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CDs of the Week: New Names at the Piano

New Names at the Piano

The rush of talent is as limitless as the infinity of labels that now flourish where once the majors commanded attention. Winnowing wheat from chaff becomes ever more difficult and the risk of missing a remarkable artist is a constant anxiety. Odradek is a start-up label based in Italy and committed to new artists and modern work. A one-CD album of Arnold Schoenberg’s solo piano works has not come my way for years, perhaps since Pollini three decades ago. Pina Napolitano plays the tricky pieces with light fingers and innate wit, bringing out a welter of contemporary parallels – Mahler in op 11/2, Busoni in op 23 – amid a panoply of delicate beauty.

The world premiere of Unsuk Chin’s piano etudes is the ear-catcher on Mei Yi Foo’s
Debut album (Odradek)
, its Cage-like plinks intermingling with robust grand tones. Two sets of sound adventures by Gubaidulina and Ligeti take the ear where it has never thought to go before, and with a pianist it can really trust.

Viktor Ullmann (1898-1944) is known for the music he composed in Terezin camp, before he was murdered in Auschwitz. It includes three piano sonatas, nos 5-7, that are kept deliberately simple and expressive for his camp audience yet still convey the ideas of his mentor, Schoenberg and Haba. Lala Isakova interprets with high skill and deep sympathy (Crystal).

Erwin Schulhof (1894-1942), murdered by the Nazis, was an eclectic who veered from Dadism to atonality. His first sonata is reminiscent of Bartok while his jazz improvisations are more a tribute to the artform than an instinctual part of it. Margarete Babinsky (Crystal) is the committed interpreter.

Vanessa Perez, a Venezuelan, attacks Chopin’s Preludes with gusto and finesse, almost to the point of recklessness (Telarc). Fiachra Garvey, from Ireland, gives a rather blustery account of Samuel Barber’s sonata, albeit underpinned by a gripping narrative line (RTELyric). Katya Apekisheva should have been advised against making another superfluous recording of Mussorgsky’s Pictures; but her Shostakovich Preludes are tender and captivating (Onyx).

When a Russian arrives on a French label playing Ravel, expectancy is high. Anna Vinnitskaya adds a wintry Baltic greyness to the Pavane and a brilliant sparkle to the Mirroirs. Her account of Gaspard de la Nuit is a riveting piece of storytelling. This is a pianist who commands full attention (Naïve).

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Norman Lebrecht is a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3 and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and other publications. He has written 12 books about music, the most recent being Why Mahler? He hosts the blog Slipped Disc.

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