Notes and Editorial Reviews
Isolde’s Liebestod aus “Tristan und Isolde.”
Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise Brilliant,
Alexandra Dariescu (pn)
CHAMPS HILL 035 (53:26)
There’s always a certain excitement involved reviewing the debut recordings of young pianists. All naturally attempt to put their best foot forward and, in so doing, often reveal more than perhaps even they themselves realize. Almost immediately, one gets a sense of the debutant’s overall culture. Nowadays more than a century’s worth of historical piano playing is readily accessible. Anyone wishing to do so may compare the distinctive characteristics of pianism prior to World War I, say, to those typical of the 1950s and early ’60s. The result has been a new acuity of stylistic discernment. Geopolitical and cultural factors—the end of the Cold War, Asia’s whole-hearted embrace of the piano, and the relative ease of international travel, to name but three—have all contributed to an unprecedentedly open, cosmopolitan, and mutually fecundating approach to piano performance. Proliferating international piano competitions, in addition to raising the technical standards of the profession, have had a profound impact, making piano playing a truly pan-cultural, global art. National schools of piano playing may not have disappeared entirely, but they are much less prominent on the cultural landscape than even a few decades ago. Meanwhile, technology wends its ineluctable course. YouTube, the great leveler, allows us to glimpse, alongside the most sublime manifestations of the art, the fearless 12-year-old’s most recent upload: “My latest attempt at
. Still needs some work.”
But, with all the changes, significant and trivial, in today’s world of piano playing, the critical challenge facing the debutant hasn’t changed much in the past 30 years or, for that matter, over the past century. That challenge, roughly put, is how to project living, breathing music that is recognizable within the context of contemporary cultural values and yet personal enough in style and communicativeness to be distinguishable from the sea of competing voices. If this is done with ease, so much the better (though there have been successful careers built around the spectacle of struggle.)
Happily, the 27-year-old Rumanian pianist Alexandra Dariescu meets this challenge with conviction and grace. Her technical equipment is secure and pliant and she has a sophisticated musicality that blends British traditions with her native East Central European ones. Most important of all, she has something to say. And say it she does, unaffectedly and quite beautifully, in formidable works by those three pillars of the Romantic piano, Chopin, Schumann, and Liszt. It’s worth remembering that a persuasive mastery of one of these composers is no guarantee of equal eloquence in the others. The consummate Chopin specialist is not necessarily an effective Liszt exponent, and the Liszt pianist
may run afoul of Schumann. Dariescu seems to be capable of approaching all three masters with equal degrees of sympathy and authority.
She easily negotiates the bravura figurations of the
and seems to delight in every twist and turn of Schumann’s mercurial imagination. Her ability to think orchestrally at the piano, combined with a sure sense of rhetorical style, makes her an interesting Liszt player. The B-Minor Ballade is beautifully paced, the ominous chromatic left-hand undulations clearly articulated, and the whole unfolds with an inevitable sense of drama. Even the
transcription, recorded within an inch of its life the past couple of years, seems fresh. Like her Liszt playing, her approach to Chopin is beautifully lyrical. The
that prefaces the
Grande polonaise brilliante
speaks with an unaffected simplicity, lyrical line, and, that factor occasionally missing in performances of the work, a strong sense of direction. The F-Minor Ballade is characterized by beautifully delineated polyphony and a convincingly organic rubato that scrupulously avoids veering into the maudlin.
Dariescu’s beguiling musicality, unfussy technique, and individual voice are all readily apparent despite the recording’s rather unflattering sound, possibly due to overly close microphone placement. Nevertheless, the musical rewards of this recording outweigh any technical shortcomings. Meanwhile, we may confidently look forward to more fine music from this interesting young artist.
FANFARE: Patrick Rucker
Works on This Recording
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