CD review: A Grand Romance – Jeffrey Biegel, piano

American pianist Jeffrey Biegel adds to his portfolio of recordings for the Steinway & Sons label (which launched with his acclaimed Bach on a Steinway album in 2010) with a collection of romantic works for piano by some of the greatest pianist-composers of the era, including Moszkowski, Paderewski and Rubinstein. The pieces come from an age before the serious recital came into vogue, when performers would delight audiences with light-hearted encores and showpieces, and where musical fireworks, supreme virtuosity and unashamed charm went hand in hand.

But these pieces are not simply saccharine titbits: the selection and programming of the works on the album is thoughtful and well-paced. Obviously virtuosic pieces are followed by works of more depth and sentiment, such as the Lyrica Nova by Samuel Bortkiewicz and Kamennly-Ostrov (Rocky Island) by Rubinstein, both of which are played with sensitivity and warmth by Biegel. The grandiose Schulz-Evier paraphrase of Strauss’s much-loved An der schonen, blauen Donau (The Beautiful Blue Danube) avoids cliché in Biegel’s hands with his delicate attention to its frills and furbelows, and tasteful rubato.

For me, the most enjoyable pieces were those where Biegel’s clarity of tone, silky touch, technical assuredness, and his obvious delight in these works really shine through: Moszkowski’s exuberant Étincelles, Henselt’s Si oiseau j’étais, and Scholzer’s Etudes, Op. 1: no 1. This is an enjoyable album of favourite encores: Biegel’s stylish playing and consistently polished finish remind us of why these pieces continue to enjoy such popularity in piano recitals.

A Grand Romance is available now on the Steinway & Sons label from Arkivmusic and other outlets, and digital download via iTunes

Jeffrey Biegel will feature in a forthcoming Meet the Artist interview

More about the Steinway & Sons record label here

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