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Sergei LYAPUNOV (1859-1924)
from 12 Études d’exécution transcendante
IV. Térek (1900) [4:03]
V. Nuit d’éte (1900) [8:25]
VI. Tempête (1897) [4:15]
Unsuk CHIN (b. 1961)
Piano Études (1995-2003) [18:56]
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
12 Studies Op. 33 (1916) [13:52]
Nicolai KAPUSTIN (b. 1937)
Five Études in Different Intervals, Op.68 (1992) [16:20]
Clare Hammond (piano)
rec. 2013, Potton Hall, Suffolk, England.
BIS BIS-2004 SACD [67:22]

Clare Hammond has been making quite a splash of late. Her recent disc of music from the Panufnik stable is one of many desirable items from the centenary year. She follows this with a collection of Études from a wide variety of composers, opening with a pluck from Sergei Lyapunov’s Lisztian Études d’exécution transcendante. These three serve to show Hammond’s technical chops in late Romantic pianism, and there is no arguing about her skill and musicality in executing such potent examples of the genre. The only other recording of these works I was able to find was Konstantin Scherbakov’s complete set on a Marco Polo release from 1993. While Scherbakov is imposingly dramatic and refined of touch, Hammond is every bit his technical and expressive equal.

Unsuk Chin is Korean and a former student of Ligeti, whose piano works are an example to any contemporary composer. Other almost unavoidable influences in this idiom are the likes of Messiaen, whose birdsong gestures are arguably also a feature of Chin’s expressive armoury. Her Piano Études are however by no means a pastiche of other artistic voices, and her “fascination with virtuosity and the playful side of music-making” result in some fascinating sonorities. From the low granite might of II. Sequenzen to the filigree of IV. Scalen, these pieces have an enigmatic abstraction which needs tuning into. The technical challenges set by un-pianistic figurations which “lie awkwardly under the hand … exacerbated by the almost unattainably high tempi which she indicates” make for a meeting of musicians, composer versus performer, neither of which are prepared to compromise. It’s an encounter always worth experiencing.

The final G# of Chin’s Piano Études is the perfect transition to the opening of Szymanowski’s Studies Op. 33, which provide a further opportunity to compare Clare Hammond with some of her peers. There are fine performances of these works as part of the Naxos complete Szymanowski piano music edition, played in this case on Vol. 3 (8.553867) by Martin Roscoe. Roscoe delivers masses of energy and impetus while exploring inner voices and maintaining harmonic clarity even when the notes are flying around like midges in summer air. Hammond is a trifle more heavy with her right foot, the pedal on occasion obscuring the finer details in some of the faster pieces while not particularly adding to their exotic atmosphere. This is a picky comment about some relatively minor corners however, and Hammond’s touch brings out plenty of colour and vibrancy from Szymanowski’s sonorities. Her timings on the whole are consistently broader than Roscoe’s but she doesn’t sound slow. In terms of absolute technical security and character I would go with Roscoe for these pieces, but only by a very fine margin.

Nicolai Kapustin is not a name you will come across very often in the record catalogues, though Naxos has brought out a substantial release of piano works not so very long ago (review). The Five Études in Different Intervals are full of the jazzy style and rhythmic syncopation you might expect if you know this composer’s idiom, and these Op. 68 pieces are terrific. The first, with the upper voice in minor seconds, sounds at times as if your hearing has gone blurry. Clare Hammond revels in Kapustin’s dynamic darting around, and with the intense speed of these Études the experience is like one of those old movie clips with Gershwin vamping at the piano at a breakneck pace. The collection is the perfect fun ending to a superb programme. With BIS’s standard high level of presentation and superlative recording both in stereo and multi-channel SACD this release is an easy one for me to recommend.

Dominy Clements



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