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Music Media Review Print

New CDs for Excellent Solo Instrumentalists on Indy Labels

February 5, 2022 - Easthampton, MA:

David Hyun-su Kim plays Schumann, Robert Schumann (1810-1856), Papillons, Op. 2 (1829-31), Carnaval, Op. 9 (1834-35), Arabesque, Op. 18 (1839) , piano, Rodney Regier, after 1830s era Conrad Grafs, 2013, Centaur CRC 3877, © 2021, TT: 60:14, $16.89 via Amazon.

Listings in chronological and performance order.

Resonance Lines, Giuseppe Colombi (1635-1694), Chiacona orig. for basso [= double bass]; c. 1670), Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), Suite for Cello Solo No. 1, Op. 72 (1964), Thomas Kotcheff (b. 1988), Cadenza (with or without Haydn [for his Concerto in C, Hob.VIIb:1]) (2020), Kaija Saariaho (b. 1952), Dreaming Chaconne (2010), Sept Papillons (2000), Caroline Shaw (b. 1982), In manus tuas (2009), Hannah Collins, 'cello, Collin-Mézin, 1897 (with a modern set-up), Sono Luminus DSL 92252, TT; 65:46, $13.99 via the label.

Listings in alphabetical/bibliographical, not chronological or performance order.

Fyi: These independent labels are among the oldest in the nation: Centaur is based in Baton Rouge, LA; Sono Luminus, based in Boyce, VA, is the successor to Dorian (source of the D in its acronym) that was based in Troy, NY, where it recorded in the Troy Music Hall, one of the nation's finest halls acoustically (I ushered for concerts there as an undergrad, 1958-62).

The works David Kim plays are all 'war-horses' that everyone knows and has heard numerous times, but most have not heard them the way Schumann did, or conceived them in his mind when he composed them, as they are on this recording: Conrad Graf gave one of his instruments to Robert and Clara for their wedding in 1840 (It was passed on to Brahms, and is still around). Regier (whom I have met several times) does not make exact replicas of specific pianos, but ones that are created the same way the originals were: by hand, using the same kinds of wood and craftsmanship; Kim owns the one he's playing. Their sound is far more musical and warmer than the ones produced by a modern cast-iron frame instrument. I heard him play Carnaval on a c. 1830 Tröndlin at the Frederick Collection in August 2019 (Clara owned one of those of a later vintage; it's still around, too.).

He has a magnificent pedigree, having studied with Malcolm Bilson (now retired) at Cornell, whom I have heard and met, and knows many of the fortepianists I know, one of whom, Yi-heng Yang, founded and hosts (with colleagues all over the world) a series of enjoyable, fascinating, and free online fortepiano salons that I attend regularly, sponsored by the Academy of Fortepiano Performance, sponsored by the Catskill Mountain Foundation, located in Hunter, NY, village where I spent the summer of 1960 working as a waiter in a private organization's resort. The most recent one (# 8) featured "Improvisation" and "Partimento" that I think I mentioned in a recent review (# 9 will be on 19 March @ 2:00 p.m. EDT; advance registration is necessary).

The Regier is just as good as an original, but less fragile, because it is built with late-18th-early 19th-century craftsmanship and techniques and uses newer equivalent materials, in short, the 'happy medium.' If you have heard that such instruments sound tinkly, you've heard wrong: they're quite robust, as you will hear in this recording, which has become my 'go-to' one, though I also have others (albeit not Carnaval) on restored period instruments. One major difference, besides the absence of the cast-iron frame, where all is therefore wood, is the stringing: in a modern piano, the bass strings go across above the tenor and some alto ones, as does the grain of the soundboard, whereas in a fortepiano they are straight-strung, and the grain of the soundboard is parallel beneath them. This makes a huge difference in the sound. This is also part of why there is a greater clarity and diversity with distinct variety among the voice ranges. Dr. Cecilia Sun's (expert on Viennese pianos, now teaching in Australia) excellent note: "Schumann and the Piano" in the accompanying four-page tri-fold insert gives details about the other features that differ from modern ones, along with the biographical and literary sources of the works that are rarely mentioned in program notes for live performances.

Kim's 1st CD (Centaur CRC 3571), featuring two sonatas by Mozart (K 310 & K 333) and 2 by Beethoven (Op. 10/1 & Op 2/1) is also played on a Regier instrument based on Anton Walter ones from c. 1795-1805 that he also owns. Both composers owned Walters. His playing is superb on both CDs, clear, crisp, and precise.

