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Pro Piano Records:
Genius, passion, and technical mastery
from the pianist's perspective.

Pro Piano

By Neil Walker
Click here to e-mail reviewer

CD CD Stock Number: Pro Piano Records CD
www.propiano.com

 

  Pro Piano Records is part of a company which rents concert instruments, holds a recital series, and manages a group of outstanding classical artists. Their CD logo gives two possible meanings to their PPR logo: Pro Piano Records is obvious, but in small print next to their name is Pianist's Perspective Recording. It is this standard which makes this label so attractive to the lover of audiophile classical piano music.

After listening to 15 of their CDs, I can say that a fair and accurate assessment of CDs is simple: excellent performance and sound. These recordings sparkle because of the musicians and because of the care with which Pro Piano records masters and manufactures them.

My first taste of this label was the Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 6 "Pathétique" piano transcription by Walter Niemann performed by Chitose Okashiro reviewed separately on this site and can be seen by clicking here [Pro Piano Records PPR224530]. It was a superb recording - Okashiro is a brilliant and emotionally appealing pianist and the CD possessed excellent acoustical qualities.

I turned to another of Okashiro's recordings, Richard Wagner: Piano Transcriptions [PPR224521]. Here, her technical skills shone as she brought the massive sounds of Wagner down to the keyboard and then lifted them into a musical magic show. No the piano cannot replicate Wagnerian horns, but the sweep and thunder fo this music flows from Okashiro's hands. This CD demonstrates all of which the piano is capable: from the dreaminess of "Einleitung" from Tristan und Isolde to the huge sweep of "Der Venusberg" from Tannhäuser.

Her previous CD is of Alexander Scriabin: The Poem of Ecstasy Op.54 [PPR224519], transcribed for two pianos. Pro Piano says that it uses 24 bit multi-track over-dubbing technique to allow Okashiru to accompany herself. An astounding treatment is the result. Beautiful, rapturous, enlightening - this is a superb composition which Okashiro plays most convincingly. The balance of the disc is a selection of Scriabin's other piano music: études, morceaux, feuillets d'album, préludes. The recorded sound is, as I was fast learning to expect of Pro Piano, excellent. Sticking with Scriabin, Okashiro also presents a compelling reading of the 26 Études complète [PPR224510].

Not that Scriabin is an obsession, but I then played her 1997 album Scriabin: Sonata No. 5, Op.53, Debussy: Images, Book I, Ichizo Okashiro: Moon [PPR224502]. Ho hum. Not another brilliantly virtuosic, sensitive rendition of great music for the piano, thoughtful, dreamy, compelling - you know what I mean. It reminds me of a prayer at Passover that repeats a phrase pronounced "Die ay noo," meaning, "It would have been enough." The reference here is plain: had Okashiro recorded this one CD only, it would have been enough. Instead, she has given us eight excellent CDs to date.

Nonetheless, by now I was beginning to wonder how Okashiro would fare with more traditional music, music outside the grand sweep of the late romantics. Her recording, Schumann: Symphonic Etudes Op.13, Arabesque Op.18 and other works gave me the answer [PPR224501]. The Schumann was a revelation, but in particular, her recording of Mozart's Sonata in B flat major KV. 570 answered any doubts I might have about her mastery of the classical. While not having the insight and depth of Mitsuko Uchida or Murray Perahia, her Mozart is thoughtful and pleasurable. Immediately following this sonata, she presents us with Chopin's cascading Étude in C sharp minor, as if to re-establish herself in the grand pianism of a century later.

Pro Piano flies the banners of other great pianists. I especially enjoyed Oxana Yablonskaya playing Beethoven: Sonatas - Tempest, Waldstein, Op.101 [PPR224516]. This lady rocks when she takes on the grand master. Her "Tempest" is memorable for its technical mastery and its authoritative expanse of sound. Needless to say, for the rest of this CD Yablonskaya maintains the same high level of artistic achievement. This CD is her first for Pro Piano - I hope she continues to take enough time from her duties at the Juilliard School to give us the pleasure of her musical company.

Sergei Babayan plays with clarity and understanding on Scarlatti: Sonatas [PPR224506]. His approach is not the rigorously harpsichord-like touch which Domenico Scarlatti's sonatas usually receive, but more romantic. Does it work? After the initial surprise, yes it does, exceedingly well. His technical ability makes Scarlatti's demands for virtuosic performance seem like child's play. Having shown his strength in the early 18th century, Babayan takes on a selection of moderns in his next disc, Messiaen, Carl Vine, Respighi & Ligeti [PPR224517]. He plays this demanding music with sensitivity and understanding. I found his Ligeti especially enlightening and the Messiaen selections from "Vingt Regards sur l'enfant Jésus," moving as religious music which captures Messiaen's devotion to Jesus Christ.

JY Song performs provides the second set of hands on Souvenir of Bayreuth, Fantasy of themes from "Der Ring des Nibelungen" by Richard Wagner for four hands. This piece, the last track on Okashiro's CD of Wagner piano transcriptions, is exactly five minutes of stirring musical and exciting performance artistry. In her Liszt & Busoni [PPR224527], Song begins with Liszt's "Totentanz." A stirring beginning it is, excelled only by the subsequent pieces. I love the way the lower notes on the piano sound, and this recording is a great demonstration of how a piano can sound when properly recorded and mastered.

