Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonata No. 18.
Los Requiebros. Quejas ó la Maja Ruiseñor.
Amber Yiu-Hsuan Liao (pn)
MSR 1368 (75:23)
When I first saw this disc I wondered how well this program was going to jell. I will admit that the fairly recent trend of artists offering recordings that are mix and match in terms of content is proving refreshing to me.
It wasn’t always so—once upon a time I was one of those completists who balked at the idea of getting only, say, two of the Chopin polonaises on a program along with something by some other composer.
I want them all
, I would think, and the record companies, especially with the advent of CDs that made such a thing possible, tended to agree. Now we are seeing real programs appear again like the artists of yesteryear (LP era and before) used to do, something that takes some thought and consideration when making a blend that resembles a recital instead of just a collection.
Amber Yiu-Hsuan Liao is a Taiwanese woman who gained her master’s degree from the Peabody Institute, a doctorate from the Manhattan School of Music, and teaches privately in New York City along with an academic position at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. This is my first exposure to her and it is a positive one. The choice of program is varied and complementary. The Beethoven sonata is the last and lightest—as light as he gets—of a three-sonata grouping that was composed during the tumultuous year (1802) that saw the production of the tortured “Heiligenstadt testament,” which revealed a consideration of suicide and the struggle to come to terms with his hearing loss. Listening to this sonata you would never know there had been any conflict at all; in fact it seems to play toward a certain joviality and cheekiness, heightened in this case by his return to a four-movement structure that leaves out any slow movement. (We get a scherzo and minuet.) Liao plays this for all its worth, preferring a rather dry sound that is cautious in the use of pedal (as she is in all these pieces), but one that adds a dexterous touch and lovely sense of comedic timing.
The perfumed air of two of the
, “Flattery” and “Lament, or the Girl and the Nightingale,” might seem incongruous with Beethoven’s antics, but not so; the shifting rhythms and wilder mood swings are actually in the same kettle as Beethoven’s rediscovery of his better nature, with only the scenery changing. The second of the two pieces is actually the best-known, and even though it projects a burnished and melancholy tone, it works well after the Haydnesque-playfulness of the Beethoven.
Schumann of course plunges us deeply into a world where the two elements of Beethoven and Granados converge. His
is something manic, the movements contrasted among themselves yet unified in the fact of their being performed together, in sequence, unlike other Schumann works that tend to lend themselves to excision. Not so here—Liao makes sure that these pieces are of the same cloth, giving us an excellent sense of contrast and even disparity in tone within one piece that only Schumann, of the Romantics, could pull off. I still miss some of the color that Wilhelm Kempff brings in his older DG recording, but most people don’t agree with that assessment so maybe it’s just me—but I don’t think so! Give it a try. But Liao offers much here, and this is a very impressive and well-thought-out program that is satisfying to the nth degree and will find lots of play time on your system if you choose to indulge. By all means, do.
FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter
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