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World Keys – Virtuoso Piano Music
A. Adnan SAYGUN (1907-1991)
Sketch on Aksak Rhythm – from Ten Sketches on Aksak Rhythms No.10 Op.58 (1976) [1:28]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Sonata No.3 in A minor Op.28 (1907/1917) [7:19]
Dia SUCCARI (b.1938)
La Nuit du Destin (1978) [10:53]
Halim EL-DABH (b.1921)
Sayera – from Makta in the Art of Kita (1955) [1:37]
Qigang CHEN (b.1951)
Instants d’un opéra de Pékin (2000) [6:51]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Concert Paraphrase of Verdi’s Rigoletto (1859) [6:37]
William BOLCOM (b.1938)
… la belle rouquine – from Nine Bagatelles (1996) [1:43]
Peter SCULTHORPE (b.1929)
Nocturnal (1983/89) [6:30]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Sonata No.2 in G minor Op.22 (1833/38) [18:02]
Peteris VASKS (b.1946)
Kantate (1980) [5:00]
Joel Fan (piano)
rec. Bayside Performing Arts Centre, San Mateo, CA, January 2006 

This is more than a merely quixotic selection; it positively shouts iconoclasm and fresh thinking. Joel Fan has cast a metaphorical net wide and his catch ranges through the centuries and across the globe. Thus we encounter the Turkish Akask, the Arabian maqam and Peking Opera. Counterpointing these are nineteenth century western classics in the shape of Schumann and Liszt. It all makes for rather unlikely but diverting listening especially when one realises that Joel Fan has chosen the G minor Schumann sonata, a work that dwarfs its companions in both size and distinction.
Part of the reason that so many of the works are short is that they’re extracted from larger spans. Saygun’s Ten Sketches are represented only by the last, a pentatonic and galvanising ninety-second introduction to the disc. Naturally it only makes one want to hear the other nine. Succari’s La Nuit du Destin shows the Syrian composer’s absorption in folk music of the Near East. The resonant and incantatory gestures embrace a distinctive sonority rooted in Persian and Arabian music but there are also hints of another lineage as well in the more liquid, cool Ravelian muse. The brief improvisatory sections – called taksim – are especially potent in this performance, and the piece intoxicates throughout its ten-minute length.
The Egyptian Halim El-Dabh is represented by Sayera, which comes from his 1955 piece Makta in the Art of Kita. This is another ninety-second movement but one can still gauge enough to note the powerful percussive attacks as they try to assail a simple drone figure. Qigang Chen’s piece has a Francophile title - Instants d’un opéra de Pékin – and is full of dynamic contrasts and pentatonic motifs. William Bolcom moves things into more chartered territory though whether one of his Bagatelles (one hundred seconds long) will slake the thirst is debatable. It’s too piquant for me. Sculthorpe’s Nocturnal is sunlight-dappled and richly evocative. Vasks’ 1980 Kantate has hymnal purity, bell peals and moments of reflective and fractious outburst; it ends with beneficent and simple chords, deeply rooted and calming.
The Prokofiev Third Sonata is dispatched with virtuosic aplomb and the Schumann is perhaps more impressive in the Andantino than in the surrounding movements, well played though they are. Here he seems to locate the right colour and weight. In the first movement he lacks something of, say, Gilels’s leonine drama. With Liszt’s concert paraphrase to add undeniable chops to the disc, Fan completes a wide-ranging, slightly odd, occasionally unsatisfying but always eventful programme. If the single extracts tempt you to explore further afield then Fan’s net will not have been cast wide in vain.
Jonathan Woolf


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