Again, one of my absolute favorite categories, and some beautiful gems this year.
Let’s get right into it:
Bach/Beethoven/Rzewski: Variations – Igor Levit (Sony 2015)
I’ve already reviewed this fantastic album, by one of the pianists I admire most these days. What else is there to say but “wow”, or 5 stars?
Brahms: The Complete Solo Piano Music vol. 3 – Jonathan Plowright (BIS 2016)
I cannot really comment on this album very much, as BIS has a restriction on streaming albums for the first 6 months I believe, so I wasn’t able to hear more than 30 secs of each track, which really isn’t enough to review.
I must admit, that past releases from Plowright’s Brahms recordings (e.g. Sonata No. 3) were ok, but not so great that I was particularly motivated in purchasing this album blindly.
Plus, I’m not sure if Op. 21 no.2 and the Waltzes are essential Brahms (I love op. 76 and 118 though). Will check back when it frees up for streaming.
Grieg: Lyric Pieces – Stephen Hough
Hyperion is another one of the labels that refuses streaming, but unlike BIS not only for the first 6 months, but permanently. On the one hand, I get the point that artists make peanuts on streaming, so it is not something some labels want to endorse.
I must admit that even though I have a subscription to a lossless streaming services that let’s me listen to any album in full CD quality, when there’s something I really like I usually purchase the album anyhow. And in the few years I had access to streaming, I got so used to being able to listen to an album fully before buying, that Hyperion is actually losing money with their policy on me. But I guess I’m rather the exception.
Long story short: again, only 30 secs samples available to me. Not enough to judge. First impression is quite positive though. I really like Grieg’s little gems so I may end up buying this anyhow.
Ravel: Complete Works For Solo Piano – Bertrand Chamayou
This album was my surprise of the year.
As mentioned previously, the so-called French impressionists (Ravel and Debussy) are usually only partially my cup of tea. So I wasn’t particularly excited when this came out, by a young French pianist I’d never heard about.
But then this album received a Gramophone Editor’s Choice AND a Choc from Classica. This really is rarer than you’d think, as my two favorite classical magazines rarely agree (Classica was only lukewarm on the Brahms Plowright above, for example).
So I went and checked it out, and Erato nicely enough IS available for streaming.
And what can I say: I don’t see how you could play these works any more beautifully than what Chamayou does here. Just magic. Go and loose yourself in the magic of the opening Jeux d’eau, take the amazing Gaspard de la Nuit, or even simple stuff like the Haydn inspired Menuet, all is just perfect. Nothing is ever Kitsch or Too Much, this is painted with a very light brush, his style doesn’t remind me of the Impressionism of a Monet, but more of the Pointilism of a Seurat, if you get the analogy.
My rating: 5 stars
Eugène Ysaÿe: Sonatas for Solo Violon – Alina Ibragimowa (Hyperion 2016)
Let’s make this one quick: I really like Ibragimova, don’t know a lot about Ysaÿe (beyond that he was a Belgian superstar). Thanks to Hyperion’s no streaming policy, this is not likely to change any time soon. I’ve read a lot of positive reviews about this elsewhere, so don’t let my ignorance scare you off.
Scarlatti (D): 18 Sonatas – Yevgeny Sudbin (BIS 2016)
And here we go again, BIS’ no streaming policy will stop me for another couple of months or so to listen to this album.
What I can say is that I’m a big fan of Sudbin, but my expertise on Scarlatti is rather light anyhow, so I wouldn’t take my judgment very seriously even if I had listened to the album.
Be warned, this album also received some “meh” reviews, it’s apparently not everybody’s cup of tea.
You may complain, only two albums I properly bothered to comment about? Well, as a policy I rather shut up where I don’t know what I’m talking about or am unable to properly review.
But in any case, both the Levit and the Chamayou are such exceptional albums, that we’re already very well served here.
So, who will win? 2 days ago Gramophone announced the 3 finalists, namely Levit, Chamayou, and Sudbin.
My prediction: Chamayou will win the category, and I hope Levit will win the “Artist of the Year”, a public poll (I already voted for Mr. Levit, but votes are closed since end of July now).
As always, I’d love to hear your feedback!
You can find the albums here:
Brahms Plowright: http://www.eclassical.com/labels/bis/brahms-the-complete-solo-piano-music-iii.html
Grieg Hough: http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/dc.asp?dc=D_CDA68070
Ravel Chamayou: http://www.qobuz.com/fr-fr/album/ravel-complete-works-for-solo-piano-bertrand-chamayou/0825646026777
Ysaÿe Ibragimova: http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/dc.asp?dc=D_CDA67993
Scarlatti Sudbin: http://www.eclassical.com/labels/bis/scarlatti-18-sonatas.html