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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Partita no.4 BWV 828 (1726-29) [26:46]
Caroline SHAW (b.1982)
Gustave Le Gray (2012) [13:55]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Davidsbundlertänze, Op.6 (1837) [35:38]
Amy Yang (piano)
rec. 2017, Concert Hall, Drew University, Madison, USA
MSR CLASSICS MS1655 [76:14]

This is just the sort of piano disc that I love, either in its entirety or in selected passages. Three composers are represented, two very well-known and one less so, at present. This makes for an attractive programme, sensitively performed and recorded makes; all in all an enjoyable and rewarding listen.

Amy Yang participant in the 2009 “Van Cliburn” Piano Competition, came to the USA in 1995, and settled, with her family in Houston. She has been praised by The Washington Post as a “jaw-dropping pianist who steals the show… with effortless finesse.” As well as being a solo performer, she is very keen on chamber music, having performed at The White House in an ensemble, for First Lady Laura Bush. With Tessa Lark (violin) she has recorded Fantasy, a disc very favourably reviewed by Philip Buttall.

The present disc is Ms Yang’s first solo album. Dedicated to her grandparents, husband and son it’s is very impressive indeed. To get some idea of how she has progressed there is available on Spotify, her performance at the 2009 Van Cliburn Competition, of both the Bach piece and of Schumann’s “Davidsbundlertänze”. I tend to go along with Sviatoslav Richter, who caused consternation as a judge at a competition by awarding 100 or 0: his reasoning “They can either play or not”. On that basis Amy Yang gets 100 from me. It’s not just technique, there’s real musicality and humanity in her playing.

The pianist has written notes on the composers and works. There are charming caricatures of J.S. Bach and Robert Schumann. Also featured is “Gustav Le Gray” by Caroline Shaw. Gray, "the most important French photographer of the nineteenth century" (his dates are 1820-1884), has his remarkable photograph “Brig on the Water” on display. She says of the chosen works “Like old companions, with whom the passing of years brings deepened resonance, the three titans of the piano repertoire recorded here stood out as works close to my heart as I was determining my program”. She describes Bach, as one who “shoulders the mighty cantilever of Western music, offers an achievement decidedly unburdened”. I find Bach very appropriate on the piano, going back to such greats as Edwin Fischer and Dinu Lipatti … not forgetting Glenn Gould. Amy Yang’s performance of Bach’s fourth partita is very effective. Like Lipatti’s famous final recital at Besançon, part of the wonderful seven CD Warner-Icon set, Master Pianist (reviewed by Jonathan Woolf), she starts with Bach before going on to other composers. I like some variety and find whole CDs of Bach too much to appreciate, I tend just to play a few of the “48” at a time. This will certainly be returned to, as will the whole CD. Like Lipatti, she is a powerful pianist, when necessary but doesn’t over-hit the keyboard as one or two famous pianists are prone to. The notes on Bach are by Curt Carloppol.

Caroline Shaw (b. 1982) is an American violinist, singer and composer. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2013 for her a cappella piece Partita for 8 Voices. Parts of the later were used in the German-language Netflix original series “Dark” which I’ll certainly have a look at, after hearing this. She had written the music for “Cant voi l’aube” specifically for Anne Sofie von Otter and Brooklyn Rider, recorded on the album So many things (Naïve) and which was reviewed by Göran Forsling. He described it as “a swinging affair, a setting of a short story by Lydia Davis, which explains that sixty cents for a cup of coffee is not as expensive as it seems, considering what else you get besides the coffee”. I played it on “Amazon Music” and it’s an interesting listen, beautifully sung. Certainly, an album I need to hear in its entirety as it has songs by other artists, I love. In the notes Caroline Shaw refers to the elusive syntax of translating photographs into music. Gustave Le Gray, a tribute to the famous nineteenth century photographer, uses some ingredients of Chopin as hinged by Caroline Shaw. It certainly works as a piece and is successful in conjuring the picture of “The Brig on the water”. Caroline wrote the piece for Amy Yang who “is one of the truest artists” she’s ever met. On the basis of her playing here and throughout I totally concur, I’ll also look out for more from Caroline Shaw.

To close this first-class recital Amy Yang has chosen Robert Schumann’s “Davidsbündlertänze” which she played ten years earlier and with which she clearly has a very strong affinity. She states “the music is so beautiful, one aches in playing it. Completing this album, composed of dances, is there a dance like the final one that treads with more brave fragility between the line of love and loss?” I’ve grown, more and more, to love Schumann’s music and “Davidsbündlertänze” is one of his finest achievements as a piano composer. I found this performance riveting from start to finish. I have recordings, including those by renowned pianists such as Wilhelm Kempff, Andras Schiff and more recently, the remarkable bargain of complete Schumann piano works by Dana Ciocarlie on the La Dolce Volta label. Amy Yang certainly joins these with her breath-taking - you might even say “jaw dropping” - playing.

Amy Yang finishes her comments by hoping “may these incredible inventions resonate with you in your musical listening’. They certainly do for me and I can’t praise highly enough this debut piano record.

David R Dunsmore

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