Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Igor Stravinsky - Piano Works (Jenny Lin)


Information

Composer: Igor Stravinsky
  • (01-03) Piano Sonata
  • (04-07) Four Etudes, Op. 7
  • (08) Ragtime for 11 instruments (transcribed by composer)
  • (09) Polka (from 'Trois pièces faciles' for piano 4-hands, arr. Soulima Stravinsky)
  • (10) Tango
  • (11) Valse (from 'Trois pièces faciles' for piano 4-hands, arr. Soulima Stravinsky)
  • (12) Piano-Rag-Music
  • (13) 'Na kogo tï nas pokidayesh' (from the Prologue to Mussorgsky's opera 'Boris Godunov')
  • (14-17) Serenade in A
  • (18) Circus Polka
  • (19-20) Two Sketches of a Sonata
  • (21-23) Firebird Suite (arr. Guido Agosti)

Jenny Lin, piano
Date: 2014
Label: Steinway & Sons
http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=1067240

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Review

I so enjoyed Jenny Lin’s playing on an earlier CD ( Get Happy, Steinway & Sons 3011) that, when offered a chance to review this disc, I jumped at it. I was not disappointed.

Indeed, the only niggling complaint I can make of this disc is that Stravinsky’s Piano Sonata was originally issued on piano rolls (prior to publication of the score). Stravinsky himself presumably therefore endorsed the player piano sound for this work, but the herky-jerky motion it produces is hard for a human pianist to reproduce. Other than that, Lin does full justice to this odd piece, particularly in the second movement where the melody line starts out conventionally but almost immediately turns quirky, with strange chromatic chord changes to kick it along.

I was not previously familiar with the early Etudes (1908), but although they date from the time when he was studying with Rimsky-Korsakov, and show it, you can still spot certain Stravinskyan traits, particularly in the almost dizzying display of polyrhythms (not to mention the occasionally strange chromaticisms). Once again, Lin plays this music with her usual bracing energy and headlong enthusiasm. She also does a great job on the better-known Tango (1940) as well as the little-known Polka, Valse, and Piano-Rag Music, the latter from 1919, a year after he wrote his Ragtime for 11 Instruments (played here in a piano transcription by the composer himself). Perhaps due to the lightweight nature of most of this music (even the sonata is not really a serious piece, despite indications of his mature style), there is very much the same feeling to this disc as Lin’s Get Happy CD, which was based on show tunes, but her natural effervescence is perfect for these scores and vice-versa. She attacks this music with a no-holds-barred gaiety that is infectious.

The liner notes assure us that, despite “dense texture throughout, there is an abundance of soaring melody lines that are vocal in nature.” Perhaps so, but I know a bushelful of singers (even some modern ones) who would get lost trying to sing this music. It’s so rhythmically complex that they’d have to “count” the beats like dancers doing Le sacre. Nevertheless, strictly as a piano work it’s an absolutely delightful sample from the composer’s neoclassical period, and here, for once, Lin is able to relax her normal drive-ahead enthusiasm and show us how well she can limn a melody as well as how well she can vary both her touch and use of dynamics. The 1942 Circus Polka, composed for a ballet of elephants (!) at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, finds the composer in a particularly whimsical mood, using a snippet of Schubert’s Marche Militaire, and Lin absolutely revels in its quirky humor.

Oddly, there also seems to be quirky humor in the very brief Two Sketches of a Sonata (from 1966–67), although to me, personally, the brevity and unfinished nature of the music seemed an odd choice to record. Lin’s recital ends on a quite dashing note as she plays Guido Agosti’s piano transcription of the Firebird Suite, undertaken with the composer’s blessing. The notes say that Lin absolutely hated this piece as a student because it was so difficult and, even now as a mature pianist, “it feels like you need a third hand,” but just listen to the way she dashes it off. I have a feeling that if you looked up the word “panache” in a pictorial dictionary, there would be Lin’s face smiling at you from the page.

The highest compliment I can pay Lin is that I really believe that, were he able to hear her play, Stravinsky would be grinning from ear to ear. If you enjoy Stravinsky and/or bravura pianism, this one is a no-brainer.

-- Lynn René Bayley, FANFARE

More reviews:
ClassicsToday  ARTISTIC QUALITY: 10 / SOUND QUALITY: 10
https://www.gramophone.co.uk/review/stravinsky-solo-piano-works
http://www.classical-music.com/review/stravinsky-jenny-lin-jun-14
https://www.audaud.com/stravinsky-solo-piano-works-piano-sonata-etudes-ragtime-polka-tango-valse-piano-rag-music-prologue-to-boris-godunov-serenade-in-a-circus-polka-two-sketches-of-a-sonata-firebird-suite-se/
http://www.allmusic.com/album/stravinsky-solo-piano-works-mw0002617730
https://www.amazon.com/Jenny-Plays-Stravinsky-Piano-Works/dp/B00I0VTPFM

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Igor Stravinsky (17 June [O.S. 5 June] 1882 – 6 April 1971) was a Russian composer, pianist, and conductor. He is widely considered one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century. He first achieved international fame with three ballets commissioned by the impresario Sergei Diaghilev: The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913). Stravinsky's compositional career was notable for its stylistic diversity. His output is typically divided into three general style periods: a Russian period, a neoclassical period, and a serial period.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Igor_Stravinsky

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Jenny Lin (born 1973) is a Taiwanese-born American pianist. She studied music at Vienna's Hochschule für Musik with Noel Flores and later on at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore with Julian Martin. She also studied with Richard Goode, Dmitri Bashkirov, and Andreas Staier. Lin is one of those adventurous pianists unafraid to tackle contemporary repertory or to explore the works of lesser-known composers of generations past. She has been serving on the faculty at the 92nd Street Y, and has made recordings for Hänssler Classics, BIS, and Koch International.

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