Etude in American Record Guide

"This is one of the most enjoyable recordings to come my way this year" — James Harrigton

This is one of the most enjoyable recordings to come my way this year. Hammond has chosen almost all unknown works, all bristling with technical challenges, but most satisfying in a musical sense as well. The variety of styles presented under the common title "Etude" is huge; everything from Liapounov's romantic Russian virtuosity to Szymanowski, the most obvious Polish successor to Chopin in that idiom. Korean Chin mixes eastern and western styles under the influence of Ligeti, and there are jazz etudes by Ukrainian Kapustin. There is not an uninteresting moment to be found on this exceptionally well recorded recital. Hammond also writes very well, and her booklet essay is both informative and entertaining.

The etudes here were composed from 1897 to 2003. I was familiar with Liapounov's homage to Liszt, a set of 12 Transcendental Etudes. The sonic difference between Louis Kentner's recording of the complete set (1949) and this new BIS is truly night and day. I can only hope that Hammond continues with these and eventually has a complete set. The three here (4,5,6) take 17 minutes.

Unsuk Chin (b. 1961) studied with Ligeti in Germany and wrote her etudes over the course of eight years. The last one is the most substantial and was written for Pierre Boulez's 75th birthday. These are fiendishly difficult, and they got more enjoyable with each hearing. Szymanowski's Op. 33 Etudes were written at about the same time as Debussy's. They show the influence of both contemporary French (Debussy and Ravel) and Russian (Stravinsky) styles. Kapustin (see another review of his music in this issue) mastered the American jazz style from a study of the greats (Erroll Gardner was a favourite). He uses this style in etudes devoted to specific, different intervals - as we find in Chopin, Debussy and Scriabin. Here we have minor 2nds, 4ths, 6ths, major 2nds, and octaves. All in quick tempos, these make for a brilliant conclusion to a superb release.