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Masques
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Masques op.34 (1915-16) [21:50]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Masque op. 63/1 (1912) [1:06]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Masques L. 110 (105) (1904) [4:43]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Drei Klavierstücke, D. 946 (1828) [26:24]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Après une lecture de Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata S. 161/7 (1849) [14:57]
Lü WENCHENG (1898-1981)
La lune d'automne au-dessus du lac tranquille (1975, arr. Chen Peixun) [3:33]
Jiang Yi Lin  (piano)
rec. 2014, Pollinger Bibliotheksaal, Germany
SOLARIS RECORDS SOL14101 [72:43]

This disc’s background notes state that Jiang Yi Lin  began studies at age six, won his first competition the next year, and made his orchestral debut at ten. He’s now 27, and for his first recording has chosen a selection of works united by the concept of that which is hidden or concealed. This was first released in 2014 but has not been reviewed by this site and was re-released a few months ago. “A Mask has many meanings: does it hide reality, does it stimulate it, does it guard the truth or does it unmask it?” This is undoubtedly an adventurous programme and mixes the familiar and the relatively unknown. In the notes, quite difficult to read with photograph behind, the introduction concludes “It is surely a long journey before one may claim, once in possession of great inner strength, the true masks - having merged as one’s true nature - unfulfilled with one’s own face”. Jiang Yi Lin  adopts several masks in this eclectic programme which also nurtures a common purpose.

Born in 1988 in Munich, Jiang Yi Lin  received his first piano lessons with Barbara Strauß at the age of six. A year later, he had already won his first piano competition. He made his orchestral debut at the age of ten and for his successful music activities was rewarded with the Youth Culture Prize of Kaufbeuren as youngest musician. In 2005, he joined the world-renowned piano class of the late German pedagogue Karl-Heinz Kämmerling (1930-2012), first at the Mozarteum University Salzburg. From 2010 he could be found at the Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media where he belonged to the last generation of his teacher's students. Since 2012, he has studied with Polish pianist Ewa Kupiec and graduated with highest distinction (2013: Bachelor of Music, 2015, Master of Music , 2018, concert exam). In tandem with his concert career he teaches at the Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media as Kupiec’s assistant since 2015, as well as a docent (below Professor) with his own class since 2017.

“Everything in this music is a mask of the composer’s essential experiences, his flights of fancy, his suffering and his intoxication”. The Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne wrote this about Szymanowski in 1915. The Masques have been recorded a fair number of times but they are new to me. I’m appreciative of John France’s comments in his very positive review of a Szymanowski CD by Barbara Karaśkiewicz on Divine Art: during the First World War, Szymanowski wrote his Masques op.34. These three pieces had ‘programmatic’ titles …. These pieces have moved on from their roots in Chopin and Scriabin and now look for their inspiration to the ‘descriptive’ music of Liszt, Debussy and Ravel. They do not simply describe a literary tale, but attempt to get under the ‘mask’ of each character. Full details of the underlying programme are given in the liner-notes. The Masques are enormously complex, both harmonically and in their formal structure.” It was the reviewer’s favourite work on that CD. There is also a well regarded and award-winning CD from Piotr Anderszewski (Virgin) which does not appear to have been reviewed here. To a newcomer the music does indeed seem complex and intricate, slightly discordant and not particularly approachable. However it seems to be well played and sounds good. As well as the above influences, I thought in “Sérénade de Don Juan”, that there were hints that Gershwin may have been influenced by Szymanowski; which isn’t too fanciful a suggestion.

Scriabin Op. 63 No. 1 “Masque”, is attractive and appears quintessential of this composer’s later piano works; he died three years later It’s more of a suggestion of an idea than anything substantial. “A gesture of languor, sweetness, aimless wandering, a floating in air on flames” is a description to these Poèmes; a world of Proust’s imagery being conjured up.

Debussy “Masques” may not be as idiomatic as others, but that requires someone with greater insight. I’d love to hear Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (review) who I heard play late Beethoven, mesmerically in Preston four years ago. Jiang Yi Lin  is quite driven although not notably fast. The impressionist world certainly emerges from the keys and the atmosphere is entirely appropriate between the Russian and the Austrian who follows.

I’m on much more familiar ground with Schubert’s Three “Klavierstücke”, which may have been an abandoned third set of Impromptus. In recent months I have been listening to various performers in these pieces. At first I was uncertain that Jiang Yi Lin  was in Schubert’s Viennese world but perhaps he’s unmasked “A road I must go from which no one has ever returned”; deep and melancholic words. They are woven into the outwardly cheerful melodies. Several listens made me attuned to his manner of playing Schubert but I prefer Brendel or the excellent Mitsuko Uchida (both Philips), and a recent reissue by Jörg Demus (Eloquence). The “intimate melody” of the second piece with its slow waltz rhythm, totally disarmed me, so beguiling was the playing. There may be others, and I own a fair few, who manage a deeper Schubertian idiom but Jiang Yi Lin  is very acceptable here and the languid theme is very moving; there’s no superficiality here. In these pieces, the melodies keep changing as does the tempo. There have been suggestions that Schubert was influenced by Goethe’s “Faust” which conjures up another kind of mask. These works were once described as unworthy of Schubert. I would strongly challenge this and these performances are good testimony. The third piece is suggested as showing Schubert’s mask in his dancing character as disguising the tormented composer. He was to die very soon of syphilis aged only 31. The way the moods change so quickly but without any abruptness never fails to touch me and Jiang Yi Lin  certainly does. There is sadness here and empathy. I will not be sorry if he records more Schubert.

Liszt’s Dante Sonata based on “the tormented mask of suffering hate?” (original: Le from the Inferno of the “Divina Commedia” by Dante Alighieri), In 1836 the French writer Victor Hugo wrote his poem “Après une lecture de Dante” as a response to “the reading of a poetry, in which the horrors of the Dantesque visions of hell are resonating”. This musical pearl represented, in its grotesque style, a new direction for French Romanticism and beyond that it served Liszt as his inspiration. Liszt was unhappy with the fact that he was solely associated with virtuoso music. Motivated by this feeling, he embarked on several educational trips to delve into the arts, literature and nature of the places he visited. Sadly, Liszt is not a composer that I warm to. I feel that there’s a lot of flamboyance and showing off with little substance although one or two short pieces played by Horowitz are fine. That said, Jiang Yi Lin  executes this demanding work with customary finesse; I’m sure Liszt lovers will enjoy it.

The Cantonese composer Lü Wencheng grew up in Shanghai, close to the West Lake, and lived there until the 1930s. After visiting the “Autumn Moon over the Calm Lake” during the annual Mid-Autumn Festival, he was so inspired by the scenery that he composed his eponymous work. It is couched in traditional Chinese music, which is, with the country’s more than three thousand years of history, among the oldest in world history. In this work he combined his Cantonese roots with elements of Zhejiang folklore and musical influences of Shanghai. I was greatly taken by this short but effective piece. It reminded me slightly of the work of David Sylvian, formerly in the band “Japan” and of Ryuichi Sakamoto. Together they composed “Forbidden Colours” for the film “Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence”. Jiang Yi Lin  clearly has a special affinity with this music and his limpid playing brings this very varied but connected set to a satisfying conclusion.

Reviewing this accomplished recital has introduced me to some new works which is beneficial and also to the talents of this young pianist. This CD was originally released over five years ago and I cannot see that there have been any successors. As can be seen from his website, “Masques” was nominated and received considerable critical acclaim with which I concur. I hope that there will be future discs; personally, his insightful Schubert would be appreciated.
 
David R Dunsmore

 



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