OSWALD & NAPOLEAO
ARTUR PIZARRO, Piano
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Hyperion 67984 / ****1/2
The Brazilian Henrique Oswald (1852-1931) and Portuguese Alfredo Napoleao (1852-1917) were close contemporaries who led parallel lives as piano virtuosos. Oswald travelled to Europe while Napoleao went to Brazil to seek their respective fortunes, and both returned to their homelands to spend their final years.
Both Oswald's Piano Concerto and Napoleao's Second Piano Concerto were products of the 1880's, heavily influenced by Lisztian virtuosity, Continental grand theatre and healthy doses of over-the-top showmanship.
Oswald's G minor concerto recalls Schumann and Chopin in the first two movements, but is let down by an empty and frivolous finale that is up there with Saint-Saens and Gottschalk's fripperies. Napoleao's E flat minor concerto is more unusual by opening with a slow movement of operatic intensity, the bel canto variety which later gives way to a scintillating scherzo and a light-hearted finale.
This is the slightly longer but better work, and the wait is well worth the time. Portuguese pianist Artur Pizarro lavishes his charm on these minor masterpieces, and it is interesting to note that his childhood piano teacher Evaristo de Campos Coelho had given the premiere of the Napoleao. Lovers of Romantic pianism for its whimsicality and excesses should not pass this by.
Deutsche Grammophon 481 1910 / ****
This year marks the 15th anniversary of Chinese pianist Li Yundi winning First Prize at the Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw. After making a handful of discs for Deutsche Grammophon, he left for EMI Classics, purportedly to record the complete piano works of Chopin.
He never got beyond the Nocturnes and a recital programme, but a return to the German yellow label has rekindled his love for the Polish composer's music. This disc includes all of Chopin's Préludes, including the 24 pieces from Op.28, the stand-alone Prélude Op.45 and the under-a-minute-long posthumous number.
Yundi is back at his fluid best in an idiom he clearly identifies with, and it is an enjoyable listen from start to end. Lyricism rules in the popular slower Préludes in D flat major (No.15), A flat major (No.17) and C sharp minor (Op.45), and his technique holds up well in the most trying ones, namely the B flat minor (No.16) and D minor (No.24) pieces. His next project should be the 27 Études, if anything to trump his Chinese rival Lang Lang.
At just 39 minutes of playing time, this new release however represents very poor value for money. Excepting Yundi fanatics, other listeners are directed to excellent accounts by Martha Argerich and Maurizio Pollini (both also on Deutsche Grammophon), Nikolai Demidenko (Onyx Classics) and Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca), who offer far more substantial couplings.