CD Stock Number: Pro Piano Records PPR224530
Transcribing music composed for other instruments or for ensembles of instruments for the piano has been around for a long time. One of the most famous transcribers, Johann Sebastian Bach, transcribed a number of concerti by Vivaldi for organ as well as the works of others and his own from one instrument or ensemble to another. This kind of borrowing and rewriting maintained some popularity for the next few centuries after Bach. In the late 19th and the early 20th century, transcriptions for piano became very popular.
This period, a golden age of pianism, established the piano as a kind of precursor to the phonograph. Having a piano in the parlor was almost a necessity for admission to the genteel middle class. It was also a way of bringing culture into the home. For good reason, too was the piano the instrument of choice. The piano had huge advantages over other instruments. Only one instrument allowed a performer to cover most of the notes any orchestra could play. It also lent itself to reasonable sound no matter how much of a neophyte the pianist might be. With improvements to the action, it became capable of the very loud sound we know today, so that it also became a fixture in schools, town halls, taverns and church halls.
During this period, there were many accomplished pianists. As a result, transcribing great symphonic works for piano became a way of spreading symphonic music throughout the pre-phonograph world without the expense of a full orchestra. Many of these transcriptions are still being played. One example is particularly famous: Liszt's transcription of Beethoven's ninth symphony, which is still performed. Now, a new generation of piano virtuosi, such as Stephen Hough, Arcadi Volodos and Marc-André Hamelin have dug through the archives and resurrected a number of great transcriptions by such composers as Busoni and Rachmaninoff. Hamelin, Volodos and others are also creating their own brilliant transcriptions.
In this tradition, Walter Niemann wrote a transcription of Tchaikovsky's 6th symphony which was published in Leipzig in 1927. No surprise, it is difficult and demands not only technical facility but the ability to express feeling throughout a 45 minute baring of the music's soul. Clearly, the art of transcription is far more than picking up a few melodies and deciding on chords which approximate the music of the orchestra. It requires great sensitivity to the timbres and tone colours of the orchestra and to the mood of the piece you are transcribing. Of course, the transcriber must have the same sensitivity and understanding of the piano's capabilities.
Into this exacting field steps Chitose Okashiro, one of a number of lesser-known (no reflection on talent, ability or artistic greatness: just a reflection of the music pr machine.) virtuosi. Okashiro is more than equal to the task of making Niemann's transcription live and breathe with the passion of Tchaikovsky. Her playing encompasses what seems like the entire dynamic range of the CD. The opening presents her in a bare whisper of the symphony's opening, which builds to a storm of notes. Okashiro shows why she has earned the virtuoso's title. The volume of cascading chords appears not to strain her abilities at all.
While the virtuoso label sometimes condemns the pianist to the role of technical genius with little emotional depth, Chitose shows repeatedly that she is also fully capable of the subtlety which Tchaikovsky demands. One example: the opening theme of the second movement gives ample demonstration of her lyrical touch. Throughout, Chitose thrills the listener with the combination of power, technical agility and emotional depth which this and the other movements demonstrate.
The quality of the recording itself is very high. Pro Piano has succeeded in capturing the piano in a lifelike manner. Okashiro is adept at taking the piano from being an intimate instrument, able to carry the gentlest of violin melodies, the light step of the piccolo or the grandeur of the full orchestra playing fortissimo.
To bring all of the piano and the pianist's expressive power to the listener could well be the mission statement of Pro Piano Records. This label features highly accomplished pianists recorded with care. Pro Piano has a "5D 20 bit" logo on their CD covers and the words Pianist's Perspective Recordings as another version of the PPR name. Their website gives some technical information about their recording technique of which glass mastering is a part. The results bear out the fact that this record was in the hands of someone who understands piano recording and the CD medium. The sound is excellent, with the detail and timbre of the piano present in more than sufficient detail. All ranges of the piano sing with power and detail, giving the record its fine musical presence. By the end of the disc, I wondered why all labels are not as capable as PPR in bringing so much of the piano experience to the listener.