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CD: Crotchet AmazonUK AmazonUS

West of the Sun - Music of the Americas
Ernesto NAZARETH (1863-1934)
Vem cá, Branquinha [2:46]
Louis Moreau GOTTSCHALK (1829-1869)
Suis-moi! Caprice (1861) [3:03]
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Flora’s Game, Milonga prelude (1987) [6:46]
Alberto GINASTERA (1916-1983)
Sonata No.1 (1952) [13:38]
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Chôros No.5, Alma Brasileira (1925) [4:31]
Amy BEACH (1867-1944)
Fire-flies Op.15 (1892) [3:04]
Margaret BONDS (1913-1972)
Troubled Water (1967) [5:21]
William BOLCOM (b.1938)
Nine New Bagatelles (2006) [9:23]
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Piano Sonata Op.26 (1949) [18:31]
Joel Fan (piano)
rec. Skywalker Sound, Marin County, California, October 2008
Experience Classicsonline

Ebullient and zesty. Doubtless there other more critically congenial ways to describe this wide-ranging disc of Americana, North and South - though the North doesn’t go above 60 00 N, 95 00 W so we must forego Canadian pianistic pleasures.

The programme has been chosen to reflect some of Fan’s strengths which include a decidedly natural sounding approach to such as Nazareth and Gottschalk, composers too good to be shuffled off into ‘genre corner’ and too engaging to be confined to single composer specialist recitals. Here they take their rightful, spicy and dance based place in the pantheon of things, and fortunately they have a laudable exponent. Nazareth’s Vem cá, Branquinha may not breach the three minute mark but it’s played with vivacious and charismatic brio and gets things off to a decidedly snappy start. Gottscalk’s Suis-moi! Caprice of 1861 reveals his brand of Chopin-translated drama to perfection.

Piazzolla could hardly fail to make the cut and Flora’s Game - Milonga prelude certainly ranges widely, running the gamut of melancholia to exhilaration with all the avidity of a sweaty night in the barrios. Of more lasting and obviously central stamp however is Ginastera’s 1952 sonata, a four movement opus of commanding virtuosity and volatile profile. This is something Fan latches onto, right from the opening Allegro marcato and the grip doesn’t lessen - neither in the darting rapidity of the Presto Misterioso nor in the fugitively elusive waters of the Adagio. Come the finale and the dynamic toccata is back on track again, full of tension, full of drive.

It’s pleasing to have the melancholic but rhythmically charged performance of Villa-Lobos’s Chôros No.5, Alma Brasileira where Fan’s chording in the B section is ultra romantic. So too the virtuosic thirds exemplified in Amy Beach’s little study, Fire-flies. Margaret Bonds’ Troubled Water is an inventively spun Spiritual whilst Bolcom’s Nine New Bagatelles are the most recent things here, written in 2006. All are necessarily brief though not aphoristic and range from the limpid and refined (No.4 - excellent reduced dynamics from Fan here) to the more pile driving moments of, for instance, the second. Fan ends with another major piano sonata, Barber’s. An obvious comparison rests with John Browning’s performance, now on Nimbus NI2528, rather more perhaps than titans such as Horowitz and Wild. Fan is decidedly more linear than Browning and his playing certainly lacks nothing in dynamism. The highlight of his performance, probably, is the slow movement which he vests with delicate limpidity, suggestive refinement and burgeoning drama - an all-round performance of real standing in fact.

With recorded sound of the highest class and engaging notes, what’s not to like about this effervescent release?

Jonathan Woolf


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