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Solitaires
Jehan ALAIN (1911-1940)
Prélude et fugue, JA87A (1935) [4:21]
Henri DUTILLEUX (1916-2013)
Piano Sonata (1946-1948) [24:49]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Le tombeau de Couperin (1914-1917) [24:51]
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Le baiser de l’enfant-Jésus, from Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus (1944] [13:28]
Kathryn Stott (piano)
rec. 2014, Hallé St Peters, Manchester, UK
Reviewed as a 24/96 download from eClassical.com
Pdf booklet included
BIS BIS-2148 SACD [68:37]

Goodness, it’s been a vintage year for BIS piano recordings, among them Folke Gräsbeck’s Ainola recital, superbly engineered by Take5’s Jens Braun. His colleague Hans Kipfer – the engineer on Solitaires – has also distinguished himself recently with Sonja Fräki’s album of solo piano music by Kalevi Aho. With these and other fine releases from Hyperion I’ll find it tougher than ever to pick the best of the year's crop.

The Lancashire-born pianist and teacher Kathryn Stott needs no introduction. She has been busy as an accompanist on several BIS recordings, but it seems the aptly titled Solitaires is her first solo recital for them since Schulhoff’s enthusiastically received Hot Music of 2001 (review). With this new recital she focuses on the repertoire for which she is best known, French music of the 20th century. Her account of Jehan Alain’s Prélude et fugue – actually two separate pieces yoked together – is admirably direct; her roving Prélude blends clarity and warmth, and the Fugue is cleanly articulated.

It’s impossible not to be reminded of both Ravel and Prokofiev when listening to the sparkling Allegro from the Dutilleux sonata. It may have its passing dissonances and knotty passages but in Stott’s hands this music is also highly approachable. Her control of rhythm and detail is exemplary and Kipfer’s recording renders bass weight and the piano’s pellucid treble with striking fidelity. The shimmer of the second movement, Lied, is especially well caught by pianist and engineer alike; the briared tangles, motility and iridescence of the Choral et Variations are also encompassed with ease. Indeed I can't imagine a performance that brings out the nuance and variety of the piece better than this.

It's clear this is turning into another delectable issue. Stott is unfailingly responsive to all this music’s demands and tackles even the most challenging passages with élan. Ravel’s homage to Couperin, one of the loveliest things he ever wrote, really comes alive here. In the Prélude and Forlane Stott has an uncanny instinct for combining colour with rhythmic vitality, while in the Fugue she leavens formal rigour with a certain charm. She invests the Rigaudon with a Petrushka-like impetuosity, and the airy Menuet is spun with a balletic grace. Oh, and what dexterity in the Toccata, which surely demands a bravo or three.

As so often the best is left until last. Le baiser de l’enfant-Jésus (The kiss of the infant Jesus), the fifteenth piece in Olivier Messiaen’s epic meditation, contains some of the most finely calibrated piano sounds imaginable. Stott captures to perfection the music’s air of rapt stillness, its gentle bass haloed by a glowing treble. As for those upward-wending epiphanies Stott makes them pulse with a profound and lasting joy. Not since Steven Osborne’s towering traversal for Hyperion have I heard this music so luminously played. BIS should waste no time and schedule a recording of Vingt regards with this splendid artist; I just know it would be a winner.

A well planned and magnificently executed recital; Hans Kipfer’s recording is top-notch, too.

Dan Morgan
twitter.com/mahlerei

 

 




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