An embarrassment of riches amongst recent releases for piano. I regret I don’t have time to write a detailed review of each one, but I hope this brief overview will pique the interest…..

Denes Varjon – De La Nuit (ECM)

Varjon brings vivid imagination and musical poetry to works by Schumann, Ravel and Bartok whose associations with night-time are the unifying thread in this recording which works well as a “recital disc”. Varjon’s sense of spontaneity and range of colours is particularly suited to Schumann’s ever-shifting moods, while the quality of the production brings a special shimmer and resonance to the Ravel.

Steven Osborne – Rachmaninov: Complete Etudes Tableaux (Hyperion)

Osborne’s clarity, scrupulous attention to detail and musical sense, coupled with his wide-ranging sound palette and imagination, bring these miniature “picture studies”  brilliantly to life, often revealing unexpected inner voices and textures. Despite their brevity, many of these works mirror the idioms, architecture and expansiveness of Rachmaninov’s piano concertos: Osborne really appreciates this and treats them with the respect they deserve.

Vikingur Olafsson: Bach (DG)

I very much enjoyed Olafsson’s Philip Glass recording (2017), in particular for his very personal, romantic approach to Glass’s music, richly expressive playing and beautiful cantabile sound. He imbues Bach’s keyboard music with the same qualities, making a strong case for an individual approach to this music and proving that there is no “right way” to play Bach. The wide range of Bach’s character is also revealed, from playful and witty to sombre and grief-laden, while the transcriptions, including Silotti’s ethereal B minor Prelude, pay hommage to Bach’s own penchant for borrowing or augmenting others’ works while also demonstrating how Bach touches and inspires each generation.

 

Helen Anahita Wilson: Bhooma (Golden Girl Records)

I must admit a personal connection here as Helen is a friend of mine and I have been fortunate to hear selections from her debut disc at several of her concerts over the past year. This album reflects Helen’s ongoing interest in Indian and Persian music and includes her own compositions – intimate miniatures with Sitar-like shimmers of sound, hypnotically pulsing accompaniments, and perfumed chords – alongside works by Peter Feuchtwanger (with whom she studied) and Chick Corea, plus a piece by Stephen Montague, ‘Beguiled’ written especially for her. The piano sound is warm and mellow, perfect for this music.

 

 

 

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Helen Anahita Wilson – BHOOMA, 6 December 2017

Magical music calls for a magical venue – and the Treehouse, a large open-plan space above a pub in Shoreditch, proved the perfect place to enjoy new music composed and performed by Helen Anahita Wilson. While traffic growled along the Great Eastern Road, for two hours we were bathed in exotic, sensual sounds, cocooned in a wonderful urban eyrie. The lights were low, the ambiance relaxed, the air delicately scented with incense, the music entrancing.

In a typically imaginative and unusual programme, Helen played her own compositions as well as works by her beloved teacher, the late Peter Feuchtwanger, Chick Corea, Handel and Stephen Montague. Her own pieces reflect her musical preoccupations – Asian musics and jazz – and evoked Indian rhythms, harmonies and instrumentation, with Sitar-like shimmers of sound, hypnotically pulsing accompaniments, and perfumed chords infused with Eastern and jazz harmonies, sometimes redolent of Debussy’s idiosyncratic soundworld. These works were complemented by Feuchtwanger’s Tariqa I, an absorbing, atmospheric study based on preludes in Persian or Arabic music, which transforms the concert piano into an Arab Qånun (a type of stringed instrument), and Dhun, a northern Indian Råga. The first half of the concert closed with Beguiled (2015), a striking work by Stephen Montague (receiving its world premiere at this concert), at first exuberant and extrovert before retreating into a more introspective and tender realm.

The second half opened with Incarnation II by Somei Satoh, an extraordinary work constructed from a series of repeated notes which capitalises on the piano’s resonance to create multi-layered timbres which evoke horns, drums, low strings, bells….. while the rapid repetitions and very slow overall pulse bring a sense of suspended time. The spare elegance of the Adagio from Handel’s Suite in F, HWV 427, provided a wonderful contrast, like a musical palette cleanser, before three more works by Helen herself, all infused with Asian idioms and rhythms, music which spoke softly yet deeply expressive and always engaging. The collective silence at the end of the performance was a mark of how absorbing this concert was.

This was the ‘salon concert’ reinvented for the 21st century – the atmosphere relaxed, warm and intimate, the music exquisitely played and elegantly presented.


Meet the Artist – Helen Anahita Wilson