Another of Pro Piano's young pianists is Katia Skanavi. She has proven herself at several competitions and is currently a student of Pro Piano artist Sergei Babayan. This CD, Chopin: Sonata No.2, Introduction & Variations Op.12, etc. [PPR224522], brings forward someone who shows great sensitivity to the nuances of Chopin's music. Any piece on this CD is worth listening to, but my favorite is her beautiful execution of "Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 35."

Pro Piano seems to have a knack for bringing us outstanding young pianists. Esther Budiardjo is another who debuted with an all Mendelsohn CD and then, in 2000 released a daring choice of music by two relatively unknown and fiendishly difficult 20th century composers. The album, Godowsky: Java Suite [PPR224529], features the world premiere of Leopold Godowsky's Java Suite and another world premiere from Alexandre Tansman's "Novelettes" and "Le tour du monde en miniature." This Indonesian-born artist has won several piano competitions and is currently finishing her doctorate at the New England Conservatory of Music. Watch her career closely: she is seems destined to make a major contribution.

A more senior pianist in the Pro Piano catalogue is Michel Block. Schumann: Novelletten Op.21, 3 Encores [PPR224514] was recorded live and gives nothing away to the studio. This CD reminded me of why live performances are thrilling for their immediacy and passion. Another live concert with Block at the keyboard is Granados: Goyescas [PPR224518] This, like the Schumann is part II of the Vintage Release Archival series. While the Schumann was recorded in 1980, this is a concert given on October 12, 1981. Both concerts occurred in the Musical Art Centre of Bloomington, Indiana. These pieces were conceived by Granados as a response to the paintings and tapestries of Francisco Goya. Don't panic if you are not familiar with the visual art being represented here. The music stands very well on its own, and Block's assured mastery makes it a fine concert of this first of great modern Spanish music for the piano.

Scriabin: Sonata-Fantasy No.2, Op 19, Chopin: Polonaise-Fantasy, Op.61 and other works [PPR224504] is a gem of a recording, offering a well chosen selection of 19th and early 20th century music. It begins with an utterly charming transcription by Leopold Godowsky of a Bach violin sonata. But my favorite is his Performance of Gabriel Fauré's Nocturne No. 6 in D-flat Major, Op. 63.

Block's Chopin: Mazurkas [PPR224507] demonstrate further why his winning of Arthur Rubinstein Prize in Warsaw at the 1960 Frédéric Chopin International Competition. The liner notes tell us that "Rubinstein, having been displeased with the jury's verdicts. Invented the prize on the spot, and personally made the award to Mr. Block." Listen to his Chopin and relive the event in your imagination.

Conclusion? Go to the Pro Piano Records website and then click on "Order." The more you buy, the more you save. Then enjoy the great sound, the stirring performances and the attractive covers and liner notes. You will be glad you did.

 

CDs referred to in this review arranged
alphabetically by pianist's last name.


Sergei Babayan (Piano)
Scarlatti: Sonatas
PPR number: PPR224506

Sergei Babayan (Piano)
Messiaen, Carl Vine, Respighi & Ligeti
PPR number: PPR224517

Michel Block (Piano)
Schumann: Novelletten Op.21, 3 Encores
PPR number: PPR224514

Michel Block (Piano)
Chopin: Mazurkas
PPR number: PPR224507

Michel Block (Piano)
Scriabin: Sonata-Fantasy No.2, Op 19
Chopin: Polonaise-Fantasy, Op.61
and other works
PPR number: PPR224504

Michel Block (Piano)
Granados: Goyescas
PPR number: PPR224518

Esther Budiardjo
(Piano)
Godowsky: Java Suite,
Tansman: from "Novelettes"
PPR number: PPR224529

Chitose Okashiro (Piano)
Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 6 "Pathétique"; Piano Transcription by Walter Niemann
PPR number: PPR224530

Chitose Okashiro (Piano)
Scriabin: Sonata No. 5, Op.53
Debussy: Images, Book I
Ichizo Okashiro: Moon
PPR number: PPR224502

Chitose Okashiro (Piano)
Richard Wagner: Piano Transcriptions
PPR number: PPR224521

Chitose Okashiro (Piano)
Scriabin: 26 Etudes Complete
PPR number: PPR224510

Chitose Okashiro (Piano)
Alexander Scriabin: The Poem of Ecstasy Op.54
PPR number: PPR224519

Chitose Okashiro (Piano)
Schumann: Symphonic Etudes Op.13,
Arabesque Op.18 and other works
PPR number: PPR224501

Katia Skanavi (Piano)
Chopin: Sonata No.2,
Introduction & Variations
Op.12, etc.
PPR number: PPR224522

jy song (Piano)
Liszt & Busoni
PPR number: PPR224527

Oxana Yablonskaya (Piano)
Beethoven: Sonatas - Tempest, Waldstein, Op.101
PPR number: PPR224516

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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