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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Préludes, Op. 28 [38:28]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Bagatelles, Op. 33 [20:35]
Cristian Budu (piano)
rec. 22-24 July 2015, Théâtre populaire romand, Salle de musique, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland
CLAVES 50-1602 [59:46]

It’s always gratifying to come across a young pianist who brings an element of freshness and new insights to well-trodden repertoire. This is Cristian Budu’s first commercial solo album and, on the evidence, is an impressive start to what will I hope be a fruitful recording career. In 2013 he became the first Brazilian to win the Clara Haskil International Piano Competition in Switzerland, joining an illustrious roster of names such as Richard Goode, Mitsuko Uchida, Christoph Eschenbach, Til Fellner and Evgeny Korolyov. He has chosen an unusual programme, pairing Chopin’s Op. 28 Preludes with the earliest of the three sets of Bagatelles by Beethoven.

Chopin's major influence for his 24 Preludes was J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, but whereas Bach had arranged his collection of 48 preludes and fugues according to keys separated by rising semitones, Chopin's chosen key sequence is a circle of fifths, with each major key being followed by its relative minor. Budu seems thoroughly acquainted with this music and intelligently gauges the mood and character of the individual pieces. Listening to the complete cycle I felt a logical, coherent sequence running throughout. He makes the most of the contrasts: the lyrical versus the dramatic. What is striking is that he never over-pedals, smudges or blurs the harmonies but skilfully maintains clarity of texture. Another compelling feature is his scrupulous fidelity to the composer’s dynamic markings.

From the opening, beautifully articulated Prelude No. 1 you know you’re off to a good start. No. 4 has a wistful flavour, but doesn’t sound over-indulged, and the same can be said of No. 6, which is delivered with elegance and poise. No. 12 has energy, vigour and forward thrust, whilst the following prelude evokes a flowing stream, gently meandering. Budu unleashes a torrent in 16, and the coruscating fingerwork sparkles with élan. The next is a song without words, but I’m not overly impressed with the way he over-accents the lower A flat bass note repeatedly from bars 65 to the end. No. 20 has nobility and grandeur, and unsettled terror underpins No. 22. To the following prelude, Budu’s diaphanous filigree is intoxicating, and No. 24 ends the cycle with declamatory passion and fervour.

Beethoven composed his Seven Bagatelles, Op. 33 in 1802, and they’re a fine example of his early style. These short pieces, the longest is only four minutes in length, are each the product of a creatively fertile mind. Budu elevates them from mere trifles to ravishing miniatures pointing up the humour, wit, quirkiness and charm that lies therein. There’s an affable simplicity to the first. The quirky off-beat accents of the opening of the second, marked Scherzo, contrast with the darker flowing middle section. The third has a pastoral feel. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the fifth done as well; Budu’s pearl-like runs and capricious humour are an absolute delight. The dazzling rhythmic acuity of the final bagatelle is equally seductive.

Budu has the advantage of a well-voiced Steinway, and the favourable acoustic of the Théâtre populaire romand. This is a captivating debut release by a pianist who has much to say about the music he is performing and who injects plenty of personality into his playing.

Stephen Greenbank




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