Etude in Fanfare USA

"this superb British pianist is easily up to the challenge" — Peter Burwasser

It would not be surprising if this recital includes all 88 keys of the piano This is a tremendous pile of notes. What makes this selection of études remarkable, though, is not the density of the material, but the variety of stylistic approaches to the format among the four composers represented here. We have a dazzling grouping of piano works that are designed to improve the skill of the instrumentalist, but are at the same time delightful to behold by the listener as well, in the manner of the études of Chopin and Liszt.

Three of the composers, Sergei Lyapunov, Karol Szymanowski, and Nikolai Kapustin, share a Slavic penchant for rich, complex harmonies and a strong lyrical underpinning. The oldest of these trio, Lyapunov, comes from the end of the 19th century, and although the immediate inspiration here is Liszt, there are strong premonitions of Rachmaninoff. Szymanowski arrives a generation later, and here we get Polish traditions morphing into a highly cosmopolitan voice, including the powerful influence of Debussy. The increasingly popular music of Nikolai Kapustin, who is still with us, is best known for the influence of jazz. It is fantastical music, and I still remember hearing it in concert for the first time at a Marc-André Hamelin recital, as it produced astonished giggles from the audience.

South Korean composer Unsuk Chin is the odd woman out in this quartet, so to speak. She was a student of Ligeti in the late 1980s, and shares this wonderful maverick's sense for joyful Modernism, as well as a puckish sense of humour. Chin has had training as a pianist, but this music is more in keeping with her current interest in electronic music, which is to say, the music is presented with an emphasis on textures and other vertical elements, as opposed to melodic flow and momentum (which is abundant in the work of the other three composers). Or, as Clare Hammond puts it in a bit of diplomatic understatement, in her smart and informative notes, "figurations lie awkwardly under the hand". This superb British pianist is easily up to the challenge, giving us a beautifully produced and highly stimulating recital.