Wednesday, 26 April 2017

CD Review (The Straits Times, April 2017)

A Life Of Music Records
(15 CDs + 1 DVD) / ****1/2

American pianist Steven Spooner, professor of piano at the University of Kansas, was largely trained in the Russian School of piano playing. Having studied both in Moscow and Tblisi (Georgia), the repertoire he presents in this handy box-set mirrors those favoured by his pianistic idols, namely Sviatoslav Richter (represented by 8 CDs), Vladimir Horowitz (3 CDs), Emil Gilels and Van Cliburn (who himself was taught by a Russian). 

He does not slavishly copy their styles. Instead he summons their collective spirits, allied with playing informed by his schooling, which emphasises interpretive rigour and solid technique. 

Alongside heavyweight works such as Liszt's Sonata in B minor, Schubert's Sonata in B flat major and song cycle Winterreise (with baritone Chris Thompson), Brahms' Piano Quintet (with the Borromeo Quartet) and Debussy's Préludes Book 1 (3 performances), one will also find rarities and gems. 

His teacher, the Georgian pianist Nodar Gabunia's A Pupil's Diary, Schnittke's rarely-heard Piano Concerto and American Mohammed Fairouz's Second Sonata are well worth several listens, while Arensky's Elegie in G minor is a melody to die for. 

Spooner's own improvisations of gospel hymns and Concert Etudes in the styles of Martha Argerich, Keith Jarrett and Horowitz make perfect encores. In lieu of printed programme notes, he supplies audio commentaries at the end of each disc which are both insightful and personal.  

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