"Resonance Lines, a term borrowed loosely from Physics, refers to the energy emitted or absorbed by an atom as it transitions between different energy states."; thus does Hannah Collins, now teaching at the University of Kansas School of Music, open her program notes in the 12 (unnumbered)-page booklet accompanying her début solo CD, a tribute to the composers who inspired her. Note the spread of their dates, with a goodly number in the 21st century: the Colombi is one of, if not the 1st work(s) written for solo low-voice string instrument; she commissioned both the Shaw and Kotcheff, among the most recent such works. She also has a degree summa cum laude from Yale in biomedical engineering.

Its meaning is prominently perceptible in the 1st pair of pieces: the two Chaconnes, and grows with each of the following ones, solidified by her explanations of the journey to the program and the encounters along the way with other composers. I, too, have had some with Saariaho, since I first 'met' her impressive music, in quotations because I also met her, when she had a week-long residency at Mt. Holyoke College in the fall of 2015, every event: concerts, lectures, recitals with Q&A's, and talks, of which I attended. The art work by Ed Fairburn (p. [5]) resembling a survey map of the area of Aldeburgh, UK, home of Benjamin Britten and the Festival he founded, on the four sides of the cardboard sleeve and the backgrounds for all the booklet's text pages also ties in with this concept and makes the product itself a work of art to house the musical gem that it holds. Her performance is top-notch, with sensitivity and variety that is always appropriate for the style of the music and spot-on interpretations.

Having been impressed by the tone of Collins' instrument, I contacted her to learn who was its luthier, because it was not a sound familiar to me. Some famous 'cellists played his products, including the one for whom Chopin, in 1846, wrote his sole string sonata, Auguste Franchomme; he originated in the same village (Mirecourt, in Lorraine) as the most famous French luthier: Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume which made me wonder if it was France's equivalent of Cremona; there were others, but these two moved to Paris.

P.S. In a curious coincidence, 'cellist Steven Isserlis (whom I heard and met, when he played with Steven Hough at Williams College in March 2016) issued in 2021 a fine new CD (Hyperion CDA 68373, recorded August 2020) that I also acquired: British Solo Cello Music, which he calls his "Lockdown Project"; it is also a journey, a very different one from Collins' (recorded October 2020), but with some striking connections. It is a nostalgic review of his career, with all the composers that he heard and met, built around Britten's Suite No. 3, Op. 87, (1971), his last, also for Rostropovich, 1èred by him at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1974, and features the 1st work that he 1st performed in 1975 at age 17: Frank Merrick's (1886-1981) Suite in the eighteenth-century style (c. late-1920s, because the score has no date and Merrick couldn't remember when he wrote it when he found it, as Isserlis asked him to do, in the late 1970s!), in what is a world 1ère recording, because the previous takes for a potential one are lost, and works that Isserlis commissioned.

P.S., March 15, 2022: A CD related to these arrived in the same order as two that are mentioned in my "What's a Basso?" article:

Catalan Concertinos and Fantasias, Joan Manén (1883-1971), Violin Concertino, Op. A-49 (date unknown), Rapsòdia catalana, Op. A-50 (1954); Marc Migó (b. 1993), Fantasia popular (2016, rev. 2017), Epitafi a Hans Rott for strings (2015), Piano Concertino (2016); Kalina Macuta, violin, Sergi Pacheco (Portalés), piano, Daniel Blanch, piano, National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, Volodymyr Sirenko, cond.; Toccata Classics TOCN 0010, TT 77:14, © 2021, $16.50, ($12.50 when I purchased it!) via Presto Music.

Listings in biographical/chronological, not performing order.

Both composers and some performers (Blanch & Pacheco) are Catalan; the others are a Pole (Macuta) and Ukrainians (orch. & cond.), oppressed by the Russians as the Catalans are by the Spanish (though not by the French). Joan = Jean in French, Juan in Spanish. Much of the music incorporates folk melodies. It's really enrapturing, and the performances are excellent and lovely. I mention it simply to make readers aware of its existence, should they be interested in this kind of music - I suspect it's not available in the USA. Here's a link to an online review; its author's passions are similar to mine, and mesh well with this article, too.