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Yi Lin Jiang (piano)
Dualis I

Randall Meyers (b. 1955)
Simplexity for Solo Piano Nr. 1 (2019)
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Ma mère l’Oye (1910)
Leoš Janáček (1854-1928)
1. X. 1905 (1905)
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)
Piano Sonata No. 4 in C minor Op. 29 (1917)
rec. 2019, Kronensaal Bietigheim, Germany

Yi Lin Jiang is building quite a distinguished recorded catalogue, with Brahms in partnership with Jacopo Giovannini on his own Anclef label (review) and the memorable IV-XXI (In Memoriam) album (review), Jiang has also recorded for Solaris with a recital entitled Masques (review). This album Dualis is the first of a two CD set, the idea being to “explore opposing elements within musical language: the complementing styles of the classical and contemporary periods, the crossing between earthly and transcendental surroundings, and the merging of rational intelligence and raw emotion, all while uncovering the ambiguous meanings and contradicting expressions of human nature.”

This ambitious aim opens with the world premiere recording of an ambitious work, Simplexity for Solo Piano No. 1. Randall Meyers has written at some length on the concept of Simplexity: “The mediator of the Simplexity process must firstly learn the difficult task of suspending the normal constructive, synthesizing activity of the Mind and instead adopt a radically phenomenological stance. In this fashion attending mindfully to each successive occasion of experience exactly as it presents itself in its sheer immediacy...” The text goes on, but doesn’t really enlighten us much to the actual content of or background to the music. Jiang is a little more sanguine in this regard: “Right from the start I learned to regard this challenging and demanding piece of music as a bold surge of musical images of varying power and meanings…”, but he also veers off into psychological realms that you have to buy into if you’re going to look for below the surface meanings in this music. To my ears this is an intriguing journey into a long list of pianistic tropes ranging from Berg almost to Bussotti (but not quite), with all kinds of stuff thrown in between, from Liszt both in his pomp and his late religious/mysterious phase to little cinematic passages that arguably sail close to something by Richard Rodney Bennett. Don’t get me wrong, this is an impressive piece and an equally impressive performance, but don’t tell me that “this is music [in which] the depth of the meditative involution and the outer state of expressive evolution, is balanced by the interaction of Mind and body; symbiotic with the sector of time called ‘the Present Now’” and expect people to take it seriously when there are no real revelations on offer. What I like about Meyers’ piece is that it doesn’t waste notes. At nearly 22 minutes the work could be more concise for sure, but isolate any single passage and you can tell this is a composer who knows what he wants to say and can do it with clarity of intent and a great deal of technical expertise.

After this intense experience, Ravel’s Ma mère l’Oye emerges as something even more charming and magical than usual. This is often heard in its two-piano version, but Jacques Charlot’s contemporaneous solo version is superb, and with his pedalling Jiang is alert to the contrasts of colour and texture that imply something orchestral without pretending his instrument is anything other than a piano. Rubato is expressive rather than mannered; tempi are natural feeling, expressive clarity leads with nothing dragging or becoming static, and the little dramas that Ravel creates, such as within Beauty and the Beast have a thrill of peril without heavy handedness.

Janáček’s sonata 1. X. 1905 with its violent background and uneasy relationship with its composer is now well known, and Jiang’s performance is very good indeed, etching the sharp contrasts and tumult of the first movement with controlled fury. The second movement, Smrt or ‘Death’ is played with poetic reflection as well as allowing that blanket of tragic mournfulness Janáček does so well to descend like a theatre curtain. An interesting comparison is Lars Vogt with his recording on the Ondine label (review), who comes in a minute shorter in this movement. Jiang manages to infuse stillness without becoming static, giving the composer’s darting, fragmentary developments an improvisatory quality which is quite fascinating.

Jiang’s booklet notes remind us that Prokofiev’s Fourth Piano Sonata was dedicated to Maximilian Schmidthof, a pianist colleague and fellow student at the St Petersburg Conservatory who killed himself in 1913. This is another stunning performance, full of communicative expression and eloquence tempered with the darkness of mood that suffuses the first two movements. Comparisons here are less in terms of excellence, rather in orientating oneself to slight differences of approach. I happened to have Yefin Bronfman’s highly regarded Sony recording to hand (review), and was intrigued to see his more compact timings and remind myself of his contrasts ranging from confiding intimacy to orchestrally extrovert colour and drama. His touch in that technically demanding third movement is more brittle and steelier than Jiang, who seeks out harmonic colour and line even in the wildest passages – a fast ride with a rocky view, where Bronfman cracks the whip and drives us towards the finish without compromise.

This is a world-class production all round and will deliver delight and interest to any keen collector of piano recordings. Randall Meyers’ Simplexity should grow on you even if its accompanying texts do not. This in the end is a piece that goes very well with the rest of the programme which, if you re-start the CD after the Prokofiev you can discover for yourself. Presentation is good, though it would have been useful to have the CD track numbers listed.

Dominy Clements

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