CD Reviews: Two nearly-off-the-map piano discs by Canadians are worth hunting for
Two recent indie classical piano releases captured my attention this week. Each is so compelling, in its own way, that they've been hogging my listening time:
Camille Saint-Saëns, Piano Transcriptions
*** (out of 4) (XXI Productions)
Recorded at the Montreal Conservatory by Montreal native Lucille Chung nearly two years ago, this disc has only just been released (it doesn't show up on amazon.ca, the label's website is under construction and Chung's website is missing its "new online shop," so it may be a bit difficult to find).
The whole album is devoted to transcriptions of or by Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921), whose work doesn't get nearly the concert and air time it should. The meat of the disc is his Piano Concerto No. 2, as reduced for one piano, two hands, by Georges Bizet. Deservedly, it's the most popular of Saint-Saens' concertos (written in great haste for Anton Rubinstein in 1868). Bizet's transcription manages to preserve much more of the texture of the music than one would think possible.
The audio quality is hard-edged on this disc, which accentuates Chung's athletic moves. Her technique is impeccable, as is her sense of phrasing. And I'm in awe of how she manages to make the concerto work with two small hands.
There are smaller-scale treats on this disc: the composer's transcription of a "Bourrée" from the first Violin Partita (BWV 1002), the "Wedding Cake" Waltz, the Africa piano fantasy and the Bacchanale from Samson et Dalila.
There are times I wish the sound were more burnished, but otherwise, this album is a pianistic candybox.
Here, to fill in the deficit of softness, is Chung playing three Preludes by Alexadre Scriabin, recorded at the Santander Festival, in Spain:
*** (out of 4)
It's a case of "whatever happened to...?" with Macedonian-born, Toronto-based pianist Raymond Spasovski, who had a promising start to a concert career in the 1980s. I guess that explains the title of this album, which looks like it's been self-produced. (This one might be even harder to find than Lucille Chung's. Spasovski's website is under construction, and there's no record of his name on amazon.ca.)
I inserted this album in the player reluctantly, then sat down with an "Oh!" This is a groaning buffet table of showpieces rendered with assured technique and an impressive sense of purpose. The disc comes from a live recital at Walter Hall last fall and, as with many recitals, the musicianship improves once the pianist has connected with his instrument and audience.
The opening Sonata in D Major by Mateo Albeniz is a bit stiff-legged, but then Spasovski lets fly with Allegro de concierto by Enrique Granados, a sensual bath in Iberian energy. Another treat is Une barque sur l'océan by Maurice Ravel, which is, I think, a perfect near-9-minute voyage on the water.
There is plenty more to savour on this very generous disc. Another favourite moment of mine was the encore, Frédéric Mompou's "Secreto," from his Impresiones Intimas. Because Spasovski has left few traces in the electronic forest, here is Stephen Hough giving us a taste of "Secreto" -- except that Spasovski's version is more engaging.