So many wonderful piano releases came out in 2015 that picking a top ten list is all but impossible. But here are ten that stand out, and they’re well worth investigating.
1. J.S. Bach: Partita No. 4, English Suite No. 1, other works. Rémi Geniet (piano) Mirare 268
The 21-year-old Rémi Geniet delivers some of the most supple, well-articulated and focused Bach pianism I’ve heard in many a moon.
2. Alexander Scriabin: Complete Piano Sonatas. Anna Malikova (piano) Acousance 12214
Anna Malikova’s slightly intellectualized organization of textures, lines and balances sheds fresh light on Scriabin’s sonatas. You won’t get over-the-top emotionalism or febrile necromanticism, yet you can’t deny this pianist’s mindful virtuosity and thorough penetration of these sometimes elusive scores.
3. Seascapes. Janice Weber (piano) Sono Luminus 92188
An imaginatively programmed and exquisitely executed recital of short pieces inspired by the sea, many of which are rarely heard.
4. Maurice Emmanuel: Six Sonatinas. Laurent Martin (piano) Timpani 1C1994
Among the few compositions that Maurice Emmanuel (1862-1938) did not destroy are his six piano sonatinas. Their refinement, sheen and expressive reserve make an indelible impression, as does Laurent Martin’s sympathetic interpretations.
5. Frederic Rzewski: The People United Will Never Be Defeated!; Four Hands. Ursula Oppens (piano), plus Jerome Lowenthal (piano) in Four Hands. Cedille 90000 158
Ursula Oppens has re-recorded this monumental work that she premiered in 1976, with even more intensity, attention to detail, commitment and virtuosic force than before. She still owns this music, and has never played better on disc.
6. Edvard Grieg: Lyric Pieces (selections). Stephen Hough (piano) Hyperion 68070
A cannily curated selection of Grieg’s Lyric Pieces shine through Stephen Hough’s Internalized, intimately unfolding and caring performances. Similar comments pertain to equally distinct 2015 Grieg Lyric Pieces collections from pianists Janina Fialkowska (Atma) and Edward Rosser (Connoisseur Society).
7. Peter Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker – Complete Ballet arranged by Stewart Goodyear. Stewart Goodyear (piano) Steinway & Sons 30040
There’s nothing remotely gimmicky or self-serving about Stewart Goodyear’s adaption of the entire Nutcracker ballet for piano solo. He channels awesome feats of finger work towards purely musical ends, while his tempos and transitions convey a strong sense of dramatic and balletic logic.
8. R. Nathaniel Dett: My Cup Runneth Over – Complete Piano Music. Clipper Erickson (piano) Navona 2013
One of the first composers of African descent to achieve a sophisticated and serious fusion of Negro folk music and spirituals with European art music traditions, Robert Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943) is an important and often overlooked figure. His piano music runs the gamut from early ragtime influences to the complexity and substance of his final works. Clipper Erickson’s masterful and passionate interpretations should generate serious interest in this significant body of work.
9. Liasons – Re-Imagining Sondheim from the Piano. Anthony de Mare (piano) ECM 2470-72
The 37 piano pieces in this collection by contemporary composers that use Stephen Sondheim’s songs as jumping off points represent a good range of how different generations of composers approach writing for the piano in the early 21st century. Anthony de Mare broaches these diverse styles with standard-setting command and mastery.
10. Legacy – The Collected Piano Recordings. Dinorah Varsi (piano) Genuin 15353
Here are 35 CDs and 5 DVDs devoted to Uruguayan pianist Dinorah Varsi (1939-2013) that comprise an impressive recorded legacy of studio recordings, broadcasts and live performances mostly new to CD, with a wide range of repertoire including mounds of Chopin, Brahms, Beethoven, Debussy and Schumann, among much else. Because Varsi’s distinct and individual artistry stands out on many levels, it’s difficult to zero in on highlights. Genuin’s lavish packaging and presentation represents a true labor of love.