Favorite Albums of 2019


Here's an album to help us believe in pianos and pianists again. Much of this music has been recorded zillions of times and we don't need it again, but since Peter Donohoe is playing it I had to give it a spin. I was drawn in straight away and forgot that I was really worn out on "Pictures At An Exhibition". I've appreciated this pianist for his abilty to convey texture, harmonic color and long-term rhythm, and all of that wakes up the music here. What he does so well is not only the opposite of what I hear in other cases but also much harder. One example has to do with texture: there's a sort of dogmatic habit you can detect in the playing of many pianists to split music too strictly into 'melody' and 'accompaniment', with melody always at the forefront of course, which is fine when that's the point but what of that accompaniment? I've heard exasperating Chopin performances where anything not the medody is smoothed over. It's a shame because composers write in all kinds of changing textures for a reason: they are part of the emotional story. But instead of a pack of wolves chomping at the heels of the melody we get a bunch of neutered puppies. Classical catalogs are glutted with recordings that are like dark poetry recited in a sweet cooing voice. However what I hear in Donohoe's playing is a sort of orchestral or organ-like differentiation of layers, and an attention to the storytelling purpose of each part no matter how small, and also a willingness to go a bit slower overall, allowing inner details to show up and making it that much more exciting when things heat up later. It's a tighrope that requires a clear sense of the whole and, for this music, god-level chops. This is the most colorful, 3d-visual account of Ravel's "Mirroirs" I've ever heard, and Messiaen's "Cateyodjaya" is fascinatingly bizzarre. As for "Pictures", this is not only an object-lesson in piano musicianship but also acting, as each part is so well-characterized.

Works:

  • Mussorgsky: "Pictures At An Exhibition"
  • Ravel: "Mirroirs"
  • Messiaen: "Cateyodjaya"

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