord 749 / *****

The week-long annual piano festival held every August in the northern German town of Husum has to be the world's most unique. It highlights piano works of obscurity and those of unjustly neglected composers. The pianists who get invited are excellent artists although not household names. 

This disc of highlights and encores from the 2014 festival is intriguing as it is wide-ranging. Even the Beethoven performed is hardly well-known: his Fantasia Op.77, spoofed by Shostakovich in his First Piano Concerto, is performed with flair by young German Joseph Moog. Resourceful Japanese pianist Hiroaki Takenouchi chips in with the Nostalgia Waltz by Wim Muller and Prelude for Left Hand by Ernest Walker, both getting elegant readings.

Pierre Zimmerman's Variations on a Favourite Romance by Blangini could be better known if not for its cumbersome title, as is Elie Delaborde's Etude after a Petite Waltz of Dolmetsch, which fazes not the Italian firebrand Vincenzo Maltempo. Andrew Zolinski plays ragtime, but who could have suspected Stravinsky and modernist Stefan Wolpe as the composers? 

One gem not to be missed is Nikolai Medtner's Primavera, a lesser-known of his Forgotten Melodies Op.39, from British pianist Mark Viner. To close, Cuban virtuoso Jorge Luis Prats offers Villa-Lobos' delightful Broken Little Music Box, infectious toe-tapping music in Felix Guerrero's Suite Havanaise and dance miniatures by compatriot Ernesto Lecuona. Now does this what one's appetite for something completely different?

KAPUSTIN Piano Works
Piano Classics 0082 / ****1/2

The jazz-influenced pianist works of Ukrainian composer Nikolai Kapustin (born 1937) are beginning to appear with regularity in concert and recital programmes, not just because of their novelty value.  These are in fact some of the most sophisticated efforts in a genuine synthesis of classical forms and the jazz idiom. 

Like J.S.Bach, every piece of Kapustin's is carefully notated and there is no room for improvisation, even though much of it sounds improvised. This hour-long recital disc by young Korean pianist Sukyeon Kim distils some of his most popular pieces, and makes an excellent introduction to Kapustin's style.

His free-wheeling Variations Op.41, based on the opening bassoon theme from Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, is an ideal starting point. For contrasts between slow and fast, the Andante Op.58 resembles an aria improvised, a musical striptease underway in a smoky nightclub while the Toccatina Op.36 is a tightly-woven encore-like showpiece. For sheer fireworks, a selection from the Etudes Op.40 rivals those straight-laced numbers by Chopin. 

The longest work in this programme is the four-movement Second Sonata Op.54, the best known of Kapustin's 20-something sonatas, while his transcription of the popular Aquarela Do Brasil (or simply Brasil) by Ary Baroso is simply delicious. Kim performs with a light and nimble touch, which adds to the sheer spontaneity of these exciting performances.      

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