There's been a whole lotta keyboard over the last couple of weeks on WFCR, mostly from four new releases. Here's a quick snapshot of each.
On her new album of Chopin, 25-year old Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvili emphasizes the nostalgic and melancholic side of the great romantic composer in both her repertoire selections ("Funeral March" Sonata, Concerto No. 2 and three shorter selections) and two essays in the booklet. Fortunately, her performances live up to the somewhat over-the-top prose and packaging, not with indulgence, but with clarity, sensitivity and imagination. Plenty of fire too. It helps, of course, that her command of the keyboard and its possibilities is utterly complete. And she saves the best for last: the great A Minor Mazurka (Op. 17, No. 4) has rarely been so hauntingly rendered.
But fine as it is, Ms. B.'s Chopin CD is soooo last week. This week's is the rather boldly titled "The Chopin Album" by Lang Lang, the now thirty-year old (!) Chinese piano superstar. One of those artists who pleases the public more than the critics (I'm generally on the public's side), Mr. Lang can hardly be chided for lack of personality. I'm just getting into this CD, so have nothing pithy to say about it, other than: tune in Tuesday afternoon just before 2:00 for Chopin's 12 Etudes, Op. 25.
By comparison to to the above artists, both of whom record for Sony, the other two I wanted to highlight today are better descibed as "indie classical artists," each having built up extremely impressive discographies on some of our best independent labels. A 58-year old Dutchman, Ronald Brautigam stands high on the list of classical musicians who play both "modern" or "mainstream" concerts (i.e., grand pianos, conventional orchestras) but also excel on historic instruments. And excel Brautigam has, with superb fortepiano recordings for Sweden's Bis label of Haydn, Mozart (a concerto cycle is in progress), Beethoven, and now, Mendelssohn's "Lieder ohne Worte" ("Songs without Words"), each with just the right keyboard for the music. Those who've been wary of the fortepiano up til now, not without reason, have nothing to fear from Brautigam. For one thing, he plays on modern copies of sometimes unreliable old instruments, for another, his technique is irreproachable, something that can't always be taken for granted in the early music world, and for a third, he's a terrific interpreter of great music. No wonder we play him so often on WFCR.
Finally, there's Angela Hewitt, the 54-year old Canadian who's best known for her many scrupulous and musicianly Bach recordings, done for the amazing British label Hyperion. An artist who shines the spotlight on the composer rather then herself (yes, lots of musicians say they do this; she actually does it), Ms. Hewitt may never make you leap to your feet with excitement. She does, however, give you recordings of the great repertoire that you can admire for their clarity and poise, and return to time and time again with undiminished enjoyment. Those qualities certainly go for her latest, a CD of Debussy in which the music is captured with more photographic realism than Monet-like mist. Stay tuned for this and all of the above in the coming weeks on WFCR.