Alistair McGowan – The Piano Album

This album contains a wealth of beautiful music that I think anyone can tackle, given time, passion and determination.

-Alistair McGowan

alistair-mcgowan

The debut album from Alistair McGowan sees the BAFTA-winning impressionist, comedian and actor in a new role, that of concert pianist. Called simply ‘The Piano Album’, it contains 18 short pieces of roughly Grade 5-6 standard, including works by McGowan’s beloved Erik Satie, mostly romantic or flowing music, and is intended to encourage others to play the piano by offering attractive well-known and lesser-known pieces which are accessible to intermediate level amateur pianists. McGowan feels that hearing someone like him, who returned to the piano as an adult having had only a couple of years of lessons as a child, is perhaps more inspiring than a recording or performance by a top professional playing Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, which many amateurs “could never play” (AG). Having spent the last few weeks listening obsessively to Krystian Zimerman’s exquisite new recording of Schubert’s last two piano sonatas, which have provided me with much food for thought and yes, inspiration, I am not sure I would agree. But as someone who goes to and reviews many piano concerts by top  international artists (Aimard, Perahia, Osborne, Levit, Hough…..), maybe I am not the ideal audience for this disc….

The pieces are played nicely with some good production values, but there is nothing striking about the playing, no moments of insight nor real wonder. Philip Glass’s Metamorphosis No. 5, for example, is pleasant enough. It flows, it’s in time, but it has neither the spaciousness nor relaxed sense of breathing space that a more experienced player or someone who has spent a long time living with and in the music would bring to it. In short, it is rather too “notey” and somewhat laboured. Most of the pieces lack real expressive depth or subtleties of musical colour, and the result is a rather bland trawl through some nice piano miniatures. As a pianist friend of mine remarked, “people with a vague interest in classical piano music who want a “first album” would probably love it. Those of us more used to Perahia, Brendel et al will be less enamoured“.

Having said that, kudos to Alistair McGowan for taking on the challenge of learning, finessing and recording the pieces for this album. Integral to this process were lessons with concert pianists Anthony Hewitt, Lucy Parham and James Lisney, and quality time spent at piano courses run by Paul Roberts and at luxurious La Balie in SW France. He has not taken on this project lightly, and his dedication to, and passion for, the piano is to be commended. That alone should be an inspiration to other adult amateur pianists.

Read an interview with Alistair McGowan on this site on 2 October.

The Piano Album is available now on the Sony Classical label

6 thoughts on “Alistair McGowan – The Piano Album”

  1. I heard Alistair’s piano playing yesterday of a piece of music by Liszt on Classicfm and I thought he played beautifully. He will have worked incredibly hard to reach such an excellent standard in so short a period of time and he deserves heartfelt congratulations.

  2. I think he might be exaggerating a bit, since it’s clear he’s fiddled with the piano on and off throughout his life. Also the time and money to go off studying with top people is not what the average adult amateur could hope to manage.
    In any case, I think he’s a bit better than your review suggests. To compare him to Brendel or Richter is just crazy – these people dedicated their lives to the piano and are the cream of pianists.

  3. Is Alistair a better pianist than Myleene Klasse? She didn’t manage the third movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata. Also, not perfect in the easier (notes wise) first movement. A top class pianist is going to inspire more than a bash through by a grade 5er. Listen to Richter, Hough, Brendel, Barenboim, Argerich, Periah etc etc in no particular order.

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