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Precipitando - Berg, Janacek, Liszt / Denes Varjon

Release Date: 02/21/2012 
Label:  Ecm   Catalog #: 001648602  
Composer:  Alban BergLeos JanácekFranz Liszt
Performer:  Dénes Várjon
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BERG Piano Sonata. JANÁ?EK In the Mist. LISZT Piano Sonata in b Dénes Várjon (pn) ECM NEW SERIES 4764585 (57: 59)

Precipitando is the first solo album recorded by Hungarian pianist Dénes Várjon for the über-prestigious label ECM. However, this is not Várjon’s instrumental debut—I recall two Read more mid-1990s Schumann albums issued by Naxos, which evidenced the craft of a talented pianist with an impressive technique and fine, but generally mainstream, musical ideas. I am not quite sure what accounts for Várjon’s artistic development over the past decade and a half. But whether it was the mere passage of time, the influence of his mentor—and occasional piano duo partner—András Schiff, or his extensive collaboration with other top instrumentalists, the simple fact is that Várjon has blossomed into an extraordinary artist.

Beyond the many intangibles, there are three things that impress me the most about Várjon’s playing. The first is his scrupulous attention to detail. Virtually each one of the myriad articulation and dynamic markings spelled out in the Berg, Janá?ek, and Liszt scores is realized, and I bet that if someone with a perfect ear sat down to write what he or she heard Várjon play, the result would be pretty much identical to those scores. Second, careful as he is with each individual brushstroke, Várjon also manages never to lose the forest for the trees—indeed, every note and phrase is perfectly and seamlessly integrated into a meaningful and coherent whole. That may sound easy in theory, but it is extremely difficult to do, particularly where the composer makes contradictory and constantly shifting demands of the performer, as is the case in each of the three scores Várjon is performing here. Third, Várjon’s tonal palette is absolutely exquisite. It is true that Várjon’s fortissimos are not the most impactful, but his pianos and pianissimos are like few I have heard. Put differently, Várjon is not a Michelangelo, but a Raphael, and, in that respect, he reminds me of Radu Lupu, whose comparable tonal beauty someone aptly described as akin to a pastel by Odilon Redon—dusky, velvety, and radiant all at once.

How does it all add up? Well, at least to my ears, the net result is that each of the works Várjon includes here sounds remarkably fresh and free of the kind of debris many other musicians perpetuate in the name of following a so-called interpretative tradition. Várjon’s take on the Berg Sonata and the Janá?ek suite are as good as any I have heard, and rank comfortably alongside those of Mitsuko Uchida and Rudolf Firku?ný and Schiff, respectively. I had to work a little bit harder to connect with Várjon’s Liszt, not because it is any less impressive, but because this score carries several tons of the aforementioned interpretative debris. True, Várjon’s take on the mighty Liszt Sonata is not the most rhetorically inflected (Claudio Arrau, Sviatoslav Richter, and Garrick Ohlsson score higher on that scale), nor does it sizzle with a kind of superhuman bravura György Cziffra, Earl Wild, Martha Argerich, or Marc-André Hamelin are able to muster. But, when all is said and done, Várjon’s visionary and deeply heartfelt conception is equally valid and, while it may not be the most thrilling, it is one of the most intelligent, coherent, and meaningful I have ever heard.

I don’t recall ever hearing an ECM recording that disappointed in the sound engineering department, and Precipitando is no exception. On a related note, Várjon plays an exceptionally beautiful instrument.

The bottom line is that, as far as I am concerned, this recording firmly establishes Várjon as one of today’s most fascinating pianists. You should not miss this.

FANFARE: Radu A. Lelutiu
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Piano, Op. 1 by Alban Berg
Performer:  Dénes Várjon (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: ?1907-08; Austria 
In the mists by Leos Janácek
Performer:  Dénes Várjon (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1912; Czech Republic 
Sonata for Piano in B minor, S 178 by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Dénes Várjon (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1852-1853; Weimar, Germany 

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