The perfect pairing with champagne.
I've never been a huge fan of Ravel's piano music, finding it a bit glacial and much preferring the more extroverted, tonally adventurous works of his fellow French impressionist Debussy. But if there's one disc that has prompted me to rethink that somewhat kneejerk opinion, this is it. Madeleine Forte, a student of the great Alfred Cortot at the École Normale, is one of the few to carry the torch of old-school technique into future generations as the blight of modernist note grabbing continually threatens to snuff it out.
Read the full review of Madeleine Forte, Ravel, Selected Works.
Arrau's Chopin is mostly snores and bores.
This disc exceeded my expectations. Which is to say, it transcends blandness and enters "serviceable" territory. I remain baffled by the bloated posthumous reputation of the Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau, especially when he's considered alongside other pianists of the past such as Horowitz, Cortot, Friedman, or Rachmaninoff.
Read the full review of Claudio Arrau, Chopin, Four Scherzos and B Minor Sonata.
Twinkle, twinkle, little Schiff.
For those who want to take the plunge into piano playing’s more tepid waters, an András Schiff disc is the ideal diving board. From Schubert to Haydn to Mozart, Schiff treats the music of all composers he plays as elevator music. His discography represents a compilation of bedtime tunes that could transport all but the most irremediable of night owls off to the sandman’s land in the time it took Dorothy to tap together her ruby slippers.
Read the full review of András Schiff: Bach, Inventions and Sinfonias.
Exasperating. Annoying. But always Gould.
In his 1955 performance of the Goldberg Variations, Gould realized Bach's music on the piano in a way that has never been heard before or since. Indeed, I have yet to hear any other piano performances of this music that exhibit anything like Gould's polyphonic differentiation, relentless rhythmic energy, quicksilver speed, and lucid touch. It's just too bad that hardly any of his subsequent Bach recordings approached this pinnacle. And many, such as his 1960s traversal of the two books of The Well-Tempered Clavier, were disfigured by eccentricity and a failure—perhaps even a refusal—to communicate his ideas in a way that makes sense to the outside world.
Read the full review of Glenn Gould: Bach, Well-Tempered Clavier.
A spirited Polish Chopin showered with a little Frenchman love.
Ahhhhh, the Chopin I love. Makes me think of one of those treacly classical CD covers picturing an oceanside cliff face staring into the sunset (don't forget to imagine wind whooshing sounds). Strange that all London Decca could come up with is a gaunt Frenchman sitting on a park bench and staring at the camera with a self-satisfied grin. Pity. Luckily, though, Mr. Thibaudet is much more pleasant to listen to than look at. On the whole, his is a virile, extroverted Chopin. Which quite surprised me coming from a guy who's been known to wear lipstick, bleach his hair, and bedeck himself in Liberace-esque attire.
Read the full review of Jean-Yves Thibaudet: The Chopin I Love.
A refined gentleman who's sometimes too polite.
As with his American contemporary William Kapell, the death of Romanian pianist Dinu Lipatti as a thirtysomething was, from the perspective of his legacy, both a misfortune and a boon. For, although the death of a musician at so tender an age robs us of later entries in his discography—presumably what would be the exemplars of his age-matured style—it also attaches a certain mystique to his artistic persona. Untimely death aside, the question is whether his recordings merit the legendary status to which many aficionados have elevated them.
Read the full review of Dinu Lipatti: The EMI Recordings.