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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Superconductor 2011 Gift Guide Part V: Piano Music

12 days of Christmas, and 88 keys.
A piano just makes the holidays better. Scene from The Simpsons
episode Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire © 1989 FOX/Gracie Films/Matt Groening.
The last page of the 2011 Gift Guide features piano music: selections of the best piano recitals of the year, and a survey of major reissues and boxed sets. For the piano lover, this is your shopping Liszt. Hey, he turned 200 this year.

Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3, Symphonic Dances Op. 45
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra cond. Robert Spano 
This exciting disc of Rachmaninoff's most challenging concerto features Garrick Ohlsson meeting the work head-on. Mr. Ohlsson interlocks smoothly with Mr. Spano. They craft a thrilling ride through the work's three movements. With an energetic set of Symphonic Dances that demonstrates the quality of this Southern orchestra.

Hélène Grimaud: Mozart Piano Concertos Nos. 19 and 23 (Deutsche Grammophon)
The French pianist delves into Mozart with her first recordings of these lyric piano concertos. As a bonus, soprano Mojca Erdmann sings the concert aria "Chi'io mi scordi di te?" a welcome rarity.

Alice Sara Ott: Beethoven (Deutsche Grammophon)
The talented Ms. Ott goes Ludwig with this disc, featuring her feather-light chording and high-speed run through the Waldstein Sonata. The last movement is eloquently played and almost impressionistic in its soft first statement of the main theme. 

Marc-Andre Hamelin: Etudes (Hyperion)
The most significant virtuoso working today gets in on Lisztomania, taking on the formidable Piano Sonata, which manages to fuse four movements into one contiguous whole. Mr. Hamelin also applies his stunning technique to playful works: the Fantasia on B-A-C-H and three aural postcards from Venice and Naples.

Lang Lang: My Piano Hero. (Sony Classical)
Mr. Lang celebrates Liszt's 200th birthday with this exuberant disc of favorites and virtuoso workouts, anchored by a rock-solid performance of the First Piano Concerto. 

Schubert: Piano Sonatas and Impromptus,  Andras Schiff, Piano (Decca, 9 CDs)
András Schiff is one of the most eloquent pianists on the concert circuit. Schubert is one of his particular strengths, and this cycle captures some of his best playing at an early peak. Crisp keyboard diction, crystal-clear digital sound and a sense of intimacy, especially in the beautifully played Impromptus.

Martha Argerich: Solos and Duos (EMI, 6 CDs)
After DG and Decca re-ignited the Cult of Argerich with their re-issues of her classic solo recitals, chamber works and piano concertos, it was time for her seocnd label, EMI to follow suit. This set find the Chilean pianist applying her skills to solo recitals and works for piano and violin 

Maurizio Pollini: 20th Century (Deutsche Grammophon, 6 CDs)
The fearless Mr. Pollini makes "difficult" modern piano music easy to understand with these deceptively simple performances. Featuring his account of the knotty works by Stravinsky, Bartók, Schoenberg, Webern, and other so-called modernists who threw out the rule books a century ago and created a brave new sonic world.

Alfred Brendel: Complete Beethoven Sonatas and Concertos (Decca, 12 CDs)
A long-awaited reissue of the Alfred Brendel "big box", all of his celebrated recordings of the piano sonatas and his first cycle of the five concertos, played with Bernard Haitink and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Top-notch Beethoven at a bargain-basement price. And if you like Mr. Brendel's playing, his equally celebrated Schubert cycle was also reissued this year.

Leslie Howard: The Complete Liszt Piano Music (Hyperion, 99 CDs)
This exceptional cycle contains all the Liszt piano music. The sonatas, poems, concertos. The Années de la Pelerinage. The Hungarian Rhapsodies. Even the opera transcriptions and piano versions of orchestral works by Beethoven, Berlioz and Wagner. All captured in superb performances, in glittering sound. This bread-box sized box is the deep end for the piano addict, and the most important reissue of 2011.

Check out the rest of the 2011 Superconductor Gift Guide:

Part III: Beethoven for Christmas
Part IV: Opera Recordings

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