New Release: Shai Wosner’s “Impromptu”

In music, an “impromptu” is a short solo work which suggests the qualities of an improvisation. Impromptu is the title of a new album by Israeli-born pianist Shai Wosner. The recording, released on the Onyx Classics label, features music by composers ranging from Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, and Liszt to Ives and Gershwin. The Ives, set in three movements, are literal improvisations which were recorded and later notated. Gershwin’s charming and soulful Impromptu in Two Keys pulls …

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New Release: Jan Lisiecki’s “Chopin: Works for Piano and Orchestra”

The newest album of 21-year-old Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki comes out today. Lisiecki is joined by the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester and Polish conductor Krzysztof Urbański for Chopin: Works for Piano and Orchestra. (Watch the trailer here). This marks Lisiecki’s fifth Deutsche Grammophon release. The recording moves beyond Chopin’s two concertos (which Lisiecki recorded in 2009) to an assortment of the composer’s smaller works for piano and orchestra: Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante in G Major/E-Flat Major, Op. 22, Variations on …

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Happy Birthday, Frédéric Chopin

The Polish virtuoso pianist and composer Frédéric Chopin was born on this day in 1810. Chopin was a composer who wrote, almost exclusively, for the piano. His stylistic and harmonic innovations influenced later Romantic composers. Additionally, his music has been associated with Polish nationalism. In 1939, as Nazi troops advanced on Warsaw, Chopin’s music was played continuously on Polish radio. In a recent post, I offered a few thoughts on Chopin’s Second Piano …

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Maria João Pires and the Poetry of Chopin

There’s a really interesting moment at the end of the middle section (più lento) of Frédéric Chopin’s Nocturne, Op. 48, No. 2 when the music stops. Throughout this section (which begins around the 2:40 mark), a recitative-like conversation between two contrasting voices has been unfolding. “A tyrant commands, and the other asks for mercy” is how Chopin described it. But then, with one haunting, heart-stopping chord (You’ll hear it at 5:02 in the clip below), all of the swagger …

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Ivan Moravec Plays Chopin

  The legendary Czech pianist Ivan Moravec passed away on Monday at the age of 84. He was widely regarded as one of the finest interpreters of the music of Chopin. Mozart and Debussy were also high points of his repertoire. Born in Prague, and initially limited by the constraints of the Iron Curtain, Moravec first became known in the West through his recordings. Listening to Moravec’s extensive discography, it’s easy to …

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Debussy’s Études Turn 100

Apart from the question of technique, these Études will be a useful warning to pianists not to take up the musical profession unless they have remarkable hands…. This was Claude Debussy’s warning to students who dared attempt to play his twelve fiendishly difficult Études for solo piano. The short pieces were even technically daunting for Debussy, who described them as “music that soars to the summit of execution,” and requires you to occasionally catch …

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The Joy of Wrong Notes

The element of surprise is an important ingredient in every great melody. Each note of a melody sets up expectations which are either fulfilled or delightfully challenged. Often subconsciously, we enjoy the unexpected “wrong” notes that take a melody in a bold new direction. We listen closely to hear how the disruption will work itself out. For an example, listen to the jarring appoggiaturas in the second movement of Mozart’s otherwise serene Piano Concerto …

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