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Ieva Jokubaviciute (piano)
rec. 5-7 September 2019 Sono Luminus Studios
Reviewed as a digital download from a press preview
SONO LUMINUS DSL-92251 [54:50]

When I was offered this recording to review, I assumed that what I was getting was an intriguing collection whose principal interest lay in how various contemporary composers are approaching writing for the piano. It is that, but much more. It is, in fact, a superb recital disc from a quite exceptionally talented pianist. I didn’t find all of the music on this recording to my taste but I was consistently won over by the fabulous talents of Jokubaviciute. The representative of her agency described her in an email introducing this recording as “one hell of a pianist”. For once, such a comment is an understatement!

The first thing that grabbed my attention listening to the opening track, one of two pieces included by Norwegian composer Lasse Thoresen, apart from the quality of the music, was the diversity of tone colour Jokubaviciute draws from the piano. If you think of contemporary piano as grey serialism, think again. Thoresen is one of the composers on this disc who is new to me, and on this basis I will be exploring his work more. That said, I have more than a suspicion that a good part of my enthusiasm is down to the interpretation. Of course, all new music needs to be well performed but sometimes a great performance can elevate a work beyond itself.

A case in point is the pieces included here by Bent Sorensen. I doubt I would have persevered with them but for Jokubaviciute’s seductively persuasive way with them. Inspired by Goethe’s Mignon, and also by the subsequent artistic tradition associated with Mignon, these are pieces that could have easily been written in the 1890s, but unlike similar pieces, such as those by Lera Auerbach, I found they lacked the strange, disconcerting dream like oddness that the Russian composer brings to her music. I would love to hear this pianist play Auerbach!

The theme of this recording is Northscapes, though the liner notes point out that this doesn’t just mean evocations of northern scenery. As those same notes put it rather aptly, this collection is concerned with landscape, soundscape and mindscape. All of the composers featured hail from Northern Europe and some, like the Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir, produce suitably craggy music to summon up images of bleak, snow covered terrain. Thorvaldsdottir has a psychological dimension to her music which makes it much much more than just a postcard of a natural scene. In terms of soundscape, what Thorvaldsdottir creates using a prepared piano is remarkable. It is relatively rare to hear a piece for prepared piano that isn’t just about the way the piano has been prepared. This piece is about Thorvaldsdottir’s imagination, not the technical means required to realise it. Jokubaviciute delivers a suitably intense and focused rendition of this powerful piece.

The music of Kaija Saariaho couldn’t be further from the savagery of the Finnish landscape so vividly portrayed by her compatriots from Sibelius onwards. If Thorvaldsdottir is able to translate her expansive symphonic canvases to the piano with the aid of some tacks and a thimble, then it is even more impressive how well Saariaho is able to reproduce her sensuous, diaphanous orchestral writing on a conventional piano. What emerges sounds like a logic progression from the piano music of Debussy, if one that goes down a very different path than either Messiaen or Ligeti. In Jokubaviciute’s hands it is spellbinding.

The description “post romantic” normally makes my heart sink as I brace myself for music in the style of someone else but less well done. The Lithuanian composer Raminta Šerkšnytė happily confounded my worst expectations even if her Fantasia seems to start pretty much where Scriabin left off. It helps that Jokubaviciute’s playing here is simply sensational. It is probably the best thing on a recording stuffed to the gills with good things.

I found her playing so ravishing that I was persuaded to overlook my usual antipathy toward Vasks where she makes a rather run of the mill piece sound thrilling.

A quick word of praise is needed for her label, Sono Luminus, for committing to such an enterprising release and for the wonderfully realistic sound they have provided. It is almost certainly the best-sounding piano disc I have heard this year.

Looking over this review, I feel I have rather damned the music with faint praise. Lots of it would be delightful to discover in any performance. But it is hard to escape the fact that this is the performer’s album and, regardless of how you feel about the repertoire, it is a recording that all lovers of piano playing will need to hear. I know it is greedy, given that this record has only just come out, but I can’t wait to hear what she does next.

David McDade

Invocation of Pristine Light, Op 52 No 1 (2014) [7:55]
Scape (2011) [7:42]
12 Nocturnes (2000-2014):
I Mignon – Und die Sonne geht Unter [4:08]
III Nachtlicher Fluss [1:16]
VII Mitternacht mit Mignon [2:46]
Prelude (2007) [6:58]
Fantasia (1997) [10:18]
Pēteris VASKS
Music for a Summer Evening (2009) [5:57]
Invocation of Rising Air, Op 52 No 2 (2014) [7:44]

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