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Homage To Brahms / Lisiecki

Schumann / Lisiecki
Release Date: 05/28/2013 
Label:  Dux Records   Catalog #: 790   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Robert SchumannJohannes BrahmsIgnacy Lisiecki
Performer:  Ignacy Lisiecki
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHUMANN Romanze, op. 28/2. Fantasy in C, op. 17. BRAHMS Two Rhapsodies, op. 79. LISIECKI Fantasy on a Theme from a Chorale Prelude by Brahms Ignacy Lisiecki (pn) DUX 0790 (51:23)

I don’t know if this ranks as one of the “best” CDs of the year, but, as far as I Read more am concerned, it is among the most interesting and heartening. Young Ignacy Lisiecki (no relation, it seems, to fellow Pole Jan Lisiecki, who is about the same age, and who has been getting star treatment from Deutsche Grammophon lately) is not just another fresh-faced virtuoso from the conservatory, and not just another competition winner who plays like everyone else. Instead, Lisiecki is a musical thinker and a re-creator, and he has the technique required for his self-expression to come through. In other words, you might not remember his fingers, but you will remember his intellect and his sensitivity.

Lisiecki completed his studies at the Chopin University of Music in Warsaw in 2005, and later studied in Germany with Einar Steen-Nokleberg, so I suspect he is at least in his later 20s. (In his press materials, he could pass for a bookish teenager.) His bio mentions several performances in Japan, so perhaps he is particularly appreciated there at this time. It should be only a matter of time until the rest of the world catches on. If not, there is no justice.

Steen-Nokleberg has commented, “Critics point out a natural liberty in [Lisiecki’s] way of guiding the melodic line, thus giving his performance the character of improvisation. The result is that every concert yields something new in the artist’s interpretations.” A concert is not a CD, of course, and with repetition of the latter, “something new” might become “oh no, not that again”; but in Lisiecki’s case, I think many listeners will admire this young pianist’s willingness to play creatively, even re-creatively, even if they might not agree with all of his moment-to-moment interpretive decisions. In the Schumann Romanze , for example, instead of consistent forward movement, there is a lot of pausing or slowing down for reflection. The tragedy of Schumann’s life is encapsulated in this tender miniature. This Romanze is sung not by Casanova, but by Abelard! Of course there is more to Schumann that that, and here, the Fantasy in C often sounds idealistic—like an impetuous piece of optimism. This is a young man’s performance, but not one mauled by “look at me” egotism. The Brahms rhapsodies, especially the first of the two, are played with freshness of thought and deed, as if the composer had just scribbled them onto paper.

I would have been satisfied had the CD ended there, but this “Homage to Brahms” is made even more intriguing by the pianist’s own Fantasy on Brahms’s op. 122 chorale prelude (the second of the set, Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen ). This organ work was among Brahms’s final compositions. Lisiecki’s Fantasy is Brahmsian, in the sense that the harmonic language and syntax could have been from the German composer’s era, but it doesn’t feel like a pastiche, and the Fantasy’s creativity is exceeded only by its compositional rigor. (Let’s see you beat that , Lang Lang!)

This recording was made in Japan by a Japanese production and engineering team. The sound is gorgeous—exactly what Lisiecki’s pianism deserves. This CD is really rather special, and it reaffirms my faith that young musicians still have something of their own to say, and something that is worth hearing.

FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
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Works on This Recording

Romances (3) for Piano, Op. 28: no 2 in F sharp major by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Ignacy Lisiecki (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1839; Germany 
Phantasie for Piano in C major, Op. 17 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Ignacy Lisiecki (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1836-1838; Germany 
Rhapsodies (2) for Piano, Op. 79 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Ignacy Lisiecki (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1879; Austria 
Fantasy on a Theme from Chorale Prelude by Brahms, Op. 112, no 2 by Ignacy Lisiecki
Performer:  Ignacy Lisiecki (Piano)

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