This is an album of surprises. The first is that Alfred Cortot, legendary
pianist, was also an instructor who as part of his teaching method made a
many arrangements for solo piano. They're all very good, as you'd expect
a pianist of such stature - and capable of such poetry in his own
The Fauré is rendered perfectly, preserving the composer's idiom -
to Cortot, after all; meanwhile, J.S. Bach's most famous Toccata and Fugue
a treatment that feels chillingly analytical. It's cold and precise, but
also softer, smaller-scaled, and much less dramatic than Busoni's
which uses the piano as an instrument of massive, violent force.
The next surprise is the lovely bouquet of encores Cortot arranged,
here placed in the middle of the disc, including the slow movement from
Chopin's cello sonata (guess Chopin didn't write enough piano music for one
of his most celebrated interpreters!) and Brahms's beloved lullaby.
The last surprise is pianist He Yue, who far exceeds my every
expectation. He was born in 1990, trained at a Chinese conservatory, and
doesn't have an especially distinctive track record (the one major
competition he entered awarded him a prize for, of all things, being the
youngest entrant). He has a list of piano teachers a mile long, so I suspect
many are just from master classes, but some are notable, including Anton
Kuerti and maybe the most undervalued pianist of our time, Michael Endres.
He Yue plays this music like a real artist, not just a showman or a
kid trying to prove his technique. The Fauré miniatures are really
well-rendered, the Brahms lullaby - surely a dream come true for a pianist -
is all you can ask for, and pianist and arranger combine for a Bach toccata
and fugue like none in your collection. It's laser-like in focus without
veering toward melodrama. The only missteps, I think, are in the Franck
violin sonata transcription, which sometimes wanders and needs a bit of a
clearer structure. You could partly blame Franck, though this is also the
longest and most substantial work on the program.
The Grand Piano record label is favoring close acoustics in small
sound spaces, with little reverb; this is less claustrophobic than most, so
I liked it. The label also prefers nice booklets with quality essays in
larger-than-average print, and excellent artwork. In this case, their gamble
on a little-known pianist with, frankly, not many credentials has paid off
handsomely. He Yue passes Cortot's poetical assignments and presents a
notorious Bach piece in a way I'd never heard it done. Impressive
achievements for someone so young. Here's hoping there's more on the way
from this pianist.