Notes and Editorial Reviews
Sonatas: in b,
3 Scenes from Petrushka
Sean Kennard (pn)
COUGAR (no number) (56:50)
By today’s standards, when child prodigies make their debuts at the age of 10 or younger, Sean Kennard, born in
1984, got a late start. He didn’t begin playing until he was 10 and didn’t make his formal recital debut until 1995, 11 years later. Sometimes, though, it’s worth waiting for talent to ripen, and in Kennard’s case the wait has definitely borne fruit. I gather from his bio that Kennard is a native of Hawaii, where he began his studies. Three years later, he was accepted by the Curtis Institute of Music, where in his last year there he won the piano department’s Sergei Rachmaninoff Award. He is currently enrolled at Juilliard, where he is pursuing advanced study under Jerome Lowenthal and Robert McDonald.
Ever since Bach offered his twin salutes to tempered tuning in the form of
The Well-Tempered Clavier
1 and 2, composers have been fascinated by the idea of cyclic excursions through the major and minor keys, and none was more taken with the idea than Chopin, who wrote his 24 Preludes between 1835 and 1839. Like Bach, Chopin also visited all 24 major and minor keys, but his expedition took him through the cycle via a different route. Where Bach advances by semitones, following each major key prelude and fugue with a prelude and fugue in the
minor key, Chopin follows each major key prelude with a prelude in the
minor key and then moves up by a fifth through the Circle of Fifths.
Other than that, Chopin’s pieces are freeform, if you wish to praise them, or formless, if you wish to criticize them. And they range in duration from a mere 32 seconds in Kennard’s performance (No. 10) to 4:49 (No. 15). But the timings don’t necessarily reflect the lengths of the pieces in measures. The shortest (No. 9) is only 12 bars long but lasts for 1:25 because it’s marked
Kennard’s mastery of Chopin’s idiom manifests itself in fingerwork that floats featherlike over the keys in the fast-paced preludes, giving the impression of complete effortlessness and in an emotional responsiveness to the poetics of the slow pieces that is quite touching. While I wouldn’t necessarily say that Kennard outclasses Ashkenazy, Rubinstein, Moravec, Ohlsson, or half a dozen other players in this repertoire, he surely equals them.
Though I haven’t heard Sheila Arnold’s Preludes performed on a restored Chopin-era Érard, Dave Saemann gave her recording a rave review in
33:6. Two other Arnold CDs containing works by Schumann and Brahms that I have heard and reviewed received very strong recommendations from me. Kennard, of course, plays on a modern Steinway, and so is not directly comparable. Among recent entries in this field, at least among those I’ve heard, I’d have to say Kennard is a compelling contender.
The remainder of Kennard’s program adds considerable diversity to his disc. Horowitz was a dedicated advocate of Scarlatti on piano, often programming and recording the composer’s sonatas. There’s a live 1981 recording from the Met of the pianist playing the F-Minor Sonata that Kennard performs here, though currently I find no Horowitz recording of the B-Minor Sonata that Kennard also gives us on this disc. Scarlatti’s music is so spirited and such an unalloyed joy to listen to, one laments the sonatas’ brevity and the fact that Kennard offers only two of them; there would have been plenty of room on the disc for several more.
Three Scenes from Petrushka
are the composer’s own reworking of material from his ballet. Written for and dedicated to Artur Rubinstein, the pieces are not transcriptions of existing set numbers in the score, per se, but rather a sort of newly composed reprise of material that occurs throughout the original ballet and reconsidered, if you will, for piano. The work has gained a good deal of popularity among pianists, many of whom have recorded it. But according to pianostreet.com, Rubinstein was not one of them. That, however, turns out to be a false assertion, for disc number 140 in a 142-CD Sony set of the pianist’s complete RCA recordings made between 1928 and 1976 does contain Stravinsky’s
Three Scenes from Petrushka.
Kennard plays the pieces with the sharp articulation and steely touch the music calls for. His passagework glints with flashes of color like the facets of diamonds reflecting beams of light.
In sum, this is a very desirable disc. It may come across as a bit of a homegrown effort—no notes other than a brief bio of the artist; photography, artwork, and album design by Kennard himself; and the record label apparently a house product of the College of Charleston’s School of the Arts—but if so, it’s a very classy one. Unfortunately, as of this writing in late February 2012, I’ve not been able to find the disc listed by any of the usual suspects. If it’s still not available through regular channels by the time you read this, I’d advise you to visit cougarclassics.com or contact email@example.com via e-mail. I promise you it’s worth the effort.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
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